Raybin & Weissman

In Tennessee you better be direct when asking for an attorney

The Tennessee Supreme Court recently held in State v. Turner that when a person asks a police officer to retrieve his cell phone, which apparently contained the cell phone number of a pre-paid legal services provider, and telling an officer that he could want an attorney if he could afford one that such was not unequivocal enough to assert a right to counsel. The Tennessee Supreme Court reviewed the police interview of a murder suspect by Smyrna police officers in which the suspect made such requests. The court found that when such statements were taken into context of the conversation between the officer and the Defendant that it was reasonable for the interrogating officer to further attempt to clarify the nature of his inquiry, rather than terminate the interview as would be required to do if the Defendant had simply stated that he wanted to speak to an attorney.
The Rutherford County trial judge had originally found that the Defendant had unequivocally asserted his right to counsel when he asked the officers to retrieve his cell phone, which apparently contained the cell phone number of a pre-paid legal services provider. The Court of Criminal Appeals held otherwise, and the Tennessee Supreme Court affirmed the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals.
Based on this case, if ever questioned by police, be sure to say “I want a lawyer” in no uncertain terms.