What happens if a hero is captured by his foes? Sure, they could just kill him out of hand, or toss him into a Death Trap
, but if the villain has a sense of the theatrical, a quirky sense of humour, or is just flat-out crazy, he might decide to put his nemesis on trial. If so, the hero will find himself facing a Joker Jury, often overseen by a Hanging Judge
The Joker Jury is a mockery of a trial held by a hero's foes, where his enemies make up the judge, the jury, the prosecution and even the defense. The charges are usually ridiculous, such as interfering with the villain's crimes, and the verdict is a foregone conclusion. Sometimes, the hero is actually able to defend himself and even win the trial
. In that case, the villain usually just tries to kill him anyway
The trope title comes from a story in Batman
#163 where Batman and Robin are captured by the Joker and put on trial with the Joker as judge and members of his gang, all dressed in Joker costumes and make-up, as the prosecutor and jury.
See also Jury of the Damned
. When the heroes are put on trial by someone besides the villains, it's often a Trial of the Mystical Jury
or a Kangaroo Court
. Often involves a Villain Team-Up
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Anime and Manga
- In One Piece, Enies Lobby technically serves as a courthouse, even though criminals are only brought through there on their way to the underwater prison Impel Down, or to Marine Headquarters, and has an almost absurd pretense of justice. Criminals are judged by the Just Eleven Jurymen, who are pirates who have been sentenced to death and pronounce any criminal guilty to take as many down with them as they can. Judge Baskerville, actually three people who sit together to form a three-headed man, has a strange way of passing sentences: the left head favors punishing criminals, the right side favors leniency, and the center offers the more extreme "compromise" of execution. note As such, no criminal has ever been acquitted. Strangely enough, Nico Robin and Franky don't get this treatment when they are taken through Enies Lobby.
- That's actually justified. Spandam used CP9's authority to override that.
- In the dub version of Yu-Gi-Oh!'s Virtual World arc, Johnson, whose Deckmaster and appearance is that of Judge Man, claims he is putting Joey on trial for gambling.
- This happens to Batman a lot:
- The above-mentioned Batman story.
- Also occurs in Dark Victory.
- Two-Face does it during the "No Man's Land" story arc. In a mild subversion, the "defendant", Commissioner Gordon, got off by naming Harvey Dent as his defense attorney, and turning it more into a battle between the two sides of his personality. Harvey won.
- Two-Face puts a judge on trial in the Robin: Year One mini-series.
- In an odd inversion, in a storyline that ran in Batman #291-294, Batman was missing and presumed dead, and villains placed themselves on trial before a court of their fellow villains, attempting to prove themselves guilty of Batman's murder.
- The pre-made adventure for a Batman RPG from the early 90s had Joker attempting to frame the player characters for murder, then putting them on trial before a "jury of [their] peers" - twelve mannequins dressed in Batman's cape and cowl.
- In an All Just a Dream example in Action Comics #286, while in the grip of a Red Kryptonite nightmare, Superman dreams that Luthor, Brainiac and other villains put him on 'trial' for his alleged 'crimes' against them, and sentence him to battle Supergirl to the death in a gigantic arena or else stand by helplessly while they blow up the Earth.
- The Lucky Luke story The Gang of Joss Jamon has him put on trial. Judge, prosecutor and defense attorney are members of the titular gang; the jury is made up of Jesse James, Billy the Kid, Calamity Jane (who's shown as simply a villain rather than the Crazy Awesome Boisterous Bruiser she becomes later on in the series; in the 1991 Animated Adaptation, she's replaced by Ma Dalton) and the Dalton brothers.
- It's used in a few other albums too, usually with the Dalton brothers as judge, prosecutor and defense attorney. In one case, Luke is able to talk Averell into successfully defending him.
- Also seen in The Judge, said judge being the historical Roy Bean: he charges Lucky Luke with theft in order to confiscate the cattle herd Luke was in charge of, assigns a deaf-mute as the defense attorney, and packs the jury with cronies.
- Mordru subjects the Legion of Super-Heroes to one of these in Action Comics #370.
- Factor 3 did this to the X-Men in issue 37, trying them for treason for preventing their fellow mutants from comitting crimes.
- Also, Magneto. To Gambit.
- The Injustice Society of the World subjects the Justice Society of America to one of these in All Star Comics #37.
- The standard M.O. of the mercenary/vigilante group the Jury in the Marvel Universe.
- Judge Dredd was once put on trial by the survivors of East Meg One in the New Kremlin. A part inversion, Sov Judge Orlok, who brought Dredd in, both resisted having the trial and ended up giving the most influential defense testimony, making a conviction impossible AND prevented an assassination attempt on Dredd.
- In an early issue of Daredevil, the Owl kidnapped the judge who had sentenced him to prison and staged a mock trial using members of his gang as the jury. He also kidnapped Matt Murdock to serve as the defence attorney.
- In Captain America, Cap's girlfriend Diamondback was subjected to one of these by her former teammates in the villainous Serpent Society.
- Jonah Hex is subjected to one in Weird Western Tales #30. Quentin Turnbull captures him and puts him on 'trail' for "treason and other high crimes against the Confederate States of America". The 'jury' consists of "your former comrades in arms, some of them survivors of the very massacre you perpetrated".
- In The Incredible Hercules comic by Marvel, Zeus is put on trial by Pluto using a jury of assorted deceased villains.
- Judas Traveller puts Spider-Man on trial in The Clone Saga, charging him with being responsible for supervillains and ruining lives by simply by existing. Judas is the judge, Carnage is the prosecutor, Ravencroft inmates like Shriek and the Chameleon make up the jury, and Kaine is Spider-Man's attorney. Spider-Man is of course found guilty and sentence to death, but after Kaine almost dies to save him Traveller spares them both, deciding that if Peter can inspire such a noble act in "scum" like Kaine, then he deserves to live.
Films — Animation
Films — Live Action
- Peter Lorre's character in the movie M is captured by criminals and put on trial because his crimes are bringing the police down on the heads of every other criminal in the city. Ironically, this court is actually fairer than the one he could expect in the real legal system.
- In The Dark Knight Rises, Dr. Crane (aka Scarecrow) is the judge of a rigged court run by escaped criminals under Bane's supervision. There are only two possible sentences - exile (forced to walk on a frozen river until the ice gives way, at which point you fall in and drown) or death (by exile). It has similarities to the Kangaroo Court system in A Tale of Two Cities and the Reign of Terror.
- The eponymous hero of the Lone Wolf series gets one such mock-trial in Book 7, Castle Death. The sentence? "The Maze!"
- This shows up in the xenofiction novel Watership Down, in one of the legends told of their racial hero, El-ahrairah. Prince Rainbow has determined to put a stop to El-ahrairah's tricks once and for all by planting a mole (that is, a rabbit doing spy stuff). El-ahrairah soon spots the informer and deliberately lays a trail for him. Acting on the info duly received, the Prince tells El-ahrairah he will only consider him innocent if a jury finds him so — a jury chosen by the prince, made up entirely of rabbit predators. At which the trickster bunny pulls off a really clever subversion: he is able to use the predators' contempt for rabbits to his advantage, and get rid of The Mole at the same time.
- Older Than Steam: Happens in John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, when Christian and Faithful are arrested in Vanity Fair. When the judge's name is "Lord Hategood," you know you're in trouble. And the gentlemen of the jury are named "Mr. Blindman, Mr. No-good, Mr. Malice, Mr. Love-lust, Mr. Live-loose, Mr. Heady, Mr. High-mind, Mr. Enmity, Mr. Liar, Mr. Cruelty, Mr. Hate-light, and Mr. Implacable." It's just not going to end well.
- A Series of Unfortunate Events had one in The Penultimate Peril; somewhat subverted as while accidental, the Baudelaires really did murder someone. None of the proceedings made any sense, but things are never fair in this series.
- In the novel Captain America: Liberty's Torch, Cap is captured by a powerful American militia. He is to be put on trial and for his defense, they captured a lawyer based off the popular creator Mark Gruenwald. Both Cap and the lawyer know the whole thing is a sham, but are forced to go through with it anyway.
- A classic (though loose) example can be found in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland where the main character participates in a trial with all the previous characters she met serving as witnesses. It's a loose example because it's the Knave of Hearts, not Alice, on trial, and neither jury nor witnesses have it in for the defendant. Unfortunately, the ultimate judge in all this is the Queen of Hearts, who does.
Live Action TV
- Used in an episode of Hawaii Five-0 when Steve McGarrett is put on "trial" by prisoners in the state pen, many of whom he put there.
- The fourth season of 24 had the US Secretary of Defense captured and put on trial by terrorists. The eighth sees other terrorists put the President of Qurac on trial as well. Both times, the trial is a formality and the terrorists plan on executing their victim anyway (its actually closer to a sentencing); the Secretary of Defense was actually going to be decapitated live on the internet before Jack Bauer saved him, while the President was merely going to be shot. And is, long before Jack gets there- the mock trial was pre-taped all along.
- Matlock was called upon to act as defense counsel for a prison guard being tried for murder by rioting prisoners.
- The IMF fake one of these as part of The Con in the Mission: Impossible episode "The Flight".
- In the ninth series of Are You Being Served?, Mr. Humphries is investigated for alleged offenses. The hearing rapidly takes on the air of a jury trial, with a hostile judge who openly says that any defense would be a "feeble tissue of lies". In the end, he is found guilty, then proved innocent thirty seconds later.
- Q puts Humanity on Trial (with Picard as the defense attorney) in the pilot and series finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
- Q also warns Picard not to try any "lawyer tricks" to get out of it, claiming that this is a "court of facts". Of course, this is also a court where drugged-up guards maintain order by Firing in the Air a Lot, and a guard who is overpowered by an accused is immediately shot by another guard.
- Happens to Adama in Battlestar Galactica, causing him to remark, "Oh, this is THAT kind of trial."
- In the Stargate Atlantis episode "Inquisition", the Coalition of Planets put the team on trial with two out of three of the judges having ulterior motives. They got off by bribing one of the biased judges.
- This happened earlier in an episode of Stargate SG-1 note . Teal'c is put on trial for a murder he committed while First Prime of Apophis. The judge, jury, and executioner was son of the guy who Teal'c killed. O'Neill points out how unfair this is, only to be shot down since it's part of their legal system. Daniel even comments that this was a common law practice for many years, to O'Neill's irritation.
- Both Daniel and O'Neill try to explain the reasons why Teal'c did that as benevolent and better than the alternative (Apophis threatened to kill all the villagers if Teal'c refused to kill one). A typical Real Life tactic when the facts of the crime are beyond dispute, and the only thing in doubt is the mental state of the accused at that time. In the end, though, the son simply states that Teal'c's reasons don't matter. His father is dead and nothing Teal'c does can bring him back. Then the Goa'uld happen to attack, and Teal'c almost singlehandedly fights them off before giving the son a weapon at noon, when the execution was scheduled. The son finally realizes that the Teal'c who killed his father is no more.
- Inverted in the 1960s series Batman. In one episode the Joker is put on trail for his various crimes, and after the presentation of the obviously insurmountable evidence, the jury unanimously declares him Not Guilty. The judge calls them out on this, and it turns out the jury is made up entirely of ex-cons and criminals who are pulling for the Joker anyway.
- In an episode of Blackadder Goes Forth, Blackadder is put on trial for shooting General Melchett's beloved carrier pigeon, Speckled Jim, just after this had been made a court-martialable offence. Guess who was the judge? General Melchett.
- In the first part of The X-Files' finale, Mulder is captured by US Marines and put before a show tribunal. After he is convicted and sentenced to death, the others easily break him out.
- Tales from the Crypt: "The Third Pig", a bloody retelling of the Three Little Pigs had the third pig tried for the murder of his brothers. The judge and jury are all wolves, who deliberate by going in the room and immediately coming back out.
- In Mystery Science Theater 3000, Mike is put on trial for all the times he's blown up planets by some otherworldly judge, with Pearl as the prosecutor, and Professor Bobo as Mike's defense attorney (though that's Mike's fault as he had several competent legendary defense attorneys to choose from and sarcastically chose Bobo when he saw Bobo's name on the list). He may not have gotten Clarence Darrow, but at least he got an attorney with the same mannerisms.
- In an episode of Married... with Children, Al's shoe store is taken over by a group of overweight women who put him on 'trial' for all of the fat jokes he has made about them over the years.
- In the season three finale of Person of Interest, Peter Collier holds one for everyone he can find who is connected to The Machine. He served as prosecutor. One of his own men was the judge. The person dragooned into being the defense attorney does not get to examine any of the evidence beforehand, and in fact has no lines all episode. Collier gets the legal definition of treason wrong (It's knowingly aiding the enemies of your country, not using methods of questionable legality to fight them). At one point he murders a defendant in cold blood on the witness stand for refusing to self-incriminate himself as is his constitutional right. And the jury deliberation period consisted of Collier saying "Everyone who finds them guilty on all counts, please raise your hand" - to a group of 'jurors' who were surrounded by several heavily armed bailiffs in the employ of the homicidal prosecutor. At least Control manages to give Collier a "Reason You Suck" Speech about the whole thing before they were unanimously found guilty.
- The Charmed ones stood accused of interference in mortal matters by the Whitelighters. Standing in for the prosecution was Barbus, the (get this) Demon of Fear and longtime enemy of the Halliwells. Numerous others foes were present as witnesses.
- This was lampooned twice on a soap, Sunset Beach. Annie dreamt she was on an episode of Jerry Springer alongside her enemies, each of whom are portrayed as sleazily as possible (devil horns, red mink coats, pencil mustaches etc.), but are adored by the audience. In another, Annie was a contestant on Wheel of Misfortune, with the three podiums belonging to suspects in her rival Francesca's murder. Francesca, the resident Vanna White, presents her "prize" which consists of a lethal injection.
- The Pink Floyd album The Wall contains an unusual variant of this. During "The Trial", Pink is tried by his own neuroses and inner demons, including monstrous incarnations of all the people who made life difficult for him.
- Even more strangely, though it looks as if the whole trial is stacked against him, it's actually the best thing that happens to him, as it made him realize he needed to destroy the wall. A useful Kangaroo Court, as it were.
- "Fuck the Police" by NWA has a cop being tried by MC Ren, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and Eazy-E for being "a redneck, white trash, chicken-shit motherfucker".
- In the new musical adaptation of Mary Poppins, Act One ends with a new number called "Temper Temper", in which Jane and Michael's toys come to life, grow to be bigger than the children, and promptly hold the children trial for having lost their tempers and broken the toys — singing all the time.
- In Man of La Mancha, Cervantes is put on trial by his fellow prisoners. This leads to the Show Within a Show that is his defence.
- In Nodwick, Yeager is put on trial by the "Council of Three-And-A-Half" which is later revealed to consist entirely of people he bullied as a child.
- Van Von Hunter begins with Van on trial for the crime of "re-murder", i.e. the "murder" of an undead vampire. The event took place in a land seemingly populated entirely by the undead, so the judge, jury, and lawyers are all undead.
- The Red Panda Adventures episode "Trial by Terror" had the Red Panda undergoing a commitment hearing by the inmates of the asylum many of his foes had been sent to.
- A book of legal anecdotes is titled Dracula was a Lawyer, because of Vlad the Impaler's practice of serving as prosecution and defense for his enemies.
- The gangster Charlie Richardson used to hold "trials" of any henchmen who had disappointed him, and would wear full judicial robes for the occasion.
- Ayn Rand is also reported to have held "trials" for people in her inner circle who she thought had slighted her.
- Up until recently, any black person in the Southern United States effectively had one of these.
- The Riom Trial. Vichy Regime reactionaries wanted scapegoats for France's defeat by Nazi Germany and found it convenient to indict some ministers and government officials who were from the left or the center-right wings of the old Third Republic (some, like Leon Blum, were incidentally Jews). To speed up the process, Marshal Philippe Petain decided that the defendants would be sentenced to life imprisonment in a fortress before the trial even began, while the judges said that this is not a show trial. Subverted, because despite being carefully chosen by the Vichy authorities the judges involved were too high in the hierarchy to fear for their careers, so the trial was relatively fair. It actually had an abrupt end, as the deliberations proved that those responsible of the 1940 defeat were... the future Vichy leaders.