Wednesday, July 02, 2008

U.S. v. Davis (9th Cir. - June 30, 2008)

I'm just a poor boy who grew up attending public schools in a semi-rural community in Virginia. So I don't know a lot of fancy words. Or even, often, how to spell the easier ones.

As a result, my ears perked up when I got to the end of the first paragraph of this opinion by Judge Randy Smith. In which he uses the phrase "omniscient honesty." A phrase that I had never heard before, and sounded very cool, but as to the meaning of which I remained a little unclear even after thinking about it for a while.

I understood from the context what he meant (and means), since the full sentence in which this phrase appears is as follows: "While officers were executing the search warrant on the Davis’s property, Jeffrey Davis’s brother, Richard Davis, drove onto the property through a locked gate and, when asked, told officers in a moment of omniscient honesty that he knew 'everything' about the marijuana growing operation."

I get it. He was totally honest. Completely honest. Omnisciently honest, I guess.

But I was still a little fuzzy. I mean, I know what omniscient means. Or at least I thought I did. Having total knowledge. Like God and stuff. Freaking knowing everything.

But what does that have to do with honesty? I mean, I understand, he was totally honest about everything. Everything. And "everything" and "omni" do indeed seem related. So is that from whence the phrase arises?

But I still don't get it. Yes, he was honest about everything, but that's just "total" or "complete" honesty. It has nothing to do with the scope of knowledge, right? You can be totally honest even if you know exceptionally little, as long as you tell the truth about what you know. So I don't get what the "omniscient" part adds. At least if taken literally. As opposed to just sounding cool.

But then, I thought: Well, maybe Judge Smith is making reference to the fact that Davis said he knew "everything" about the marijuana grow, and knowing everything is omniscience, right? So if Davis is omniscient, and honest, then he was being omnisciently honest when he spoke. Now I get it! And it's sort of a cool, backhanded phrase. Neat.

So I thought I understood it. But is that really "omniscient honesty"? Ignore for a moment that Davis wasn't even claming to be omniscient; the only thing he knew "everything" about was the marijuana grow, which hardly makes one omniscient. Otherwise I'm omniscient because I know everything about how many fingers I'm currently holding up. But even if we don't take the point literally, is it really "omniscient honesty" to tell the truth about everything you know, even if you know everything. That seems like, at best, "honesty by an omniscient," or maybe "omnipresent honesty." But not "omniscient honesty".

But let's be honest. What do I know? Every little. And the phrase sounds cool.

Plus, I checked it out. That phrase has never before appeared in the Federal Reporter. Or in any published or unpublished judicial decision in the United States. Even cooler! Judge Smith has invented a new term for posterity. One that doesn't even appear in even the hippest (or unhippest) of law review articles -- again, I checked. Indeed, apparently nowhere in any of the legal databases I checked does "omniscient" even appear within two words of "honesty." So talk about a hip phrase! It sounds cool, imparts knowledge, and has at least a fuzzy meaning, but at the same time has never before been uttered in this context. Sweet.

I'm calling it Judge Smith's most important contribution to the English language. Others can disagree. I care not. I'm being omnisciently honest on this one.