Monday, December 21, 2015

Garcia v. Long (9th Cir. - Dec. 21, 2015)

"No" means no.

There are so, so many areas in which this is unambiguously true.  This is one of them.

The police interrogate a suspect, read him his Miranda rights, and then ask him if he wants to speak with them.  The suspect responds:  "No."

We can stop right there.  That's unambiguous.  No means no.  End of story.

The California Court of Appeal, in an unpublished opinion by Justice King in 2011, held otherwise, stating that the "No" was really ambiguous, and hence the suspect's subsequent confession during the questioning was properly admitted at trial.

That's wrong, the Ninth Circuit says.  In an opinion written by Judge Bybee.  "No" isn't ambiguous.  It means what it means.  Indeed, the California Court of Appeal's decision to the contrary was not only wrong, but unreasonably wrong.  So even under AEDPA, habeas relief is warranted.

Judge Bybee is right.  The California Court of Appeal was wrong.  There's nothing ambiguous about "No."

I'll add one more thing to what Judge Bybee says in his opinion.  The Court of Appeal held that "No" was ambiguous because earlier in the questioning, the suspect had said "No" to various questions and then later allegedly "contradicted" that answer.  For example:

"Q: Do you ever go by any other names?
A: No.
Q: No? And where . . . .
A: Well, yeah, yeah, before you continue, sir. Uh, a long time ago when I was, uh, uh, illegal in this country, oh, so many years, I used, uh, Francisco Lopez."

Judge Bybee's opinion says that there's no actual "contradiction" in these prior answers because the subsequent clarifications were consistent with the suspect's original answer.  For example, the police asked Mr. Lopez whether he currently used any other names ("Do you ever go by any other names?") and he said "No," and his subsequent answer that he formerly used a different name ("a long time ago") didn't contradict at all his prior "No."

Judge Bybee's right again.  But I'll add that the alleged "contradiction" is also irrelevant in any event.  A "No" answer is unambiguous even if I previously totally contradicted myself time and time again.
For example, maybe you asked me previously:  "Shaun, are you 49?" and I said "No."  But then, later, I said "Actually, yeah, I'm 49."  Then you asked me:  "Shaun, do you like pizza?" and I said "No," but subsequently admitted that I ate it every day.  Then, after all these negative responses, you ask me:  "Do you want to sleep with me?" and I say "No."

Dude:  That's not ambiguous.  Don't try to sleep with me.  Maybe I lied before.  Maybe I changed my mind before.  That doesn't matter.  My current "No" now still means "No."  My very clear "No" is not somehow an "unclear" response just because previously I made amendments to my prior answers.

To reiterate:  No means no.

A pretty easy thing to remember, actually.