Two Negatives Don’t Make a Positive – Update for July 25, 2016

We’re still doing a weekly newsletter … we’re just starting to post pieces of it every day.  The news is fresher this way …


Not everyone likes high school grammar classes, but we understand that peaking well is the best way to be understood. You know, no dangling participles, no split infinitives, and especially no double negatives.

nuthin160725The double negative: When the Rolling Stones sang, “I can’t get no satisfaction,” they were really saying “I can get satisfaction.” A double negative becomes a positive.

LA banger Kevin Jones could have saved himself some grief if he had listened better in high school (or better yet, attended high school at all). He was arrested after three members of a rival gang were shot at a gas station from a moving vehicle that looked an awful lot like his car. Police questioned him for a few hours without making any progress. But finally, a detective said, “You drove the car. You just didn’t know it was going to happen like that. Kevin, sit up, man.”

Kevin shook his head and replied, “I don’t want to talk no more, man.”

But the cops’ questions continued and so did Kevin’s answers, until he had incriminating himself. After losing at trial, he filed a state habeas corpus claim, arguing that his 5th Amendment rights had been violated by the police.

California state courts took the position that “I don’t want to talk no more, man” was ambiguous, which is technically true. Generally, it means “I don’t want to talk anymore,” but it could mean “I don’t want to talk not anymore.”

Chief Joseph famously said, “I will fight no more forever,” but these words – from a non-native English speaker – had eloquence to them. Kevin’s did not. Still, last week, the 9th Circuit held that the California state courts had been unreasonable in finding his statement ambiguous.

no160725The Circuit panel held that any reasonable judge would have to conclude that when Kevin said he did not want to talk “no more,” he was invoking his right to remain silent. By continuing to question Kevin after his invocation of the right to remain State cannot use as evidence anything he said after his invocation, and contrary to clearly established Supreme Court case law.

“No” means “no,” even if it is used too often.

Jones v. Harrington, Case No. 15-56360 (9th Cir.  July 22, 2016)


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *