- All Crimes Are Equal, when this trope is taken to its Logical Extreme.
- Can't Get Away with Nuthin', where the characters consider their actions harmless but the authors don't.
- Convicted by Public Opinion, where regardless of whether the character actually committed the crime(s) they are charged with, the general public assumes they are guilty
- Disproportionate Retribution, when characters seek serious vengeance for very minor offenses.
- Felony Misdemeanor, when a mild offense is punished or treated with severity.
- Life Will Kill You, where the authors do treat the misbehaviour as minor and forgivable but it still leads to disastrous accidents.
- The B Grade: Where an honors student assumes a slightly-below-high grade means they are a total failure in life.
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- Judge Dredd is built on this. Littering, for example, usually carries a sentence between six months and two years, and Walter the Robot was arrested for throwing a cream pie to stop a criminal about to kill Dredd.
- The Punisher
- In one story, Frank has been brainwashed by his archenemy Jigsaw and is set out for blood. He starts killing jaywalkers, red light runners, and litterers.
- Jigsaw himself has been known to impersonate Frank and behave similarly. Frank also once ran up against a group of vigilantes who included among their number Elite, a rich man who just kills people who do things he doesn't like - a hot dog stand? In his neighborhood?
- The Strontium Dog story arc "The Rammy" is a Law Procedural in which a lawyer accuses the Bounty Hunter protagonists of breaking the law in an elaborate scheme to reap a large monetary reward from said bounties. The charges are murder, conspiracy to murder, assault, fraudulent misrepresentation of a sporting contest, conspiracy to defraud actual fraud, drunk and disorderly conduct, and committing a nuisance in a public place. Given their line of work and the rights and privileges that gives them, the bounty hunters are eventually cleared of all charges except, of course, drunk and disorderly conduct and public nuisance. They're punished to the full extent of the law for this, which is a 3 million credit fine for each person (almost all their earnings from the entire scheme).
- A Serta mattress advertisement once had the counting sheep getting thrown in jail for tearing the "Do Not Remove Under Penalty Of Law" tag off a new Serta mattress. It's actually only the dealer who's not supposed to remove the tag, not the consumer, not that it's stopped the same gag from coming up in dozens of cartoons, sitcoms, and comedic films as well.
- Brought up by Amy in Faith the Vampire Slayer when she warns Eric off taking candid photos of the girls in school. She explains that while he doesn't mean any harm, taking photos of them without consent is sexual harassment and could get him suspended or expelled. If those pictures end up online, he could be looking at jail time for dissemination of child pornography and labelled a sex offender for the rest of his life.
- Subverted in the The Winx Club Loops: while illegally making and selling mint-flavored milk is a serious crime, non-Looping witch Rachel got in trouble because she almost killed Stella by doing it with her chemistry set and because Stella got expelled from Alfea for one year, potentially causing a war had Griffin not come down hard on her.
- In Female Perversions, the main character's sister gets arrested for shoplifting. She can't pay the fine/bail, so she is kept in jail. Because of this, she risks missing getting her doctorate, tarnishing her academic career.
- In the film The 51st State, also known as Formula 51, Samuel L. Jackson, just fresh from graduating college with a degree in pharmacology, is pulled over by a patrolman and caught smoking marijuana. His arrest and conviction prevents his employment as a pharmacologist. Unable to work as a pharmacologist, he turns to a life of crime.
- Invoked in First Blood, the original Rambo-movie: Rambo gets picked up by the police for 'Vagrancy', which leads to them messing with him and dredging up his Vietnam-war trauma, which leads to rapidly escalating troubles, which leads to several dead cops and, eventually, Rambo working a prison-quarry. Towards the end of the movie, during the police's Hope Spot when they think they've managed to kill him, Rambo's former CO has this to say:
Trautman: Vagrancy, wasn't it? That's gonna look real good on his grave stone in Arlington: Here lies John Rambo, winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor, survivor of countless incursions behind enemy lines. Killed for vagrancy in Jerkwater, USA.
- This is the premise of "One Million Yen and the Nigamushi Onna", where Suzuko's life is actually ruined for having thrown out her roommate's belongings.
- The Kevin Bacon movie Murder in the First has the main character imprisoned in Alcatraz as a youth for stealing $5 from a general store (granted, the store doubled as a post office, making the crime a felony.) The film actually is concerned with his other crimes, and excessive punishments, since... but still.
- The movie explores a very difficult conundrum - if you are sent to jail wrongfully and kill another inmate while in detention, are you legally accountable for that crime that would have never happened if the wrongful sentence hadn't been given in the first place? Keep in mind that the accused here has limited mental capacities and ability to tell right from wrong.
- Played for absurdity in Dogma, when the angel Loki murders an entire board of directors for being idolaters and for their various personal sins, except for one member of the board who turns out to be a pure soul. He then threatens to murder her for not saying "God bless you" when he sneezed. Bartleby talks him out of doing so.
- Pee-wee's Big Adventure had the hard-boiled Mickey character on the run after breaking out of jail. He was imprisoned for the same crime as the Serta sheep. Or so he claims.
- Played for laughs in Mystery Team, where sneaking into movies, sticking fingers into pies and taking two milks at lunch are Serious Business
- Horrible Bosses: Dale got drunk at a bar that was next to a playground, and committed public urination. It was night, and there were no kids there, but he's still a registered sex offender. And Motherfucker Jones spent 10 years in prison for pirating Snow Falling on Cedars.
- The Ides of March explores the inherent hypocrisy and double standards of politics.
Stephen: You broke the only rule in politics. You wanna be president? You can lie, you can cheat, you can start a war, you can bankrupt the country, but you can't fuck the interns. They get you for that.
- Mel Brooks's Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Robin meets Ahchoo in a Muslim prison. Robin was there for being present at a crusade. Ahchoo was in there for...wait for it...jaywalking.
- Cat's Eye: The main method of Quitters Inc., is to enforce this trope on their clients as harshly as possible. All to get them to quit smoking. First they torture their loved ones with electrocution, then proceed to mutilation with further "transgressions". If the smoker still can't quit, Quitters Inc.'s management "give up" on their clients.
- At the beginning of Ant-Man, Scott Lang gets fired from his job running the counter at a Baskin-Robbins because of his criminal record. And that was the best job he had been able to find after getting out of jail, despite having a post-graduate degree in Electrical Engineering.
- The Thinning: The B Grade jacked Up to Eleven. In response to the United Nations forcing everyone to decrease their population "by any means necessary", the bottom 10% of academics are purged. Except not really. In reality, the bottom 90% in terms of rebels (intelligent but incapable of questioning the system critically) and children of rich people are spared, while the top 10% are enslaved and forced to work in a collective "thinkshop", creating technology for the corporation controlling the education system.
- This is a major element of Les MisÚrables, in which the main character serves years on a chain gang for stealing bread to feed his family. Even after serving his time, he continues to be stained as a criminal because of this act.
- One of Larry Niven's themes in his Known Space universe is that of body-part replacement technology. At one point (the novel A Gift From Earth centers around it), the demand for replacement parts is so high that crimes like running stop signs and littering are punishable by the death penalty (so that your parts could go into the organ banks).
- Less of an example now due to Society Marches On, but in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, the main character is convicted for statutory rape, a crime many considered laughable and "not a real crime" back in the days when the book was written and the film adaptation was made. He accepts the offer to be placed in an asylum instead of a jail, but once there he gets horrified with how the staff treats the inmates including himself. They eventually shut him up by literally destroying his brain. After the lobotomy, one of his friends gives him a mercy killing and then finally follow his previous advice and escapes.
- An even worse case of Society Marches On to modern readers would be The Scarlet Letter. Poor Hester's "crime" of adultery was made worse because of the red letter A she was made to wear because of it. (And her loyalty to the child's father, which prevented her from leaving and starting her life elsewhere.)
- In K.J. Parker's novel Sharps, former Master Swordsman turned merchant Phrantzes is roped into coaching a fencing team on a (supposed) good will mission to an enemy country because of this. Phrantzes marries a former courtesan, and to "help him out", is given a sex manual by his best friend. The manual is technically banned but widely read. Shortly afterward, Phrantzes is arrested for owning the book, and also faces imprisonment and a huge fine for initially lying to officers, and while the case is pending, his wife is also imprisoned. The book implies that Phrantzes's friend and/or his wife (who suggested the sex manual) were in on a Government Conspiracy that needed a reason to blackmail him.
- In The Invisible Library, there is an incident in Irene's past, which is hinted at several times, which is her reason to hate one of her colleagues. It turns out that Irene had tried to persuade a woman to give her a specific, valuable book (it is implied she seduced the woman) and her colleague just broke into the house, stole the book, and somehow caused the seduction to be made public, completely ruining the reputation of the book owner. (And, of course, Irene's, but as Magic Librarian, Irene could escape.) The parallel universe wherein this happened seemed to consider theft a rather harmless crime, while "indecent behaviour" was punished much more severely.
Live Action TV
- In one episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, the detectives uncover that a man has misplaced some paperwork. For this misdemeanor, they get his cell phone tagged so they can follow him around everywhere. They also do some intensive lobbying - trying to convince a lot of women to hate him, eventually leading one of them to murder him.
- There was also the time they're tracking a suspected rapist and murderer who they know did it, but can't hold him. Every effort to get evidence before he flies off fails, until Stabler arrests and holds him for jaywalking across an airport crosswalk.
- Grimm: A blonde and her boyfriend broke into a house just for fun, the house they broke into happens to be inhabited by a family of Jägerbar who capture them, and decide to use them as part of their "rite of passage" in which case they hunt them in the woods. By the time the police rescue them, they are still arrested for breaking and entry and vandalism.
- Oliver from the Breakout Kings episode "Steaks" was sent to prison for a joyride that went wrong. He was repeatedly raped, and became a torturer and murderer on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
- A Victim of the Week on CSI: New York was a Hanging Judge that was believed at first to have been targeted by the Russian Mafiya. In the end, it turned out that a) said Hanging Judge was corrupt and received kickbacks for sentencing kids to a specific juvenile detention centre (the bigger the sentences, the better) and b) the murderer was a young man that had his whole life destroyed (up to and including being abused on the centre) because the judge sentenced him to do time because he stole a pack of gum.
- In Better Call Saul, Chuck snags his neighbor's newspaper off her driveway and leaves $5 in compensation. She calls the cops on him anyway. They break in, taser him, and arrest him, ultimately leaving him hospitalized.
- The Mr. Potato Head Show: In an episode of Mr. Potato Head's in-universe show, where Mr. Potato Head and Baloney are playing cops, and they arrest Sweet Potato for jaywalking. The implication is that the entire in-universe episode had been them trying to arrest her.
- Orange Is the New Black as a few examples.
- Piper was a mule one time, ten years ago, but this caught her back when her name was mentioned in the break up of the drug cartel that used her.
- Poussey was incarcerated for carrying some drugs in her backpack, likely to use it for herself and friends. To compare, white male Bayley was arrested for the same thing in his youth and released with a shrug after a night in jail.
- Flaca is imprisoned for selling damped paper and calling it LSD at school, thinking that couldn't possibly end wrong. Unfortunately, one kid jumped off a building under the impression that he was high, and the police went up to her and arrested her for fraud sale.
- The contestant "Creature" was eliminated during the first season of ''Who Wants to Be a Superhero?" for her past crimes of littering and, yes, jaywalking. Had she been repentant she might have been saved, but her defiance sent her packing.
- The "Weird Al" Yankovic song "Don't Download This Song," which couples this with Jumping Off the Slippery Slope, as you'll go from pirating music to robbing liquor stores and committing vehicular homicide.
- Inverted in the Arlo Guthrie song "Alice's Restaurant". Littering is what kept him out of the army, and out of The Vietnam War, quite possibly saving his life.
- The TISM song "The History of Western Civilisation" is about how a lot of terrible things are done in Australia, but if you come from a western Melbourne suburb (notorious for being low class and violent) "you're the only one who gets what you deserve".
You can build an abattoir on Anzac Cove
You can invade Poland, scream death to the foe
You can cut the ozone layer down by thirds
Just don't come from the Western suburbs.
- In Grand Theft Auto games, the slightest bump into a police car apparently gives cops enough of a reason to try and arrest you in and of itself. Police in real life have a number of good reasons for doing this (making sure it was really an accident, that the violator isn't mentally or physically unstable and is in a good enough condition to be out and about in public, that no collateral damage was inflicted, etc.) but the ones in this series aren't doing it for the sake of thoroughness, they're just really that brutal and corrupt. Because of the way the wanted stars work in the game (merely moving away from the cop while they're approaching to arrest you is enough to bump you from one to two stars), the aforementioned "bumped my car" offense can quickly snowball into a huge city-wide manhunt with SWAT teams shooting at you from helicopters.
- In the older Hitman games, just running or even walking "suspiciously" can get you shot.
- The original Assassins Creed had guards that would attack Altair just for running in a crowded area.
- They would also attempt to kill you if you rode a horse past them at anything other than a slow walk. It makes sense, since riding a horse at full sprint is more than enough to be suspicious of your character and they're trying to prevent damages to people and property.
- The backstory of Fallout included a US President being impeached for jaywalking. Then again, this was Congress retaliating after said President invaded and conquered Canada through legal means.
- In Half-Life 2, the guard near the beginning of the game would assault the player for not putting a can (that was already there) in the bin, repeatedly attempting to gain passage without placing the can in the bin would result in the player being being beaten to death. The guards will also react this way if you invade their personal space.
- Yo Kai Watch: You better use the crossing signal when crossing the street, or else Snartle will curb-stomp your Yo-Kai.
- In Elite: Dangerous, traffic violations near space stations carry the death penalty. If you forget to request docking permission before entering an airlock, the station opens fire. Hover in the airlock or near a landing pad for too long and the station opens fire. Dump cargo within radar range of a station and they place a bounty on you, leading to the City Guards chasing you down guns blazing over the 100 credit fine.
- In Papers, Please, even if you have a perfect track record with zero citations and let his lover into the country, Dimitri will still send you to the gulags for the extremely minor crime of decorating the booth.
- In Yandere Simulator, simply acting crazy such laughing evilly in front of witnesses can give Yandere-Chan away and cause a Non Standard Game Over. (Although joining the Occult Club will cause students to disregard the Evil Laughs.)
- The Japanese Beetle has the Jaywalker, a C-List Fodder member of the Beetle's Rogues Gallery. Jaywalking didn't completely ruin his life, it was merely the straw that broke the camel's back: he was fired, divorced, and evicted on the same day, and forced to take a job as an advertising mascot in a blue jay costume. When he jaywalked, the Beetle intercepted him and, due to the costume, he was assumed to be a supervillain and given 20 years in prison. This actually does make him become a supervillain, plotting to destroy the city as well as developing schizophrenia and believing that the costume is talking to him.
- One arc in The Order of the Stick does this, wherein Belkar and Roy are sentenced to the live out the rest of their lives as gladiators for not having entrance papers.
- In Sluggy Freelance Torg, because he shouted something at an airport that included the words "blow them up" and "kill everyone", gets sent to the Guantanamo Bay prison as an enemy combatant. The only thing that gets him released is something even more inconsequential: his "viking heritage" apparently let him pass their "Caucasianometer".
- In The Simpsons episode "Homer At the Bat", Steve Sax is pulled over by Eddie and Lou for speeding and ends up being charged for every unsolved murder thats ever happened in New York, with the only evidence they have being that he is from New York.
- Another episode had Homer speeding and getting pulled over. He admitted to speeding and wanted to just take the fine but instead they threw him in jail for the night. Maybe not that bad compared to the others on this page but Homer thought he only had a matter of hours left to live and he wanted to spend it with his family.
- In "The Seven-Beer Snitch" in order to fill a quota the police dig up old and obscure laws, including one against kicking a can in the street at least 5 times ("illegal transport of litter"), which Homer unknowingly breaks as Wiggum, Eddie and Lou are watching him.
- In Danny Phantom's Bad Future Episode, Danny cheats on his CAT test. Indirectly causing his friends and family to die. Which causes him to ask his nemesis for help. Which prompts his nemesis to remove his ghost half from him. Who then kills his human half. And then becomes just about the most evil villain the series ever had.
- There's that Bad Future Episode of Darkwing Duck where he turns into the fearsome Darkwarrior Duck, ruling St. Canard with an iron fist and levying harsh punishments on even the most minor offenses. Lifetime imprisonment for jaywalking, maybe... or was it littering? Either way it was probably moot, Darkwarrior considered having high cholesterol a crime.
- One episode of The Batman has The Joker begin dressing as Batman and assaulting people who commit minor infractions (And his Batmobile is a go-kart...). Security camera footage shows a guy missing when he tries to throw a can behind his back into a trash can, the Joker swoops in on him and drags him screaming into the shadows. In that same Batman cartoon, The Joker poisoned the mayor's wife for having too many items in the express checkout lane at a supermarket.
- In one episode of C.O.P.S., the new Justice Unit police robots are seen from the very beginning to be very hard on very small offenses. "Crime: Jaywalking! Verdict: Guilty! Sentence: Four years hard labor!" They dole out similar sentences on a guy whose hat blew off in the wind ("littering") and a guy who parked illegally. Later, when Berserko and Ms. Demeanor rob a bank, the Justice Units let them go and claim the overwhelming evidence as "circumstantial" - as we see, the Justice Units were a plot by the Big Boss to get free rein to do whatever he wants.
- The justice system in SpongeBob SquarePants pretty much is this trope. If you litter, if you have no front license plate, IF YOU RUN A STOP SIGN, EVEN ON FOOT; you better believe they will be ready to take you to jail.
- In American Dad! there was a woman in a Saudi Arabian prison who was sentence to life in jail, and had her hand amputated. Her crime? Stealing a candy when she was a kid.
- In The Powerpuff Girls Bubbles has gone into Knight Templar mode, where she beat up a guy for stepping on a single blade of grass, and another guy for littering, before his wrapper touched the ground.
- Taz-Mania: In "The Origin of the Beginning of the Incredible Taz-Man", Taz gets arrested for attempting to remove junk mail from someone's letterbox.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: In "Rarity Investigates", Rainbow Dash is framed for the "crime" of forging a note to Spitfire claiming her mother was sick, so that Rainbow Dash could fly in her place as an alternate at a Wonderbolts air show. If Rainbow was found guilty of sending the note, she would have been banned from the Wonderbolts forever, crushing her lifelong dream.
- There are a bunch of Real Life examples of people being locked up for life for relatively minor third crimes under "three strikes" laws.
- Al Capone, an infamous gangster was ultimately charged and convicted for tax evasion.
- Bill Clinton was impeached for having an extramarital affair in the Oval Office. Sort of. Impeachment is just the first two stages. Bill only technically got in trouble for perjury, because he lied under oath about having an extramarital affair... had he just said "I like thick chicks," he'd have been fine from a legal standpoint. He no doubt lost a few points for trying to question the definition of "is" as well. (And if the Starr Report had focused more on that, then it would have been easier to convince the public that perjury was the true intent. It was hard to doubt that Clinton was impeached for adultery in all but name.)
- And the other United States President to be impeached, Andrew Johnson, also got hit with this. To sum up: Johnson wanted to sack his Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, a member of the Radical Republicans who felt that Johnson, a Democrat from Tennessee, was far too lenient towards the defeated former Confederacy. Stanton supported the Reconstruction measures that his fellow Radical Republicans had come up with to protect civil rights for newly-freed ex-slaves and punish the South for its secession — and since they had veto-proof supermajorities in both houses of Congress, Johnson's role as the commander-in-chief of the military was the only obstacle to those measures' full enforcement. Knowing that Johnson would replace Stanton with a more pliant Secretary of War in order to impede Reconstruction, Congress passed the the Tenure of Office Act, a law designed specifically to entrap Johnson, barring the President from removing Cabinet members (i.e. Stanton) without the Senate's confirmation. When Johnson did indeed replace Stanton with Ulysses S. Grant, Congress used the legal figleaf of the Tenure of Office Act to pounce on him.
- In California, the Vehicle Code states that there is an implied crosswalk at any public access driveway, so it isn't jaywalking if you cross next to where a store's driveway lets out onto the street. Whether any passing drivers recognize that there's such a thing as an implied crosswalk is another matter.
- The case of Raquel Nelson, who elected to jaywalk from the bus stop to reach home across the street, as opposed to walking over half a mile, burdened with bags of groceries while keeping track her three tired young children, to cross through the nearest painted crosswalk.note A drunk drivernote hit the group, killing her son. The kicker? She gets convicted of second-degree vehicular homicide, reckless conduct, and yes, jaywalking - despite not even owning a car. The drunk driver, who was on his third DUI accident, plead outnote and served a mere 6 months for hit-and-run (with the rest of the 5-year sentence on probation), while she got 36. The conviction was later changed to community service and probation.
- Way too many cases with the Sex Offender List. Public Urination or sleeping with your underage girlfriend despite you're only one year older than her? You're treated the same as child molesters and violent rapists. You can get on the list even if you weren't convicted.
- Vagrancy laws are written to invoke this trope. Many cities keep a law stating that you must have a photo ID and $10 cash on hand while in public. If you can't produce these items, it's vagrancy. Cops use this to pull someone off the street that they know is up to no good (like an obvious drug dealer) but they can't prove anything of the higher crime. But if you piss off a cop on a particular bad day for him, he could use it to ruin your day.
- Often happens to people overstaying a visa or are otherwise illegal immigrants if the police pick them up on an unrelated crime and check their immigration status.
- This is one hell of Values Dissonance for Latin American (and possibly other countries) immigrants, since in many of those countries, jaywalking is tolerated, but not in the U.S., to the grade there's no equivalent to jaywalking in Spanish and other languages. This is sometimes used as a visible example of the necessity of reforming the laws of many countries regarding this, using the U.S. as a main example.
- The broken windows theory of law enforcement often results in this, as has been demonstrated by New York City's "stop, question, and frisk" program. Some of the "crimes" they would routinely arrest people for include loitering in a park after posted closing time and riding a bike on a sidewalk.
- A man named Evan Emory who made a prank video of himself singing an obscene song in front of a kindergarten class was arrested and charged as a sex offender, even though he didn't really sing the obscene song when the children were present.
- The rather tragic case of Ashley Smith is a sad example of this. She was a teenager originally arrested and sentenced to a short sentence in a juvenile detention facility for throwing crabapples at a mailman in late 2003. However, her sentence - which was originally supposed to be for only a few weeks - quickly extended into years after she racked up 50 additional charges while in custody for fighting with the guards or damaging the facility. Her sentence was eventually converted into an adult sentence and she was moved to an adult prison, where she committed suicide in 2007, four years after first entering the prison system for what amounted to a minor harassment offence.
- John Oliver has covered several such incidences on his show were relatively minor offences like traffic stops, can end up ruining peoples lives due to fines. Low income people have a hard time paying the fine on time which leads to more fines and, if it keeps building, jail time. He has also done stories on how just having the right to a lawyer can lead to problems as court appointed lawyers are overworked and underpaid, so they have very little time to look at your case and even less interest in doing so. Then there are some states that require a defendant to pay for a court appointed lawyer out of pocket, and if they can't they get fined and then the first story comes back.
- The newsmagazine 20/20 on ABC once did a segment where a man in Texas was sentenced to just over a year in jail after mugging someone, and later apologizing and returning his victim's empty wallet. Some time after that, the same judge sentenced him to life in prison for having a marijuana joint on him. Even his former victim thought that was an insane punishment for such a small offense. The segment also mentions that such a crime would be punished with only a few years in prison if the perpetrator had a rap sheet, and the same judge had presided over the brother of a powerful business man, said brother had committed numerous felonies over the years, including manslaughter, and had only gotten few months probation.
- Pirates infielder Jung-ho Kang had his baseball career derailed over a DUI in his native South Korea, preventing him from getting a work visa for travel to the United States thanks to a suspended sentence over the DUI conviction.