Created By: Gringodingo on April 1, 2011

"We Can't Prosecute"

Name Space:
Page Type:
Often, an action-plot involves a character breaking a lot of laws, and often being pursued by police in high-speed chases etc, or otherwise being followed by law-enforcement. However in the end, no matter what the protagonist does, they get away scot-free, by the deus ex machina of some officer saying "we cant prosecute--" typically because there's something embarassing that they don't want to get out, or some other ridiculous reason.

  • Seen It a Million Times
  • In Wargames, Matthew Brodderick nearly starts WWIII, but gets away with it because... you guessed it.
  • Similarly in the film The Manhattan Project, a Mary Sue teenager builds a nuclear bomb and nearly blows up Manhattan.... but gets away with it, because-- he's a Mary Sue.

Do we have this one?
Community Feedback Replies: 22
  • April 2, 2011
    I've watched War Games many times, and this does not happen in the movie. At the end of the movie it is not stated in any way that David Lightman won't be prosecuted for what he did. It's unlikely (because he did prevent World War Three), but it's possible.

    However, it does happen in another movie.

    • Iron Eagle. After Doug and Chappy get back to the U.S., they're summoned before an Air Force judiciary panel for their illegal actions. Because any form of punishment would expose an embarrassing lapse in Air Force security, the panel forgoes prosecution as long as they never speak of their actions to anyone.
  • April 2, 2011
    In Dirty Harry, the Scorpio killer can't be prosecuted because Harry Callahan obtained the evidence against him through illegal means.
  • April 2, 2011
    • The Simpsons, "Simpson Tide." Homer almost caused a war with Russia while being a weekend warrior in the Naval Reserves.
      Admiral #1: Seaman Simpson, your actions have given the Navy a black eye from which it may never recover. I would throw the book at you, but I've been indicted on the Tailhook scandal. Goodbye!
      Admiral #2: I, too, would punish you, but, I'm under indictment for accepting bribes from military contractors.
      Admiral #3: I torpedoed a Carnival Cruise ship.
      Admiral #4: Impersonating the First Lady!
      The fifth admiral doesn't even decide to speak, but instead files out, like the other four, in non-prosecution.

  • April 2, 2011
    In Schlock Mercenary, at one point the UNS wants to put the Toughs away for blowing up the HTRN building, but can't because Petey the Fleetmind was the judge, and threatened full disclosure of the entire incident if the trial was completed. Since the incident touched on several UNS secrets (which of course Petey knew), the UNS had no choice but to let it drop.
  • April 2, 2011
    In CSI New York, Mac is accused of murder after a murderer (who's facing the death penalty anyway) decides to jump off a building when he'd been handcuffed. A corrupt cop he'd put away himself (who'd had a Heel Face Turn of sorts in prison) decided to give him some blackmail material on one of his higher-ups so he could invoke this trope.
    Mac: I think I'm starting to get the hang of politics.
  • April 2, 2011
    Hustle played with this one at least twice. possibly more

    In ep 101, the following exchange (words to the effect): 'So we're all in the clear?' 'Well, unless the police want to explain to the court how one of the accused ran the investigation'

    In ep 606, the MI 6 officers reluctantly let the team go free when they discover that a video with all the details of the 'covert operation' they blackmailed the team into, exists, with many many copies

  • April 2, 2011
    Max Payne ends with Max being finally arrested for his killing spree but not persecuted because the Government Conspiracy he allied himself with pulled some strings to make all charges go away.
  • April 2, 2011
  • April 2, 2011
    Compare There Should Be A Law, where the reason they can't prosecute is because what was done isn't actually illegal.

    In Dirty Harry, the Scorpio killer can't be prosecuted because Harry Callahan obtained the evidence against him through illegal means.
    This example is Off On A Technicality.
  • April 4, 2011
    Does this have to apply only to a protagonist?
  • June 11, 2013
  • June 11, 2013
    Also Wrongful Accusation Insurance covers plots where the hero breaks laws or causes property damage in the process of proving their innocence, and gets off scot-free.

    If there is a trope here, it's "Those in power can't press charges without indicting or embarrassing themselves, so the heroes get off scot-free."
  • June 11, 2013
    That Meta Four said.
  • June 11, 2013
    Off On A Technicality implies that there was a legal reason why the defendant is not convicted or maybe even not prosecuted. This trope seems to be about political reasons why someone is not prosecuted.

    A villainous example:

    • On Justified Dickie Bennett is in prison awaiting trial on kidnapping and attempted murder charges when a corrupt prison guard kidnaps him so Dickie can take him to the money hidden by Dickie's crime lord mother. Afterwards, Dickie threatens to sue the state over this event and rather than risk the embarrassment and a potential monetary payout, the government offers to drop the criminal charges if Dickie drops his lawsuit.
  • June 11, 2013
    Diplomatic Impunity would be a subtrope.
  • June 12, 2013
    And in case it needs to be said, the name can't be We Cant Prosecute because it sounds like a line of dialogue and would violate No New Stock Phrases.
  • June 12, 2013
    ^^^ Wouldn't the reason of political embarrassment count as a technicality?
  • June 12, 2013
    ^ Not really. Off On A Technicality deals with the criminal being released because of a procedural mistake by the cops or prosecution eg. no Miranda warning, bad warrant.
  • June 12, 2013
  • June 12, 2013
  • June 12, 2013
    One thing I would add:

    I think the description should be a bit clearer that 1)The heros did something probably worth of prosecution (usually property damage) 2)They are not gonna face the consequences because of what they did because either it worked out (The ends justify the means) or trying to punish them would be to embarrassing. 3)Someone should actually say there arn't any consequences. (it would be way to common otherwise)

    I think the fact that someone has to say something should get more emphasis in the description, as I think you'll get misuse otherwise(any time characters don't face the consequences of their actions. )

    Some name ideas: Heroic Get Out Of Jail Free Card? Heros Get Out of Jail Free?

  • June 12, 2013
    This sounds a lot like Must Let Them Get Away to me. A related/more refined version of the variants in that trope?