The 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations is a treaty between countries which generally grants to the official representative of a country certain privileges by the receiving country, on the presumption of reciprocity, e.g. we will grant immunity from prosecution to your official diplomats in our country as long as you do the same for ours when they're in your country.
Diplomatic immunity, the next step in "not shooting the messenger" etiquette, is supposed to protect diplomats from being harassed for political reasons. In fiction, this can be a handy device, as it answers the question of "why don't they just arrest him?" quite neatly. Quite often, it's the villains who are protected by it - their immunity from the cops means that it's left to the hero to bring them down vigilante-style. Visiting heads of state get something similar, so every President Evil presumably has it automatically, although it isn't necessarily included in the plot. There are also heroes who have it, but for them, it's often a rather flimsy shield.
Related to this is the principle that the grounds of embassies should be treated (only treated, mind) as part of the owning country for legal purposes. This provides characters with a place to retreat to where they will supposedly be safe from pursuit - again, they're often villains who will smugly inform the hero that they can't follow. Likewise the immunity of sealed 'Diplomatic Bags' from customs searches may be used by a diplomatic villain as an easy way to smuggle illegal items.
And then there are cars with diplomatic plates, which are supposedly immune to all traffic and parking regulations. In reality, while it's perfectly possible to issue them a ticket, it's difficult at best to make them actually pay the fine. Some countries, surprisingly enough, do pay their parking tickets when official vehicles are ticketed.
Diplomatic immunity only applies to recognized diplomats and specific portions of their families; agents not officially in the country ("Non official cover" or hidden spies) can't claim it. Committing major crimes under the cover of diplomatic immunity would cause a serious international incident. Take murder, for example. If a foreign country protects a diplomat accused of murder from all consequences, they would appear to approve of the murder, making it an assassination by that country, which is an act of war. While diplomatic immunity is abused, serious abuse is playing with fire so diplomatic immunity can be revoked by the issuing country's foreign affairs office or by shooting the diplomat in the head...whichever comes first.
In real life, it's never taken that seriously, primarily because abusing diplomatic privileges to commit serious felonies in the host country is a very good way of getting the host country very, very angry, leading in turn to all kinds of potentially unpleasant international diplomatic consequences should you get caught. If a diplomat did something really bad in the host country, either the sending country would strip them of their immunity allowing the host country to try them, or, if they won't, the host country will declare them Persona Non Grata (PNG), a fancy Latin term roughly equivalent to "you've worn out your welcome, get out of the country" meaning they either have to leave the country within a reasonable time, or they have to give up their diplomatic immunity and be an ordinary tourist (at which point they could be prosecuted). In some cases, if the sending country is going to prosecute them instead, they will recall the person back to the home country, often before the host country PNG's them.
The accuracy of depictions varies considerably. Abuse of it on-screen can overlap with Hollywood Law.
See also Ass in Ambassador, where the diplomat only has to be a jerk. Compare Sacred Hospitality.
In one episode a hacker tries to defend himself from Section 9 by saying that he's the son of the Canadian ambassador. He is, but Section 9 had already sought and received consent from the Canadians to proceed. Much of the episode takes place with Section 9 tailing him until the proper authorizations are given allowing them to move in for the arrest.
In another case, a Russian criminal who's been trafficking in humans happens to have unwittingly kidnapped the daughter of the former Japanese Prime Minister. Said criminal tries to run to the embassy but they close the automatic gates on her before she has a chance to get in.
At the climax of the second season, the Big Bad takes a job with the American Empire, complete with extradition, in order to give himself a quasi-form of this. Section 9 obtained a letter from the Prime Minister authorizing them to use any means necessary up to and including lethal force to prevent his defection, despite the risk of a diplomatic backlash. When confronted, he assumes they are bluffing. They weren't.
At the start of the first Ghost in the Shell movie Section 9 was going after someone who then claimed diplomatic immunity, the Major simply blew his head off.
Early on in Code Geass R2, the Black Knights take refuge in the Chinese Federation's embassy (having Geassed the ambassador into submission).
In the Fujiyama Gangsta Paradise arc of Black Lagoon, Balalaika essentially gets away with creating a yakuza civil war by pulling a few strings and getting the Russian Ambassador to escort her away from her last hit and away from a huge police dragnet, who don't know who she is apart from the fact that an Ambassador just came to pick her up.
Level E. Prince Baka Ki El Dogra is an enormous jerk and knows it, but no one can do anything about him because he isa prince, and by the way of a recently concluded diplomatic treaty (which he orchestrated in a first part) he is in effect a protector of the Earth. He still gets beaten a lot though.
The World Nobles in One Piece combine this trope with Screw the Rules, I Make Them!. As they are the descendents of the people who founded the (highly corrupt) World Government, they can do as they please, and anyone who even tries to interfere with or touch them in any way will face the full force of a Marine army, including an admiral. Arguably the only people in the world who could get away with defying or even killing a World Noble are the Four Emperors, certain members of the Seven Warlords of the Sea, or the most wanted man in the world Monkey D. Dragon, because between their powerful crews and personal strength, even the admirals would have a hard time defeating one of them.
The final arc of the original run of Appleseed involved a cyborg diplomat trying to use this to smuggle a Humongous Mecha out of the city, by wiring himself into it and walking out. Unfortunately for him, his immunity got revoked, and he discovered that Giant Robots are somewhat vulnerable to flying cyborgs with tank cannons.
Fantastic Four. Doctor Doom, as ruler of Latveria, enjoys the head-of-state version when on official visits, but he's fair game when visiting on other occasions.
In the Crossover story where he fought Superman, after his plan was defeated Doom ran to the Latverian embasy, reaching it seconds before Superman arrived, then simply turned toward superman and dared him to cross the embasy border to try arresting him on Latverian soil. Superman didn't want to trigger a major diplomatic incident so he turned around and left.
In one Fantastic Four story, Reed Richards and his family go to Latveria and take it over briefly so they can dismantle Doom's assets while he's suffering from a temporary death. They're eventually challenged by Nick Fury and arrested due to breaking international law by occupying the country, regardless of the fact that they're removing the tools Doom used to oppress the populace. Eventually it's pointed out to Fury that in addition to being a murderous tyrant, Dr. Doom broke international law and committed horrible crimes just about every other day on both his own and foreign soil, yet somehow neither the United Nations or any authority ever revoked his diplomatic immunity or attempted to remove him from power. This has never been brought up again.
The first storyline of Mighty Avengers had Iron Man march his team of Avengers right into Latveria, fight and arrest Doom for something he didn't even start (a symbiote invasion - he had a satellite that started it, but he didn't initiate it). He promptly escaped during Secret Invasion and wasn't touched since.
The writer (Jim Starlin) seems to have liked this trope; he used it earlier in "Ten Nights of the Beast" and "The Diplomat's Son." In the former, Batman ends up trapping the KGBeast and walking away, presumably to let him starve to death (well, until it was retconned), while in the latter it's suggested that Jason Todd shoved the diplomat's son off a high balcony.
In DC Comics' Crisis Crossover52, Captain Marvel's enemy Black Adam killed a supervillain right in front of a news crew -by ripping him in half with his bare hands- but was not arrested presumably because he was standing over the embassy of Kahndaq which, as a general rule, he rules (at least until he was Taken for Granite a few months later).
Once, after defeating Maxima in battle yet again, Superman cites this as a reason for the police to withdraw. The other reason is that the Queen of Almerac is just as powerful as him, so the police wouldn't have been able to hold her anyway.
Deconstructed in Green Lantern Corps. A prince of a planet kills a Green Lantern and many potential replacements. When the other Lanterns bring him to Oa, they are forced to return him to his family. He is then tried and guillotined by them, with Soranik Natu giving him a Hope Spot just to be cruel.
Subverted in 300. Leonidas kicks a Persian diplomatic messenger into a well in response for Xerxes's demand for earth and water as a sign of surrender. The diplomat is quite surprised to be threatened, since it's quite a breach of diplomatic protocol. He doesn't realize that "This! Is! Sparta!" Of course, this is Very Loosely Based on a True Story.
The embassy part is subverted in The Bourne Identity, when Bourne escapes into the US embassy just ahead of the pursuing local authorities, but soon finds himself being chased by the Marine embassy guards because he's wanted by the US government as well.
In Casino Royale, James Bond gets in trouble for paying absolutely no attention to the extraterritoriality of an embassy in Africa. ("You violated the only absolutely inviolate rule of international relations, and for what?")
Ghost in the Shell (1995). At the beginning of the movie the ambassador of a foreign country claims diplomatic immunity while offering asylum to a Japanese defector. The Major executes the ambassador with a bloodyheadshot, "ending" the problem.
In Lethal Weapon 2, the South African ambassador is using his diplomatic immunity to hide his smuggling empire, which infuriates our heroes to no end. However, when he tries to use it freely gun down cops, they summarily "revoke" his immunity.
In Once Upon a Time in China 2, the British Ambassador refuses to allow General Nap-lan to arrest Sun Yat Sen in their embassy, stating that the Embassy was British soil, and as such they could legally grant the man asylum (Since he was busy treating people injured in a terrorist attack at the time the attempted arrest was made, the ambassador had every reason to not want the Chinese government to drag the man away at that moment). The next time said official enters the embassy, he murders the ambassador on the spot, claiming "This is China, not England!". In this case the ambassador is not abusing his powers, but the Chinese government refuses to acknowledge them.
Outrage by Takeshi Kitano. The Yakuza use an embassy to run a illegal casino. They actually force the ambassador to move to a new building because the old one wasn't large enough.
In The Princess Diaries, the Queen claimed diplomatic immunity after she and Mia got in a car accident. Then she got Mia out of trouble by inducting the traffic cops into the nonexistent "Genovian Order of the Rose."
Earlier, Joe turned down Mia's request to take the Genovian flags off the limo he was driving, on the grounds that they allow him to park anywhere.
Sneakers. When Marty is about to be captured by the FBI, his friend Gregor (a KGB agent) offers him asylum inside his car, which he says is technically part of the Russian consulate (and thus under diplomatic immunity).
In U.S. Marshals, a Chinese 'diplomat' claims immunity after shooting an FBI agent in the head with an assault rifle.
Near the end of The Peacemaker, a missing nuke is smuggled via diplomatic pouch so that it is never checked. The nuke is for a plan to blow up the United Nations headquarters.
Discworld: In The Fifth Elephant, Vimes and his party have diplomatic immunity when visiting Überwald. His willingness to assert that immunity in the face of people with sharp weapons is used by a local power to test his resolve. (It doesn't prevent him from being arrested when he later breaks a law that may be silly from our point of view but is very important in Dwarf culture.)
One of Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga books is actually called Diplomatic Immunity. There's a double meaning in there, too. In addition, Miles and Mark both have real, and apparently legally effective (though details are unclear), diplomatic immunity, being the sons of the Prime Minister of Barrayar (formerly Regent, later Viceroy of Sergyar), who is also a Count in his own right (and therefore a minor head of state) as well as the arguable successor to the Emperor. Miles uses a combination of his immunity and Barrayar's fealty laws to help someone out in The Warrior's Apprentice, while Mark is protected from potential arrest and extradition in A Civil Campaign (To a point - foreign governments can legally arrest him for murder, should he commit one). Miles also presumably has immunity in his own right once he's appointed Imperial Auditor, being, effectively, hatchet man for the Emperor with full Imperial authority.
In Anne McCaffrey's novel Pegasus in Flight, the villain is part of an ambassador's family, and claims diplomatic immunity when the police try to arrest him. The ambassador, on hearing what he's been up to (child trafficking), chews him out and then tells the police to go ahead and arrest him.
In Tamora Pierce's Protector of the Small series, the jerkass squire Joren of Stone Mountain takes full advantage of the legal privileges of nobility and confesses in court to having paid two thugs to kidnap Keladry's maid Lalasa, have her tied up and left at the top of the Needle, a thin tower (with no safety railings). The Magistrate is quite pissed and lays every single fine he can think of, which is enough to bankrupt a regular family. Joren, however, is filthy rich even by the standards of nobility and he knows that since he didn't perform the physical crime and the victim is a commoner he can't be jailed.
In The Da Vinci Code, the main character is told to flee the Parisian police by fleeing to the US embassy so he can have a chance of a fair trial, rather than being the scapegoat for the museum curator's murder.
In the Nero Wolfe short story "Immune to Murder" (also one of the episodes in the TV series) the murderer is this. I'd put that behind a spoiler but c'mon. Rex Stout's own title gives it away the second you get to the murder.
A short story by Robert Sheckley is called "Diplomatic Immunity". It takes the concept rather more literal than usual.
In the Alex Cross novel Pop Goes the Weasel, Geoffrey Shafer is a British diplomat who (and ex-Special Forces assassin) abuses this to get away with murder. Although his government eventually waives the immunity and allows him to be put on trial, his assertion of the immunity during his arrest leads to the most damning evidence being suppressed, and he is acquitted.
Invoked in Lord of the Rings, when the Mouth of Sauron comes to bring Frodo's vest to Gandalf. He explicitly states that "I am an herald and ambassador and may not be assailed!" when he feels that the atmosphere is getting a bit hostile. Gandalf pointedly informs him that where such laws hold true it's customary to behave more politely, which does lead to him dialling back the insults a bit. Of course, in The Film of the Book, the Mouth does not assert this, and Aragorn promptly lops the guy's head off when he's said his piece.
Pops up in a Hoka story aptly named Undiplomatic Immunity. Yes, the Hokas are ambassadors. No, they are not allowed to wiretap the Plenipotentiary's quarters. And put that codebook away, for the last time, there is no Section X!
Spies operating under diplomatic cover appear regularly in Tom Clancy's novels. Those spies who don't have a diplomatic cover tend to forward their information to those who do, who can then transport that information back to their home country in a diplomatic bag (which cannot be searched by customs agents). In the Jack Ryan universe, there's actually only two books that has the good-guy spies operating under official cover (The Cardinal of the Kremlin and Red Rabbit, and in both cases it's the same characters). In all the other books, while official spies do occasionally show up on the bad-guy side, the good guys are always operating under a non-official cover, and the books tend to go to great lengths to show a) how hard their life is, and b) how much easier it would be if they could just go to their embassy sometimes, and not have to worry about getting arrested and killed.
Sisterhood Series by Fern Michaels: The first book Weekend Warriors plays this straight by having Myra's daughter Barbara killed by a drunk hit-and-run driver who could not be charged due to him having diplomatic immunity. The book Vendetta reveals the driver's name to be John Chai, the son of the Chinese ambassador to the USA Chai Ming. John is apparently quite the playboy and his father tries to keep him penned in to protect the family's honour and reputation. Apparently, John has not gone back to the USA because he knows that he will be arrested and charged for his crime. The Vigilantes had to sneak into China, get John to go somewhere away from security, kidnap him, skin him alive, drop him off to England for treatment and then dump him back in China. Does anyone find it strange that China is portrayed as a country that is more than willing to play with fire by not revoking the son's immunity and having him punished for his crime?
Invoked in The Supernaturalist. Stephen is on the verge of getting arrested by the local authorities and claims to have diplomatic immunity. The officers don't buy it and demand to "see some diplomatic identification", at which point Stephen throws them a blank plastic card. The whole thing was just a diversion to slow the officers down while his team took them out. It also creates a small amount of confusion for them since the near future setting has it that diplomatic immunity is largely obsolete, and the relevence of asserting it is vaguely defined.
In Frederick Forsyth's book Fist of God, the main character is being sent into Baghdad during the first Gulf War to gather intelligence from an asset there. Because of the danger to him if he is caught by the AMAM (the Iraqi version of the KGB), he requests that he be attached to a diplomatic household to help protect him if he is caught. Several of his other books portray spies as using diplomat immunity to avoid serious danger to themselves.
Lisa Shearin's Raine Benares novels feature numerous counts of people with diplomatic status using that status to prevent themselves from being prosecuted for various crimes, usually murder, kidnapping, and extortion. Given that the authorities of the good guys know exactly who's doing what, and usually have witnesses/evidence to the fact, you'd think that they'd declare the people in question Persona Non Grata and throw them out of the city, but the notion never even comes up.
The Godfather discusses Al Neri's background as an NYPD policeman before joining the Corleone Family. Neri gained considerable notoriety for smashing the windshields of UN diplomats who used "diplomatic immunity" as an excuse for parking wherever they wanted.
In The Dresden Files book Cold Days, mortal warlock Molly Carpenter is wanted by the White Council for her crimes of using black magic to kill and altering people's minds. The sentence is death. But at the end of the book, by machinations of Queen Mab, the Winter Queen and Queen of Air and Darkness, Molly becomes the youngest Winter Queen. No longer a mortal thus no longer applicable to mortal wizarding laws. The White Council create make war if they tried any underhanded means of getting Molly. Only if Queen Mab agreed to give her over under the Unseelie Accords (the supernatural version of the Vienna Convention among other things) can the council touch her. And Mab will not let that happen.
Live Action TV
In Yes, Prime Minister, the French plan to use diplomatic immunity and embassy extraterritoriality to smuggle a dog, intended as a presidential gift for the Queen, into Britain - part of a scheme to embarrass the British with the help of quarantine regulations (and thus gain the upper hand in Channel Tunnel negotiations). This sneakiness ends up backfiring on them; having been denied the right to have their own police guard their diplomats, they've smuggled in explosives to try and embarrass the British police as well — unfortunately for them, they get caught, and the British police are allowed to arrest them for that.
In the "Exposed" episode of Smallville, Chloe and Lois investigate a case in which girls working at a Metropolis strip joint are disappearing. When the killer is finally exposed, the Metropolis PD cannot arrest him because of this trope. It's subverted near the end when Chloe tips off INTERPOL and they arrest him. Even before that, when the officer says diplomatic immunity means they can't touch him, Lois says "Well, I can," and slugs him.
In an episode of The Commish, "Sleep of the Just", the rapist was a diplomat. At one stage the police decide to harass him by ticketting for obscure and long-obsolete violations of the law, like sneezing in public (it frightens the horses).
In one episode of L&O, a diplomat who refused to turn over records to the D.A.'s Office had his car towed. He protested that he had immunity from all parking fines. Jamie Ross argued that while that may be true, they could tow his car for illegal parking at every occurrence, and would until he cooperated. Presumably giving up the evidence was less hassle than finding a legal parking spot.
Another time a defendant who was employed by the Nigerian Embassy, and thus enjoyed diplomatic immunity, tried to use it to get out of his involvement in a drug smuggling ring. His Embassy revoked it, but then reinstated it halfway though the trial, allowing him to flee back to his native land. When a furious Ben Stone demands an explanation, he's informed that the man will be tried in a Nigerian court for his crimes, where the penalties for drug smuggling are even tougher than in the U.S. and his conviction is all-but-assured thanks to the evidence the Manhattan prosecutors had on him. Stone is still displeased at having been a pawn in the affair, but lets the matter drop relatively quietly.
In the SVU episode "Honor," a woman has been found dead, and it became clear that it was an honor-killing committed by her Knight Templar Big Brother. Problem is, their dad's a big-time political figure, so his entire family has diplomatic immunity. The caveat is that the brother's immunity expired on his 21st birthday. Unfortunately, this whole mess results in the diplomat's wife, who finally stood up to him and testified against her son, also getting killed by her husband, who had already fled back to his home country by the time the detectives discovered the body.
Another SVU episode, "Parasites", had the DA's office managing to get immunity rescinded when the detectives found overwhelming evidence that he had murdered a woman.
The L&O mothership episode "Rapture" had a man using the tensions between Iran, Israel, and the United States to embezzle from charities and their donors. He tried to claim diplomatic immunity with the Iranian embassy by claiming he was a victim of a Zionist conspiracy. The detectives turned this back on him by making it look like he was part of the conspiracy, causing the government to revoke the immunity and kick him out of the embassy (specifically, the car meant to take him to the airport), where he was promptly arrested by the detectives.
One episode had a Russian national flee into a Russian embassy to avoid prosecution (over human trafficing). The Russians gave him up when the DAs gave them another Russian criminal for trial in the motherland.
CSI: Miami had a Victim of the Week who was killed by the sons of an ambassador (who had also been using his immunity to smuggle blood diamonds to prove he was evil). They trap one of them in international waters by some ludicrously overcomplicated scheme. The ambassador retracts immunity from the other when the CSIs discover he isn't the diplomat's biological son.
In one episode of Barney Miller the diplomat in question had a slave.
One episode of The Practice dealt with a man who shot and killed his adulterous wife and her long-term lover. Eventually his lawyers find out that he's the son of a Croatian diplomat and therefore has immunity. Deconstructed in that, while the judge does resentfully dismiss the case, the murderer is immediately escorted out of the courthouse by Federal agents and put on the first plane to Croatia.
One episode of Nash Bridges showed Nash and Joe taking a surprisingly logical approach to a criminal British diplomat. They called the Home Office in London, presented their evidence, and got the man fired. Not immune to anything then.
In an episode of MacGyver, a murderer and jewel thief has diplomatic immunity as a cultural attaché. Mac and his team prove said attaché's criminality to the ambassador, who insists the attaché be returned to their home country to stand trial. The attaché pleads unsuccessfully to be allowed to face American justice instead.
An arc spanning the last three episodes of Season 3 of The West Wing uses this as a central plot device: A foreign country's defense minister is discovered using his Diplomatic Impunity to be a terrorism kingpin on the side. Since his own government cannot be relied on to prosecute him, President Bartlet and his advisors consider illegally assassinating him. They don't just consider it, they do it, and the consequences are felt for two straight seasons.
The trope is used more humorously in a different episode, when the UN Secretary-General tries to get ahold of the President all day, and Charlie (per Leo's orders) tries to keep Bartlet from getting involved. The reason? The Secretary-General's upset because diplomats are being given parking tickets and having their vehicles towed for parking in no-parking zones. When Bartlet finally hears about it, he flips out:
Bartlet:[stabs button on phone]THERE ARE BIG SIGNS, YOU CAN'T PARK THERE! They should get towed! I hope they get towed to Queens, and the Triborough is closed, and there's a big craft show at Shea, a flea market or a tractor show![hangs up]
Charlie: Well, that was probably his secretary.
Bartlet: Damn it!
Charlie: You can bet she'll be parking it in a garage, though.
In one episode of Bones, the murderer is covered by diplomatic immunity. The lab crew comes up with a scheme to get around it, but Booth shuts them down, on the grounds that the standard of diplomatic immunity is too important to be damaged. It's then subverted by the fact that the immunity only applies to foreign prosecution - they can still hand the evidence over to the murderer's own government and let them try the case.
In addition, Booth's original plan to have the diplomat's son declared persona non grata wouldn't have let him prosecute, either — at best it would have gotten him recalled to his home country.
In the pilot for Nurse Jackie, Jackie treats a diplomat who had his ear severed while attacking a prostitute. He couldn't be charged, so Jackie flushed the ear down a toilet.
An episode of The Bill went into this in detail, with an "Eastern European" (possibly Ruritanian) diplomat resisting arrest for assaulting a prostitute. The police discovered steadily more heinous crimes that the diplomat was involved in, such that the embassy was forced to hand him over for prosecution; and as usual they found the body of a murdered prostitute in his back garden seconds before he was due to leave for the airport, having been dismissed from the service for the original assault. At the climax of the episode, the officer involved on the case was promoted to deal with the Foreign and Commonwealth office in matters such as this.
Played fairly straight in "The Fifth Bullet", wherein one of the persons of interest in a murder investigation is a UN diplomat from Bahrain who, although not actually involved in anything strictly illegal, did knowingly purchase forged copies of various paintings, is uncooperative. He's about to pull the 'I'm leaving the country and you'll never see me again' trick when Beckett arrests his driver for double-parking, which enables her to both detain him and search his car (which is from a car service, not a diplomatic service, and as such isn't covered under the immunity).
Subverted in "Suicide Squeeze", which involves the Cuban consulate in New York. A murder suspect tries hiding out there, but Beckett bluntly informs the head guy that a consulate is not an embassy and as such isn't covered by immunity in these situations; unless she's turned over, there's nothing stopping the police from entering the consulate legally as they would any other similar situation. Since holding her wouldn't reflect well on the Cuban government, she's turned over.
This, however, is incorrect, as consulates are just as inviolable as embassies so they really couldn't have done anything about it.
An episode of CHiPs had the CHP faced with the son of a diplomat who routinely sped/drove recklessly knowing that he couldn't be arrested for it. They eventually get him to stop by taking him to view the wreckage of a high-speed car accident that killed a young child.
An episode of Las Vegas plays it utterly straight when a Syrian diplomat steals a 90 million dollar Egyptian mummy that was on display at the Montecito casino. When Ed shows up trying to stop the guy before he boards his private plane the cops just let him go on with his business by citing his personal immunity, in spite of the fact that letting a foreigner steal a national treasure would undoubtedly lead to an international incident with Egypt (which unlike Syria, has been a major US ally since 1989). However, the guy who stole the treasure was a selfish dick who simply did not give a crap who wanted it for his private collection, Deline didn't have any legally obtained, actionable evidence of the crime, and Team Montecito had already stolen it back.
White Collar, "What Happens in Burma": The Burmese embassy not only commits parking violations with reckless abandon, they steal a hard drive containing video footage of a rebel camp and try to smuggle it back to Burma in a diplomatic pouch. However, Peter turns the letter of the law against them by using the unpaid parking tickets to stall the ambassador at a crucial moment, enabling the FBI to (more or less legally) retrieve the hard drive when the ambassador's secretary is tricked into dumping out the pouch.
Specifically, Peter presents the diplomat with all the parking tickets and asks him about every single one, citing the need to close each individual case.
Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye: In "Diplomatic Immunity," a crooked Sudanese diplomat uses his status to hide his role in slave trafficking. Diplomatic immunity even goes so far as to protect him from legal consequences when three FBI agents (among other people on the street) see him beating a woman in broad daylight and Bobby pulls him off the woman. The diplomat gets away with it, and the State Department makes Bobby apologize for the "misunderstanding."
Psych: While investigating a murder that took place at a British embassy, Shawn thinks being employed by the ambassador means he can use diplomatic immunity to get away with anything (mostly parking violations and littering), but finds out that it doesn't work that way. The Lethal Weapon 2 example is specifically mentioned. Several other try to invoke immunity over suspects of murder which are likewise pointless.
Forever Knight had a diplomat protecting his son by dumping the kid's victims for him. There was worry that Nick, who kept pressing things, would get himself in trouble and into a possible sunrise execution, not good for a vampire. But the son lost his own immunity when they found he was employed under false pretenses at the consulate.
Highlander had an immortal whose girlfriend was killed by the son of a diplomat friend of Duncan's. The immortal wanted justice,and ultimately killed the father thinking he did it. The son couldn't be prosecuted due to his immunity, and despite Duncan's attempts to get the kid to turn himself in voluntarily, the kid refused. Duncan did protect him by telling the other immortal that he'd keep his head as long as the kid stayed alive.
Highlander: The Raven: a spy is unable to be arrested because she is a diplomat. However, the US government liasion says that she is returning to an ex-Iron Curtain nation in failure and will certainly face the firing squad. By failing to steal the blueprints, getting exposed, and spending 5 million dollars for bribe money; she has nothing to bargain with and her superiors will use her as an example during her Kangaroo Court.
A suspect in a murder is a diplomat in the NCIS episode "Untouchable".
Some retired veterans go up against drug dealers covered by diplomatic immunity in the episode "Yesterday's Heroes".
Sudansese Ambassador Moshak in the fourth season episode "Embassy" even says You'd be suprised by the multitude of sins one can hide in a diplomatic pouch. One of the many advantages of being the Ambassador.
In Cagney & Lacey, a close friend of a diplomat committed a hit-and-run on a guy, and ran to the mission. Cagney & Lacey have a warrant for his arrest, but even though he doesn't have immunity, since he is within the diplomatic mission, the Charge dAffairs informs them that they are within their rights to refuse. He reminds them how their own country was horribly upset when the government of Iran didn't respect the sovereignity of their embassy in Teheran. He sneaks out of the mission once (which means he's now fair game) and they almost catch him, but he's able to sneak back in. The two discover that to get rid of a diplomatic incident the United States is going to waive prosecution on the guy. Before he finds out, the two go see him on the mission grounds and make a deal with him: if he'll pay the guy's medical expenses and lost wages, and make a donation to a charity, they'll not prosecute. (The interesting thing is that it was just an accident, if he hadn't panicked and ran, that's probably all that would have happened, his insurance would have had to pay the costs.)
Midsomer Murders had an episode where the unsearchable diplomat's bag was a minor but important plot point. The alumni of a college tended to get diplomatic jobs, using them to smuggle archeological and historical artifacts back to England from the countries they were sent to, which were then sold on the black market.
The Hunter episode "Rape & Revenge" had DeeDee McCall being raped by a South American diplomat who claimed immunity when Hunter tried to arrest him—and shot Hunter just to twist the knife further.
The X-Files on at least two occasions. In "Nisei" Mulder and Scully arrest a Japanese consular official after he attacks Mulder while fleeing a crime scene, but is released at A.D. Skinner's order through "diplomatic immunity." The sixth season episode "S.R. 819" repeats this scenario almost verbatim with a Tunisian "diplomat." Justified in-universe as both men implicitly have Syndicate connections.
An episode of The Good Wife involved a brutal rape/murder where the top two suspects were the sons of diplomats. The DA's office determined that while the son of a Dutch diplomat could not be prosecuted due to diplomatic immunity, the other one was Taiwanese, therefore not from a recognized country and did not have it. The protagonist then defended the son of the Taiwanese diplomat trying to prove the immune Dutchman was responsible. But it turns out he was guilty after all.
In one The District episode, a diplomat's son was using a diplomatic bag from his father's embassy to smuggle drugs. The son himself was covered by diplomatic immunity because he was going to college at the time, requiring Mannion to go to the university's Dean to get him kicked out of school before they could arrest the drug-running son.
A positive example in MASH. A Hollander's mother was facing deportation from the US, and he could not afford to travel from Holland. A Holland diplomat hired the woman as a secretary, giving her diplomatic immunity.
Crossing Lines dealt with this in the pilot the serial killer was a member of the diplomatic corps.
Defied on ''Unforgettable. A foreign diplomat is arrested for murder and invokes diplomatic immunity. The deputy mayor overseeing the investigation immediately goes to that country's ambassador and points out that the goodwill of the United States in general and of the NYPD in particular is worth more than trying to protect a corrupt diplomat who committed a murder for personal reasons. The ambassador agrees and promptly waives the diplomat's immunity on behalf of his country.
The Adventures Of Shirley Holmes: Robert Holmes was once accused of abusing his diplomatic status to sell information to another country. In another episode, it was believed he was harboring a suspected murderer (a woman who turned out to be innocent). The police officer interrogating him acknowledged he couldn't arrest Holmes but warned he could lose his job over that. That risk was quite real.
In an episode of The Goon Show ("The Case of the Missing CD Plates"), the steamroller which runs down Neddie Seagoon has CD (Corps Diplomatique) plates, preventing him from suing for injury. He is then tricked into screwing CD plates onto a piano that struck him on the head, so that the villains who dropped it on him can claim diplomatic immunity.
In Dilbert, Dogbert gets diplomatic immunity at one point - and of course, abuses it for the sake of amusement.
He abuses it to the point where he uses his diplomatic immunity to boot the president of Elbonia and take his place.
Poppy The Iron Ambassador from League of Legends has an ability called "Diplomatic Immunity", only the target of which can damage or use abilities on her for the duration; making the "Immunity" part literal.
Ace Attorney Investigations has Ambassador Quercus Alba, the head of an international smuggling ring. This trope has a GIANT impact, considering that you have to prove people guilty with nothing BUT the law. The trope is doubled up, because not only does the person have diplomatic immunity, he is also claiming that the crime was committed inside the embassy, which means that the investigation still would have to take place in a different country. After many rounds of accusations* "I can prove you committed a crime!" "Diplomatic immunity." "But...okay, but here's more proof!" "Still immune." "Er...well, here's proof you conspired with someone who DID commit a crime in this country!" "Still got immunity.", Edgeworth finally gets him when an Interpol agent gets his home country to remove him from his position as ambassador (complete with a Lethal WeaponShout-Out) and Edgey (eventually) proves that he committed murder on Japanese/U.S. territory.
In Mass Effect 3's Show Within a Show, Blasto 6: Partners in Crime. The vorcha ambassador repeatedly claims that Blasto can't touch him because of diplomatic immunity. However, Blasto doesn't believe that diplomatic immunity applies if he ignites a flammable surface that ambassador is standing on.
Bubin: Badassfully: But he has diplomatic immunity!
Blasto: This one does not intend to use diplomacy.
Axel from Ansem Retort kills a random passer-by right after being told he has diplomatic immunity. Subverted when Namine lectures him for immediately abusing it; Axel hadn't even heard, he just wanted to kill someone.
Sam Starfall from Freefall once did this to excuse his crimes but gave it up after they hired other diplomats to beat him up.
Arikos from Last Res0rt used this in his Back Story to get out of masterminding a cult he'd been keeping up for years, including trying to cover up said cult with a mass suicide. He eventually ended up on the show regardless, but that he's not dead already is a testament to the power wielded here.
There's The Simpsons episode where they go to Australia and end up having to seek refuge in the American embassy:
Bart:(to Marine guard) Hey, G.I. Joe, your sign's broken. We're already in Australia.
Marine: Actually, sir, the embassy is considered American soil, sir!
Homer: Really? Look boy, (hopping on and off the embassy grounds) now I'm in Australia! Now I'm in America! Australia! America...!
Marine: Here in America we don't tolerate that kind of crap, sir!
Fillmore! had a Canadian diplomat's son take advantage of his diplomatic immunity to circulate forged baseball cards.
In the Family Guy episode "E. Peterbus Unum", Peter considers himself to enjoy diplomatic immunity as a result of declaring his house an independent country.
"Just like the bad guy in Lethal Weapon 2/I've got diplomatic immunity, so Hammer you can't sue. Can't touch me."
Robot Chicken included a gag with the superhero Tablescrapper interrupting the meeting of the "Council of Evil Tables". His rival, a South African table, had a paper for Diplomatic Impunity lying on it.
One episode of Dilbert involves a trip to Elbonia, where Dogbert has become a diplomat. He first uses it to get a cop to tear up a parking ticket, then eat it. Then he gets the cop's gun and clothes and orders him to dance while shooting at his feet. This is just the first thing he does with it.
In Young Justice Count Vertigo has this as a member of the Vlatavan royal family. He loses this in his second appearance, however, when he turns into The Evil Prince to his niece, Queen Perdita.
In Gi Joe: A Real American Hero, the Joes interrupt a munitions sales presentation by Destro for several foreign dignitaries. The Joes try to arrest the dignitaries, but they cheerfully whip out their diplomatic credentials and the Joes have to concentrate on chasing Destro instead.
There have, of course, been genuine examples of diplomatic immunity being abused. There have also, though, been plenty of examples where diplomatic immunity failed to protect a criminal, such as:
When the diplomat's country agrees to waive diplomatic immunity, or when diplomats are prosecuted for the crimes in question under their own country's laws. (For most countries, after all, being seen to shelter an obvious criminal is generally bad policy. Even if they don't actually care about the crime, they may still throw the offender to the wolves for the sake of public relations.)
When the host country declares the offending diplomat persona non grata, essentially tossing them out of the country on their ear. This is seldom used, since it's generally considered a pretty serious insult to the diplomat's home country. It's usually reserved for spies, although the United States threw out the Venezuelan consul in Miami in 2012 for having suggested that her government organize a cyberattack on the US.
There's the incident in 1967 in Montreal where during a speech the then French President Charles de Gaulle yelled "Vive le Québec libre!" (Long Live free Quebec). Moments later, a representative of the Canadian government informed him he was no longer welcome in the country and was promptly shown the door.
When your name is Manuel Noriega. The US Army invades your country partly to enforce DEA charges, partly because your soldiers killed a US marine, partly because you're a military dictator (that they put in power in the first place), but mostly to ensure the neutrality of the Panama Canal, removes you from power and plays loud rock music outside the Vatican embassy you've hidden in.
A former Russian trade mission in Stockholm, which was then used as an apartment complex for Russians living in Sweden, was to be impounded on the basis of Russia's huge international debts. What did the Russian government do to nip it in the bud? They threw out all the people living there and quickly replaced them with diplomats, claiming that it was a diplomatic living quartres all along. It didn't work.
Parking and traffic violations are less serious (but probably more common) complaints:
There's a long-standing complaint from the London government about diplomats not paying the congestion charge. The diplomats argue it's a tax, which they don't have to pay under the Vienna Convention. The Mayor's office disagrees.
There are stories about UN officials racking up huge parking fines in New York City, only to refuse to pay them because of "diplomatic immunity." It was referenced in an episode of The West Wing.
The diplomats in Washington DC are notorious for reckless driving, to the point where other drivers are advised to avoid getting behind cars with diplomatic plates.
The tendency of a nation's diplomats to accumulate unpaid parking fines is correlated with the level of corruption in their home countries. This was the subject of an article in the Economist, with the original formal paper here and here. The list of nations by unpaid parking fines is on page 20: Kuwait is in the lead with 246.2 per diplomat per year. Race is not mentioned in the article, nor is it implied anywhere.
Similarly, while diplomats are - in theory - subject to the television license just like anyone else in the UK, in practice they can simply refuse to pay. This is common enough that the TV Licensing centre handbook has a section dedicated to explaining what to do if a pissed-off diplomat phones up.
Most countries use their embassy as a safe house for espionage against the host country and/or other countries with interests there. This is because a spy "in the black" is subject to the host country's laws, which can be especially brutal. An intelligence officer who is attached to a diplomatic house can, if caught, avoid all but a few hours of sweating in a cell before being PNG'ed back home, and was especially common between the US and USSR during the Cold War. Even today, this is so common an "abuse" of diplomatic immunity as to be paradoxically accepted as part of the rules of the game. It only becomes an issue when something unusually awkward happens.
Realistically, most "agents" are just people asked by their country's intelligence agencies to keep their ears open and write memos if they overhear anything relevant to national security or stumble across somebody who might be turned into an intelligence asset. Intelligence communities know their own people are the biggest problem.
Although less common since the end of the Cold War, a similar trick was to seek refuge in a neutral embassy of a country that the host country doesn't want to offend and who the spy's own country is too important to for said spy to be booted out. Americans and Soviets each had different preferences, obviously. Popular choices nowadays are Switzerland, Austria, Vatican (mostly in South America where no leader wants to be seen attacking the Church), and occasionally tiny European countries and principalities like Luxembourg and Malta.
The Iranian takeover of the U.S. embassy and the ensuing hostage crisis in 1979 was considered a no-no (and was a complete violation of international law). Iranian claims that the CIA used the embassy as a haven for spies (true), and that everyone there was a spy (not exactly far off the mark) were generally met with the answer, "Well, of course the CIA used the embassy. Everyone uses their embassy for spying reasons. That's normal and acceptable". Of course, considering the United States history in Iran, one can understand why the embassy and its staff were not popular. To whit, after the Revolution, the Islamic Republic turned the building into a museum dedicated in general to anti-US sentiment and in particular to the 1953 coup d'etat, which was planned and executed within its walls.
In the time of Ancient Greece, diplomatic immunity was thought a sacred law instituted by the gods. When Persian emissaries came to Sparta and Athens, they received somewhat rude treatment, as is well known from a certain movie. It was madness, but that was Sparta. That was Athens, too.
However, when bad weather started to strike, the authorities in Sparta decided that the gods must be displeased, and so sent two volunteers to the King of Persia's court to be executed, as an apology. The Great King refused, and the weather cleared. In those days, diplomatic immunity was Serious Business.
One Saudi Prince sexually harassed a woman at a hotel on visiting New York. He returned unscathed. However, it is said that his father, Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud himself, personally beat him black and blue with his own hands for shaming his family.
In the ancient Muslim world, treating messengers well was sacred business. Further, the Mongolian empire took it very seriously, and were known to burn cities to the ground if their messengers were mistreated.
And if you murder their messengers, they will wipe entire empires off the face of the Earth in retribution. So yeah, the well-being of Mongolian messengers was Serious Business.
The Raymond Davis incident. Davis shot two men in Pakistan, and his backup accidentally ran over and injured several people, killing one. There was some dispute regarding Davis' diplomatic status between the US and Pakistan.The man was arrested and charged with murder, but US pressure eventually caused the Pakistan Government to find an arcane loophole in the law and release him. Six months later, the man allegedly gets into a fight and wounds somebody—over a parking spot—in the US.
Inverted by Raoul Wallenberg. That was one of his chief tools to protect persecuted Jews.
A similar example was Father Hugh O'Flaherty, an Irish priest at the Vatican who, along with a few other clergy members, hid thousands of Jews and escaped PO Ws in the Vatican and on church property. Although they did not have the official permission of the pope, he refused to give them up, leaving the Nazis to paint a line down the middle of St. Peter's Square and threatening to kill O'Flaherty if he crossed it. He managed to stay on his side of the line until Rome had been successfully liberated.
More so than any other real life event the Murder of Yvonne Fletcher shows what happens in real life if a diplomat commits murder and then tries to hide behind diplomacy: The guilty party is not prosecuted, because they are a diplomat, but your embassy gets put under siege until the host country can arrange for a neutral country to oversee the process of sending EVERYONE in that embassy back were they came from, the host country cuts all diplomatic links with the guilty party, and the next time the USA is pissed off with the guilty party, the host country lets them re-fuel fighter jets there to bomb the crap out of the guilty party. The Libyans did eventually pay her family compensation, but NATO still helped overthrow Gaddafi's regime in 2011.
In probably the most egregious case, in 1979, the Burmese ambassador to Sri Lanka murdered his wife, built a funeral pyre in his back yard and burned her body in full view of the authorities and the press. Because his residence was covered by diplomat privilege, the Sri Lankan police were not allowed to enter or make an arrest. It took a while before the Burmese government even replaced him as ambassador.
Julian Assange is currently under political asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in the United Kingdom to avoid extradition to Sweden under sexual assault charges, out of the belief that Sweden would then extradite him to the United States to face charges of espionage over Wikileaks. There was a huge outcry when it was thought Britain would storm the embassy and arrest Assange anyway. And that is ALL we'll say on the matter barring updates.
There was once a news story about a Saudi princess who once attempted to leave a hotel without paying her several million dollar hotel bill. She was caught in the middle of the night attempting to load her mountains of luggage into a group of limousines, but unfortunately was able to get off via diplomatic immunity. One can only hope that she was punished upon returning.
A common complaint from people of countries with US military bases is the American military personnel committing crimes (up to including at leas one case of multiple manslaughter) and then using the treaties giving jurisdiction to the US authorities to get away with it. The massacre of the Cermis (caused by an US aircraft crew not reading the map nor their own orders) is still a sore point between Italian people and the US, and the scarce love of the population of Okinawa for the personnel of Kadena Air Base stems from multiple crimes (ranging from traffic violation to at least one case of rape and murder of a minor) where the US authorities refuses or tried to refuse the culprit.