I really want to see that handbook. Or technical manual. Or whatever it is that sets the procedures and policies fictional police operate under. Because the police in comic books, movies, and television are constantly talking about procedures – things they claim they get to do – that are simply wrong. Like the totally outlandish statement in the recent The Black Hood #4.
We interrupt our dissertation on the law for a dissertation on history. The Black Hood dates back to the 40s and was published by MLJ Comics; the company which later became Archie Comics. The character has kicked around since then, being revived several times to varying degrees of success. It varies from very little to none at all. The current Black Hood comic is published by Dark Circle Comics, a sub-imprint that Archie Comics created so its super heroes weren’t constrained by the kid-friendly books Archie publishes.
Not constrained is something of an understatement. The Black Hood drops more F bombs than Lewis Black in a Scorsese movie. The Black Hood was the first comic book published by Archie that used that particular word. (First comic, but not the first Archie character. I’m looking at you, Miss Grundy!)
In the grim and gritty world of The Black Hood, there are cops and there are bad guys and cops who self-identify as bad guys. But what’s important to us, is that the cops shown in The Black Hood # 4 were sitting around a table while the comic’s first-person narrative captions read, “Technically, cops can hold a suspect for six hours before having to read them Miranda. Nobody likes it much, but that’s the law.”
No, that’s not the law.
The caption used the word, “Technically.” That implies the technical manual or handbook I mentioned earlier; a book that must have more errors than the ’62 Mets . Any book that can muck up something so simple as when Miranda warnings should be read must be like one of those puzzle pictures in the Highlights for Children Magazine. You know: How many things can you find wrong in this picture?
The Miranda warnings – which are not an advisory that Turner Classic Movies is about to air a frothy musical starring a Brazilian fruit fancier – are actually an advisory created by the Supreme Court of the United States in Miranda v. Arizona. The Miranda court noted the long history of coercive interrogation tactics that the police employed over the years. Tactics called the third degree. No one seems to know where that name came from, but I think we can assume it wasn’t because the interrogators had a B.A., an M.B.A, and a Ph.D. No, we’re talking enhanced interrogation including physical torture, mental torture, and even multiple screenings of the Tommy Wiseau movie The Room. Remember this is interrogation we’re talking about not punishment, “cruel and unusual” doesn’t apply.
In order to stop the police’s pervasive use of enhanced interrogation techniques, the Miranda court imposed a requirement on the police. Before the police conduct a custodial interrogation, they must advise the detainees that they have the right to remain silent, that anything they say can be used against them, that they have the right to an attorney, and that if they can’t afford an attorney one would be appointed for them. If the police don’t give prisoners their Miranda rights before they begin custodial interrogation, then anything the prisoners say cannot be introduced against them in a court of law.
So is it true that “technically” the police don’t have to read prisoners their Miranda rights for the first six hours of custody? Is the Pope Jewish?
Miranda doesn’t set actually any time limit. The police don’t have someone playing The Minute Waltz 359 times, so they know when to give the warnings. Miranda warnings aren’t triggered by time but by interrogation.
Miranda warnings must be given before any custodial interrogation begins. If the police want to interrogate someone in custody right away, then they must give the Miranda warnings right away. They can’t start questioning the detainee then give the Miranda warnings six hours later. The only way the police can wait six hours before giving a suspect in custody the Miranda warnings is if the police wait six hours before questioning the suspect. There’s no six-hour Don’t-Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card associated with Miranda. Not “technically” and not actually.
That’s one example of something this technical police procedure handbook got completely wrong. It’s not the only one. There are others. Lots of others. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to examine some more of these procedures that fictional police officers talk about all the time. Things they say they get to do which they actually don’t get to do.
So stick around. It should be at least as much fun as reading about what nonsense Batman was up to this week.