Jack Ohman

Miranda and Boston: You have the right to read political cartoons...

Usually, the Cartoon Department hums along rather quietly here at The Sacramento Bee. We sit by ourselves and make silent clever observations, many of which are not usable. We only lightly monitor what the competition is doing, because we have our own material to generate. It hardly leaves one time to meet the boys for Jim Boomers at the Satire and Japes Club. So when I see the cartooning of others, I am typically reduced to saying either, "that works," or, alternatively, "that doesn't work."

Rarely do I recoil in surprise at my colleagues work one way or the other.

Until today.

One of my esteemed colleagues sent along a cartoon by a gentleman who is actually a very bright fellow, and quite successful in our field. I won't say he doesn't generate any controversy, because he does, but it's not for his work. When I saw the forwarded cartoon in question, I was rendered speechless.

This is the first time I have seen a cartoon calling for the repeal of the Miranda ruling.

Now, I see a lot of things in my job. I see people drawing cartoons ridiculing the president of the United States as a jug-eared socialist dupe, for example. I see cartoons questioning the policies of the Republicans in Congress as it relates to their motivations and contributors. I see cartoons that add several chins, take away hair, and generally make good sport of someone's physical flaws. I see weeping eagles. I see naked plagiarism. I see people redrawing their own work. I see all that, and more.

But I have never seen a cartoon quite like this.

There is a little-known provision of federal law that permits government agents to question a suspect before Miranda is administered, so they can ascertain if their alleged actions may cause further harm to others. The artist asks, why not deny them Miranda rights in general? He cites the Aurora Shooter and the Gabby Giffords gunman, along with the Boston bomber, as three criminals to whom he would deny Miranda rights.

I am down with having the ability to cut to the chase with a captured terror suspect to ask him if he's got anything else in store. It's a fast-moving environment, and speed is important. But even if someone appears to be guilty, they set up this Miranda rule so that everyone, guilty or innocent, gets a lawyer and understands their rights. 

Now, the terrorist in Boston--assuming we have the right perpetrator, and we have no reason to question that we don't-- deserves the full force of the law and the consequences if he is found guilty by a jury of his peers. No question. Someone who drives drunk, or robs a bank, or commits a felony, or parks in a tow-away zone deserves equal justice under the law. They have this written in stone over the entrance to the United States Supreme Court building, where they also regularly rule that it's ok to draw political cartoons and not be sued for libel. 

So when I saw this cartoon, I was a little taken aback. Would the artist also just throw Miranda out the window if he, for example, had maybe been mistaken for someone else as a crime suspect, even it was a heinous one? Would he just want to rot in jail without legal counsel, getting the hell beaten out of him by some cops who just thought it would be fun to do so? I doubt it. Shall we throw out the libel law so that public figures can sue and ruin political cartoonists, or shut down newspapers because they don't like what they print? After all, I am sure there is a school of thought that think these things are counter-productive to the state, or to a specific politician. 

There are quite a number of countries that have nothing like a Miranda rule, and, not only that, a lot of those same countries would love nothing better than to throw a nasty political cartoonist in jail for drawing snide little panels about the political establishment. Or just kill the cartoonist. That happens in other countries.

All the time. 

So I would ask my dear colleague, an otherwise sterling fellow, to consider that the next time he thinks it would be all very well and good to dump Miranda.

After all, it protects the constitutional rights of jaywalkers and mad bombers (and if they're guilty, the penalties are prescribed and will be meted out), but more importantly, it protects American citizens--all of them, guilty or not. 

Even cartoonists.

I'd show you the cartoon, but I don't have the legal right to do so without paying him, or getting his permission. There is a copyright law in place that protects him and his ability to earn a living from his work.

And you know something? That's fair. It's a law.

It applies to everyone. 

You know, like Miranda.