Convicted by Public Opinion
"Now, here are some results from our phone-in poll: 95% of the people believe Homer Simpson is guilty. Of course, this is just a television poll which is not legally binding, unless Proposition 304 passes. And we all pray it will."
Usually when a person's guilt can't be proven (or has not yet been proven or disproven) in a court of law, it is assumed that he or she is innocent. But in the court of public opinion it tends to be the exact opposite. The public (or even the authorities) are convinced you're guilty; they just don't have enough hard evidence to prove your guilt. Now this doesn't necessarily means the person in question is
guilty, mind you, It just means he/she has already been tried and convicted by public opinion. The public can either be right or dead wrong.
Whenever someone is placed in the dock accused of "Crimes Against Humanity", you can be pretty sure this trope is in full effect.
If the public is particularly displeased with a juridical decision, they might take the matter into their own hands. See Witch Hunt
and Vigilante Man
, although the public does not necessarily have to be unjust and violent.
Usually combined with Reformed, but Rejected
. See also Never Live It Down
No Real Life Examples, Please!
, though if you wish to read about that, The Other Wiki
has articles on the court of public opinion
and trial by media
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- One Diabolik had a character tried for the murder of her father and stealing a jewelled knife and acquitted for lack of evidence and a chance that Eva Kant (Diabolik's accomplice) could have done it while masked as her with Latex Perfection. But the public believes her guilty, and a Vigilante Man shoots her. Later the Vigilante Man is about to kill Diabolik for his many proven crimes... When he confesses that murder: according to him, Eva had decided to gift the knife to Diabolik (who liked it) and was stealing it while masked as that character when the father caught her and was about to attack her from behind, and Diabolik, who had guessed what Eva was doing and decided to cover her, killed him. In the end, it's not known if Diabolik had really done it or was just buying himself time, and the Vigilante Man is shown tormented by the possibility he murdered an innocent.
- The very third issue of the series made a strange use of this trope with Diabolik's own trial: Diabolik had done everything he was convicted for and then some, but at the time there was no evidence that Diabolik even existed, and it's made clear that Diabolik was convicted and sentenced to death purely because the public had already convicted him and wanted the King of Terror dead. This would end saving Diabolik's life years later: in the issue Stop the Guillotine an activist opposing the death sentence uses knowledge of this Kangaroo Court to try and get the trial annulled with the intention of personally get Diabolik convicted and sentenced to life in jail, and the attempt, while failed, kept Diabolik away from the guillotine long enough for Eva to break him out.
- To make even more clear that Diabolik had been convicted on non-existent evidence, there's the matter of Walter Dorian, a man identical to Diabolik whose identity was being used by the King of Terror: after being arrested, Diabolik admitted having murdered him, but not only this happened in a foreign country (something that Diabolik didn't specify), but, as pointed out by the activist, it later emerged that Walter Dorian had survived the assassination attempt, and had been kept imprisoned on trumped-up charges by a military junta until he escaped in the chaos of a revolution. By the time of Stop the Guillotine, Diabolik had found out that Walter Dorian was still alive and killed him upon realizing that Dorian had killed two of his mentors.
- Some Harry Potter fanfics where Sirius Black is acquitted have the Wizarding World believing he's guilty. One in particular has Sirius Black unable to gain custody of Harry until he found an old law stating orphans of wizarding parents cannot be raised by muggles for as long as a magical guardian remains available. The Minister was quite unhappy with this development but, having to uphold the law, couldn't prevent it.
- Played With in First Try Series, where Sakura's mother, Barako tries to get Tetsuo, Kakashi and Naruto run out of Konoha for daring to stand up to her and taking her daughter on a months-long training trip. Danzo, Tetsuo's grandfather, takes offense and turns it around so that all of Konoha thinks Barako's a terrible parent.
- In Two Moons, post-Duel Trixie is treated as ponysona non grata all over Equestria despite being officially pardoned by Celestia. Celestia actually has to save her from an angry mob right in the middle of Canterlot, and notes with extreme displeasure that the royal guards were just standing around and letting it happen.
- Represented in Redaction Of The Golden Witch by the Conspiracy Theorist Karl. He's convinced that the Sole Survivor of the Rokkenjima Incident must be reponsible, and all of his theories twist facts and speculation around to support that singular conclusion. He's far from the only Witch Hunter who feels that way.
- The whole point of Absence Of Malice, in which an innocent man's entire life is ruined because an anonymous tipster's claim he's involved in a current murder case gets published in the newspapers.
- Somewhat Lampshaded in the film Stand by Me. Chris Chambers admits to stealing the milk money, but was still irritated (though not terribly surprised) by the fact that people automatically assumed he took it solely because of who he was. What really hurt him, though, was that the teacher he returned it to took advantage of that fact and kept the money for herself.
- In Secret Window, when Mort Rainey is eventually revealed to be the killer, Sheriff Dave Newsome interrupts Mort's nonchalant casual conversation and bluntly says in a matter of fact tone something to the effect of "Both you and I know what you did. We can't find the bodies, But we'll find the bodies and we'll link you to them. And eventually put you away.. And of course since he's a split personality murderer, Mort was completely confused by the sheriff's out of nowhere comment. Also the locals are completely freaked out by him. So much so the sheriff wanted him to stop coming into town at certain parts of the day. The implications are strong granted, But the authorities still never found the bodies.
- Discussed in Sin City where the powerful Roarke family can get enough public approval to not only get away with crimes, but the citizens of Basin will gladly put an innocent man behind bars.
- Fury (1936) had a man arrested because "it seems he knows more than he lets on" about a kidnapping. Gossip Evolution inflates it into everyone "knowing" he's the kidnapper, forming a Lynch mob and burning down his prison. He barely escapes and is definitely not happy...
- While this trope held true for Yanni Yogi in his appearance in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, the movie showed even more how hated he was after getting a Not Guilty verdict. When the judge gives his ruling, everyone in the courtroom buzzes angrily, instead of applauding or cheering him on. The very next scene shows him going home to find his house plastered in papers that call him a murderer and demand that he move out. The harassment gets to be so bad that his wife is Driven to Suicide.
- In the X-Wing Series, when Tycho is tried for espionage and the murder of Corran Horn, pretty much everyone who didn't know him personally thought he did it. The New Republic trying him had to keep at least some of the public's sentiment in mind, since they had just taken the planet from the Empire, and many of the nonhumans were angry enough at the new government due to the plague that only affected nonhumans. It's stated that there were already grumblings that if Tycho hadn't been human he would already have been tried and convicted. Fortunately, it's hard to get a less controversial Not Guilty verdict than your alleged victim walking into the courtroom wanting to know what the hell's going on.
- Harry Potter oh so many times. The wizarding public changes their mind about whether Harry is the savior of their world or a spoiled celebrity more times than they change their robes.
- Also Frank Bryce from the opening chapter of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, who was nearly convicted for the murder of Voldemort's muggle family. The villagers continue to treat him with suspicion even after his name is cleared, as they have no idea what happened to the Riddles.
- Sirius Black is a partial example. While he was convicted (without a trial), his infamous reputation went well beyond the crime for which he was originally convicted. For example, Stan and Ernie of the Knight Bus believed him to be Voldemort's right hand and an Ax-Crazy Psycho Supporter.
- In the case of Barty Crouch, Jr., it's implied that he was convicted on flimsy evidence because the public was crying for blood. Subverted when it turns out he was guilty after all. The movie decided not to bother making it ambiguous and had him frothing at the mouth crazier than Bellatrix Lestrange herself.
- Also mentioned by Ron when they find out Hagrid is half-giant: while any who know Hagrid know he'd be incapable of the mindless violence giants are known for, most people don't know Hagrid.
- Ludo Bagman inverted this in his trial - even though there was still some good evidence against him and he could well have been guilty, he was also a popular Quidditch player and charismatic enough to quickly get the jury on his side. Before long, the trial stopped being about the charge of selling secrets to a Death Eater and started being about how fantastic Bagman had been against Turkey shortly prior.
- Tyrion Lannister of A Song of Ice and Fire always had a reputation of being a monster, despite the fact that he is one of the most honorable characters in the series, simply because of his outward appearance (An ugly dwarf, who eventually loses his nose). Every time he's at trial, everyone is ready to execute him unless defending him will somehow help their own agenda. Fortunately, Tyrion is very much aware of this, and has long since figured out how to use it to his advantage. Eventually, however, it does make him snap.
- In Harlan Ellison's short story "Hitler Painted Roses", souls go to Heaven or Hell based on how good people think they were. In the story, an Expy for Lizzie Borden, sentenced to hell because everyone knows she killed her parents, gets a chance to confront her lover, a clean upstanding pillar of the community who went to Heaven despite actually killing her parents.
- An unusual variant in The Truth: when The Ankh-Morpork Times publishes evidence that Vetinari was entirely innocent of attempting to leave town with stolen funds, and was the victim of a nasty frame-up, the opinion of the average reader is given as "He got away with it, then. Of course, he's a very clever man." The unusual aspect is that they don't actually seem to care much either way. Of course, compared to the antics of many of Vetinari's predecessors in officenote , allegedly stabbing a formerly trusted subordinate and absconding with as much of the treasury as you can carry barely merits a raised eyebrow.
- Invoked almost word for word by Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. The public decided long before the trial that Tom Robinson, a black man, was guilty of raping Mayella Ewell, a white woman, because this was Alabama in the 1930s.
- In the Knight and Rogue Series because he's marked as a criminal Michael is an instant suspect when buildings start being burned down. He has an alibi all three times, but still gets chased by a mob twice before the real criminal is caught.
- In Stephen King's original book version of Carrie, the after-the-fact articles and book snippets make it clear that, after the "Black Prom", Sue Snell and Tommy Ross were blamed by the public and by investigators for driving Carrie over the edge, recast as an Alpha Bitch and her Jerk Jock boyfriend so as to have an easy scapegoat.
- In the Shirley Jackson novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Constance Blackwood is charged and acquitted for the crime of poisoning nearly her entire family with arsenic-laced sugar. She's acquitted, but the entire village ostracizes what's left of the family, with the children taunting Constance's younger sister Merricat about her deceased family every time she ventures out for food.
- The Encyclopedia Brown mystery "the Case of Sir Biscuit Shooter" involves a friend's uncle who had spent time in prison, but had gone straight and was now working in a circus. His role was a clown named Sir Godfrey Biscuit Shooter, who wore a VERY noisy "armor" made of pots and pans. Later, Sir Biscuit Shooter is accused of knocking out the star of the circus and stealing her money—all because he had been in prison. Many of the circus performers think Sir Biscuit Shooter is the guilty one. Encyclopedia proves the thief was the bareback rider who wore soft slippers and was able to move stealthily. Sir Biscuit Shooter couldn't have pulled off the crime undetected as the clanking of his pots and pans would have given him away.
- In Melusine the populace nearly stones Felix to death when Stephen drags him through the Plaza del'Archimago on the way to his trial. Unfortunately, he's innocent.
- In The Killer Angels, General Garnett considers himself this due to Stonewall Jackson accusing him of cowardice and then dying before Garnett could defend his actions. Because of this, he feels that he has to win a major victory or die trying in order to redeem his honor, which is why he insists on going on Pickett's charge despite being too ill to walk. In the film adaptation, Gettysburg, his final scene shows him riding straight towards a loaded cannon.
Live Action TV
- Talk shows like Jerry Springer or the Maury Povich show. Whenever a guest is accused of doing something wrong to his or her significant other, such as cheating with someone else, the crowd will always boo the suspect, sometimes even after the person is proved innocent. On top of this, if the show shows the couple got back together in a "Where Are They Now?" update segment, the audience will always boo the person that had broken the other's heart, even if the two of them are truly happy now.
- In any episode featuring paternity tests, the suspected father who denies that the baby is his typically gets booed by the audience upon his first entry, while the audience openly sympathizes with the mother. This has happened even in obvious cases, such as when a black man was accused of fathering a child who was fair-skinned, blonde-haired and blue-eyed, not to mention many cases where the woman in question has pointed to five or even more men as potential fathers.
- Any cop show will eventually feature this. An example of the trope being referred to by name is in an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, where a secretly-made video of an abusive boss goes viral on the internet, leading everyone to condemn said boss.
- This was pretty common in Matlock, where a client would not only look pretty guilty, but have everyone who knew them convinced of their guilt. One example had an obnoxious DJ accused of murdering his rival. Even Ben told him that the jury "can't wait to find you guilty."
- The Highlander episode "An Innocent Man" is based on this trope.
- Nick Knight ran into it in an episode of Forever Knight, both with the suspect he was investigating, and a past incident where he was hanged as a killer, even though he was innocent.
- A woman in one episode of Castle invoked this trope. She wanted to divorce her borderline-abusive famous athlete husband, but knew if she did the public would consider him the victim of "another trophy wife just looking for her share." If, however, she disappeared after they'd spent the night getting drunk on his boat, everyone would believe he'd killed her and his reputation would be ruined.
- A fairly early storyline in Pogo centered on Albert being accused of eating the Pup-Dog. One strip cut to a bunch of crotchety old lady... animals... on a porch talking about the news, all certain he was guilty. At the end Albert was found innocent when the Pup-Dog showed up from wherever it was he'd gotten off to. Cut back to the old ladies on the porch, positively incensed that Albert "got away with it" and bemoaning the "travesty o' justice" that had occurred. Even though the "victim" was very much alive and well.
- The Ace Attorney series displays this a few times for the people inside the courtroom who are convinced that the defendant or a particular witness is truly guilty, despite what the evidence or lack of evidence shows. The judge is also easily swayed by the opinions of the prosecution and is sometimes quick to hand down a guilty verdict due to said opinions.
- It also applies to Phoenix's childhood where he is accused of stealing lunch money from his fellow classmate, Miles Edgeworth. All the children point their fingers at Phoenix as the thief and even the teacher is convinced that Phoenix is guilty, despite no direct evidence. Only Edgeworth and Larry Butz stand up for Phoenix and convince the whole class that he is not the guilty party. It was Larry Butz, of course.
- Played straight in Apollo Justice where Phoenix meets Zak seven years after he escaped from his trial. Phoenix tells him that the public firmly believes that his partner, Valant, helped him escape during the trial and they also believe that he was the one who killed Magnifi, even though there's no evidence to support their claims. To put everything to rest and let the public believe what it wants, Zak writes a confession note saying that he "killed" Magnifi. This is all before days after Zak is legally declared dead after seven years since his vanishing act.
- In the first game, the first few times Phoenix meets Detective Gumshoe, he is recognized as the lawyer who defended a murderer. He has to point out that his client was actually found not guilty. To be fair, Gumshoe is shown as a big scatterbrain, so it's most likely he just kept forgetting the outcome of that trial.
- The Tribunal system in League of Legends allows players to vote on a case as to whether or not the accused deserves to be punished. The players assigned to a case can review logs of the in-game chat and vital game stats, a supermajority is needed for actual punishment, and the worst punishments are subject to manual review by Riot Games staff (as are randomly chosen cases that don't warrant particularly strong punishment).
- Though according to the summoner's code celebrating a victory with "GG easy noobs" deserves a ban. Also, any time a player just has a bad game there are people who will try to get them reported for intentionally feeding. The forums are rife with people who claim they got falsely banned, though it should be noted that they are usually hiding something.
- The Tribunal has been removed in early 2014 and replaced with automated chat bans similar to Dota 2. This cuts out the whole jury part of the equation and just punishes you automatically if enough people report you.
- In the original campaign of Neverwinter Nights, Fenthick Moss is manipulated into assisting the Big Bad of the first act, publicly supporting him while being unaware of his true intentions or eventual actions. By the time of the second act, he has been hanged to appease the masses, who demanded blood for what happened and believed Fenthick to be complicit in the plot, no matter how ignorant he was of it.
- The main plot of Nancy Drew: Alibi in Ashes is how the titular character is framed for arson and falls victim to this trope. Even though she hasn't been convicted yet and had a stellar reputation beforehand, people are throwing rocks at her house and sending threatening notes within a day.
- Monkey Dust's Paedofinder General sketch is a parody of this.
"By the power invested in me by prurient wishful thinking, I pronounce you guilty- of PAEDOPHILIA!"
"By the power invested in me by a text vote on Sky news, I find you guilty- of PAEDOPHILIA!"
"By the power invested in me by some bloke I met in a pub, who knew for definite, I find your sort GUILTY of PAEDOPHILIA!"
- In The Simpsons, Homer was accused of sexual harassment. The entire country decided he was guilty, based on nothing more than hearsay and an extremely biased - and clearly fake - news segment. The episode was meant as a satire of the current state of the media - which, sadly, hasn't improved since the episode first aired (in 1994!). The quote of the top of this page is from that episode.
- The Beetlejuice cartoon had this happen to Beetlejuice himself, accused of scamming the city for donations. The donations were stolen, but this was a rare time when he was being honest. Naturally, when public opinion was said to turn against him, it took the form of a huge angry monster. When Beetlejuice tried proclaiming his innocence, Lydia reminded him that when it's public opinion, "facts don't matter" to it. In fact, this instance is almost a subversion, since Beetlejuice has already pulled so much crap (and, in fact, he originally intended to scam the city) in the Neitherworld that it's a lot easier to see just why the public automatically thinks he's guilty.
- South Park: When the heads of a boy scout group were taken to court for discriminating against gays, the judge, when about to announce the verdict, said it was based on public opinion.