"No one's gonna tell you nuthin'. They're wise to your act. You got rules. The Joker, he's got no rules. Nobody's gonna cross him for you."
Everyone has watched enough crime dramas to know that one of the easiest ways to bring down a Big Bad
gangster is to catch one of his mooks doing something illegal and threaten the mook with a ton of jail time for it. After spending some time thinking about what it would be like to spend 20 years or so in jail, the mook breaks down and tells the cops what they want to know. The cops arrest the mook's boss, the mook testifies, and everything ends happily ever after.
Sometimes though, things don't go so smoothly. Sometimes the boss is so fearsome
that the prospect of the boss looking to get revenge on the mook (or their family
) means the mook will gladly take anything the law can throw at them rather than that. Bonus points if the Big Bad
is either a Torture Technician
or keeps one around just for this purpose.
Naturally, this can also apply to the general public, although in this case it may be a more general fear and unwillingness to get involved that is the motivation. Tends to be particularly common in poor countries where the criminals may have more control than the government
. Things aren't helped either if the police are known for being corrupt
, or all three.
This is often the result of the Big Bad
using Outscare the Enemy
and I Control My Minions Through...
(Fear). It's particularly likely to happen if the villain is The Dreaded
or the crime organization in question happens to be Ruthless Foreign Gangsters
A variation is for police to make it look
like the perp is cooperating with them so that they'll be targeted anyway, and their only hope is to take their chances with the police.
Anime & Manga
- During the Stardust Crusaders arc of Jojos Bizarre Adventure, this it the main reason why the heroes have so little information on the Big Bad's stand. The most obvious example is Daniel J. D'Arby, who has a mental breakdown after being cornered to spill this information.
- The next arc demonstrates exactly what would have happened if he did talk, by the way; Dio's implanted cells turn the Nijimura brothers' father into an unkillable blob monster with almost no memories of his former life.
- In Trigun (anime only) when Vash defeats Cold Sniper Caine from the Gung-Ho Guns, he destroys Caine's rifle and gives Caine a chance to surrender. Caine, knowing his boss is a Kill All Humans type who loves pulling You Have Failed Me and You Have Outlived Your Usefulness, responds by calmly drawing his backup pistol and shooting himself in the head without a word.
- In the Lucky Luke book "Billy The Kid", everyone is too scared of him to testify when he's arrested.
- Common in Diabolik, with mooks and even ordinary citizens being often too scared by mob bosses to testify against them. To Ginko, the only thing most frustrating than this when dealing with them is their tendency to piss off Diabolik, resulting in the worst criminal of Clerville either killing them or giving Ginko the evidence he needs.
- Mass Effect Human Revolution: Whoever Shepard's killer is working for, Harkin thinks their wrath would be worse than anything C-SEC could do. Considering double crossing the Alliance Black Ops could result in a bioroid ripping his head off, himself being replaced by one, or both, it's very justified.
- This is a recurring problem for the cops on The Wire and with good reason, as many characters who decide to become witnesses end up dead. This is particularly evident in season 1, where in order to convict Barksdale enforcer Bird they have to have Omar, (a criminal with a grudge against the Barksdale group) give an obviously false testimony because all the actual eye witnesses are unwilling to testify and risk being killed for it. (Bonus points: Bird is on trial for killing a witness who testified against another Barksdale member.)
- The Mentalist: one Victim of the Week is the son of a mob boss who is dying of cancer. The boss is on record as planning to kill the person responsible. Cho goes to investigate a possible suspect, who got beaten by the son's goons over a bar dispute. The suspect loudly says that the victim was a great man and he had no problems with him. Then he tells Cho quietly to come back after the old man dies & he might have a different story to tell.
- Police Procedural shows like Law & Order and NYPD Blue utilize this trope a lot when dealing with organized crime. Russian mobsters are portrayed as being especially intimidating, with a willingness to wipe out employees, witnesses, and families of same.
- One episode of Psych was only resolved in a crowd scene where the bystanders were shamed/encouraged to come forward and start testifying about the behaviors of the gang in their midst. It was a Christmas Special.
- An epsiode of CSI had a hitman refuse a deal to name the man who hired him in exchange for not facing the death penalty, figuring he'd live longer on death row.
- On Justified a corrupt FBI agent working for mob boss Nicky Augustine chooses to kill himself rather than be arrested because he believes that merely being arrested will cause Nicky to have the agent's family killed. Nicky later threatens Raylan's family in order to get Raylan to give up a federal witness. Raylan believes him and knows that if he arrests Nicky, Nicky will make good on the threat. Instead, Raylan gets a rival mob boss to kill Nicky.
- In season 3 of Dexter, the police catch on to the identity of a killer when a witness who had previously begged not to be deported away from his family does a complete turnaround at the mention of the man's name. They eventually secure his cooperation by tricking him into thinking that the killer is targeting him anyway.
- An episode of Castle has the former prison mate of a suspected serial killer wary of cooperating for fear of reprisals that the man can secure through his prison connections (which seem justified when he gets beaten in the yard). It turns out that the prisoner is the serial killer, and manipulated the suspect and the police in order to get himself out of prison.
- In the first episode of Lexx, an admiral in service to His Divine Shadow orders his ship to follow the Lexx into a Fractal Core as per His Shadow's orders. When his subordinate warns him that doing so would likely kill them all, he replies that since he's never gone through a Fractal Core before, he does not know that with certainty. On the other hand, the admiral does know with certainty the fate of those who disobey His Shadow's direct orders. So into the Fractal Core they go.
- Wiseguy. Johnny Coke Bottles is arrested by FBI agent Frank McPike, but jumps out the window rather than testify against Rick Pinzolo. The FBI makes the best of a bad situation by pretending that undercover cop Vinnie Terranova murdered Johnny to prevent him from talking, thereby increasing his Villain Cred with Pinzolo.
- Justified in The Darkness II and doubles as an example of Asskicking Equals Authority. Jackie Estacado is not only the don of the most powerful mob in New York City, he's the host to a demonic Eldritch Abomination, whose main powers include sprouting fanged tentacles and tearing people to shred with them.
- There's an amusing scene in Max Payne 3 when the hero, still clueless as to how law enforcement works down south, suggests they just arrest the corrupt politician dealing dope and selling organs. Gee, why didn't the DEA think of that?
- An overheard audio diary in BioShock has a smuggler caught and tortured by the Rapture police say, "...Whatever Ryan thinks he can do to me, Fontaine can do double!". Considering you find said diary on his bound, electrified corpse, that's pretty damn impressive.
- A recurring problem in Mexico's current Drug War: ordinary citizens are reluctant to cooperate with the police and army for fear of retaliation by gang members.