"It is more important that innocence be protected than it is that guilt be punished, for guilt and crimes are so frequent in this world that they cannot all be punished.This trope covers when an innocent person goes through the justice system, but for whatever reason is found guilty. The reasons can often include corruption in the system, or misleading circumstantial evidence. In Real Life, it can include bad eyewitness evidence; in fiction, it's more likely to be a false witness or a lying eyewitness. In both, it is not uncommon to see overzealous prosecutors who may focus more on their record of successful convictions than guilt or innocence. This can be the premise of a story, leading into Great Escape, Boxed Crook, Clear My Name, and many other plots, or it can be a Downer Ending if it overlaps with Acquitted Too Late. The inverse — an Obviously Evil and guilty person going free — is also often seen as a miscarriage of justice; but that is covered by other tropes such as Karma Houdini. Also, has nothing to do with a pregnant woman having a miscarriage due to bad karma. See also Kangaroo Court, which may relate to this.
But if innocence itself is brought to the bar and condemned, perhaps to die, then the citizen will say, 'whether I do good or whether I do evil is immaterial, for innocence itself is no protection,' and if such an idea as that were to take hold in the mind of the citizen that would be the end of security whatsoever."
But if innocence itself is brought to the bar and condemned, perhaps to die, then the citizen will say, 'whether I do good or whether I do evil is immaterial, for innocence itself is no protection,' and if such an idea as that were to take hold in the mind of the citizen that would be the end of security whatsoever."
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Anime and Manga
- In the Zanpakuto filler arc in Bleach, this happened to Kouga, the owner of Muramasa.
- In fact, virtually all of the problems in the series is because of this trope in one degree or another.
- A twist occurs in Fullmetal Alchemist, when Lt. Maria Ross is accused of murdering Lt. Col. Hughes. She's not allowed to present the evidence that proves her innocence because it involves the testimony of her parents, whom she was visiting at the time of the murder, and family members aren't allowed to testify. Her partner, Sgt. Brosh, is also not allowed to speak on her behalf. She's confident that justice will still carry the day, though...until she's informed that it's been reported in the newspaper that she was convicted while she's still awaiting trial.
- In JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Jolyne Kujoh winds up in the Green Dolphin prison because of this. Her boyfriend commits a hit-and-run, which she agrees to keep quiet about; he then reports the car stolen and bribes Jolyne's lawyer to provide false information about the terms of her plea bargain (she thought she'd get less than five years after a grace period, and ended up with fifteen). She wasn't even aware that the victim was dead until her sentencing. It turns out to be part of a larger frame-up by the Big Bad to get at her father, although neither her boyfriend or the lawyer were directly involved with the ones behind it.
- In Astro City
- The death of the Silver Agent "To Our Eternal Shame"
- A lawyer gets one guilty client off by invoking the numerous superheroic instances of this trope — evil twins, dopplegangers, mind control — and cites the Silver Agent's death as probably the clinching factor.
- In "Pastoral", in the Back Story, a man claimed to have been a victim of genetic engineering at the hands of Trans Gene International; they were acquitted, and he, convicted of breaking and entry. The main character notes during the story some evidence that he was telling the truth.
- The Rise of Darth Vulcan: A group of handicapped pegasi endured a terrible one: a rogue tornado from the Everfree Forest was about to destroy the Earth pony town of Hilltop, so they flew into the storm and destroyed it. They did do some minor damage to the neighboring upper class Pegasus town of Cirrus, but the town's officials, rather than thank them, threw charges at them to cover up for their own incompetence, gave them no legal representation or help from their families, and forced them into 5 years of community service in exchange for dropping the fallacious charges, when the maximum time should have been 1 year. Their supervisor was a Social Darwinist pegasus who constantly abused them and lorded over their lives, and any complaints against him were ignored. And after the sentence was fulfilled, the supervisor revealed their criminal charges at their graduation, blacklisting them from any decent career, and causing one of the pegasi to have their filly taken away by the courts. Fortunately, they get their revenge on the towns with help from Darth Vulcan.
- The Life of Émile Zola actually isn't strictly about the life of Emile Zola, but rather about one of the most notorious Real Life examples of this trope—the Dreyfus Affair—and Emile Zola's campaign on behalf of the unjustly imprisoned Alfred Dreyfus.
- A unique example in Beyond a Reasonable Doubt. A newspaper publisher decides to test the system by having himself framed for the murder of a woman. He intends to wait for the trial to nearly find him guilty before having a friend bring up the evidence to exonerate him. However, the friend is killed on his way to the court house and the evidence lost so the man is found guilty. His girlfriend is able to prove his innocence only for his wife to discover that he did indeed murder the woman, who was his first wife, and his execution is set to go on.
- The 2009 remake plays it mostly the same as reporter C.J. frames himself to prove a D.A. is corrupt and willing to put innocent people behind bars to pad his record. Again, the evidence is lost and C.J. is put in jail but his girlfriend Crystal proves his innocence and the case is a mistrial. But then Crystal realizes the murder victim was going to give away she was the "drug addict" from C.J.'s award-winning documentary, proving his career was a fraud. Crystal tells C.J. it was a good plan as he couldn't be tried again...except it was a mistrial, not an acquittal which means the police can arrest him all over again.
- Sin City: Marv from "The Hard Goodbye" is put on death row and ultimately executed for murdering all the women Kevin and Cardinal Roark killed and ate. Though, to be fair, the list of victims also included all the people that Marv did kill, including the two villains in question. John Hartigan from "That Yellow Bastard" is wrongly imprisoned for eight years on false charges of raping Nancy Callahan, the 11-year-old girl who he saved from pedophile rapist and Serial Killer Junior Roark, whose father is a powerful and corrupt U.S. Senator. Both cases were due to extreme corruption, forged evidence and confessions acquired by threats - Marv confessed after his mother's life was threatened, and Hartigan when he thought that Nancy's life was in danger, and he was able to get out on parole if he did.
- The Fugitive
- In Double Jeopardy, Ashley Judd's character is wrongly convicted of murdering her husband and spends several years in prison.
- The Shawshank Redemption: The driving force of the plot is that Andy Dufresne is wrongly convicted of the murder of his wife and her lover in the misleading circumstantial evidence variant. It then becomes much worse when exculpatory evidence emerges, and is destroyed by corrupt officials, because Andy has been acting as the warden's accountant during his prison time and now knows too much about his shady finances to be allowed to go free. They murder a witness willing to testify that someone else committed the crime. He eventually escapes to Mexico rather than be legally exonerated.
- An Innocent Man (1989) starring Tom Selleck. Selleck's character is framed by Dirty Cops and is jailed.
- Dial M for Murder, Margot is tried and found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. But the police are really after her husband, and let her go in the end.
- In the Name of the Father is based on the real story of the Guildford Four and Maguire Seven, who were accused of a pub bombing in London in the 1970's. The movie took some liberties with the story for dramatic purposes, but the facts are still the same: they were threatened and lied to in police custody to scare them into confessing, the trial was held in the same city as the bombing and ensured that the jury would be very willing to convict the Four (all were hippies and drug users), and the police specifically prevented two of the Four's alibi from being shown to ensure a conviction. They were all released about 15 years later, but none of the police officers were found guilty of any crimes and one of the Maguire Seven died in prison.
- In Inception, Dom Cobb is on the run for apparently having murdered his wife Mal. It turns out that Mal was insane and convinced that after having spent fifty years in a dreamworld, she was still dreaming and needed to wake up - and the only way to "wake up" is to kill yourself. She tried to make Dom kill himself along with her by deliberately having herself declared sane by multiple psychiatrists, filing a letter stating she was afraid for her life with her attorney, and setting up a hotel room to look like a violent struggle had taken place in it before luring Dom into the room and killing herself. Dom didn't follow through with it, and the setup was convincing enough that he was forced to flee the country.
- John Coffey in The Green Mile.
- Atonement, through Briony's mistake.
- In Chicago, the one innocent inmate is the one who gets executed thanks to a Language Barrier. She can only speak Hungarian and no one bothers to get a translator.
- One of the most notorious Real Life examples in British history is dramatized in the film 10 Rillington Place. An unfortunate man named Timothy Evans was hanged in 1950 for the murders of his wife and baby daughter. Three years after his execution, his landlord, John Christie, was discovered to be a Serial Killer responsible for the deaths of the wife, the daughter, and at least six other people. He was also the star witness against Evans, whose testimony greatly helped in getting the conviction. The scandal helped prompt the UK to abolish capital punishment.
- In ...And Justice for All Jeff was arrested due to mistaken identity (he had the same name as a suspect) then framed by other inmates for a prison guard's stabbing. Kirkland can't get him out due to the evidence clearing him coming in too late. This leads Jeff to snap, taking hostages after being gang-raped by fellow prisoners and is then shot dead by a police sniper.
- In the loosely-based film adaption of the book with the same name, The Running Man, this happens: it kicks the plot off when the police officer protagonist Ben Richards gets wrongly accused of having committed a massacre among innocent civilians and as punishment for the crime is selected as a combatant for the titular Blood Sport TV show. However, Richards tried to prevent the massacre and part of the plot is finding the evidence of this to give the real story to the public as well as bringing the corrupt officials behind it to justice.
- In The Hunt, before going to authorities about the molestation accusations, the schoolteacher seeks the opinion of someone without proper understanding of how to interrogate a child. Consequently, he leads little Klara's answers and produces false proof that is nonetheless taken for the truth. Had Klara been questioned by a qualified expert first, the wrongful Pædo Hunt might have been avoided. Luckily, holes in the accusations ultimately spare Lucas from the charges, but the damage is already done.
- True Believer: Shu Kai Kim was convicted of a murder he didn't commit due to false evidence presented by the police and prosecutor.
- Subverted for laughs in The Wrong Guy. The main character stumbles upon the recently murdered body of his boss/father-in-law and, owing to an incredibly convoluted series of events coupled with his own stupidity, ends up apparently incriminating himself. Terrified that he's about to be subject to this trope, he goes on the run... except that the police already know who the real murderer is, have ample amounts of evidence against him, and subsequently aren't interested in the main character in the slightest.
- Harry Potter was quite fond of using this to demonstrate the incompetence or impotence of the Ministry of Magic:
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - Cornelius Fudge, the Minister of Magic, even told Dumbledore and Hagrid that he was only sending Hagrid to Azkaban because people had to see him doing something in response to attacks on Hogwarts students.
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - Sirius Black was imprisoned without trial in Azkaban, accused of murdering fellow wizard Peter Pettigrew and 12 Muggles. Minister Fudge ignored the witnesses that claimed Pettigrew was alive and had framed Sirius because he believed they were more loyal to Dumbledore than to the Ministry.
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - Several Death Eaters or suspected Death Eaters were imprisoned after Voldemort's fall, regardless of whether they were truly guilty. It's implied that the head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, Barty Crouch, Sr., wanted quick and convincing trials (or sometimes no trial at all) because he was in line for the Minister's job. He even sent his own son to Azkaban, although in that case his son actually was a Death Eater (and in the film version made no attempt to deny it).
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - The Ministry puts Harry on trial in order to keep from "inciting panic" over Harry's claim of Voldemort's return, and to weaken Dumbledore's popularity as Fudge sees him as a threat to his position. Dolores Umbridge herself takes matters into her own hands by forcing Harry to cut his skin every time he decided to speak out against the Ministry or alert others of Voldemort's return.
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - The Ministry has finally admitted that Voldemort has indeed returned, but they immediately revert to how they acted during the first war, with many instances of unjustifiable arrests. This includes the arrest of Stan Shunpike, who gets sent straight to Azkaban.
- Shunpike is an interesting case; in the following novel, he's revealed to be one of the Death Eaters attacking Harry above Little Whinging. His physical state indicates Imperius Curse enthrallment, though. Scrimgeour wasn't acting senselessly when he arrested Stan (though, disproportionately, yes). Who knows how long he had been cursed. Harry's main defense is that he knows Stan, but the Death Eaters have ways of making people act against their natural inclination (since, however, Stan was sent to Azkaban for boasting he knew Voldemort's secret plans in a pub - hardly behavior an Imperiused person would engage in - this may be a case of Had to Come to Prison to Be a Crook).
- The Count of Monte Cristo - Edmond Dantes is framed for treason and sent to the Chateau d'If without a trial by the cousin of the woman he loved, Mercedes, who wanted her for himself, with the help of a corrupt prosecutor.
- Caleb Williams is all about this trope. The titular hero is an innocent man everyone believes is guilty, while his employer is a guilty person everyone believes to be innocent.
- In Kim Newman's "Tomorrow Town", a murder has been committed in a 1970s futurist community. When the investigating detectives get there, they learn that the townspeople have already imprisoned a suspect, who they insist must be the killer, citing that he never really fitted in to the community and that the murder weapon was found in his house. Later that night, one of the townspeople promoting this theory himself tries to kill the detectives, but accidentally manages to kill himself instead. One of the detectives then notes rather dryly that if one of the most enthusiastic proponents of "the first guy did it!" theory later tries to kill the investigating detectives, it's a fairly safe bet that there's an injustice going on.
- The climax of A Man for All Seasons turns upon one of these; Richard Rich commits outright perjury against his former acquaintance, Sir Thomas More, in exchange for an appointment as Attorney-General for Wales.
More: Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world...But for Wales?
- In the film version, when More figures out what has happened and why, we get this Crowning Moment of (almost perfectly literal) Gallows Humour:
- In Kevin J. Anderson's Blindfold, a loading dock worker is falsely accused of murdering his boss. Subverted in that the accusation came not from a trial but from a mind scan by a young Truthsayer, who is implicitly trusted to always be right. When the mistake is realized, the head Truthsayer realizes they can't admit it to the people, as their entire justice system will crumble. Interestingly, the guy who actually ordered the murder is just as shocked as anyone else by the verdict, even though his manipulations with the Veritas drug caused the mistake. In the end, the truth is revealed, causing the Truthsayers to be disbanded and the society to return to a more traditional justice system.
- To Kill a Mockingbird sadly ends in this for Tom Robinson. Also crosses with Acquitted Too Late.
- The Trial by Franz Kafka. The opening line of the book describes the entire plot:
"Someone must have been spreading lies about Josef K., for one morning, after having committed no real crime, he was arrested."
- He then spends the entire story trying to find out what he's being accused of, but in keeping with the surreal nature of the rest of Kafka's work, is thwarted at every turn.
- The Confession has this be a conga-line of reasons for Donté Drumm getting convicted of Nicole's murder. He gets arrested based on an anonymous call that places him at her last seen location - a call placed by the girl's jealous boyfriend; gets bullied into confessing to the crime after being held for questioning for over 15 hours; his trial has him be sentenced to death based on no factual evidence beyond a video of the (forced) confession, by a judge who was sleeping with the trial's prosecutor. He eventually gets executed, despite clear evidence being presented on TV that Travis Boyette is the real murderer.
- The Sisterhood Series by Fern Michaels: Isabelle Flanders and Alexis Thorne were victimized in this. Both of them were framed by very bad people. Isabelle had her reputation ruined, and she was lucky that she didn't end up in prison. Alexis ended up in prison, and when she got out, she could only apply for a job as a personal shopper. The book Sweet Revenge has Isabelle strike back against bitchy Rosemary Hershey, and the book Lethal Justice has Alexis strike back against conscienceless Arden Gillespie and weepy Roland Sullivan.
- The Way The Crow Flies, by Canadian author Ann-Marie MacDonald is a fictional version of the Stephen Truscott case. A teenage boy is convicted of the murder of a child, based on circumstantial evidence.
- Being set in Roman times, Julian has a few. One Deacon dies for asking a shop owner when "the work" will be done during a time period where the shop owner had an imperial cloak.
- In Last Sacrifice, Rose is convicted of regicide and sentenced to death, based only on circumstantial evidence. She is innocent.
- Too many daytime Soap Operas, telenovelas and other variants to name, to the point where it's no longer funny or interesting — in fact, this trope (along with its inverse) used to be known as "Soap Opera Justice" due to this kind of thing happening in so many trials in these shows.
- The telenovelas La madrastra, La Dama de Rosa, and their remakes are specially egregious examples of this trope.
- Cold Case has several cases where people are wrongfully imprisoned and spend years in jail before the detectives uncover the truth. (One guy is sadly executed, but the corrupt DA who withheld evidence is fired and disbarred, another is exonerated AFTER the other inmates murder him). In quite a few of these cases the guys got railroaded thanks to prejudice of some kind while the real murderer seemed perfectly respectable (the most prominent being "Frank's Best", "Death Penalty Final Appeal" and "Thrill Kill. The real killer in "Frank's Best" was the victim's son, who had anger issues. In "Thrill Kill" it was the mentally disturbed father of one of the victims. In "Death Penalty Final Appeal" it's the boss of the victim (who's also a rapist). The guys they framed where (respectively) an illegal immigrant, two punks and outcasts who had bullied the victims, and an ex-convict.)
- One episode had someone confess to cover for someone else he cared about. The detectives knew this, but didn't have enough evidence to prove it.
- The Rockford Files. In the back story of the series, Jim Rockford was wrongly convicted of armed robbery and spent five years in prison before receiving a pardon.
- The A-Team were convicted of "A Crime They Didn't Commit" which was eventually revealed to be a bank robbery in Hanoi, Vietnam. In truth, they had been ordered to do it, but the man who gave them the order was killed and all evidence of his orders destroyed.
- In the fifth season premiere, they were cleared that crime when a former Vietnamese colonel testified in their court-martial that their commanding officer sent them to rob a bank in order for them to be captured by the North Vietnamese. Of course, by that time they were being tried for the murder of their commanding officer, and the series ended before that could be resolved.
- Crops up occasionally on Law & Order. Usually partially subverted in that the wrongly convicted is either wholly unsympathetic (a white supremacist convicted of child murders that were actually committed by a mentally-ill black man) or turned out be connected after all-a man convicted of killing his wife turned out to have hired someone else to do it. He was convicted of murdering that man to cover this up. At least once, however, prosecutors did accidentally convict an innocent man, and found that their attempts to exonerate him were frustrated by their own successful prosecution which, lacking any intentional impropriety or error, couldn't simply be reversed because they weren't sure the right man was convicted. A judge on appeal even tells them in effect "12 people looked at your evidence and said he was guilty, who am I to disagree?"
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit had an episode where it is revealed that Olivia unintentionally set a man up to be convicted of a crime he did not commit. The man was the prime suspect in a brutal rape and after hours of interrogation Olivia caught him in a I Never Said It Was Poison statement. This and other circumstantial evidence is used to convict the man. Years later she realizes that the man was innocent and that she must have provided him with the incriminating information earlier during the interrogation and forgotten about it. The man is freed but lost years of his life and the real rapist was free to rape many more women in the meantime.
- They like this trope (but after 300 episodes, some tropes start recurring). In one episode, Munch gets a confession from a suspect about a rape long ago. But Munch had sent someone to the Big House way back then for the crime! He goes to visit the guy in prison to eat his crow, apologize, and tell him as soon as they can get the real rapist before a judge, he'd be released. But then the real rapist jumps out of a window, and the innocent man will keep rotting in jail. Talk about a Downer Ending!
- Similarly, Stabler finds out that a man he put in prison for rape was innocent, but they go through many difficulties trying to prove this, and it's left ambiguous whether he'll get released.
- In another episode, a popular voice coach is framed as a pedophile by two of his ex-students for dropping them from his class. Despite his numerous protests that he wasn't a child molester, Benson refuses to believe him, even thinking that he was just trying to claim sympathy when he said he couldn't make bail. The Frame-Up is eventually exposed, but the damage has already been done: the coach's family has disowned him, his reputation has been destroyed, and he'll never have a job again. Even worse, the two students who framed him end up getting probation at most. The episode ends with the coach giving the SVU a vicious but well-deserved What the Hell, Hero? before storming away angrily, while Benson has one of her rare moments of being guilt-ridden over arresting an innocent man.
- Invoked by violent robber Kim Trent in series 1, episode 2 of Life On Mars:
- "This is an abortion of justice!"
- Subverted in Porridge, lifer Blanco Webb was wrongly convicted in 1957 for killing his wife. Fletch manages to get him pardoned and he was released. But it turns out he is guilty of murder, just not the murder he was convicted of.
Fletch: Listen, we all know that you didn't kill your old lady, see. Which means that some other bloke did. And you've paid the penance for it, right? But I don't want you going out there harbouring any thoughts of revenge, alright?Blanco: No. I know 'im wot did it. It were the wife's lover. But don't worry, I shan't go round searching for him, 'e died years ago.Fletch: Well, that's alright then...Blanco: That I do know. It were me that killed him!
- The episode "Riding the Lightning" of Criminal Minds has the team suspect that a woman who was supposedly the accomplice of her serial killer husband and nearing execution is innocent of her son's murder (the only crime which she was actually charged with)...but she doesn't seem very enthusiastic about the possibility of being cleared. It turns out that she is indeed innocent, but she doesn't want to be acquitted, because the only way to achieve that would be revealing that her son is alive and has a new identity. She believes that if that happened, the boy's knowledge of what a monster his biological father was would taint his whole life. Therefore, she lets herself die as well.
- The 2003 adaptation of Sad Cypress (it's an episode, part of a TV series). Only the adaptation, though. In the novel, the innocent person is found innocent, which is much less dramatic.
- An innocent man spends 2 years and 8 months in prison in the Psych episode "True Grits".
- The episode "Secrets" revolves around an escaped prisoner trying to prove his innocence.
- In "Retrial", a sailor had unbeknownst to him hired a transsexual prostitute. When finding out, the sailor changed his mind and the prostitute threatens him with a knife. The sailor defends himself and accidentally stabs the prostitute and runs away in fear and shame. Not long thereafter, another man comes and viciously stabs the prostitute to death. The sailor is convicted for the murder, but only because the military prosecutor, presumably on purpose, didn't follow up on a lead from the local DA in order to further his own political ambitions as being "tough on crime".
- A subplot in the Person of Interest episode "Identity Crisis" involved an innocent man sent to prison.
- Tony sent an innocent man to prison as revealed in the NCIS episode "Bounce".
- The main theme in the Awake episode "Guilty".
- One episode of Womens Murder Club featured a man who, seven years after being convicted for murder, would be executed for this. The case had a turn of events when the key witness is killed after sending an email admitting to have lied. It turns out the prosecutor was secretly dating the victim and was so sure the defendant was guilty he blackmailed someone to give false testimony. In the end, the innocent was cleared, the murderer was caught and the prosecutor was arrested for tampering with the case. That case also featured Fridge Brilliance. When a DNA test confirmed the witness was killed by the same person who killed the original victim, nobody used that alone to stop the execution. The killer had to be caught first.
- Smallville: Several years ago, back when Jonathan Kent's mother was pregnant with him, a man was wrongfully convicted for the murder of Lana Lang's Grandaunt. It was eventually revealed Sheriff Billy Tate, who later became Mayor William Tate, had asked Lachlan Luthor to kill a "drifter" (Jor-El) who was Tate's rival for her affections but Luthor missed and killed her instead. Since Jor-El left no traces of his presence in Smallville, Tate needed another patsy. Clark dressed in clothes Jor-El left behind to pose as the drifter's ghost and scare a confession from Tate.
- The Practice: Five years before DNA tests became available, Bobby Donnell defended an accused murderer who was forced by Kenneth Walsh to confess. Because Bobby believed his client to be guilty, the client had to wait ten years after DNA tests became available until an innocence program has the case reopened and the real culprit was revealed to be someone who had previously confessed out of remorse for seeing an innocent man being blamed but neither Bobby nor Walsh did anything about it. Out of remorse for not requesting the DNA test as soon as it became available, Bobby agreed to help his client sue the State.
- In a later episode, police pick up two drifters in the wrong place at the wrong time for a cop shooting. Under War On Terror-era expanded powers, they're able to torture a confession out of one of them. On top of that the guy they didn't charge backs out of testifying for his friend when Eugene lets him know he could be considered a suspect himself.
- Boston Legal: Alan Shore went to Texas to prevent the execution of a mentally-retarded individual who was convinced he was guilty and needed to confess to avoid going to hell. Alan failed but got a Moral Victory as the man said he didn't remember doing the killing.
- Bones: In his first appearance, convicted murderer Howard Epps convinced the Jeffersonian he was innocent and they tried to find proof of it in time to stop his execution. They found proof he was guilty not only of the murder he was convicted for but also the murder of other people. The execution had to be delayed to investigate the other murders.
- "The Nail in the Coffin" revealed The Ghost Killer's first murder resulted in this trope, and the wrongly convicted man in question eventually snapped and went on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge against both her and the corrupt judge who convicted him.
- In Bangkok Hilton, Kat is arrested in Bangkok on drug trafficking charges, and despite the efforts of her father to track down her ex-boyfriend and expose him as a smuggler, she is found guilty and sentenced to death by machine gun. Thankfully, she manages to escape the prison before her execution.
- The show In Justice revolved around clearing wrongfully convicted people. In episode 8 they fail to save a mentally handicapped man from being executed because the judge feels that they don't have enough proof. It's sort of up in the air, since the episode ended with the detective confronting the real murderer (as well as the fact that the rest of the team knows who the killer actually is and persuaded the guy's wife to retract her alibi, meaning that they could have gathered enough evidence to nail him to a wall off screen.)
- Legend of the Seeker: In "Confession", fake memories are used to frame a man for murder into confessing to Kahlan, and he gets hanged for it. Another miscarriage is averted later when Richard and Kahlan figure out who really did it.
- The Family: Hank was wrongly convicted of murdering Adam because he was a registered sex offender who lived near him, and Willa planted one of Adam's ships in a bottle in his house.
- Bob Dylan's Protest Song Hurricane, about Rubin "The Hurricane" Carter.
- Metallica has "...And Justice For All".
- Disturbed has "3", a B-side off of the Asylum album, is written about the West Memphis Three, as seen below in the Real Life section, told from their perspective. Draiman had expressed a desire to donate it somehow on their behalf rather than release it conventionally, which the band did eventually over their website, asking for dollar donations to get the song. The proceeds go towards the defense fund of Damien Echols.
- Reba Macintyre's The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia has the singer's brother arrested, tried, convicted and executed all in a single evening for a murder the singer committed.
Play by Post Games
- The Dangan Ronpa-inspired Doubt Academy struggles with this, due to Monokuma's altered set of rules. Here, unlike the original games, convicting an innocent person doesn't lead to everyone but the murderer getting killed; only the scapegoat is executed, right after Monokuma confirms their innocence. Thus, you can have a double dose of the murderer going unpunished while somebody else dies for their crime.
- The third case of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Trials & Tribulations begins with Maggey Byrde being convicted of murder. Not only was she framed, but the murderer actually disguised himself as Phoenix Wright so he could be her lawyer and make sure she lost. Fortunately, this means a mistrial is declared and the real Phoenix can uncover the truth in another trial.
- And the fourth case revolves around Terry Fawles, who had already been falsely convicted of murder 5 years ago, and now has to be saved from getting convicted a second time after escaping from prison and allegedly murdering the cop who arrested him in the original case. Sadly, he's manipulated into committing suicide on the stand even as you reveal he's innocent. Your only satisfaction is that, as this is a flashback, you've already seen the conviction of the monster who drove him to it.
- The third case of Ace Attorney Investigations 2 (Gyakuten Kenji 2) is about a man who was found guilty as an accomplice to a murder 18 years prior. The defending attorney, Gregory Edgeworth, tried his hardest to get an acquittal but the lack of a body didn't give him enough evidence to work with and eventually, due to overzealous pressure for a confession, the defendant eventually cracked and confessed a crime he never committed. The best he was able to do was give the prosecution a black mark for their conduct during the interrogations (which itself leads to the famed "DL-6 Incident" that was basically the ignition for the rest of the franchise). The conclusion remedies the injustice, freeing the defendant by uncovering the true culprit.
- A mission in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, when you first enter Markarth, you will witness a murder on the streets (or prevent murder if you are quick enough). The following quest causes you to continue on a CSI-esque Mission to figure out why one man attacked the woman. Once you've found out, the guards pick up on it and blame you for the murders in town, even if you didn't kill a single soul. Because blaming the outsider always works.
- From there, you have to make a big decision: Murder an honorable but bloodthirsty leader to escape and let a crime lord and his entire operation go free, or work with the leader to kill the crimelord but lose control of the mob, killing a dozen innocents along the way. You can also kill both factions but then you've just massacred two entire factions for each others' leader's crimes and stolen decades of potential social reforms from the people of Markarth.
- Dwarf Fortress has a legal system which can be broken such that a dwarf may be convicted for a crime committed against them. This even has a special reaction modifier for the offended party: "outraged at the bizarre conviction against all reason of the victim of a crime."
- This is the Executioner's end goal in Town of Salem: get a randomly selected town member falsely accused of being evil and getting him lynched. If the town member dies before he can be lynched the Executioner turns into the Death Seeker Jester.
- Canary's trial in Worm has shades of this. Despite being normal aside from her Compelling Voice, she's fitted with a restraint system used for superpowered Brutes which no doubt hurts her impression to the jury. Speaking of the voice she's literally gagged and denied the right to speak in her own defense. When convicted the judge uses her to set a precedent by immediately sentencing her to the Birdcage despite having no prior convictions.
- In the DuckTales episode "Duckman of Aquatraz," Scrooge McDuck is framed for theft by his rival Flintheart Glomgold and put into prison, where, conveniently, it turns out that his cellmate was also framed by Glomgold.
- Happens a number of times in Tiny Toon Adventures. One incident that really sticks out is in the TT version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, where the role of Goldilocks is played by animal abuser Elmyra. After breaking into the three bears' house, trashing everything, messing with their stuff, followed by causing great pain and abuse to the bears, upon being summoned by the bears' alarm, instead of arresting Elmyra, the police mistake the bears for wild creatures, capture them, and haul them to the zoo!
- Although Baby Bear, who wasn't that comfortable living in a modern home, didn't complain about the change.
- In an episode of Rocko's Modern Life, Rocko is convicted (by a Joker Jury of insects) for injuring a fly, and sentenced to 30 days as a fly. Later, the fly that Rocko allegedly injured is seen perfectly fine, guzzling soup at a fancy restaurant. At the same restaurant is The Judge, who then comes to Rocko's home to turn him back into a wallaby, apologizing profusely for the Miscarriage of Justice.
- In one episode of The Inspector, the Inspector gets arrested when a criminal who looks like him robs a bank and runs past him. The criminal is never captured and the Inspector spends the entire episode in prison (despite making numerous failed escape attempts), ending with him trying to chisel the Rock of Gibraltar in order to be paroled.
- For film documentary accounts:
- The Thin Blue Line where director Errol Morris made such a convincing case of Randal Adams being framed for murder by the police and the District Attorney that he was exonerated and released.
- Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, where three non-conformist boys, The West Memphis Three, were indicted for a horrific triple murder and convicted even though it's obvious that at best there is not enough evidence, or at worst they are innocent boys screwed by community prejudice and hysteria. Here, activists worked on getting them exonerated with the help of the producers following up with Paradise Lost 2 and soon, Paradise Lost 3, which drop the ambiguity of the first film and firmly support the three's innocence.
- Recently the three were released with the understanding that they plead guiltynote while still allowed to assert their innocence. Obviously, the fight for a real exoneration will continue.
- A certain kind of real life Fridge Horror kicks in when you realize another miscarriage of justice. If we take for granted that the boys were innocent (general consensus is that the evidence shows this, and the state of Arkansas offering the Alford Plea deal to convicted first-degree murderers was taken as tacit acknowledgement that the prosecution messed up and convicted the wrong people) then . . . what happened to the real killer? Presumably he (or she) is still out there somewhere, if not dead. One of the boys' fathers was implicated by the defense at trial, but there's no hard evidence against him. Years later, DNA seemed to implicate Terry Hobbs, the stepfather of one of the victims, and further investigation revealed he lacked an alibi and had a history of violence against women and children.
- A Murder In the Park has a disturbing twist on this. Anthony Porter was released in 1999 after a team of university students claimed to have found exculpatory evidence, including the confession of the real murderer. However, the film says, not only was Porter almost certainly guilty but the man who confessed did so under coercion and manipulation from their private investigator. The man who confessed, Alstory Simon, was pressured to plead guilty by his lawyer to avoid a life sentence. His lawyer just so happened to be a friend of the same investigator who procured his confession. Simon got 37 years, though he was freed in 2014. So, if the film is correct, we have a killer wrongly set free and another man wrongly sent to prison later in his place, then himself exonerated. What is most damning is that per its allegations, the investigators seeking to exonerate Porter used many of the same tactics found in miscarriages of justice by the government: getting witnesses to change their stories with bribery or threats, coercing a false confession, and ignoring evidence implicating him in a double murder. Not only that but since Porter has been pardoned and the statute of limitations has run out on the investigators' crimes, no one can be prosecuted. However, Simon is suing them and the university.
- Everyone on this page.
- On their Showtime series Bullshit, Penn and Teller did an episode focusing on the causes and results of such miscarriages of justice.
- The "Central Park Jogger" case. On April 19, 1989, a young woman was savagely attacked in New York City's Central Park—beaten, raped, and left for dead. Within days, five young men — known as the Central Park 5 — who had been terrorizing people in the park were arrested. Despite no DNA evidence, no identification by the jogger (she survived, but could not remember the attack), and a time frame that showed that the boys could NOT have assaulted the woman-ironically because they were attacking someone else at the time-all were convicted and sent to prison. A decade later, a man serving time for another crime came forward and confessed that he, and he alone, was the real perpetrator. There was nothing the DA's office could do but overturn the convictions of the others-who had all served their undeserved time. Meanwhile, the statute of limitations had run out, meaning that the man could not be prosecuted for the attack. So, 5 innocent young men spent a decade in prison for something they didn't do, a guilty man remained-and STILL remains-unpunished for something he did, and the woman herself, Tricia Meili, will never see proper justice done. A thoroughly gross miscarriage of justice all around.
- A subversion took place on June 20, 2014. The Central Park 5 will receive $40 million dollars due to wrongful conviction compensation laws.
- In 1983, Henry Mc Collum and Leon Brown (two mentally handicapped half brothers) were accused of raping and murdering an 11 year old girl. There was no physical evidence, the confessions were inconsistent, and what little did match up was already known by the police. They were sentenced to death (though Leon later had his sentence commuted to life in prison) in 1984. It wasn't until 2014, when DNA implicated a sex predator named Roscoe Artis (who lived 100 feet from where the little girl's body had been found, had been implicated in a similar murder a county over, and was convicted of murdering another young girl a month after the Brothers had been arrested in the same neighborhood) that the two were released. By this time their mother had died just a year before. Both were ultimately pardoned in June 2015.
- Mel Ignatow was acquitted on charges of raping and murdering his ex-girlfriend Brenda Schaffer despite eyewitness testimony from an accomplice. Several years later, graphic pictures taken by said accomplice depicting the hours he spent torturing the poor woman surfaced. Unfortunately, thanks to "double jeopardy" laws, he could not be tried again. The most the prosecution could nail him for was perjury.
- Canadian David Milgaard was wrongly accused and convicted of murder. He served 22 years before he was released. He was made famous by The Tragically Hip and their song Wheat Kings, which brought national attention to his case and the fact that, despite possessing evidence he was not guilty of the crime* , the government refused to release him for almost a decade, preferring to let him languish in prison rather than admitting a mistake. He sued on release and received billions of dollars.
- In 1944 George Stinney, a 14-year-old South Carolinian black boy, was falsely convicted of murdering a pair of white girls and was executed only about 86 days or so after the girls' bodies were discovered. He had actually been coerced into confessing when the police officers offered him ice cream if he confessed to the crime. Eventually, new evidence surfaced and court Judge Carmen Mullen finally vacated Stinney's conviction posthumously in 2014.
- In one of the gravest public blunders of the Italian judiciary system, Enzo Tortora was wrongfully sentenced to ten years in prison after accusations of being a member of the Camorra involved in drug trafficking, based on paper-thin evidence and the claims of a mentally unstable pentito. What's notable is the fact the the guy was a beloved TV Host; when his ordeal ended and was allowed back to the scenes, now physically worn out and struggling with cancer, he famously started off the show by simply saying "Well then, where did we leave off?".
- Perhaps the most infamous case in French history is Captain Alfred Dreyfus, who in 1894 was accused of spying for Germany. Being Jewish in a still anti-Semitic, fiercely conservative army, he was the scapegoat while the army acquitted the actual culprit, and was sent to the Penal Colony of Devil's Island in French Guiana for life. His brother and his wife fought to obtain proof of the miscarriage. Eventually, some first-rate intellectuals (including Émile Zola and his J Accuse) took up the defense of Dreyfus in the press and obtained a new trial. The affair was unusual in that it really divided France into two clear sides: the dreyfusards (Dreyfus' defenders, mostly left-wing republicans) and the anti-dreyfusards (right-wing, traditionally religious conservatives). Dreyfus was pardoned in 1899 after five years of hell, and officially exonerated in 1906. Dreyfus went on to serve during World War 1, rising to the rank of lieutenant-colonel, but the years his career had lost were never taken into account and he never could make it to general, as he could have before the affair.
- The first season of the podcast Serial takes an in-depth look at the case of Adnan Syed, a Muslim man convicted of murder at the age of 18 in the death of his friend Hae Min Lee. In the course of reporting, the evidence is examined, and the conclusion is eventually drawn by reporter Sarah Koenig that the case against Adnan was based on either fundamentally flawed evidence (timelines that didn't match, evidence that ultimately was demonstrably incorrect), or Blatant Lies (witness testimony that changed with each telling, or that was left out entirely because it didn't fit the prosecution's case). She ultimately states that she doesn't know if Adnan is actually the killer, but there's no way he should be found guilty based on the evidence provided. The fact that Adnan has constantly pled his innocence for 15 years despite it hurting his case and his chances at parole implies that this trope is in effect.
- Juvenile sentenced to three consecutive life terms without parole for nonviolent offenses. Fortunately, this was corrected, due to a change in the law, but the fact that it could happen shows how messed up the law can be sometimes.
- As discussed above under "Film", Film/10RimmingtonPlace is based on the true story of John Christie, one of Britain's most prolific and notorious Serial Killers, who was the star witness at the trial which managed to see Timothy Evans, the husband and father of two of his victims, convicted and executed for the murders that Christie himself committed. When Christie's own crimes were exposed, the public outcry over this miscarriage was one of the key factors in the public movement which eventually resulted in Britain abolishing the death penalty for capital crimes.
- A more recent example is Making A Murderer, featuring Steven Avery. He was exonerated for rape and then convicted of murder. The documentary raises the possibility that the murder was another false conviction and that he and his nephew are innocent. Notably even people who believe that Avery is guilty have come to concede that a lot of the evidence against him was probably planted, or at the very least that Branden (the nephew) is innocent.
- Roger Keith Coleman once seemed like the poster child for this trope. On March 10, 1981, Wanda McCoy was found raped, stabbed, and nearly beheaded in her own home, for which Coleman was convicted. The only real evidence that there was to go on were spots of blood on Coleman's pants and two male pubic hairs found on McCoy's body that were consistent with his own. Several witness accounts also placed Coleman as being other places at the time the crime occurred (also the next door neighbor was a serial rapist). While on death row, Coleman maintained that he was innocent and managed to gain numerous supporters, including Pope John Paul II. Shortly before his execution in 1992, he stated that "an innocent man is going to be murdered tonight." His supporters and anti-death penalty activists petitioned and lobbied for many years to have the evidence from the crime tested. Finally, in 2006, DNA testing finally confirmed that Coleman really was responsible for the crime.
- The very first man exonerated by DNA testing in the US, was found guilty of rape and murder due to being mistakenly identified by eyewitnesses as the man they had noticed around the area (he resembled the real culprit). He was freed after eight years, while having unknowingly been in a cell above the actual rapist and murderer (who was serving his sentence for another rape). The man wished him luck on his release (no, you can't make this stuff up) and was later convicted on the same charges himself.
- Kevin Cooper is an unusual case in that DNA seems to condemn him but there are compelling arguments that the DNA tests were sabotaged (a criminalist who had been caught lying on the stand had checked out an envelope containing one of the tested pieces of evidence and opened it three years before the testing was done, the cigarettes had changed size shape and color from the last time, and when a prosecution lab found results that seemed to confirm that blood had been planted on the shirt they withdrew it on grounds of contamination but refused to submit the lab notes that could allow that claim to be verified.) Whether he's this or not is up in the air, but there is still strong proof that some funny business was going on.