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Media > Newsletters > Law Enforcement Bulletin > April 2016 > State v. Tichener, 2016 Ohio 1021

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State v. Tichener, 2016 Ohio 1021

Question: Is a suspect’s question to an officer about whether he should get an attorney considered a request for counsel requiring the officer to cease questioning?

Quick Answer: No, a suspect’s request for counsel must be made unambiguously.

Facts: Tichener made threats to shoot his ex-girlfriend’s new paramour. He later went to the trailer park and fired several shots into a shed they were sitting in and fled the area. He was arrested later that day and taken to the sheriff’s office where he was read and shown Miranda warnings by a detective. Tichener signed a waiver-of-rights form and asked if he should get an attorney. The detective told Tichener he couldn’t give him legal advice, but if he wanted an attorney, the detective could not continue discussing the incident with Tichener. Thereafter, Tichener began discussing the incident without prompting from the detective. Tichener filed a motion to suppress his statement arguing he invoked his right to counsel during the interview. The trial court overruled the motion, and he was later found guilty after a trial. Tichener appealed the trial court’s ruling on the motion to suppress.

The appeals court noted as a general rule that once a person expresses desire to deal with the police only through counsel, police must honor this request and cease questioning until counsel has been made available. However, a request for counsel must be unambiguously made so that a reasonable officer in these circumstances would understand the suspect’s statement to be a request for an attorney. If such a statement is not a clear request for an attorney, officers are not required to stop questioning the suspect. In the instant case, the appeals court noted Tichener’s question was one requesting legal advice from the officer and not a request for counsel.

Keep in Mind: Once a suspect makes a clear invocation to speak to an attorney, officers are required to scrupulously honor such a request and cease all questioning.