Judges may cite to popular songs, books, or movies in their legal opinions for various reasons. Sometimes, it’s to enliven a tedious process. Sometimes, it is to rebuke a lawyer who did a poor job. Other times, though, these references are especially insightful and relevant to a specific issue. A recent Court of Special Appeals opinion opened with a quote from the popular lawyer drama Better Call Saul. The character in the quoted passage advises his listener that the time when people most need a lawyer is when “they find themselves in a little room with a detective who acts like he’s their best friend. ‘Talk to me,’ he says, ‘Help me clear this thing up. You don’t need a lawyer, only guilty people need lawyers’ and BOOM! … that’s when it all goes south.” While this passage is fiction, it does offer some very good real-life advice. The time to contact a criminal defense lawyer is NOT after you’ve waived your rights, started talking to the police, and said something that they potentially can use against you to incriminate you. The time to invoke your right to counsel and obtain a skilled Maryland criminal defense attorney is from the very beginning of law enforcement’s questioning of you.
The recent court opinion quoting that TV show episode was one that focused on the very important process of invoking your rights when faced with a police interrogation. The case involved the murder by stabbing of a man in Langley Park. The police apprehended Mynor and took him into interrogation. Several questions into the process, Mynor said, in Spanish, a sentence that the police translated as “That’s all I have to say to you. And if you accuse me of something, I better want an attorney.” Despite this statement, the interview continued. The police even acknowledged at one point that Mynor said he “wanted a lawyer,” but the interrogation kept going. Eventually, the man made potentially incriminating statements. The state took the case to trial and obtained a conviction on second-degree murder.
The accused man appealed. His argument, essentially, was that he invoked his right to remain silent and also his right to counsel, that the police improperly continued the interrogation, and that the trial court wrongfully allowed his incriminating post-invocation statements into his trial.
The appeals court ruled for Mynor. The key to the man’s success was the specifics of the law of invoking your right to remain silent and your right to an attorney. The law says that you cannot equivocate, and you must be clear that you want to invoke, but the law does not require you to say any “magic words.” You don’t have to say exactly, “I am invoking my constitutional right to remain silent, and I am invoking my right to counsel,” in order for those rights to be triggered. In a 2011 ruling, Maryland’s highest court said that a man’s question asking, “You mind if I not say no more and just talk to an attorney about this?” was enough to be an unequivocal invocation of the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. The “You mind if” part was just a colloquialism, and the interviewee’s intentions were clear. In other cases, courts have ruled that statements saying “I think I want an attorney” or “I’d rather have an attorney” are good enough to trigger the defendant’s rights and end the interrogation.
Similarly, in Mynor’s case, he had been picked up and taken to the police station based upon an arrest warrant, so he’d clearly been accused of something. His “I better want an attorney” was enough to trigger his right to counsel.
As Jimmy McGill from Better Call Saul said, your best time to call a lawyer isn’t after you’ve said something incriminating. It is when the police start asking questions and just want to “clear things up.” As the character says, that’s “when you want someone in your corner.” Experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney Anthony A. Fatemi has been that advocate in the corner of numerous accused people. To learn more about how this office can help you, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.
More blog posts:
Text Message Conversations Between Spouses are Generally Confidential Marital Communications, According to Maryland Court’s Ruling, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, March 7, 2018
How a Flaw in Jury Instructions Allowed a Maryland Murder Defendant to Secure a New Trial, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, Sept. 7, 2017
Photo Credit: FBI, [CC0 License], via Wikimedia Commons