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It wasn’t long after the Supreme Court ruling on Miranda v. Arizona that Dragnet’s Sargent Joe Friday began apprising suspects of their rights in nearly every episode. In 2000, the words of the Miranda warning appeared on screens small and large so often that Supreme Court Chief Justice Rehnquist, writing in the majority opinion for Dickerson v. United States in 2000, declared that “Miranda has become embedded in routine police practice to the point where the warnings have become part of our national culture.” Even Shrek 2 contained a reference to the well-known rule:
Donkey: What about my Miranda rights? You're supposed to say, "You have the right to remain silent!" Nobody said I have the right to remain silent! Shrek: Donkey, you have the right to remain silent! What you lack is the capacity.
The exchange may have flown over the heads of younger viewers, but anyone who grew up watching Dragnet, Adam-12, Law and Order or any number of police procedural TV series or movies probably enjoyed a laugh at Donkey’s expense. This Monday marks the 50th anniversary of the landmark ruling, so we decided conduct some news analysis to see what the media—past and present—reveals about Miranda rights.
The Miranda decision has been cited in court cases more than 60,000 times since 1966. While media coverage hasn’t matched that level of attention, when we looked back at Miranda rights mentions in 2003, media interest spike again because of additional Supreme Court cases.
A search of the Nexis® archives going back to 1977 found few headline-level references to Miranda rights until 1999. Digging into the articles representing a spike in activity between 1999 and 2000 reflects the Miranda law challenge that ultimately was upheld and led to Chief Justice Rehnquist’s statement above. As you can see from the chart below, however, the spikes in Miranda rights mentions began to occur more frequently.
Many mentions were related to court cases being thrown out or revisited because of Miranda rights violations. In post-911 America, some of the larger spikes occurred as a result of an ongoing debate over the issuing of Miranda warnings to suspected terrorists. In fact, the huge 2010 leap in Miranda headlines was directly related to two issues. Some articles explored whether terror suspects must be Mirandized before questioning, after it was revealed that the ‘underwear bomber’ was questioned for 30 minutes before being read his rights.
The spike also coincides with another Supreme Court ruling, which according to The Seattle Times, “…shifted the balance in favor of the police and against the suspect.” In a 5-4 decision, the Court said that suspects must verbally acknowledge that they do not want to talk. Furthermore, the Court ruled that police do not have to obtain a waiver of Miranda rights before beginning an interrogation.
We also used LexisNexis Newsdesk™ to capture a more current perspective on coverage of Miranda rights across licensed print, online and broadcast news as well as social media. Not surprisingly, the Supreme Court dominates the chart analyzing organizations mentioned with respect to Miranda rights.
While print news mentions are modest, online and broadcast news are significantly higher, and blog mentions have kept pace with print news.
We also looked at the articles behind the more recent activity and uncovered a few trends.
In the wake of several high-profile cases and protests about police brutality or abuse of suspects’ rights, quite a few articles covered outreach efforts by legal advocates to improve Miranda awareness among younger generations. This also coincides with discussions about updating Miranda to better protect minors. The pie chart below, which shows industries mentioned in conjunction with Miranda rights, shows that more than 10 percent of the articles were related to high schools and other education systems.
The pie chart also reveals another key topic: marijuana. As more states legalize marijuana for medicinal and/or recreational use, it will be interesting to see whether mentions of marijuana in conjunction with Miranda rights rises higher than the current 18.42 percent or starts to decline.
The 33 words that make up the Miranda statement may be ingrained in America’s pop-culture, but media analysis shows that the ‘right to remain silent’ isn’t keeping the media quiet when it comes to covering Miranda rights 50 years later.