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Miranda! I Just Met a Girl Named Miranda!

I have seen the future of broadcast television. And oddly enough, it came to me at the Middlesex County courthouse.

Last year out here in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a couple of model citizens abducted a 10-year-old boy, asphyxiated him with a gasoline-soaked rag, and sexually assaulted his lifeless body. The pair was quickly arrested and, in the midst of police questioning, one of the upstanding fellows confessed to committing the crime.

Videotaped confessions, however, don't necessarily provide for long, sensational trials. Sensing a speedy resolution and envisioning per-hour trial fees evaporating before his very wallet, the accused's lawyer quickly acted to extend the proceedings.

Apparently, our hero's attorney says, his client confessed to his involvement in snuffing out a poor boy's life because he did not completely understand his rights.

Think about that concept for a moment. Is it truly possible for an American citizen not to know his rights while under arrest when our televisions spit out legal programming around the clock? From The Andy Griffith Show to "America's Most Frightening Police Chases on Crack," the nation has had forty years of network-subsidized legal education that may not necessarily help you convict a Heisman Trophy-winning running back, but should give average joes like you and me a pretty fair assessment of what's to be expected the next time the local constable shackles us in the paddy wagon.

The same studies that show that a child sees thousands of televised murders before age 12 would probably also indicate that the same child hears Miranda rights being read by Detective Pembleton, Sgt. Renko -- heck, even Police Chief Wiggum -- an equal number of times. Even the most inert couch potato has probably gleaned enough knowledge of TV barristers from Perry Mason to Michael Kuzak to know a writ of habeus corpus from an amicus curiae.

But despite the steady stream of jurisprudence, it seems that many accused criminals still claim a misunderstanding of the rights that a few hours of Court TV could explain. Back when I was 19 and hauled into a small-town Louisiana station house for discharging fireworks and driving around with enough liquor to cater a Kennedy family reunion, Officer Cleetus sternly told me, "Ignorance of the law is no excuse, son." Ignorance of your basic rights, however, may be the ticket to a speedy dismissal and a chauffeured ride back to your apartment, courtesy of the State Police.

I won't hold my breath waiting for Congress to come up with a solution to the issue of violent criminals being set free on technicalities. Since the boundary between government and mass media is becoming more and more indistinguishable, I'll ask the latter to take the initiative.

Having access to a television set is the closet thing that we have to a requirement to maintaining U.S. citizenship. There's no annual test on national trivia, no physical fitness test, no eye exam. Not even assassinating the President will get your membership in the America Club revoked. But if you're somehow unable to fire up Suddenly Susan or the infomercial for Curves at a moment's notice, you might as well live in Albania.

I believe it's time to take advantage of the fact that at any given moment a full 98% of the American population is in front of a television ready to passively absorb its universal truths.

My idea is as simple as it is brilliant -- the Miranda Channel.

Think about it: a round-the-clock broadcast of your rights. Not only would it free law enforcement from one step of the arrest process, but a new media outlet would be created to employ struggling actors. Nothing says "sexy" to me like Tom Wopat telling me I have the right to an attorney, or Heather Thomas reminding me that anything I say may be used against me. Rrrrrrrowl!

Soon, the Miranda Channel could add other programs about the constitutional rights in place that prevent folks like you and me from unlawful incarceration. There could be game shows like Make Me Confess, in which contestants win valuable prizes for invoking their right against self-incrimination. There's Double Jeopardy, a searing drama starring TV's Lorenzo Llamas as a man unjustly tried on the same charges twice. And, of, course, there's hilarity a-plenty with Search & Seizure, the sitcom about two irreverent roommates who come up with one wacky scheme after another to keep a pompous police detective from entering their apartment without a warrant.

In a five-minute span, it would be possible to catch the previous night's baseball scores, check out the day's weather forecast, and reaffirm your right to free counsel in the event you cannot afford a private lawyer. It would also become impossible to insist to a judge that you are not aware of your rights, since the probability of not ever seeing a Miranda Channel broadcast is exactly the same as the probability that a group of Colombian drug lords planted OJ's blood in Brentwood.

Don't delay -- call your local cable company and ask them to carry the Miranda Channel: "Because today might be the day when you hack someone to pieces."


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