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Media > Newsletters > Law Enforcement Bulletin > December 2012 > United States v. Oehne — Second Circuit Court of Appeals (Connecticut, New York, Vermont), Oct. 25,

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United States v. Oehne — Second Circuit Court of Appeals (Connecticut, New York, Vermont), Oct. 25, 2012

Question: If a suspect informs peace officers that he has a lawyer for a separate, unrelated charge, must officers abandon all questioning?
Quick Answer: No, because a suspect’s request for counsel must be unambiguous.
Facts: FBI agents suspected that defendant William Oehne had sexually abused a minor when he lived in Connecticut. The officers learned that Oehne was living in Virginia, where he had a pending criminal case for sexual abuse of another minor girl. The agents went to Oehne’s house, placed him in handcuffs, and seated him in a police car while other officers secured the house until a search warrant could be obtained. While waiting in the car, Oehne began to talk about the minor victim’s mother, so an FBI agent began to read him a Miranda form. As she read the first line of the form, Oehne explained that he had a lawyer. The agent asked Oehne if the lawyer was for his pending case in Virginia, and Oehne said, “Yes.” The agent finished reading him the form, but he never signed it because he was handcuffed. Oehne eventually waived his Miranda rights and made several incriminating statements.
Why this case is important: The court held that Oehne never invoked his right to an attorney, so there was no Miranda violation. For a defendant to invoke his right to counsel, he must do so through a clear, unambiguous affirmative action or statement. When Oehne told the officers he had a lawyer, he was referring to an attorney representing him in a separate pending charge in Virginia. Oehne never requested a lawyer for the interrogation of the Connecticut crime; he merely told the officers that a lawyer represented him in an unrelated matter. And this mention didn’t constitute an unequivocal request for counsel.
Keep in mind: If an accused makes a statement concerning the right to counsel that is ambiguous or equivocal or makes no statement, the police are not required to end the interrogation.
Visit the Second Circuit Court of Appeals website to read the entire opinion.