"Mobsters beating up a shopkeeper for protection money! Very naughty. Shopkeepers not paying their protection money — exactly as naughty!"Let the punishment fit the crime? Feh! This is what happens when a law enforcement apparatus is afflicted with Black and White Insanity. In fiction, if an empire or government is meant to be seen as evil, any crime, no matter how minor, is punished with the same brutal force. Most often this manifests itself as a slight slip-up in the presence of a ruler, such as merely speaking a bad word or telling a joke about the emperor (or being even tangentially suspected of helping a rebel in any way, even unknowingly) has you put to death, imprisoned for life, mind-wiped, tortured, crucified or punished in a similarly excessive way. The problem, however, is that if merely suggesting the emperor is fallible carries the death sentence, what do you do with more severe criminals such as arsonists? Traitors? Murderers? Bank robbers? Jaywalkers? One has to assume that every crime imaginable is punished in this same way (although The Caligula may feel that disagreeing with him deserves a more harsh punishment than crimes against humanity), which sort of defeats the purpose of law and punishment in the first place. One would almost expect petty criminals, knowing it's execution for them either way, to "go for broke" and engage in more violent crimes for the fun of it or possibly spite and/or despair. In both fiction and real life, this frequently results in a variety of Fates Worse Than Death for the big crimes while a pickpocket "only" gets his head cut off, which, if you think about it, sort of defeats the concept of All Crimes Are Equal in the first place and making it just plain Disproportionate Retribution. Certainly, this method of governance has a great tendency towards generating rebels, since a minor disagreement brands you with the traitors anyways, screwing you over forever; why not die fighting the power that so unjustly attacked you? A very common view for a Hanging Judge, especially if you've committed a Felony Misdemeanor. When this applies to punishment in the afterlife, then we have an Easy Road to Hell. In stories where a steady supply of criminals to use as a Condemned Contestant or Boxed Crook is required, society may devolve to this to keep the stream of "volunteers" coming once the obvious choices for felons have been exhausted. See also Jaywalking Will Ruin Your Life.
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Anime & Manga
- Light from Death Note really had only one punishment to give out, and he used it on various criminals, and anyone who stood in his way. Before the series is out, we see such things as people committing suicide by graffiti. Not to mention the purse-snatcher he sentences to death at one stage. He follows the logic of "kill the worst criminals, whoever they may be". As the killings caused drops in crime rates, the "worst" criminals became petty robbers and such. He was eventually planning to kill people for being lazy. Teru Mikami actually did this, and Light's only complaint was that it was way ahead of schedule.
- Digimon Xros Wars has the Heaven Zone, enforced by the ruthless president, SlashAngemon, who is also the chief of police. Crimes punishable by public electrocution and/or death include making a public racket, defacing holy symbols of the Zone, and criticizing the police's methods.
- The Municipal Force Daitenzin from Excel Saga was founded by Kabapu to put an end to crime and evil in F City; once they stop a total of 10 crimes, they can break free from their suits. Only problem is, people in F City are very lawful, so in order to get their suits off, they have no choice but to consider this. They get desperate enough as to even go so far to set up the crime just to make sure it counts when it's dealt with. Suffice to say, their super-powered super suits often resulted in an all-out overblown special attack. Its like being forced to swat a fly by detonating a nuclear bomb.
- The realm of Neotopia in Kiba was established on a foundation of Absolute Law, which is basically this trope. Most outsiders who encounter this are shocked at this black-and-white morality. Even Noah was shocked at first but was eventually persuaded to embrace it as the ultimate form of order.
- Oz from Pandora Hearts is sentenced to the Hell-like Abyss for what seems to be the most ludicrous of all crimes. "Oz Vessalius! Your crime... is your very existence!"
- Subverted. Oz is currently sharing a body with Jack Vessalius, the man who plans to send the world crashing into the Abyss. Oz himself is also Jack's ace in the hole for the entire plan, because while Oz had existed before hand as an Animate Inanimate Object, he was only fully brought to life so his immeasurable destructive power could be used by Jack to end the world.
- In Saint Beast, Pandora tries to hint that purging an angel for a one-time minor theft is Disproportionate Retribution. Zeus disagrees and continues making an insanely long list of angels he plans to burn and banish to the netherworld.
- The former king of Hou in The Twelve Kingdoms used to execute people for such crimes as being unable to work due to sickness and for wearing a comb in your hair outside. After he executed three hundred thousand people in one year, the people rose up and overthrew him.
- One Piece: Admiral Akainu holds this opinion, and various members of the World Government are of a similar mindset. Robin was hunted down since the age of eight simply because she possessed the ability to read the Poneglyphs and desired to learn the True History. Luffy and Ace were kept a secret from the world by their (in the case of Ace, adoptive) grandfather, simply because their sires were world-class criminals, for fear of being killed by their parents' enemies (which basically amounted to the entire world). Just being born for them was in itself a sin. These are "crimes" equivalent to, or perhaps even greater than, committing mass murder.
- Akame ga Kill! has Seryu, a soldier who believes all acts of evil are punishable by death. By the time she was killed, she killed some petty thieves and even a woman who assisted a gang of bandits because they were forcing her to.
- Brian Regan mentioned that the lamest crime ever is loitering and that the worst-sounding one is manslaughter. He imagined two inmates in the same cell, one for either crime.
Inmate 1: So what are you in for?
Inmate 2: MANSLAUGHTER! I SLAUGHTERED A MAN! JUST LIKE A PIG! I PUT HIM ON A SPIT AND PUT AN APPLE IN HIS MOUTH! WHAT ARE YOU IN FOR?
Inmate 1: Loitering! I'm like you man! I live on the edge! They were like, "You'd better move along!" and I'm like, "I don't think so!"
- Steve Martin on the album "Comedy Is Not Pretty".
I've figured out the solution to overpopulation: death penalty for parking violations.
- In Gold Digger, Brianna the inventor has a series of AI-bombs called Peebos that are programmed to target bad guys. The real problem is she also made a series of mini-peebo bullets called Peebees, and their small size means they are waaay too dumb to accurately tell what's bad, blowing up things like bridges for being too unsafe or a couple for one of them stealing a kiss, and finally climaxing in a villain convincing them to target Brianna herself due to the amount of damage caused by her firing them off in the first place.
- Turned on its head in Phil Foglio's Buck Godot: Zap Gun for Hire in that the only law on the planet of New Hong Kong is, and I quote, "There shall be no laws on New Hong Kong".
- That was how New Hong Kong saved itself from the "help" of an nigh-invincible race of Lawful Stupid robotic law enforcers - by giving the robots no laws to actually enforce. But while nothing is ever formally acknowledged as law on New Hong Kong, there are quite a few local customs that the residents are very vigilant about enforcing for themselves. Often with plasma cannons.
- In point of fact, the NORMAL operation of the Lawgivers is to vanish anyone who breaks any active law. The New Hong Kong situation developed because when the planet was being settled, a programmer hacked the Lawgiver list and added the "No New Laws" rule, which everyone promptly voted into effect. The programmer was vanished because the law against interfering with the Lawgivers was already active, but none of the other laws could ever go active, causing all the Lawgivers to leave except for one observer.
- As it says on the sign at the spaceport, ""No laws" doesn't mean "No rules"".
- The perspective of Rorschach from Watchmen, who views all crime from rape, murder, to petty theft and graffiti as worthy of death by himself. Very ironic with respects to Rorschach living on the fringes of society, being a murderer (among several other things) himself. Then again, it is a deconstruction.
- Hanging Judge Roy Bean, in his appearance in Don Rosa's The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck: The Prisoner of White Agony Creek. He claims that hanging is an appropriate punishment for both kidnapping a woman and accidentally making the judge spill his drink.
- When The Punisher was first introduced, he was a fairly typical vigilante; targeting murderers or drug-pushers. This characterization remained the same way for his first few appearances, but eventually he gunned down people for minor infractions (jaywalking, running a red light). This was retconned in his first miniseries to him having been unknowingly drugged.
- The 2099 alternate universe Punisher from Marvel 2099 devolves into this. At first, he's killing murderous scum in reaction to his Mom and sister being murdered by crooks who got away with it. At the end of the series, sponsored by a new regime, he's gone around the bend. Among many things, the age at which someone can be tried as an adult is now in the single digits and pretty much everything is a crime punishable by whatever the hell he wants it to be (and brain scanners are used to cover bad thoughts). At one point, he expresses the desire that consensual adult sex should be punished.
- Doctor Doom, of course, is this when he is in control of Latveria. One issue of Fantastic Four literally shows the guillotine used for anything from murder to speaking out. Though, as with so much about Doom and his country, the degree or even presence of this tends to vary.
- A Green Arrow story arc had a demon summoned by an overzealous man trying to keep the peace in his city. The good news: It worked. The bad news: It worked by having the demon disable all technology more complicated than fire and also teleport out of nowhere to kill anyone who broke any law. Theft? Death! Assault? Death! Littering? Death! Green Arrow and sidekicks have to go to hilarious lengths when they arm the town's cops and mafioso (with bows and arrows, natch) and pit them as an army against the demon summoner. They get the bows by being let into stores by the owner of those stores, leaving enough money behind to cover everything they've taken, and they don't make a single move against the summoner until the entire army has been deputized by the sheriff and they've gotten a warrant. Then they go to... arrest him.
- There have been several antagonists in Judge Dredd that have adopted more extreme views on Justice Dept.'s duties and practices.
- Judge Death and his cohorts come from an Alternate Universe where it was determined that since crime is only committed by the living, all life itself was made a crime punishable by death. Even before they issued that ridiculous Dystopian Edict the Judges of that dimension were already murdering people on the streets for any infraction imaginable.
- Mechanismo was a program for new robotic Judges implemented after severe manpower shortages. They quickly started to malfunction during live field tests, handing out Isocube sentences that exceed even the disproportionate standards of the regular Judges, and later going on murderous rampages to kill "criminals".
- Zombo: Obmoz, Zombo's Evil Counterpart, is a zombie super soldier created to fight crime on Earth with his teeth and flesh-disintegrating Death Shadow. He eventually goes crazy and thinks everyone is a criminal, including girl scouts crossing a street.
- The Manhunters from The DCU also eventually decided that all life = crime and went on a genocidal rampage or three.
- Played in a current Batman story — Red Hood's motto is Let the punishment fit the crime, which is pretty disturbing, considering that he just kills all villains and uploads it on Internet.
- Ever since the Registration Act was passed in Marvel Comics, any unauthorized use of superpowers gets you thrown in the Negative Zone prison for life or until you agree to work for the government, whether said powers were used to start a fire or save a baby from the fire.
- Under Norman Osborn, this has been expanded to "Doing anything that slightly annoys him or questioning his minions in any way."
- One comic from the FLIGHT Anthology has a group of anthropomorphic animals stumble upon the "Perfect Lemming City". Unfortunately, lemmings are so obedient and ordered (and also intuition-stupid; they need white lines on the ground to get to work) that any infraction equals death, nothing more and nothing less, INCLUDING A REFUSAL TO SIGN DEATH CERTIFICATES AFTER BEING FOUND GUILTY. Luckily, that intuition-stupid part about lemmings means that they just throw the group a few feet from the city and wait for them to stand there and die. Also, the jail has good sandwiches.
- This is the philosphy of the Pale Horseman in Astro City. In his world view all crimes, from murder to jaywalking, warrant the same punishment: death.
- The Decepticon Justice Division of The Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye. Any Decepticon that hinders the cause in any way meets with the same punishment: brutal execution. This goes all the way from a fairly reasonable reaction (a Person of Mass Destruction turning traitor for money and destroying an entire Decepticon fleet) to insanely Disproportionate Retribution (a suicide bomber failing to detonate the bomb inside of him because of a mechanical malfunction).
- Turnabout Storm: While this certainly isn't the case for both universes involved, after Phoenix learns that in Equestria they punish the very rare crime of murder with banishment to the Moon or the Sun, he's left worried for a while thinking that this might be their to-go punishment for every crime. He brings this up later, when he takes part in breaking and entering during an evidence hunt:
Phoenix: I really hope I don't get sent to the Sun for this!
- Damn You, Batman! from Those Aren't Muskets! asks the question "What if Batman acted like, well, Batman even toward normal everyday crimes like loitering?"
Films — Animation
- Aladdin: Razoul and the rest of the palace guard. It doesn't matter if you're an old man, a woman, or a child, or a Justified Criminal like Aladdin who only steals food to survive. If you commit any crime at all, you're on their list. Case in point: at the beginning of the first movie, Razoul and a large squad of soldiers pursue Aladdin for stealing a loaf of bread. Of course, this is Truth in Television, as back in that day and age, laws and punishments were very harsh, regardless of where you lived. And anyway, it's not like Razoul and his goons want to do these things; they're Punch Clock Villains, and while they'll ordinarily do whatever Jafar tells them, they ultimately answer to the Sultan, so Jafar can be overruled.
Films — Live-Action
- Pretty much every infraction, whether major or minor, committed in the prison from Cool Hand Luke is apparently punished with "a night in the box".
- Luke's original crime was getting drunk and cutting the heads off a town's parking meters. For this he was given two years on the chain gang.
- The film later subverts this trope though, with the "Boss Keane's Ditch" punishment given to Luke after multiple escape attempts. Also, one assumes for more serious signs of rebellion, the guards can just leave you in the box for more than one night, as they did to Luke at one point.
- Another prison film, Brubaker, featured the convict Bullen. Turns out he's a lifer due to "three strikes" laws (see Real Life below), and while his first two strikes (both Grand Theft Auto) could arguably be justified, the one that put him away was totally ridiculous. As he told Brubaker, he'd been picked up for a minor thing, he's in the holding cell with a bunch of others, there's a scuffle, the cell's toilet is broken in the process, and he got the rap for Destruction of City Property Over $50, which was in the books as a felony. He got Strike Three and was declared a "Habitual Offender".
- In Equilibrium, anything at all that might trigger an emotion (like paintings or poetry) is burned, and any experience of emotion punishable by death (also through burning).
- Harrison Bergeron:
TV announcer: This is the first execution to be held under the new law passed by the board of legislators that extends capital punishment to traffic offences. Francis Narrows (?) is about to pay the ultimate price for making an illegal left turn. Beside me is Lorraine Newbound, head of the Miami chapter of the League Against Non-Capital Punishment. Now, Ms. Newbound, you are of course in favor of this new law.
Ms. Newbound: Absolutely. I just wish they would go one step further and include non-moving violations.
TV announcer: Parking offences?
Ms. Newbound: Well, a crime is a crime. Why should we pay good money for jails just to keep criminals alive? Death to all crooks! (smiles in joy)
- One of the favorite sayings of Oh Dae Su's tormentor in Park Chan-Wook's Oldboy (2003): "Whether a stone or a grain of sand, both sink the same in water."
- A non-governmental example: in The Dark Knight, Two-Face gives everyone who he views as partially responsible for Rachel's death the same chances of being killed, avoiding any attempt to assign varying degrees of blame to those who actually perpetrated the act versus those who merely made it possible or failed to stop it.
- The little town of Refuge in Purgatory is populated by dead criminals who, if they can live cleanly for a decade, have proven that they can go to Heaven. Said criminals range from your expected murderous thieves, to a woman who slaughtered her father for molesting her, to a woman who gambled and was Famed In-Story for being a Hooker with a Heart of Gold. The being who set this all up is seen as fair, though.
- Frank Darbo, AKA The Crimson Bolt, from Super, lists molesting children and selling drugs in the same list of crimes as butting in line, and reacts the same way to each.
- Subverted in The Star Chamber. We only see the secret court go after freed killers, with the punishment that, in their view, fits the crime-death.
- In Judge Dredd, Judge Griffin proposes to reduce crime rates by imposing the death penalty for "lesser crimes". He is shot down by the more much wiser Chief Justice Fargo, which prompts Griffin to come up with a plan to get rid of the Council and run the city himself.
- In the Red Scare era Film Noir Pickup on South Street, a pickpocket accidentally steals some communist spy's microfilm, but refuses to give it up to the authorities, because he'd go to jail for life admitting he stole it due to a "three strikes" law (see Real Life entry below).
- Cruel and Unusual: Murdering both your parents, your own children, killing yourself because you feel you're a burden upon your family and accidentally killing your wife (who had also deliberately poisoned you) all receive the same punishment in the afterlife.
- In City of Thieves, this exists because of circumstances. As a city under siege, Leningrad has very little food and starvation is common place. As such, killing criminals, even those with only minor offenses, is a way to help everyone else survive.
- In Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files, the single punishment for violation of the Laws of Magic is execution by decapitation (regardless of whether the perpetrator was aware of the Laws or if they knew they were performing dark magic). The White Council justifies this by the fact that even minor dark magic perpetuates more and more dark magic use until the warlock's mind is twisted beyond recognition.
- Though the White Council has suspended the sentence if someone is willing to speak up for the perpetrator. Both Harry and Molly Carpenter have benefited from this.
- And they're the only ones of their respective generations. It turns out that if the person who got their sentence suspended reoffends, the sponsor also dies. This has a... discouraging effect on potential defenders of the inculpable.
- Initially the White Council distrusted Harry because he killed his mentor with magic, which is against the First Law of Magic. In reality it was self-defense, since said mentor was planning on mind-controlling Harry (as he'd already done to his other student) and attacked with intent to kill when Harry discovered his plan and tried to escape. The White Council was more than willing to ignore these mitigating factors and kill Harry until one of the senior Council members vouched for him; after that his sentence was commuted the "Doom of Damocles" which amounts to probation, with a very eager and distrusting probation officer.
- As Anastasia Luccio, the Commander of the Wardens (i.e. the wizards actually charged with enforcing said death penalty among their other duties), explains to Harry in a later book, another reason in modern times is simple overpopulation: with the rapid increase in the number of humans in the world over the last century or two, more new magical talents are being born than the Council is equipped to carefully judge on an individual basis each time they step over the line.
- Though the White Council has suspended the sentence if someone is willing to speak up for the perpetrator. Both Harry and Molly Carpenter have benefited from this.
- In Alice in Wonderland, the Queen of Hearts would order people beheaded at the slightest provocation. Though no one actually gets executed, according to the Griffin: "They never executes nobody, you know." This is revealed to be because the King of Hearts always pardons them once the Queen's back is turned.
- In Peter F. Hamilton's The Night's Dawn Trilogy, due to Earth's damaged environment and extremely high population (~40 billion), deportation is the standard penalty for nearly all crimes, "from rape to tax evasion".
- At one point in Larry Niven's Known Space tales, almost every crime is punishable by death, including multiple traffic tickets. The reason is that due to the perfection of organ transplant technology, all state executions are done in hospitals to provide organ transplants, and to maximize their availability, nearly all crimes carried the death penalty.
- In George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, if you're a member of the Party, murder, rape, theft, treason, falling in love, etc., are considered irrelevant to your crime except as evidence - the real crime is "Thought Crime" against the Party, for which you'll get ten years in a labor camp if you're lucky (unless, of course, that's a lie, as it often was in Stalin's Russia) - or more likely, tortuous brainwashing.
- The White Cloaks in Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time have the same punishment for theft (steal once and be whipped in public, steal twice and they'll cut off your right hand, steal thrice and you're executed) "whether you steal a loaf of bread or a king's crown."
- In the Vonnegut novel Cat's Cradle, the island of San Lorenzo has only one punishment for any crime: death by impalement on a giant hook. (However, it's later revealed that the hook hasn't been used for several years.)
- In Utopia, before the story about Utopia itself, there are discussions of several other nations with Meaningful Names. One of these points out the various flaws of having all crimes punished by death.
- The specific example is that a person who robs a house will then go to any length to escape rather than consider giving up.
- Specifically, a prospective thief has every incentive to commit murder rather than just theft — he will be no worse off if caught, and by killing the principal (or only) witness, he reduces his chances of getting caught.
- The Lisbon Inquisition in Candide.
- Officer Shrift from The Phantom Tollbooth regularly sentences offenders to prison terms of millions of years, merely because he can. Fortunately, he's not good at keeping track of time, so assumes that anyone who escapes his city's Cardboard Prison has served out his or her time.
- In the first book of the Engineers trilogy, Devices and Desires, one of the main characters — Ziani Vaatzes — escapes prison after being sentenced to death. While escaping, he kills a guard with a lamp, dismembers another and decapitates a third. He then commits theft, arson, identity theft, and breaking & entering while escaping. The original crime he was sentenced to execution for? Creating a machine which contained components up to 1/8 inches off of the commercial standard — for personal use.
- In the Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix novel/movie, this trope is utilized, not for an entire empire, but a school. Dolores Umbridge installs thousands of restrictive rules in the school, which prohibit not only meetings which could be used to fight her authority (or, in her mind, the Ministry) but also rules which prevent girls and boys walking together. Many of these rules were nonsensical and invented as needed any time the existing ones didn't cover a very narrow situation Umbridge wanted to shut down.
- Azkaban, with its joy-stealing dementors, seems to be the only wizard prison in all of Britain. Almost any crime can earn you a trip there - Hagrid was even sent there just for being a prime suspect for a crime.
- Barely subverted in the Discworld book The Wee Free Men. One of Tiffany's flashbacks relates the tale of a woman who had stolen a baby. When confronted, the woman was clearly not in her right mind and genuinely believed the baby hers. Everyone was aware of this, but the laws were clear on theft and kidnapping, and Miss Robinson would've been sent to prison regardless. Only the subtle intervention of Tiffany's Granny Aching convinced the Baron sitting in judgment to seek out an alternative option.
- The A Series of Unfortunate Events series has the Village of Fowl Devotees, which holds the punishment for all crimes as burning at the stake. It's mentioned that even putting too many nuts on a sundae is grounds for this. But then, this is a series that really doesn't take itself seriously.
- The people in the Mary Suetopia of Marge Piercy's novel Woman on the Edge of Time all trust each other, and there is little friction in society. How do they do that? By having very minor punishment for the first time someone commits a crime, but the second crime they commit, they execute them. Nemo Me Impune Lacessit, indeed.
- Mack Bolan, The Executioner, kills everyone even remotely related to the mafia. Never mind that these people may have families to support. Surprisingly, he never seems to kill anyone who is innocent, such as an undercover police officer.
- Played straight to a chilling degree in Death Star. The book starts off with the penal planet Despayre (a play on the word "despair"). Are you a murdering psychopath? You get sent there. Are you a smuggler who was in the wrong place at the wrong time? You get sent there. Are you a normal person whose only crime is guilt by association, or someone who backed the wrong candidate in an election? You get sent there. The planet is pretty much set up to have Everything Trying to Kill You. You are there for life, with no possibility for parole, and escape is very difficult at best...and impossible at worst. Only the prisoners chosen to work on the Death Star are taken off the planet, but they clearly are stuck building a giant superweapon. And it goes even darker from there. How so? Well, once construction of the Death Star is complete, Grand Moff Tarkin decides to celebrate its completion...by testing the Death Star's superlaser on Despayre. Conan Antonio Motti tried to point out the possible political fallout of this action. Tarkin simply blew it off, because he was convinced that everyone on the planet were just condemned criminals sentenced for life, none of those people would ever return to civilization, and all of them were an unnecessary burden on Imperial troops and resources, not to mention many Imperial alien slaves. He also wanted to see what his biggest weapon would do when he needed to use it before going into battle. Oh, and he also says that instead of imprisoning criminals, they will just use the death penalty, and that Imperial justice is about to become swift and sure. And all this was before that business with Alderaan....
- The Empire has many other prisons and even other prison worlds, which they went back to when that whole Death Star thing didn't work out. In the Jedi Academy Trilogy and the X-Wing Series we get a look at Kessel, which is a nearly airless world which doesn't have as much hostile wildlife but makes up for it by forcing inmates - the same sort of mix of murderers, members of a galactic crime syndicate, political prisoners, and people failed by Imperial justice, as well as their descendents - to work in the spice mines, harvesting the secretions of exceedingly dangerous giant spiders. The good thing about it is that, at least in the days of the Republic, you can get less than a life sentence, and at the end of it, if you've survived, you can be shipped off. The operative word, of course, being "if".
- Used somewhat in the Knight and Rogue Series. Minor crimes like theft or fraud have minor punishments while major crimes like arson and murder can get you hung. Where this trope comes in is in the redemption for crimes. For the right cost, paid by another person, any crime can be 'redeemed' and the criminal becomes indebted to whoever paid for their crime until that person legally declares that debt repaid. The only exception is murder, in which case you are automatically marked 'permanently unredeemed' if not hung. Should you fail to repay your debt, which can require anything from paying the person back in cash to years of servitude, you will be marked 'permanently unredeemed', at which point you lose all legal rights and everyone will assume you're some sort of warped killer. Michael, whose crime was basically being duped, and who refuses to spend a life in servitude, is a victim of this.
- Judge Dee: One city the Judge visits is placed under special jurisdiction due to an Imperial Princess living there: the army takes care of police work, and all crimes are punishable by death. This has the benefit of scaring away small-time criminals, but has the side effect of bringing in criminal bigwigs: they know they won't be bothered by their rivals.
- Edgedancer: Nale punishes every crime with killing the criminal under the assumption that milder punishment leads to recidivism.
- A repeating plot element in Brimstone, at least on the supernatural side: you sin, you go to Hell. Period. No mitigating circumstances considered. A couple of the 113 - not to mention Zeke himself - are actually quite sympathetic, basically decent people who made one big error in judgement... but that doesn't save them from eternal torment. This is revealed to be the cause of the entire plot - it doesn't even matter if you follow a different religion; if your people were conquered by Abrahamics, then you're judged as one. Ashur Badaktu AKA Detective Ash was a high priestess of a pagan religion which Abrahamics exterminated to the last man, meaning there was no one left to carry on her beliefs and condemning her to Hell by default. You cannot imagine how pissed off she is.
- Game of Thrones: All sinners are equal before the gods according to the High Sparrow. Bearing false witness is as grave a sin as any, as Margaery can attest from a penitent's cell.
- There was a Monster of the Week which killed criminals. Any criminals. Arson? You die. Murder? You die. Jaywalking? You die.
- Another episode had the sisters unwittingly enter a distorted version of their reality. It seemed normal, until one of them encounters a traffic officer, who shoots Phoebe in the stomach because of a minor parking violation. Death or limb-removal is pretty much the only punishment for any "crime," up to and including being a potty-mouth.
- The evil mirror-universe featured an amusing inversion of this. Any good deed results in an instant death sentence. Even something as simple as saying gesundheit.
- A variation is presented in the early Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Justice", where crime on a particular planet is only punished within one randomly selected zone at a time — but the punishment for any crime within that zone is death, with no mitigating circumstances allowed, and the planet is kept idyllic by nobody daring to take the risk. Audiences might not mind, since Wesley is the one who runs afoul of the law, but the horrified crew eventually convinces the Sufficiently Advanced Alien that's enforcing the planet's law to at least let them safely leave.
- Oddly this was presented as a more or less positive example that actually worked: as the Edo people proudly explain, no one has actually committed a crime in centuries due to using the death penalty as a deterrent for everything, which they see as inherently logical. It never occurred to them that an off-worlder unfamiliar with their laws might break one, even by accident - Wesley tripped and fell onto a lawn with a "do not walk on the grass" rule. Even then they aren't sadistic about it, and in fact are rather horrified that this means they'll have to execute Wesley - because none of them has ever actually had to execute anyone before. Nonetheless they grudgingly argue that if they make an exception for Wesley, their entire legal system will fall apart and fall back into the anarchy they had before it.
- Stargate SG-1 had an episode where the team was sent to a prison planet for unwittingly aiding a man who stole a loaf of bread. The society in question punished all crime with exile to the prison planet.
- Stargate Atlantis. In "Condemned", the Olesian government banishes most criminals to a remote island to be culled by the Wraith. Long ago, the Wraith agreed not to cull Olesia's general population as long as the Olesians keep the island sufficiently populated. The only reason All Crimes Are Equal at the time of the story is that banishment had proven such an effective deterrent to serious crimes over the years that in order to keep the island populated, the government had to continually expand the list of crimes punishable by banishment. Then the Wraith all wake up at once and decide they need more than the island's usual supply, causing the government to go on an arresting spree.
- The MacGyver episode "Jack in the Box" combines this with the Corrupt Hick trope to create a plot wherein a town in the Deep South uses their "justice" system to recruit workers for a mine said to contain treasure.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has the season 2 episode "Paradise", where Sisko and O'Brien get stranded on a planet with a community of similarly-stranded colonists lead by a Luddite woman. Making an example of people who commit offenses against the community means getting put in a metal box in the hot sun for hours, whether the crime is petty theft or wasting time trying to get off the planet. Then subverted when it turns out that the woman really is just crazy and manipulative. Trying to get off the planet is a crime because it would reveal that she sabotaged all their chances of escape with another piece of tech.
- iCarly: Punishment for anything bad is detention, no matter how small. Occasionally subverted by adding extra punishments like having to do star jumps or washing the teacher's car as well.
- Parks and Recreation: Pawnee's sister city, Boraqua, Venezuela, does this. Even if all you do is miss a dental appointment or play music too loud, you go "straight to jail."
- The Judoon from Doctor Who and The Sarah Jane Adventures threaten execution for murder, physical assault, obstruction of justice, and playing music too loudly.
- Garrow's Law takes place in the time of the "Bloody Code", during which 220 crimes carried a penalty of death under English law. Garrow, being the Ur-Example of a defence lawyer, naturally has to have his wits about him. For further details, see the Real Life section below.
- In Supernatural, the Monster of the Week in "Folsom Prison Blues" (S02, Ep19) kills anyone she sees as guilty, no matter the crime.
- In The 100, all crimes on The Ark are punishable by execution, unless the offender is under eighteen years of age. This is because the life support systems on The Ark are running out and the population needs to be controlled in order to conserve them.
Myths & Religion
- Most Christian sects believe that "the wages that sin pays is death" (Romans 6:23) and that breaking one law is as bad as breaking them all (James 2:10). This means sin lands you in destruction unless you repent. More to the point, everyone is equally guilty of sin from the moment they're born. This comes from different verses in The Bible dealing with humanity generally falling short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and the idea that thinking a sin is seen as equal to doing it in God's eyes, not to mention that the inaction of doing good is just as bad as doing evil. What makes sin very grievous is that it can be a way of following Satan's character, since he had rebelled against God before the world was created (I John 3:8). Applying this trope in the opposite way, this also means all sins are equally forgivable in the eyes of God, whether it's knowingly allowing a cashier to give you too much change or something much more serious, as long as the repentance is truly sincere.
- Averted if one has a culturally informed understanding of ancient near east views of crime and punishment, in which case the suffering of hell is proportional to the crime, so a cashier guilty only of petty theft would face less severe punishment than a mass murderer. Similarly, the rewards in heaven are meted out the same way: those who are sincere and conscientious followers of God will enjoy a place of greater honor than those who merely pay lip service to their faith. Unfortunately, this concept of circles of Hell/Heaven is not actually mentioned in the Bible and rests firmly in Word of Dante territory.
- The Quran, in comparison, explicitly says that punishment is proportional to sin, with hell split into many different levels according to severity of sins, and some punishments are only temporary. Heaven also contains multiple levels with those people who did good in life rewarded in descending orders.
- It's possible to argue that under the doctrine of original sin — the notion that "everyone is equally guilty of sin from the moment they're born" — being born is itself the sin: one is automatically damned for the crime of existing. In addition, since the only way out of the punishment is to actively ask for forgiveness, "redemption" for one's sin is more akin to entrapment than anything else.
- It's more that the crime is not being born itself, but being able to comprehend evil, and by extension, being capable of willingly committing evil acts. One interpretation of the Bible implies that children too young to understand the difference between right and wrong are (or are provisionally considered) innocent until they understand.
- There's also the Catholic interpretation, which defines original sin as simply "a lack of sanctifying grace", which is basically the key to getting into Heaven. Adam and Eve gave up their sanctifying grace, and thus they lost their kinship with God and were basically disinherited; children cannot inherit a fortune that has already been lost. Baptism is thus considered to be God giving that fortune back to humans. Even without sanctifying grace, good people were not thought to go to hell, exactly, but to Limbo, where they wait to go to Heaven. Oh, but that's another long, long trek into the Catholic Catechism than is needed for the purpose for which this page was created...
- Which makes it a matter of being punished for the crimes of your (very distant) ancestors. Some, like Mormons, avert this however. Not only that, but Catholic doctrine says some people (such as Mary) were born without sin, so it's not an impossibility to be given a "clean slate" at birth (of course, what would be impossible for an all-powerful being?) Apparently, God just didn't want to give most people that, for inscrutable reasons.
- According to Orthodox Christianity, ALL sins can be forgiven by the Lord — except you are only able to do it while alive, and the only unforgivable crime is an unrepentant sin, and suicide (as suicide is viewed as self-murder, and a person can't repent of it after that, as they have died.)
- Islam wholly rejects the idea of an original sin, though most people will fall into temptation in life. Yet Allah forgives. In fact "Most Merciful" is one of the many Islamic names of God.
- The Mighty Boosh radio episode, "Jungle," features this trope.
Jungle Club MC: You are aware of the policy?... If you perform well, you live. If you play badly, the penalty is death. If the crowd dislikes you in any way, death. If the gig goes badly, death. If it starts out well and then goes a bit shaky, death. Enjoy the gig!
- Zig-zagged in Warhammer 40,000. Make no mistake, you're going to run into a Hanging Judge if you stick around long enough, but others actually care what you're guilty of so they don't waste precious anti-magic bullets on mundane criminals, or send Chaos cultists to infiltrate valuable penal legions. Other sectors like Ultramar even have regular judicial systems. It really depends on the planet you're on, and the scale of the crimes everyone else is committing.
- In the role-playing game Paranoia, all offenses against Friend Computer are of course treason. The exact level of punishment, however, depends on the "flavor" of game the GM is running, and may include a logical and rigorously fair system of fines, censure, enforced medication and brainscrubbing, or just cut straight to... Zap! Summary execution! (Of course, in a true "Zap!" style game, virtually anything can and will end in laserfire..) The list of things that constitute treason, other than being a Commie Mutant Traitor, is a long one. Failure to complete your assigned mission. Unauthorized trespassing into the restricted security area where your mission objective is located. Wasting assigned paper, ink and/or grenades. Not using assigned paper, ink and/or grenades. Not proactively professing your admiration for the New Improved version of Bouncy Bubble Beverage. Failing to deliver constructive criticism of the New Improved version of Bouncy Bubble Beverage. Being issued shoes that are five sizes too small and failing to immediately turn in the responsible party. Being out of uniform, especially when submitting an official report of treason. Asking to know information above your security clearance, whether or not you know it was above your clearance before you asked. Asking whether or not asking about certain information is treason (nobody likes a smartass). Failure to maintain the required level of happiness. Displaying knowledge of the rules of Paranoia. Good thing you have six clones, though it might take you seven to complete the mission...
- Since a player can also purchase new clone packs in case s/he run out of the original six, the whole "death" punishment does sort of lose its 'kick'. However, for GMs loving the aforementioned system of fines/censure/medication/brainscrubbing, there is a punishment worse than death: "erasure" of your clone template.
- Oh, and reading this entry, in case you were wondering, is definitely treason.
- The city of Skullport in Forgotten Realms completely turns this trope on its head. The city is ruled by a cabal of floating skulls, who are beings of pure chaos. The only crimes in Skullport are disturbing the peace and undermining the authority of the skulls, but the skulls' punishment can be anything — from hugging a stranger to gruesome death.
- In Sigil, the central backdrop of the Dungeons & Dragons Planescape setting, criminal justice is enforced by the Mercykillers, who have two punishments: death for felonies and mandatory 10 years' imprisonment for everything else.
- And for crimes above their pay grade/comprehension there's always The Lady's justice. Which leads to one of two things: Permanent exile to an extra-dimensional maze if you're lucky, or being sliced to ribbons instantly if you're not.
- Note that Mercykillers means two things. First, they were the result of the combination of the brutal gang known as the Sodkillers, and the policemen known as the Sons of Mercy. Secondly, they kill the concept of mercy itself.
- The Malleus Maleficarum from Witch Girls Adventures consider being a Witch a crime punishable by death, regardless of how they use their powers. Torment and kill mundanes for your amusement? Death! Turn the school bully into a frog because he's picking on your friend and you're a kid who doesn't know any better? Death! Local doctor who covertly uses their magic to help when regular medicine isn't enough? Death! Benevolent princess of a fantasy world come to Earth to study abroad and use your magic to help people? Death!
- Avernum (and its original version, Exile), a series of shareware RPGs, used it very straight. The introductory text suggests you were probably thrown through the one-way portal to the underworld for stealing a loaf of bread or speaking out (or even simply "not fitting in"), and NPCs you meet will admit to being there for anything from being on the wrong side after a regime change to having had rebels hold a meeting at their inn to, in one case, being lesbians.
- The last one had a whole new spin put on it in Exile III when you meet a random bureaucrat NPC who has a rainbow-striped pen as a "symbol of pride". Not so unusual, except you find him working in the Empress's fortress! Obviously this suggests that the Empire has seriously relaxed this policy since the Empress succeeded her father.
- In City of Heroes, registered superhumans are allowed (even encouraged) to pummel, burn, electrocute, irradiate, freeze, shoot with automatic weapons, and drain the souls of people with suspected criminal affiliation for such crimes as purse-snatching, minor vandalism, or simply loitering in a public area.
- Up until the release of the City of Villains stand-alone expansion, you were always "arresting" or "subduing" your targets; this implies that you either held back the ridiculous powers just enough to knock someone out, or they get the same "saved from instant death" teleportation treatment players get. If you make (or become) a villain, you do indeed get to go "take out" people, and sometimes they'll even outright say you're to kill them.
- The law system of Long Life Town in Chulip works like this. Every time you commit any crime, you get a "crime stamp" on your record. You aren't punished until you get three crime stamps, then you go to the Graveyard. This only applies if you commit three different crimes, though; committing the same crime multiple times won't get you more crime stamps.
- Lampshaded in a loading screen in Fallout 3: Since the Wasteland has no system of law and punishment, if you wrong someone, prepare to pay with your life. Murder? Death! Stole some food? Death! Turned on a radio that doesn't belong to you? Death!
- And the fun continues in Fallout: New Vegas. You haven't lived till you've had all of Camp McCarran come down on you like the fist of an angry god after ganking one of their butter knives.
- Even better since the NCR (who controls Camp McCarran) prides itself for having a system of law and punishment (hell, one of the first factions you interact with are escaped NCR Prisoners). Although this is lampshaded in a loading screen, too - the NCR is apparently very unhappy about being the Mojave's police force, and as such have made most crimes punishable by instant execution.
- And the fun continues in Fallout: New Vegas. You haven't lived till you've had all of Camp McCarran come down on you like the fist of an angry god after ganking one of their butter knives.
- In the adventure mode of Dwarf Fortress, every crime you commit is punished by the whole town trying to kill you! Even if you only steal a single bolt. Hell, even the kids try to end your life! The fortress mode has a proportionate (if somewhat crude) justice system in place.
- In Liberal Crime Squad, if death penalty laws go Arch-conservative, every crime is punished by death. From terrorism (causing a meltdown at the nuclear power plant) to loitering.
- In Hitman, get caught strangling a security guard to death with piano wire? Met with deadly force. Get caught taking the clothes of a dead or unconscious construction worker? Deadly force. Wave a handgun or knife around? Deadly force. Enter the employees only area of a restaurant? Deadly force. Walk around a hotel in your bathing suit? Deadly force. And finally, set off a metal detector with what could be car keys or a watch? Without even checking to see if you did in fact have a weapon, immediate deadly force.
- The watchmen in NetHack's Gnomish Mines will kill you for any crime they see, including stealing from shops, picking a lock, or drinking too much from a fountain. Fortunately their definition of "crime" is very specific, and they take no notice as you kill every gnome and critter in the place.
- Deliberately invoked in the backstory of Gothic, where the punishment for any crime was imprisonment in a mining colony, since the kingdom needed the magical ore from these colonies to make swords for their armies to use in the war against the orcs. In the end, they lost.
- The Adventures of Robin Hood: Hanging is the answer for murder, thievery, poaching, trespassing...
- Discussed in the Robin Hood video game Conquests of the Longbow. After Tuck hands the captive Sheriff of Nottingham some venison, the Sheriff claims that it's just one more crime against them. To which Will Scarlet says "Who cares? One crime or a hundred, the penalty is the same - the rope."
- Justified in the Reincarnation series of browser games; the demon isn't looking for any one crime in particular, just evidence that his targets are still generally evil, so doing something mean-spirited and gross will get you death just as well as actual murder.
- This is the major set up and conflict of Ultima V, with the virtues from the last game turned into laws with very nasty punishments.
- Borderlands 2: Expect this to pop up wherever Hyperion is in charge.
- The Sheriff of Lynchwood punishes everything with hanging. Not because she really thinks it's an effective deterrent or anything, she just really likes hanging people.
- Similarly, littering is punishable by death in Opportunity. Complaining about the laws is considered verbal littering.
- Also, Overlook. If Hyperion's in a generous mood, the Grinder (i.e. machine full of large, crushing gears) will only be used to punish "egregious" crimes. Like profanity.
- Inspector Carmelita Fox of Sly Cooper fame is a firm believer in this, believing that all lawbreakers should be brought to justice no matter what. Whether you're a jaywalker, a murderer, or a simple thief, if you do a crime, she can and will chase you to the ends of the Earth. Of course, this doesn't stop her from having a Dating Catwoman relationship with Sly himself, or teaming up with the Cooper Gang to take down the Big Bad in the end.
- In Path of Exile, criminals of the small island nation of Oriath are sent off on a boat and dumped off the shores of the nearby continent of Wraeclast, a land teeming with monsters and undead, for all crimes ranging from serial murder to speaking out against the church. Your character is one of these exiles. In truth, it's a method for High Templar Dominus to obtain test subjects for his thaumuturgic experiments.
- Dangan Ronpa has the school rules set so that breaking any of them at all is punishable by death. This goes from lending other students your ID card to murder.
- In the Sluggy Freelance story arc "Phoenix Rising", Oasis sets herself up as the defender of Podunkton by killing any criminal she finds. Oddly enough, she's the hero of the story, although most of the secondary characters are at least a little uneasy about her.
- Rather Anviliciously done in Muertitos. After a run-in with the school bully, Honeo is suspended, and when his father showed up and demanded to know exactly what Honeo did, the principal says that he struggled to defend himself and get away, thus potentially hurting his attacker, when he should have gone limp and taken the abuse. This comes with a footnote saying that the joke is that there's no joke, and this is actually how some zero-tolerance policies work. Just to be extra cynical, it also comes to light that the bully didn't get in trouble at all because his father is a major financial benefactor of the school.
- In The Order of the Stick, the Empire of Blood seems to punish all crimes by making those convicted into gladiators who are imprisoned until they're killed in the arena. If a prisoner survives for long, he's ransomed off to his family for obscene amounts of money.
- Stated to be the case for the Alternian justice system in Homestuck. Legislascerators gather evidence of crimes committed. This evidence is presented to His Honorable Tyrrany, who dispenses justice if the accused is brought to court. The only crimes seen in-comic that have been prosecuted, however, were all pretty major ones (murder - Vriska; murder, pillaging, and property destruction - Mindfang; and embezzlement from royal funds - Lemonsnout) so it is possible that minor ones are just not brought to court, since they aren't worth His Honorable Tyrrany's time. It is stated, however, that even if the accused later turns out to have not committed the crime they were convicted of...well, admitting that they prosecuted the wrong person is embarrassing to the Alternian justice system. Much easier just to make sure that there is no evidence of innocence.
- There is no defense lawyer.
- In The Venture Bros., Underland, led by the tyrannical Baron Underbheit, has "Underlaw". All infractions of Underlaw are punished with death. This winds up annoying Underbheit when he captures Dr. Venture and needs to hold him before killing him. Since Underland has no prison, he's forced to lock him in the pantry.
- In Adventure Time, the earl of Lemongrab has some... er, interesting concepts when it comes to punishing those who do wrong. Making a mess? Thirty days in the dungeon. Asking questions? Thirty-TWO days in the dungeon. Refusing to clean up mess, or asking who exactly Lemongrab is talking to? Three hours dungeon. Harmless prank? Seven years dungeon, no trials. Assuring Lemongrab that the prank was harmless? Twelve years dungeon. Elaborate, painful prank involving spicy food? ONE MILLION YEARS DUNGEON!!! (Of course, Lemongrab isn't evil- he's just young, angry, and a bit of an idiot.)
- The Simpsons examples:
- In the "Treehouse of Horror V" story "Nightmare Cafeteria", when the teachers at school begin eating students, the slightest of infractions can get a student sent to detention, which is a death sentence.
- And in "The PTA Disbands", when the school loses its teachers and takes on large numbers of grossly unqualified substitutes, Jasper makes everything the kids might do punishable by "a paddlin'".
- This is a spoof of the Cool Hand Luke "night in the box" speech mentioned above.
- Darkwing Duck episode "Time and Punishment" features Darkwarrior Duck, an alternate-future version of Darkwing who thought Gosalyn had died and eventually overreacted into this trope. Once he'd cleaned the streets of all obvious major criminals, he began to enforce his will on the citizenry for such "crimes" as staying out too late and having high cholesterol. Upon learning that Gosalyn isn't dead, but was instead brought to the future by a time machine, Darkwarrior dreams of using said machine to go back in time and do such things as improve the Code of Hammurabi (Ever imagine you'd hear the death penalty offered multiple times in Disney animation?) and be present when the first prehistoric life form crawled out of the sea and onto dry land so he could "get a few things straight" with it concerning how he expected it to behave. Fortunately, events in the episode make sure the Knight Templar version of him never comes to pass.
- Though the later comic book series reveals that Darkwarrior Duck does still exist in an Alternate Universe.
- Dexter's Laboratory: In the Dynomutt Dog Wonder crossover "Dyno-Might", Dexter becomes convinced that Dynomutt is too much of a goofy idiot sidekick to be any help to Blue Falcon, so he decides to design a new "Dynomutt X-90" to replace him. While Dynomutt X-90 initially starts out arresting armed muggers, he soon spirals off into this. Parking violation? The car gets eaten. Jaywalking? Machine guns. Littering? Fire breathing on the litterer. Finally, he's about to zap a little girl with laser eyes for violating a "Keep Off the Grass" sign when Blue Falcon and Dexter step in; he promptly declares them "guilty of obstruction of justice," No Sells their attempts to restrain him, and starts crushing them both with Combat Tentacles.
- In the Justice League episode "In Blackest Night" the Guardians of the Universe say that the Manhunters "Could not understand the subtle gradations between good and evil". Sounds like it might have been the trope.
- In the The Batman episode "The Laughing Bat", Joker decides to dress up as Batman and fight crime for a change. Unfortunately, any "crime" he comes across, such as jaywalking, one item too many at the express line, or just kids playing with chalk (or "graffiti", as Joker puts it), receives the same punishment: Joker Gas.
- Futurama has the robot-Santa, originator of the quote at the top of the page, who is programmed to decide who has been naughty and who has been nice. Trouble is, his standards are set quite too high, and everybody is naughty... except Zoidberg.
Fry: This is not how Xmas is supposed to be. In my days, Xmas was about bringing people together, not blowing them apart.
- Played for Laughs in Avatar: The Last Airbender when Azula becomes the Fire Lord, because the punishment for five-minutes delay or any "treason" of this range is banishment and not death.
- In the second episode of Aqua Unit Patrol Squad 1 (and at the end of the first one), Shake awakens from a cryogenic lab to arrive in a strange new world. Every time someone does anything immoral, they are killed instantly by a bolt of lightning. Later, Shake discovers that the cause of all this is an alien named Allen (actually Alien, but the sign maker spelled it wrong) living in a tower in the Earth's orbit, sending lightning bolts from above.
- Downplayed in ThunderCats (2011) when Lion-O attempts to shame a Powderkeg Crowd of Thunderian townspeople by announcing that a pair of stockaded Lizard scavengers, enslaved for raiding crops, "don't deserve this [harassment]," their pointman replies: "These barbarians deserve death!" And with that, an Angry Mob is born. The surprise comes when King Claudus is incredulous at Lion-O's attempt to stop them.
- Men in Black: In "The Worm-Guy Guy Syndrome", the Lawful Stupid enforcers from planet Kalifadik come to Earth to teleport alien fugitives to life imprisonment for any violation, no matter how minor.
- In the very last episode of Batman: The Animated Series, "Judgment Day," a vigilante called The Judge (a faceless British judge, complete with a powdered wig atop his cloak), believes that criminals who avoid prosecution must be privately killed for justice to be served. A Gotham City councilman who wants to appear tough on crime likes this attitude, and begins cooperating with the Judge. This alliance backfires horribly when the Judge discovers that the councilman has been keeping a slush fund, and decides that is a crime punishable by death. The Judge also attempts to kill The Penguin, Killer Croc, and Two-Face - even though all Penguin, Croc, and Two-Face had done was participate in a black-market jewel deal and manage to avoid getting caught for it. At the end of the episode, when the Judge is unmasked, he turns out to be Two-Face, who had developed a third identity that subsequently targeted for death his two other identities.
- In one episode of The Powerpuff Girls, the Mayor decided that he was relying on the girls too much and took matters into his own hands by patrolling the city in a hot-air balloon and punishing any criminal he sees with a spring-loaded boxing glove. Unfortunately, his behavior soon devolved into this trope, forcing the girls to set him straight.
- 1500-1800 Gold Coast Africa. Because slaves were so profitable, the local rulers began to make slavery a punishment to sell people to the Europeans. Of course the incentives of this system quickly became clear to the leaders. Murder? Slavery. Treason? Slavery. Theft? Slavery. Late in paying taxes? Slavery. Say something rude? Slavery. Mentioned in the book Roots.
- Joe Arpaio, Sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona (the county that contains Phoenix) 1993-2017, deliberately made it policy that a stay in his jail as horrible as he can for everybody who passes through it (prison terms that are shorter or for lesser crimes can be served in jail). The trope applies because it would not matter to him whether you're in there because you've been accused of murder or because you didn't pay a parking ticket; everybody who enters is subjected to the same awful conditions. Though he has admitted the reason he enacted this policy was to make it so they never want to come back to jail. This has drawn particular criticism because it failed to distinguish between inmates who have been convicted of a crime and those who have not yet been tried (or are on trial) and are merely being held because they cannot make bail (or are being held on remand). While humiliating convicted criminals might be to some degree legitimate, applying the same treatment to people who have not been convicted — and are therefore still innocent in the eyes of the law — is highly questionable. This, combined with his policies targeting undocumented immigrants, led to his defeat by Democrat Paul Penzone in the 2016 election; Penzone promised to reverse or revise these practices, and between those opposed to Arpaio's policies on principle and those who felt that the innumerable lawsuits and massive national opprobrium the policies were generating weren't worth whatever benefit they had, there were enough voters ready to finally kick Arpaio out.
- This is the practice behind many "Zero Tolerance" laws in schools and workplaces. In this case, the broad and severe punishments are supposed to take the "burden" of decision-making out of the hands of teachers and administrators (particularly to protect them from getting sued). This has led to the problem of otherwise outstanding students getting suspended or expelled for possessing such "dangerous substances" as Midol or mouthwash and such "dangerous weapons" as fingernail clippers. This leads to such ridiculous situations as middle-schoolers receiving suspension for fighting back against bullies who receive suspensions for the same or even lesser amounts of time.
- In 1688 in England there were 50 offences on the statute book punishable by death, but that number had almost quadrupled by 1776, and it reached 220 by the end of the century. The "Bloody Code" included some 220 crimes punishable by death, including "being in the company of Gypsies for one month", "strong evidence of malice in a child aged 7–14 years of age" and "blacking the face or using a disguise whilst committing a crime". Children were commonly executed for such minor crimes as stealing. There was no real rhyme or reason to any of this — it just happened that a few MPs in 18th-century England were a bit bloody-minded, and whenever something happened that disgusted them, they said "why, There Should Be a Law" and promptly decided that whatever offended them at that moment deserved death.
- To cancel out the trope, only one class of executed criminals' bodies were available for dissection by medical students: those who had been convicted of murder. Apparently, going unburied was a fate even worse than death (in religious doctrine, being denied Christian burial was indeed a punishment, often used for suicides).
- Another reason for so many capital crimes was that until the 1820s Britain didn't have a formal police force, meaning that the chances of catching a criminal were small, so the punishments for the few caught had to act as a deterrent.
- This period also gave us the sayings "in for a penny, in for a pound" and "one may as well get hanged for a sheep as a lamb". Since even crimes that had lesser punishments than death tended to have fairly disproportionate punishments, criminals, realizing that how much they stole was irrelevant to the sentence, began to shoot for larger hauls. Why bother stealing a mere penny or lamb, when one could steal a sheep or a pound and the punishment was no worse if caught? And if there were any witnesses, they might kill them too, to escape a death sentence that would come just as easily for theft as committing murder.
- In a similar vein, in most legal systems the punishment for attempted murder is generally significantly lighter than that for actual murder. This is mostly to discourage people from going back to finish the job if they didn't manage to kill their guy the first time around.
- The problem actually existed even earlier: in Utopia (1516), one of the characters critiques the idea of the death sentence for theft over the same possible result.
- In practice, this may have led to more crimes as well as worse crimes: many judges and juries modified the charge, ignored evidence, or outright acquitted certain offenders so as to avoid having to hang them for some of the more ridiculous statutes. Thus it led to legal corruption and disrespect for the very law they were tasked to enforce. Ironically, because of this, the period under which the Bloody Code occurred actually had fewer executions. Moreover, death sentences were commonly commuted in more "ridiculous" cases and the offenders were sent to the Army and the Navy or Australia. Nothing in the law says you can't sentence someone to death and then reduce the sentence for "merciful" reasons. At times this happened simply to empty out their prisons, as they couldn't even hang people fast enough. Of course this was far too often simply a slower death sentence. The mortality rates on the ships were horrible, and a huge percentage of enlisted soldiers died of diseases without ever even getting to see a battle. A lot of people died in prison from "gaol fever" as well, before ever getting hanged. Therefore even non-capital sentences could mean death functionally.
- "Three Strikes Laws" are statutes enacted by state governments in the United States which require the state courts to impose a life sentence on persons who have been convicted of three or more serious criminal offenses. Some defendants have been given sentences of 25 years to life in prison for such crimes as shoplifting golf clubs (Gary Ewing, previous strikes for burglary and armed robbery), or, along with a violent assault, stealing a slice of pepperoni pizza from a group of children (Jerry Dewayne Williams, previous convictions for robbery and attempted robbery, sentence later reduced to six years). Some managed to score themselves sentences of 50 years to lifenote for stealing videotapes (Leandro Andrade, previous strikes for petty theft, residential burglary, transportation of marijuana, and escape from prison). In Rummel v. Estelle (1980), the Supreme Court upheld life with possible parole for third-strike felony fraud in Texas, which arose from a refusal to repay $120.75 paid for air conditioning repair that was subsequently considered unsatisfactory.
- The Athenian law code of Draco. Much like the Bloody Code, while not all crimes had the same punishment, his constitution did set death as the punishment for numerous minor offenses. Unlike the Bloody Code, however, he justified his...erm...liberality with the death penalty by saying that it was the only fitting punishment he could think of for certain minor crimes, and as for worse offenses, there really isn't any worse punishment than death, is there? (bear in mind that the Greeks weren't particularly fond of torture at this point). From this, we get the term "Draconian" to describe harsh laws; the fact that his name means "dragon" is merely a poetic coincidence.
- Similar to Draco's rule, Wallachia under Vlad the Impaler. Legend has it that people were so afraid of him (and his punishments) that he (purposely) left a gold cup in the street, and the next day it was still there.
- This is a common criticism of the current anti-terrorism law of Argentina, as it is completely unspecific and may be open to any interpretation. According to it, terrorism is any action that seeks to worry the population or influence actions of the government. Blow up a building? Terrorism. Kill top-level government politicians? Terrorism. Stage protests against abusive taxes? Terrorism. Conduct a study, determine that the annual inflation rate of the Argentinian Peso is over 25%, and publish it? Terrorism.
- The Khmer Rouge government of Cambodia considered the ownership of money, the collection of fruit by yourself, owning Western clothing, criticizing the government and sleeping on the job to be all punishable by death. Almost anything that would appear to violate the ideology of the dictator Pol Pot would send someone to prison, where 99.9% of inmates were later killed. Even Khmer Rouge cadres themselves were arrested because of how corrupt the government was and how easy it was to commit a "crime" accidentally.
- This is exactly why the Qin empire only lasted twenty years after Qin Shi Huangdi died. The laws were extremely draconian, with the death penalty being prescribed for minor crimes for reasons similar to Draco's (to terrorize the populace). However, one of these laws created a rather perverse incentive: the penalty for tardiness in arriving at one's post in the government and military was death. One company of soldiers managed to get stuck in the swamps of the southern provinces on its way to reinforce a northern fortress against barbarian attack, and realized they would not be able to report on time. It dawned on them that since the penalty for tardiness was death, and the penalty for mutiny was also death, they stood a better chance of living if they revolted (also, being killed in battle would be more honorable than summary execution). Thus they charged into a town, declared their captain Chen Sheng King of the Chu (Chu being one of the nation-states conquered by the Qin),note and attracted an army of xenophobes and disgruntled peasants (who had also found Qin rule distastefully foreign and oppressive), beginning a rebellion that ultimately led to the end of the Qin Dynasty and the establishment of the pan-Chinese Han Empire.
- The list of capital offenses in the modern People's Republic of China goes from the "classical" — murder, rape, kidnapping, treason, espionage — to offences such as aggravated assault, robbery, drug trafficking, and economic crimes such as defrauding the Treasury, mass fraud, smuggling, forging VAT receipts, embezzlement, bribery, counterfeiting money and even aggravated theft. Unless, of course, you can say Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!, such as the infamous (and memetic "My dad is Li Gang!", or in some cases, Screw the Rules, I Have Money! where people have bribed someone else to serve their sentence for them.
- Parents often impress on their kids that no matter what you do you'll get in trouble if you're being bad. A common response along these lines when a single-digit-aged child steals something for the first time, no matter how cheap or minor, is to threaten to call (some actually go through with it) the police and Scare 'Em Straight. This can backfire terribly, however, if the police then arrest and jail them. Meanwhile, at least one police force actively discourages this practice.
- Several Western countries are under pressure to crack down heavily on antisemitic comments and actions here. The problem, as critics have pointed out, is that the interpretation of antisemitic speech is so broad that it would also place legitimate criticism of actions undertaken by the state of Israel on the same level as Holocaust denial, or random acts of violence against Jewish people. It has been pointed out that it would not only serve some vested interests if criticism of Israeli government actions was stifled, it would actually encourage people who believe the Ancient Conspiracy exists and a certain ethnicity is behind it - and make them even more strident in the perceived defense of their right to free speech. The venerable American Anti-Defamation League has been accused of doing this commonly, and seems to view all efforts at pressuring Israel into changing policy as an antisemitic campaign. In fairness, we must note that antisemites typically do not look fondly on Israel, as you would expect, and legitimate criticisms can get mistakes for bigotry. On the other hand, this seems to be conflated deliberately too at times as a means of tarring critics as being antisemites (even Jewish ones-they're supposedly "self-hating") and thus discredit them. In the US, hate speech isn't illegal. However elsewhere there have been serious legal issues (including punishment) regarding this.