Up for Grabs
Please note that I am not a legal expert and this YKTTW
is written from a pop-culture perspective...
This trope is in effect when trials are notably different from what an audience expects based on their culture's legal traditions: this is usually a sign that a setting is Twenty Minutes into the Future
or in an Alternate Universe
, or any other number of fantastic (as well as historical) settings.
How this is played can vary: frequently the result is Draconian, without any of the civil liberties the viewer is accustomed to, and often there are no lawyers and but a single judge/jury/executioner. However, it doesn't have to be this way. Making a high stakes legal trial into a TV show is another variation, perhaps with audience participation in the role of judge or jury. Another variation uses telepathy to extract the truth or as a psionic lie detector. Another common variation is to have a computer or multiple computers determine the outcome of all or part of the legal proceedings. May or may not be a Kangaroo Court
. However, this is distinct from Kangaroo Court
in that a Kangaroo Court
can have a defense attorney, a jury, the whole shebang, but all them are hopelessly biased towards prosecution. This court doesn't have these institutions, but it may or may not be biased towards prosecution (depending on the setting and drama requirements of the story). Kangaroo Court
is about that hopeless bias, and this is about the structure of the court itself. Trial by Combat
is a Sub-Trope
. May be occasionally related to Artistic License – Law
No matter the variation (and there are many, too many to list, so we'll let the examples speak for themselves), this is usually a sign that not all is right with the world the story is set in.
Because this trope frequently depends on the audience's cultural expectations, it would be wise to observe No Real Life Examples
- Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt: it's basically a game show called "Judgement Day". There is a host with crazy eyes, the prosecutor is Tom Cruise, the appointed defense attorney is a monkey equipped with a device to let it speak, and the audience is the jury.
- Kafka's The Trial: No charges. No explanations. Just brutal, bureaucratic oppression grinding a man down into submission and executing him.
- Empire from the Ashes: Trials conducted under Imperial Law can and usually do include a lie detector machine. Also legal proceedings are described as being significantly different from the protagonist's US based legal system.
- Robert Heinlein's The Star Beast. After the alien creature Lummox goes on a destructive rampage, the Department of Spatial Affairs holds a hearing over the matter. The trial is held in a very informal manner for a court of law, and a "truth meter" (lie detector) is available for witnesses. A witness is not required to use the machine, but the court will take notice (i.e. take their testimony less seriously) if they don't.
- Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper features a lie detector machine called "The Verdicator".
- Describe the setting, please, in the main thread, not the OP.
- Max Headroom: Twenty Minutes into the Future, we will have computerized trials... on floppy disk!
- The computers will still act as judges 700 years later, according to Blake's 7, but humans will be pronouncing the sentences, at least, in Space Command (military) court-martials.
- Sliders: Quinn once ended up on the game show variation on a parallel Earth
- The Twilight Zone TOS episode "The Obsolete Man": In a future totalitarian state a man is put on trial for having an obsolete profession - being a librarian. The trial he receives is a complete kangaroo court - the only real input he has is how he will be executed. At the end of the episode the judge who convicted him is given his own unfair trial.
- In the Star Trek The Next Generation pilot episode, "Encounter at Farpoint", Q puts Humanity On Trial, using a courtroom backdrop taken from Earth's Dark And Troubled Past, complete with a judge seated on a throne rather than behind a desk, and chainmail-wearing, machine gun-toting, drug-snorting bailiffs. During the trial, one of the bailiffs misbehaves and is executed for the offense in the courtroom, much to the delight of the unruly crowd of rag-tag post-apocalyptic survivors.
- In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the outcomes of Cardassian trials are known from the start. All criminals are guilty, otherwise they wouldn't be on trial. Trials are broadcast live, all over Cardassia. Each trial is a drama, a propaganda performance piece that reinforces the public's thirst for justice.
- The Prisoner uses mock trials with odd rules in a number of episodes, notably "Dance of the Dead". Then it tops them all in the final episode "Fall Out" with a weird tribunal that's a total Mind Screw - perhaps literally as far as Number Six is concerned.
- A Farscape episode featured a Planet of Hats with a population of 90% lawyers, 10% oppressed "utilities." Their legal system was overly complicated, as complicating the law provided work for most of the populace, but it was all inextricably tied to a single book called the Axiom which outlined how a mystical "Light of Truth" (in the episode, provided by Moya) could overturn the results of a conviction. Zhaan got caught up in the schemes of one of the planet's ruling law firms.
- In Babylon 5, the law has been updated to deal with the existence of telepaths: evidence obtained during telepathic scans is not admissible in court.
- In Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney, there are a number of differences in their trial system, not least of which is that trials only take 3 days during which the defendant is considered guilty unless proven otherwise by their attorney. The trials also lack juries, although that's probably due to the game being Japanese.
- Futurama features a number of humorous courtroom innovations.
- In one trial that serves as a Shout Out to the Star Trek The Original Series episode, "The Menagerie", witnesses are seated in an enclosed wheelchair and required to respond to yes - no questions by pressing a footpedal rather than speaking.
- The Supreme Court justices, rather than going into a private conference room and returning a verdict after hours of deliberations, communicate by telepathy, allowing them to determine verdicts in less than a minute.
- 'Justice League had an episode where Green Lantern was accused and tried for destroying a populated alien planet. Three holographic floating heads served as his judge and jury. Although defense attorneys are allowed at this alien court, they're quite rare--lawyers who fail to get an acquittal are executed along with their client. "That's how we solved our lawyer problem!"
- A(nother?) Justice League episode has an alien trial reveal the defendant doesn't have a lawyer under their system, so Flash volunteers. Then he finds out the reason they don't have lawyers is because the sentence applies to both lawyer and defendant, and they tend towards Hanging Judge...