Confess to a Lesser Crime
Agent: Now, before I give you the check, one more question. This place "Moe's" you left just before the accident. This is a business of some kind?
Homer's Brain: Don't tell him you were at a bar! But what else is open at night?
: Heh heh heh. I would've never thought of that.
Your crimes are catching up to you. The cops/your boss/your wife knows that you're hiding something, and they're no longer buying your lies. What are you to do?
Confess, of course, just not to what you really did. Maybe you admit to a piece of what you did, but not the whole thing, maybe you completely make something up. Either way, you hold them off discovering what you're really up to.
There are clear advantages to pretending to come clean. When you admit to wrongdoing, people usually don't assume you're lying. When they think they've caught you, they don't usually keep investigating, and you've got a perfect explanation for why you've been acting strangely and looking guilty.
The disadvantage, of course, is that you're on the hook for whatever you confessed to, so you better be sure it's worth it to keep the greater crime concealed.
May be used by an undercover cop to keep from being exposed, or by a Sympathetic Criminal
to avoid punishment.
Different from a Plea Bargain
in that the character is trying to keep their crimes concealed, not trying to strike a deal to avoid punishment.
In Real Life
, this is one of the most common ways in which criminal trials are resolved. For instance, someone accused of murder may well confess to the crime of manslaughter/culpable homicide, or someone accused of dealing drugs may confess to possession but not to intent to supply. However, it is generally up to the prosecutor if they want to go with this - if they feel that allowing a murderer to confess to manslaughter would not be a just result, then they are within their rights to reject a plea of innocence and fight on. This trope is so common, in fact, that some criminal defense lawyers have said that they dread (rare) genuinely innocent clients - there is only one
just result in their trials, whilst most of their clients are at least guilty of something
, if not the exact charge on their indictment.
A Subtrope of Infraction Distraction
. Contrast False Confession
, Taking the Heat
, and Embarrassing Cover Up
Anime And Manga
- In the Ace Attorney manga, the murderer in the second case admits to setting the fire at Wolfe Manor because otherwise, Bobby, the defendant, would go free. Phoenix's defense had hinged on disproving that Bobby would have willingly burned up his spider and spider book collection, so he's at a loss for words until he realizes that just as the arsonist set a timed ignition device, he also set a timed device to kill the victim and create an alibi. Afterward, Phoenix thanks Edgeworth for calling for a recess and bringing the witness to the stand, thus enabling him to find the truth.
- Spy Game: Nathan Muir spends most of the film using CIA resources to plan an unauthorized operation to rescue his protégé. When the CIA discovers he's been accessing satellite data, Muir admits to misusing agency resources... to research retirement properties.
- White Heat has Cody Jarrett confess to a hotel robbery in Illinois to escape suspicion of the train robbery at the start of the film. To put things into perspective, the train robbery had four fatalities and involved government payroll.
- In Breaker Morant, a soldier is accused of murdering a suspected spy, but confesses that, at the time, he'd been in the bed of a married woman. Turns out he had time for both.
- In one of the novels based on the Paranoia RPG, a villain is reported for concealing a dangerous mutant power, but saw it coming and registered a different mutant power (chronic runny nose) first. The Computer bought it, and thus disbelieves the report because mutants with multiple powers are unheard of.
- In Robert A. Heinlein's If This Goes On..., Lyle is advised to pretend to commit a lesser offense to help cover up his involvement in La Résistance. He's further told that faithfully adhering to all of the regime's many laws is unusual enough to get the regime's attention, so he should "never try to pretend lily-white innocence". Lyle leaves evidence of gambling, gets "caught" and lectured on it, and then is let go.
- Inverted in the song Long Black Veil. The narrator is executed for a murder he didn't commit, because he refused to say where he was during the crime. He'd been in the arms of his best friend's wife.
- Similarly inverted in Over The Hills And Far Away; the man is convicted of armed robbery because his pistol was found at the crime scene and he had no alibi, because he'd been sleeping with his best friend's wife at the time.
- In the Ace Attorney game Trials and Tribulations, you manage to save your defendant from a conviction for theft on the first day of his trial, by pointing out that the supposed Ace Detective Luke Atmey actually did it. The suspect crazily admits that yes, he did it! Victory, right? Wrong. Your defendant is promptly accused of killing someone, and you have to prove him innocent of that crime despite the fact that you just proved he doesn't have an alibi for it. Turns out Luke Atmey faked the theft he confessed to on the first day, then committed the murder, confident that he could confess to the theft and therefore have an alibi for the murder.
- In Apollo Justice, the true killer of case 2 admits to trespassing, burglary and property damage when they say they broke into the murder victim's office too try and steal a medical chart. By that time she had already admitted she only married a mob boss's son for his money, and that the chart she was trying to get proved she knew said boss's son's life was in major danger, thus she was trying to protect her life. She also later in the case admits that she threatened someone with a gun. She does all this because is she did not admit to any of these smaller crimes, then it would mean she was guilty of a much bigger crime: murder.
- In the second case of the first Ace Attorney game, the murderer, who claims to have witnessed the murder through a window, trips up and reveals details he shouldn't have been able to see through a window. When called on this, he makes up a story about planting surveillance devices in the murder scene in order to spy on the victim.
- Although incidentally, said murderer was spying on the victim with a wiretap, however in reality it was his employee who had actually been to the offices to place the wiretap on the phone. He makes up that he was the one who placed it in order to justify why he knew details about the scene of the murder, aka the offices, that he shouldn't have known unless he had been to said offices before.
- This happens a lot in Ace Attorney when you think about it, mainly due to the fact that every case involves murder revolving around other events and crimes. In the fourth game, when Phoenix has proven that a witness , Valant tampered with the crime scene and tried to throw off the time of death, he admits to everything he did, yet continues to deny that he killed anyone. For good reason. He didn't.
- In the same case, Vera is proven to have been illegally making forgeries(granted, without knowing it was breaking the law) and she even confesses as such when she is accused of murdering her own father.
- The real murderer in case 5 of game one, Chief Gant, confesses to having forged and withheld evidence, and tampering with the crime scene all to blackmail the sister of the apparent person who took the victim's life in the SL-9 Incident when he comes under fire for the fact that he had withheld that he was the first to find the body. He unknowingly confessed to the murder in a second-hand way itself by doing this.