Criminal suspects were not the only ones to benefit from the Supreme Court's decision last week to uphold Miranda. It was a victory for cultural continuity, too. The 1968 decision, which requires police officers to read suspects their rights, became a staple of TV crime shows, perhaps most notably Jack Webb's Dragnet. It was a point not lost on Chief Justice Rehnquist, who referred to the rights' established place in the TV lexicon in delivering his opinion. Next to the pledge of allegiance, the Miranda rights may be the most familiar common litany of the baby-boomer generation, thanks to TV. We've not heard a TV Miranda read in a while, but here goes: "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney and to have that attorney present during questioning. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you without charge. Do you understand these rights as I've read them to you?" We checked, and that's pretty close. We also remember that the suspect has to acknowledge understanding those rights.
The court has confirmed that Miranda is an important protection of civil rights and a safeguard from police abuse. How many of us know about that right only from television? How many have been read those rights only by Joe Friday, Reed and Malloy, Steve McGarrett, Bobby Hill, Mick Belker and Lennie Briscoe?
We're not suggesting TV can claim cop shows fulfill their educational responsibility, but it does impress on us the important role the medium plays in cultural literacy.