You've apprehended a suspect. You have video of him carrying a large plastic bag filled with a suspicious-looking white powder. This must be the easiest open-and-shut case you've seen all year. In fact, the bag of powder has just come back from the lab identified as...cake mix?
This is a common way to throw a plot twist into a Forensic Drama
or Police Procedural
- a crucial piece of evidence has been identified as some object, looks like said object, and everybody has been assuming it's that object. Then it suddenly turns out to be something completely different, which completely blows the whole case apart.
It may also be used for comedy, when the true identity of the piece of evidence is absurd and/or ironic.
Similar to the Red Herring
, only this is caused by a mistake on the part of the investigators, as opposed to deliberate misdirection by suspects or witnesses.
Sometimes overlaps with A Bloody Mess
, for which The Ketchup Test
might be used for The Reveal
. If the object in question is a powder or liquid, the Fingertip Drug Analysis
may be used instead.
- One Peter Kay skit related his Crazy-Prepared dad's trouble carrying a small plastic bag of Coffeemate, a milk substitute that comes in the form of a white powder, through foreign customs.
- Subverted in Starsky And Hutch. One of the plot points is cocaine that drug dogs can't detect; when the title characters bring it in, they're told they've found powdered sugar. It's not.
- In Wilt, after Henry Wilt is accused of murdering his wife, the police search his house and find a lot of what looks like damning evidence, including a cleaver he had used to open a can of red lead.
- In the Discworld novel Feet of Clay a group of "respectable citizens" discover Vimes drunk and unconscious at his desk with a bag of suspicious white power in his drawer... and the Patrician has been recently poisoned with arsenic. Vimes wakes up and quickly eats the evidence. It was just sugar, he hid the actual arsenic that had been planted in his desk to frame him and then faked being drunk.
- In Arthur Conan Doyle's A Study in Scarlet, victims are found surrounded by splashes of blood, including a word written in blood on the wall. Like the CSI example below, it's actually a murderer with a nosebleed. That is, there IS evidence present that helps catch the killer - but the blood isn't it.
- This tends to happen a lot in the Ace Attorney series, mostly in the inverse direction, but there are some normal moments too.
- Three 7th-grade students at a Chicago public school were once arrested and brought to the police station for selling bags of a powder, which they continually insisted was just Kool-Aid. After spending 3 months trying to press charges, the prosecutors finally agreed to test the powder - and it turned out to be grape Kool-Aid mix.
- Due to the dangers involved in on-the-spot manual analysis of suspicious white powders (read: sampling or sniffing) an arrest will usually be made on the grounds of suspicious behavior or prior suspicion and the arrested will be detained until the powder can be tested - whether in the lab or using special equipment or dogs.