Cartoon: Honest Miranda Warnings

The U.S. justice system is completely awful, and most Americans have no idea. And it’s not just the cops. Our entire justice system is unfairly skewed in a myriad of ways, and it feels like there’s always some new terrible thing to discover.

For instance, I only recently learned about “pay to stay” laws, laws that charge prisoners for every day they’re in prison. This serves to guarantee that after serving their sentences, prisoners will be badly in debt (and sometimes sued by the government), making it even harder to restart life after prison. The exact details vary from state to state. In Connecticut, the charge can be as much as $249 a day. In Florida, the rate is “only” $50 a day – but convicts are charged for the entirety of their sentence, even when they’re released early for good behavior. For instance, Florida recently charged a woman $127,000 for a ten-month prison stay.

There’s some good media out there – warning, “good” in this context means enraging – countering the “greatest justice system in the world” narrative. I’ll recommend two of them here: If you like podcasts, I highly recommend Serial season three, which takes a detailed look at the nitty gritty of how “ordinary” crimes are processed by our system, humanizing the people involved at every level.

And for prose, subscribe to Radley Balko, a reporter who has spent years covering the deficiencies of the justice system with well-written intelligent analysis. Balko’s ongoing series on the state of public defense directly inspired this cartoon.

Regarding panel two: The pressure on all defendants, regardless of guilt, to accept a plea bargain is enormous.

In any given year, 98% of criminal cases in the federal courts end with a plea bargain — a practice that prizes efficiency over fairness and innocence, according to a new report from the American Bar Association.

Regarding panel three: I’m pretty sure that it’s unrealistic to show a DA visiting a prisoner like this. Call it artistic license; I wanted to show them both in the same panel, and I wanted the setting to show the protagonist having moved further inside the carceral system with every successive panel.


This cartoon has four panels, each panel showing a different scene. A caption under the cartoon says HONEST MIRANDA WARNINGS.


On a litter-covered city sidewalk, a cop is pushing a prisoner. The prisoner, a young Black man wearing an orange t-shirt with a cartoon cat on it, has his hands handcuffed behind his back.

COP: You have the right to remain silent. I have the right to brutalize or kill you, and even if there’s a video I’ll probably get away with it.


We are in a tiny windowless room, where the arrested guy from panel one is sitting at a table, opposite a balding man wearing a suit. The arrested guy listens with a blank, somewhat surprised expression while the suit-wearing man talks to him, one palm held open in a “let me explain this” gesture.

SUIT GUY: You have the right to be provided with an insanely overworked public defender like me. I won’t have time or resources to defend you as well as I’d like, and I’ll tell you to take a plea bargain even if you’re innocent.


We’re in a prison visiting area, the kind with a sheet of glass between prisoners and visitors. The same young man is on the prisoner’s side of the glass. On the visiting side of the glass is a woman with her black hair in a bun, wearing a business jacket over a black blouse and blue pinstriped pants. She’s pointing at the prisoner, and grinning as she talks.

WOMAN: As your prosecutor I have the right to lie in court to withhold key evidence, and basically to do everything I can to destroy you while I remain totally unaccountable.


We’re in a prison cell. There are two prisoners here, our main character, who is still looking stunned, and his cellmate, a bald man whose arm and neck are covered with tattoos. The cellmate is lying with his eyes closed on the lower bunk of a bunk bed, and speaking. The main character is sitting on a plastic chair.

CELLMATE: We’ve got the right to be beaten by other prisoners and by the guards. We’ve got the right to be charged $50 a day for this crap.

MAIN CHARACTER (thought): Sometimes I want fewer rights.


“Chicken fat” is an outdated cartoonists’ expression for unimportant but hopefully amusing little gags and references in the art. Lots of chicken fat in this one, for some reason.


On the main character’s t-shirt is a picture of Jiji, the cat from Kiki’s Delivery Service.

The cop’s tattoo shows a tic-tac-toe game in progress. “O” is a terrible player and “X” is guaranteed to win.

Graffiti on the wall behind them says “Barry was here.”

A newspaper page lying on the sidewalk says “Local News: Litter Bug Drops Paper.”

Other little scraps of paper say “Don’t read this” and “or this.”

There’s a single glove lying on the sidewalk. That’s not much of a gag, it’s just that I always see single gloves – or worse, single shoes! – lying on the ground and wonder how that came about.


A sheet of paper the lawyer brought with him has the heading “Blah Blah” at the top.

The main character is wearing the same t-shirt, but the character on the shirt is now a different Studio Ghibli creature – a susuwatari from “My Neighbor Totoro.”


A sign on the “visitors” side of the glass partition says “do not give prisoners cigarettes porn or hope.”


Four books are stacked on a wall shelf. Their spines say “Snoopy” “Charlie” “Lucy” and “Linus.”

A poster on the wall behind the bunk bed shows an angry/determined looking superhero flying through the air in the classic Superman flying pose. The caption above the hero says “Super Hero Film Franchise.” The smaller caption below the hero says “The only kind of story anyone needs!”

A poster on a different wall shows Andy and Ellis from the movie “The Shawshank Redemption.” The large caption above them says “Please Don’t Move Poster.” The smaller lower caption says “There’s no hidden escape tunnel honest.” (The poster is obviously hiding a tunnel, we can see the sides of the tunnel where it’s wider than the poster.)

Honest Miranda Warnings | Patreon

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6 Responses to Cartoon: Honest Miranda Warnings

  1. 1
    Dianne says:

    Wow. I had not heard of charging people for their own incarceration anywhere outside of dystopian fiction before.

  2. 2
    bcb says:

    It’s been standard practice in psychiatric prisons and jails for a long time (and there are no Miranda warnings of any kind in those things), but it’s becoming more prevalent in “standard” prisons.

    I “love” the part in this comic where the prosecutor and and cop both announce their own rights. Maybe the defense attourney should also say something like “I have a right to go home after your trial even if I lose” ?

  3. 3
    Doug says:

    I love this cartoon! The pay to stay stuff is even more infuriating when you look at the slave labor that prisoners are forced to engage in. They get paid 0.15 an hour and charged $50 per day!

    In my more hopeful moments I imagine that our descendants will look at our current criminal justice system the same way we look back at the institution of slavery: something wildly and obviously wrong that a whole society just turned a blind eye to for generations.

    In my more hopeless moments, I imagine that our descendants will be doing that same thing from inside the bars of their court mandated plantation with all of the anger towards me that I feel towards slave owners.

  4. 4
    Harlequin says:

    As far as single gloves go, I’ve lost them in the past this way: I go to do something that requires taking my gloves off (maybe fishing for my keys in a pants pocket) and I stuff the gloves in my coat pocket. I walk on. The gloves are bulky and one falls out of my pocket, and I don’t notice in enough time to find where I dropped it.

    No idea about the shoes, though!

    (One time this happened in a grocery store. I went back to see if someone had found it, and a cashier started waving it at me as soon as I walked in–I was wearing a matching hat and gloves!)

  5. 5
    E.A. Blair says:

    In the cop show versions of the Miranda warning, they all say that anything you say “…can be used against you in court…” but this is not correct and is, in fact, contrary to the correct wording of what the warning is supposed to be. That statement should be that anything you say “…can be used in evidence in court…” to reflect the possibility that anything the suspect says can also be used in defense. Unfortunately, actual cops follow the TV shows instead of reality.

  6. 6
    Adrian says:

    Even in jurisdictions where prisoners are not required to pay for basic rent in a prison, it’s common to charge for probation or parole. For instance, an ankle monitor can cost $35/day. And halfway houses, partly-supervised living arrangements for people leaving prison are also things people have to pay for whether they want to or not.

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