Created By: Goldfritha on June 10, 2012 Last Edited By: Goldfritha on September 1, 2013

Crime-Fitting Punishment

A crime receives a unique punishment, tailored to fit it.

Name Space:
Main
Page Type:
Trope
Mikado: My object all sublime
I shall achieve in time —
To let the punishment fit the crime —
The punishment fit the crime;

When a crime is committed, there may be a neat, one-size-fits-all for that crime, or any crime, but more creative souls may decide to tailor it neatly to fit more precisely -- a unique punishment. Cool and Unusual Punishment may, indeed, be needed to make it fit.

Disproportionate Retribution is not out of the question, since it need only fit the crime in the eyes of the one inflicting it (and the crime may be wholly imaginary). Revenge by Proxy is usually this as well -- intended for the actual target, not the victim of the revenge. It can also cross over with Laser-Guided Karma, with the punishing characters as the agents of Karma.

The Poetic Serial Killer is really fond of these, although their victims are innocent more often than not with the "crime" largely in the killer's head only.

Ironic Hell is full of these.

Examples

Film
  • In The Super Joe Pesci plays a slum manager sentenced to live in his own building and has 120 days to bring it up to code. His father, an even bigger jerk slumlord who gave Pesci's character the job as a "welcome to the family buisness" gift, is adamant that his son not make any improvements to the building and in the climax plans to torch the place for the insurance money.

Literature
  • In Robert A. Heinlein's The Number of the Beast, there is a dimension in which criminals are punished by replicating their crimes as closely as possible: a hit-and-run driver is hit by a car and left to scream by the side of the road while the ambulance personnel stand, chatting, until the time when his victim was recovered.
  • In John C. Wright's The Phoenix Exultant, the Bellipotent Composition maintains that the Invariant/Warlock conflict was caused by the Invariant insistence on a stark, mechancial dealing out of punishments as prescribed, and the Warlock insistence on poetic punishments tailored to the criminal.
  • In Poul Anderson's "My Object All Sublime", a far-future society dumps its criminals into the past, into situations carefully choosen to match the crimes they have committed. At least, in their eyes. A character in this story is identified by the narrator and put in a different dangerous situation for having escaped the Nazis during World War II. Though since we never know what crime he committed -- he states only that the crimes of some eras are praiseworthy in others, and that he would not go back to the future, ruled by traitors -- and the narrator is too coldly professional to arouse much sympathy, we do not know if they are just in the process. (He explicitly says that his wife and children being left behind, unaware of why he vanished, is part of the punishment.)
  • Mirra's penitentiary system works by fitting the severity of punishment to a) how typical the crime is for the perpetrator's social, economical, ethnical etc. data and to b) making the punishment fit to the perpetrator's native system of justice, unless the punishment on Mirra is already harder.
  • In The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl, the club members discuss this quite a bit, as they're trying to find a good English word or phrase for this phenomenon.

Live Action TV
  • On Copper the Union Army is in the middle of the American Civil War and desperate for new recruits, subcontracts recruiting to private individuals. One of them decides to simply kidnap teenage boys and then 'volunteer' them for the army. The Army turns a blind eye but Det Corcoran takes an extremely dim view of this. His first choice is to simply shoot the man outright but he is asked to show mercy so instead he takes the man to the recruitment office and 'volunteers' him for service.

Mythology and Legends
  • Theseus the Greek hero killed bandits the same way bandits killed others.
  • Cúchulainn means "Culann's Hound" -- for a period of time, after killing Culann's hound, he did its job guarding the hall.
  • Greek Mythology:
    • Tantalus killed, cooked, and served his own son at a banquet the gods were attending. As punishment, he is condemned to eternally starve and die of thirst just out of reach of fresh fruit and cold water.
    • Sisyphus was a Guile Hero who tricked the gods one time too many, and is condemned to push a huge boulder up a hill, only for the boulder to roll downhill every time.
    • Prometheus' punishment for sharing the secret of fire was being chained to a mountaintop and having his liver ripped out every day by a giant bird, regrowing every day.
    • For violating Sacred Hospitality by trying to hit on Hera when invited to Olympus, Ixion was forever strapped to a burning wheel.
    • The Danaids are brides who killed their arranged husbands on the wedding night (all but one), and were condemned to endlessly pour water into a barrel filled with holes..
  • Norse Mythology: Loki is chained beneath the earth as punishment for engineering the death of the god Baldur, where a giant snake drips venom into his eyes. His wife holds a bowl over his head, but when she leaves to empty it, Loki's thrashing causes earthquakes.

Table Top G Ames
  • This trope is a central concept of the Ravenloft game-setting, where curses (including darklords' punishments) tend to be tailor-made to rub the cursed party's crimes in their face.

Theater
  • The Mikado -- comically, with such punishments as dull lectures for boring people.

Real Life
  • There have been various cases around the U.S. where a judge has ordered a slumlord who was derelict in his maintenance responsibilities, to live under house arrest in the slum building in question for a given amount of time or until the proper repairs were made. It seemed a rather novel approach in the late 1980s and early 1990s when such cases first made news, but now it seems to be a common punishment for absentee landlords derelict in their obligations to tenants.
  • In at least one (and no doubt many more) Real Life instance, a judge sentenced someone guilty of the misdomenor of "disturbing the peace" - specifically, playing their car stereo too loud - to attend a classical music concert.

Community Feedback Replies: 34
  • June 10, 2012
    captainsandwich
    is Ironic Hell a subtrope?
  • June 10, 2012
    jlt314
    Check http://zhurnal.lib.ru/s/shapiro_m_a/ Some of the short stories were translated to English. Mirra's penitentiary system works by fitting the severity of punishment to a) how typical the crime is for the perpetrator's social, economical, ethnical etc. data and to b) making the punishment fit to the perpetrator's native system of justice, unless the punishment on Mirra is already harder.
  • June 10, 2012
    Notevilatall
    Theseus the greek hero killed bandits the same way bandits killed others
  • June 10, 2012
    TwoGunAngel
    I'd personally title this The Punishment Fits The Crime, or if you don't want a title that sounds like a sentence, Karmic Punishment.

    It'd be the supertrope of Hoist By His Own Petard and Karmic Death.
  • June 11, 2012
    randomsurfer
    See also the ykttw The Punishment Is The Crime.
  • June 11, 2012
    Goldfritha
    Hoist By His Own Petard and Karmic Death are related but not the same -- in neither case does any character have to have decided to inflict a punishment.
  • June 11, 2012
    SKJAM
    In The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl, the club members discuss this quite a bit, as they're trying to find a good English word or phrase for this phenomenon.
  • January 14, 2013
    StarSword
    Laser Guided Karma ring a bell?
  • January 14, 2013
    Goldfritha
    Yes, but it has no necessary overlap, since that's driven by Karma, not by other characters.
  • January 16, 2013
    Chernoskill
    Real-World examples I can think of: Hacking off a thief's hand, practised (from the top of my head) up the late middle ages everywhere and was not uncommon in some countries in the 20th century (Saudi Arabia?).
  • January 16, 2013
    MokonaZero
    See also Ironic Death if the victim is killed.
  • January 16, 2013
    jatay3
  • July 27, 2013
    Goldfritha
    Laser Guided Karma is guided by a mysterious force not one of the characters.
  • July 27, 2013
    DAN004
    ^ Of course, the "mysterious force" working In Mysterious Ways can drive one of the characters to enact Laser Guided Karma. :P

    BTW the saying "an eye for an eye" would be relevant.
  • July 28, 2013
    crazysamaritan
    The saying originates from the Code of Hammurabi, the first laws
  • July 28, 2013
    WeAreAllKosh
    Real Life

    • There have been various cases around the U.S. where a judge has ordered a slumlord who was derelict in his maintenance responsibilities, to live under house arrest in the slum building in question for a given amount of time or until the proper repairs were made. It seemed a rather novel approach in the late 1980s and early 1990s when such cases first made news, but now it seems to be a common punishment for absentee landlords derelict in their obligations to tenants.
  • July 29, 2013
    Frank75
    @Chernoskill: I don't know whether that counts. You may construct something to the effect of "you used your hand for stealing, so we'll cut it off so you can't steal anymore", but we are still talking about thieves, not people who cut off other people's hands For The Evulz.
  • July 29, 2013
    Chernoskill
    The trope doesn't require that the punishment reflects the crime in any way, onlyx that the punishment is tailored to a specific crime. So the punishment of hacking of a hand is only done to convicted thieves and no one else, and so on... I'm no specialist in middle eastern culture but from the top of my head in some islamic countries this kind of "Eye for an eye" justice is practiced regularly.
  • August 9, 2013
    Paradisesnake
    ^ I don't know about the prevalency of the Code of Hammurabi today but according to The Other Wiki amputation is still used as a form of legal punishment in countries like Iran, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Islamic regions of Nigeria.
  • August 10, 2013
    Morgenthaler
    The Poetic Serial Killer is really fond of these, although their victims are innocent more often than not with the "crime" largely in the killer's head only.
  • August 11, 2013
    SharleeD
    • This trope is a central concept of the Ravenloft game-setting, where curses (including darklords' punishments) tend to be tailor-made to rub the cursed party's crimes in their face.
  • August 12, 2013
    RandomSurfer
    In at least one (and no doubt many more) Real Life instance, a judge sentenced someone guilty of the misdomenor of "disturbing the peace" - specifically, playing their car stereo too loud - to attend a classical music concert.
  • August 26, 2013
    Chabal2
    • Greek Mythology:
      • Tantalus killed, cooked, and served his own son at a banquet the gods were attending. As punishment, he is condemned to eternally starve and die of thirst just out of reach of fresh fruit and cold water.
      • Sisyphus was a Guile Hero who tricked the gods one time too many, and is condemned to push a huge boulder up a hill, only for the boulder to roll downhill every time.
      • Prometheus' punishment for sharing the secret of fire was being chained to a mountaintop and having his liver ripped out every day by a giant bird, regrowing every day.
      • For violating Sacred Hospitality by trying to hit on Hera when invited to Olympus, Ixion was forever strapped to a burning wheel.
      • The Danaids are brides who killed their arranged husbands on the wedding night (all but one), and were condemned to fill a barrel full of holes.
    • Norse Mythology: Loki is chained beneath the earth as punishment for engineering the death of the god Baldur, where a giant snake drips venom into his eyes. His wife holds a bowl over his head, but when she leaves to empty it, Loki's thrashing causes earthquakes.
  • August 27, 2013
    maxaxle
    No Real Life Examples Please should apply, since the definition of "fits the crime" is kind of subjective.
  • August 27, 2013
    randomsurfer
    Film: In The Super Joe Pesci plays a slum manager sentenced to live in his own building and has 120 days to bring it up to code. His father, an even bigger jerk slumlord who gave Pesci's character the job as a "welcome to the family buisness" gift, is adamant that his son not make any improvements to the building and in the climax plans to torch the place for the insurance money.
  • August 28, 2013
    Arivne
    I think Real Life examples would be O.K. if it were stated that the punishment must clearly be related to the crime (such as a slum lord being required to live in his own building), and any example where that wasn't clear should be deleted.

    Also, the description should be changed to make it clear that the punishment must be somehow related to the crime.
  • August 29, 2013
    Goldfritha
    It doesn't have to be related to the crime. It has, in the eyes of the one inflicting it, to fit the crime.
  • August 29, 2013
    randomsurfer
    How would you define "fit?" I mean, in Real Life mundane ol' prision sentences are based on what the judge and lawmakers think is appropriate to the crime done.
  • August 29, 2013
    DAN004
  • August 30, 2013
    WeAreAllKosh
    ^^ While a given jail sentence or fine might be deemed appropriate for a given offense, they are still not directly related: e.g. a jail sentence for armed robbery doesn't actually duplicate the experience of the victim of the crime (their jail time could be better, worse, or roughly the same level of trauma based on how well they "do time", how much they value their freedom, etc.). I think "fit" in this context denotes a punishment that actually tries to duplicate the experience of the victim of their crime: e.g. sentencing a negligent slumlord to live in the same building as the tenants he's neglecting. The death penalty could also fall under "fit", I suppose, in murder cases, although often this penalty is exacted in a more humane fashion than what the murderer inflicted on their victim.
  • August 30, 2013
    nielas
    • On Copper the Union Army is in the middle of the American Civil War and desperate for new recruits, subcontracts recruiting to private individuals. One of them decides to simply kidnap teenage boys and then 'volunteer' them for the army. The Army turns a blind eye but Det Corcoran takes an extremely dim view of this. His first choice is to simply shoot the man outright but he is asked to show mercy so instead he takes the man to the recruitment office and 'volunteers' him for service.
  • August 30, 2013
    randomsurfer
    ^^But that would be "related" to the crime, which Goldfritha explicitly says isn't neccessary, which is why I'm trying to nail down what the definition of "fitting" the crime is.

    ^^^As extreme example: per All Crimes Are Equal a comic book depiction of Judge Roy Bean considers hanging "fit" punishment for both kidnapping a woman and making the judge spill his drink. So within the context of "in the eyes of the one inflicting it" I don't see why that wouldn't count; but also I think that that wouldn't count.
  • August 31, 2013
    henke37
    Vandalize something? You better be prepared to clean up after yourself.
  • September 1, 2013
    Arivne
    ^ Who are you talking to?
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=ddxohdbrtbya7s80r75vfuhr