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Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

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Friday, October 12, 2007

Does the statement, "I don't want to give up any right, though, if I don't got no lawyer" invoke the right to counsel?

Dwayne Milton Gobert is on trial based upon allegedly stabbing a woman to death in her apartment in 2003.  Gobert moved before a Texas trial court to have a confession that he made to police suppressed because the police violated his right to counsel.  After being arrested, detectives read Gobert his rights, and Gobert responded, "I don't want to give up any right, though, if I don't got no lawyer." 

The police, however, continued to converse with Gobert and eventually got him to agree to answer questions.  After Gobert agreed, one of the detectives said,  "I want to clear something up, though, because earlier you said you don't want to give up your right to a lawyer. I want you--I want you--I want to clear up the fact that you want to talk to us about this. Okay? You understand what I'm saying?"  Gobert then responded, "Yeah," and he proceeded to admit to murdering the woman.

The Texas trial court ruled that the confession was inadmissible, and the state appealed the ruling to the Texas 3rd Court of Appeals.  In an opinion filed this April, the Court of Appeals agreed, holding that the defendant unambiguously, if ungrammatically, told the officers that he did not want to give up any right without first consulting with a lawyer.  The Court of Appeals specifically noted that the detective's response where he said that Gobert had earlier claimed that he did not want to give up his right to counsel made it clear that everyone involved thought that Gobert invoked his right to counsel at some point, thus making any subsequent statements inadmissible.

The Court of Appeals, however, recently reconsidered and reversed its prior opinion, now holding that at the very most Gobert's statement was an equivocal and ambiguous statement that Gobert might want to invoke his right to counsel.  In reaching this decision, the Court of Appeals made no mention of the detective's statement about Gobert not wanting to give up any right without a lawyer.  This seems to be a troubling opinion in which the Court of Appeals engaged in semantic gymnastics to try to ensure that the defendant's confession would be admissible against him.

-CM

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