November 11, 2008

"What's Up?" and Other Illegal Interrogatives

In 2002, Judge Alex Kozinski threw out two claims relating to a disagreement over Barbie and the song “Barbie Girl.” In doing so, the judge uttered words that resounded throughout the nation:

“The parties are advised to chill.”

Well, maybe they didn’t really resound THAT much, but I took notice, okay? The introduction of slang into the courtroom can make for a fun mish-mosh of legalese and lingo. Witness Public Defender David Kennedy, whose opening argument in a recent Maryland Court of Appeals was:

“What’s up?”
Wow! Was Kennedy thumbing his nose at authority? After all, the usual lawyerly opening is something like “Mr. Chief Judge and may it please the court, etc.” But Kennedy was up to something! By beginning with “What’s up?” he hoped to jar the judge and jurors out of their lethargy.

It worked, but not in the way intended. Chief Judge Robert Bell told Kennedy that the correct pronunciation is “Whassup?

Everyone laughed.

The case itself actually revolved around the question of the questionWhat’s up?” That’s what a police officer said to suspect Maurice Prioleau outside of a residence full of drugs back in 2005.

In response, Prioleau guiltily said, “I’m not going in that house. I’ve never been in that house.” Subsequent investigating showed that he had been in the house, and Prioleau was arrested and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

But the case has been appealed on the basis of that question. As Priorleau hadn't been read his Miranda rights when asked it, his public defender has argued that "What's up?" was an unlawful interrogation posing as an innocent rhetorical question.

Assistant Attorney General Cathleen Brockmeyer disputed this, maintaining that "What's up?" is “certainly not an invitation to incriminate yourself."

Speaking for myself, I rarely need much of an invitation to do just that. (Oh, and the case was still pending last I checked.)

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