In the half century since the Supreme Court decided Miranda v. Arizona, custodial interrogations have become a mainstay of popular culture. Even casual viewers of police procedurals will be exposed to hundreds of depicted arrests, interrogations, and other law enforcement conduct. It has become commonplace for courts, commentators, and the general public to assert that people learn about their rights from television.

Yet if people do, in fact, learn about their criminal procedure rights from television, what they are learning is dangerously inaccurate. In a comprehensive content analysis of ten seasons, totaling 229 episodes, drawn from two of the most highly watched crime dramas on television, we demonstrate that these shows mislead viewers about the nature and scope of Miranda and other criminal procedure rights, almost always suggesting that these rights are less protective than they actually are. First—and contrary to widely held belief—these crime dramas rarely depict the actual administration of the Miranda warning. Second, our research reveals a laundry list of ways that crime dramas undermine Miranda: for every full reading of the Miranda warning, the shows approvingly portray sixty-five Miranda violations; invocations of Miranda are regularly rejected and treated as a sign of guilt; other criminal procedure protections are routinely violated with impunity; and defense attorneys are consistently portrayed as unethical and ineffective. In all, the crime dramas we reviewed depicted events that undermine Miranda at a rate of ten times per episode.

If Miranda and associated rights were robustly respected by police and uniformly protected by courts, it might not matter so much how well the general public understood those rights. But remedies for Miranda violations are increasingly out of reach: in 2022, for example, the Supreme Court held in Vega v. Tekoh that a police officer’s failure to read the Miranda warning prior to a custodial interrogation does not alone give rise to a federal civil damages remedy. This means that people who have been taken into custody will often be their own first and last line of defense, and if they do not understand Miranda and related criminal procedure rights, they will not be able to protect their own interests. We therefore propose an array of measures to combat the undermining of Miranda. These include revisions to doctrine, legislative reform of policing practices, responsible measures for the entertainment industry, and steps for other stakeholders.



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