Precrime Arrest

"Mr. Marks, by mandate of the District of Columbia Precrime Division, I'm placing you under arrest for the future murder of Sarah Marks and Donald Dubin that was to take place today, April 22 at 0800 hours and four minutes."
John Anderton, Minority Report

One of the implications of Seers (and Time Travel) is that we are able to predict crimes. If we can predict them, then we can prevent the crimes from happening. This trope is about taking evidence from the future, and preventing the criminal from doing what they have already will be done.

Without knowing the future, society prevents additional crimes from happening by punishing the people caught committing them. Precrime Arrest, however, is when a character who is known to be going to have committed specific crimes is punished in order to prevent them from committing those crime (or crimes) in the first place. The offender, if caught early enough, may suffer from Bewildering Punishment because they haven't even thought of committing the crime yet. Wikipedia calls this simply Precrime.

Attempts to arrest/execute Hitler are popular enough to form their own trope: the Hitler's Time Travel Exemption Act. Examples of Time Travel being used for Hitler specifically belong there.


Anime & Manga
  • Psycho-Pass takes place in the year 2112. Japan is governed by the Sibyl System, which measures many psychological factors. One of the things determined by scanning people is the "Psycho Pass", or the mental stability of a citizen. The colour of a Psycho-Pass is then used to measure the "Crime Coefficient," the probability and severity of the crimes a person might commit. Those who have a high enough "Psycho Pass" are sent to psychiatric therapy or completely euthanized by Dominators, a type of gun used by the police. People who have a high "Psycho Pass", but haven't committed any crimes, are called "latent criminals". They generally have two choices: Rehabilitation, or become an Enforcer for the police.

Film - Live-Action
  • In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, SHIELD's Project: Insight is based around having three all-new Helicarriers designed to police the world, taking out potential threats before they do any actual threatening. In truth, the project is under the control of HYDRA, and the Insight Helicarriers are driven by an algorithm designed by Arnim Zola to calculate any and all potential threats to HYDRA's World Domination, and terminate them all.
    Col. Nick Fury: "We're gonna neutralize a lot of threats before they even happen."
    Cpt. America: "I thought the punishment usually came after the crime."
  • In Minority Report, three psychics are used by the state in order to apprehend and subdue people before they commit murder, keeping said latent criminals into a vegetative state. There is talk of expanding it into lesser crimes, as well, although the As You Know conversation at the beginning explains that only murder is strong enough to trigger a psychic vision.
  • In Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, by the end Dastan is propelled back to when he first caught the Dagger of Time. Already knowing his Evil Uncle's plot, he tries to prevent it from happening. And is successful.
  • Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Sarah Connor learns from the Terminator (who time traveled back in time to her present day) that the person most directly responsible for the creation of Skynet is a Cyberdyne Systems engineer named Miles Dyson. She tries to assassinate Dyson to prevent Skynet from ever existing.

  • The Minority Report by Philip K Dick is the Trope Codifier, featuring "Precrime" as the name of a criminal justice agency, whose task is to identify and eliminate persons who will commit crimes in the future. The film Minority Report was based on this story.
  • In the short story "All the Troubles of the World" by Isaac Asimov, the Multivac supercomputer is used to churn through data about the population and predict crimes before they occur, allowing authorities to stop them. A variant, because people aren't punished for uncommitted crimes, the police merely warn, intervene and temporarily detain only in rare circumstances. The plot kicks off when the subject of one such prediction has no idea what he's being detained for, and Multivac subsequently reports that the predicted crime has increased in probability since the police intervened.
  • In Through the Looking-Glass, the White Queen tells Alice that the King's Messenger (the Hatter, or 'Hatta', by the illustrations) is in prison for a crime he has not yet committed, or been tried for. (This is Looking-Glass Land, which is in some ways time-reversed.)

Live-Action Television
  • Doctor Who: "Let's Kill Hitler" features the obvious Hitler's Time Travel Exemption Act, from Melody Pond and from new character/crew Justice Department Vehicle #6018. The Justice vehicle is sent to painfully kill Time's greatest criminals just before their death (and after their crimes). They realize they've arrived too soon in Hitler's personal timeline, and find a bigger fish: The woman who killed the Doctor. Except that she hadn't done that yet, either.
  • One episode of Hercules The Legendary Journeys had Iolus given a chance to kill a man who had raped and killed a family. The catch was that Iolus had been transported in time before that man had committed any crimes. Meaning Iolus had killed an innocent.
  • Seven Days occasionally had Frank preventing a crime as the episode's plot. Every episode, Frank is sent back in time seven days to prevent whatever disaster has happened. Sometimes he's able to do it by preventing the perpetrator from attempting the crime. Most episodes, however, this trope is subverted, and Frank has to stop the crime/disaster as it happens instead of preventing it from being attempted.
  • During episode "Obsession" of Sliders, the main characters travel to a world where ten percent of the population have Psychic Powers. Amoung the various powers, is precognition.
    • A bit of research into the history of this world reveals that psychics became popular when one warned Abraham Lincoln about his impending assassination, allowing Booth to be captured before the attempt.
    • The Police Oracle identifies Arturo and Rembrandt as people who will kill Wade Wells, so the police make a Preventative Arrest. A Bewildering Punishment to all four at first. Basically, they're taken to the station, booked, and then released. If someone were to actually commit the crime, the police would have to chase them down, but otherwise the two are free to do whatever they want. This is all a Batman Gambit by the old Prime Oracle to make sure his successor is a compassionate man in addition to already being a powerful one.
  • Star Trek: Voyager had an episode named "Relativity", where the 29th century timeship Relativity is attempting to stop a time-paradox sabotage attempt on the 24th century spaceship Voyager. After the culprit responsible for the mess is found, two earlier versions of the culprit are arrested. The Captain assures Captain Janeway that the three would be "integrated" into one person before his trial.

Western Animation
  • Futurama parodied Minority Report in an episode where Fry joined the police's Future Crimes division.
  • In a The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror segment, Milhouse goes on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge against students who wronged him in the past. When he's about to humiliate a kid, who says today is their first day at the school, Milhouse says the kid will do something bad to him in the future, so he's still going to need revenge. ("It's called pre-venge!")

Alternative Title(s):

Precrime Punishment