People v. Malik Dawson


Issue: Did the defendant unequivocally invoke his right to counsel such that no waiver of counsel could occur in counsel’s absence?

Holding: Not reached. As there was “support in the record” for the lower courts’ determination that the defendant did not unequivocally invoke his right to counsel while in custody, the issue was a mixed question of law and fact beyond the Court’s review.

Dissent: In a dissent penned by Judge Wilson and joined by Judge Rivera, we get yet another frustrating and disturbing glimpse into what this Court chooses to overlook. Here, Judge Wilson lays out the facts the majority never mentions, making it abundantly clear that this 19-year old defendant, in shackles and isolated in a precinct, wanted to speak with his attorney. He several times said so, while also saying that he hadn’t memorized the number and it was in his phone – which the police had confiscated. Indeed, as Judge Wilson stressed, the interrogating detective understood Mr. Dawson to be requesting counsel – a fact the Court has considered critical to resolving the question in the past. Yet, rather than respecting the defendant’s invocation by bringing his phone to make the call, the detective told the defendant “this is something we could potentially resolve – do you want your lawyer here or do you want to just figure this out?” At that point, the 19-year old chose to speak with the detective and waived his Miranda rights, leading to inculpatory admissions.

Judge Wilson rightly castigated the Court for requiring “magic words” from a frightened, intimidated individual in order to invoke the very cherished principles designed to protect them. “The Court’s failure to construe defendants’ speech in a commonplace, contextualized, or even reasonable manner misapprehends the animating concerns behind our state’s expansive guarantees of the privilege against self-incrimination, right to counsel and due process.” Judge Wilson pointed to other recent cases showing this same trend and tendency.

CAL Observes: Unfortunately nothing to see here folks. Yet another majority decision that prioritizes law enforcement objectives (here, getting a statement) over constitutional rights. And yet another example of how the Court deftly uses the tools at its disposal – including SSM and reviewability doctrine – to avoid engaging with the issue.