The Punishment Is the Crime
"Men are not punished for their sins, but by them.
In some cases (in fiction, and one would imagine in real life as well), a person will commit a crime, and then get caught. As they wait in fear to find out what their punishment is, the hero will reveal that no punishment could possibly be worse than simply being allowed to live with the consequences of the crime itself, so there will be no further punishment.
The villain may raise this issue himself
, arguing that he's being punished enough already and should be spared anything further. Depending on the character
and the circumstances, this may come off as genuine regret deserving of mercy
, a cynical ploy
to evade justice
, or somewhere in between.
In particularly literal cases of the trope, the offense is punished by forcing the perpetrator to continue doing it long past the point where it is pleasurable or desirable.
Sometimes overlaps with Radish Cure
, where a person shows desire for something forbidden, and then has it forced on them. Also compare Be Careful What You Wish For
, Ironic Hell
- In Code Geass, this occurs in the final second - season episode. However, it's a very odd example because Lelouch had been planning this for some time and Suzaku had willingly agreed to it.
Lelouch: "The punishment for what you've done shall be this, then. You will live on, always wearing that mask serving as a knight for justice and truth. You will no longer live your life as Suzaku Kururugi. You shall sacrifice the ordinary pleasures of your life for the benefit of the world. For eternity...
Suzaku: This Geass, I do solemnly accept.
- There was a Tom the Dancing Bug comic in which someone tried to get out of paying their taxes by offering to sleep with an IRS agent. Their punishment was to sleep with an IRS agent.
- Often used in fetish fiction: The punishment for a man trying on women's clothing is...being forced to wear women's clothing.
- For a more specific example, there's an Original Flavor Scooby-Doo fanfic What Lurks in the Labyrinth where the main villain is unmasked and forced to wear his costume at a cheesy tourist attraction.
- This is used as an actual punishment for two villains in The New Scooby-Doo Movies episode "The Haunted Horseman of Hagglethorn Hall" (The One With Davy Jones).
- There is an old joke that states that God's punishment for bigamy is having two wives (or two mothers-in-law).
Live action TV
- In A Song of Ice and Fire, two of the Lannister hostages try to escape from King's Landing by hiring on as oarsman. Tyrion Lannister suggests keeping them on the oars for a few years as punishment, but eventually decides against it as they can't afford to lose the hostages.
- In Theodore Sturgeon's short story "Vengeance Is", two men rape an academic's wife and he begs her to give into them. He does so because he knows that she's the carrier for a venereal disease that will soon cause them painful death.
- In Codex Alera, Fidelias's eventual punishment for being a spy and pretending to be Valiar Marcus is to have to keep living as Valiar Marcus. An interesting case, in that this is as much a matter of pragmatism (making use of Fidelias's skills) and redemption (as Fidelias has grown during his time serving Octavian into a loyal and remorseful vassal) as punishment.
- At the end of Isaac Asimov's story "The Dead Past", the government agents tracking down the protagonists for the crime of illegally building a time viewer arrive too late to stop them from spreading the secret. After explaining to the protagonists that they've just abolished privacy (since the viewer can be set to see any place at any time from a century ago to a split-second ago), the agents rescind the arrest and leave them to live with the consequences.
- Of course, the agents might be running for their lives, given that they admit to having caught the protagonists by using the time viewer as a surveillance device. And within a few weeks, the whole world is going to be turning their home time-viewers on them. And prior to that exposure, the biggest thing the government did was ban "unregulated" research.
- In C. S. Lewis' The Great Divorce, Hell's residents are very directly to blame for making it the drab miserable place it is; all the pride and lust and greed and hatred that consumed them in their lives now continues to consume them in their afterlives.
- This is also seen in The Screwtape Letters, where the Enemy (God) and the angels essentially tell the devils that if they ever understood love, the doors to heaven would be thrown wide open to them. Of course, the devils don't get what is actually being told to them, so they keep suffering while trying to figure out how if there was some way to exploit it.
- In the Carl Hiaasen novel Striptease, as well as the film, Shad wants to sue a dairy company by pretending he found a cockroach in his yogurt. His lawyer, Mordecai, keeps the evidence in his refrigerator, only to find after he's come back from meeting with the company and getting a settlement offer that his temporary secretary, Rachel, has eaten the yogurt. She worriedly asks if Mordecai is going to fire her, but Mordecai has something far worse in mind - "I'm going to tell you exactly what you ate."
- The Railway Series: In "The Sad Story of Henry", Henry stalls in a tunnel (thus temporarily stranding his passengers) because he doesn't want to risk rain water spoiling his paint. He is punished for this by being bricked up and made to stay in the tunnel. For bonus points, his stay actually causes his paint to be ruined far beyond what the rain would have done, thanks to soot and dirt from the tunnel roof.
- In no less than three Doctor Who storylines, the punishment for people seeking immortality was to become immortal. "Human Nature"/"Family of Blood" and "The Five Doctors" were both subversions of this trope, because extra punishments were added on, but in the other example, "Mawdryn Undead", the punishment for seeking immortality was nothing more than immortality itself.
- In one episode of Seinfeld, Elaine eats a slice of cake from her boss J. Peterman's minifridge. Turns out the cake was a piece of wedding cake from a British royal wedding in 1936 and that it cost $29,000. When he finds out, she's afraid he'll punish her somehow. His response:
Peterman: Elaine, I have a question for you. Is the item still...with you?
Elaine: Um, as far as I know.
Peterman: Do you know what happens to a butter-based frosting after six decades in a poorly ventilated English basement?
Elaine: Uh, I guess I hadn'tó
Peterman: Well, I have a feeling that what you are about to go through is punishment enough. Dismissed.
- In one episode of Red Dwarf, Rimmer is put on trial for causing the deaths of the original crew. Kryten, as his defence lawyer, sums up his argument as "He's only guilty of being Arnold J. Rimmer. That is his crime, it is also his punishment."
- In That '70s Show, Eric is preparing to go to Africa to become a teacher; at the same time, his parents finally find out about the regular marijuana use that he and his friends engage in. This leads to this commment from Red, "Well, this is the worst thing that you have ever done! Eric, I am gonna make you... I am going to... well, I can't think of anything worse than sending you to Africa. You're going to Africa!"
- In The Wire, a violent bully repeatedly accosts and robs Bubbles until finally Bubbles poisons a drug vial, figuring said bully will take it too and wind up dead. Instead a dear friend who is like a son to Bubbles gets ahold of it and dies from the poison. Bubbles immediately confesses to the police, and an Interrupted Suicide soon ensues where Bubbles tries to hang himself in the interview room. After saving Bubbles' life, Sergeant Landsman lets him off the hook, reasoning that the death was an accident and no punishment will be worse than having to live with the guilt. It's meant more as a benevolent decision by Landsman than as an actual punishment, however.
- On one episode of Married... with Children, a man told Al that Peg was running around with his husband. He responded "Well, he's got what he deserved!" When reminded that what he got was Al's wife, he said "Let the punishment fit the crime!"
- In an episode of 8 Simple Rules, Bridget tried to get her parents to agree with this when, after getting a job at a clothing store, she racked up a huge bill for clothes, then paid it off with the emergency credit card given to her by her parents. It didn't work - she was still made to do work around the house to pay off the debt.
- In The Following, teenage Ryan Hardy hunted down the drug addict who gunned his dad down robbing a convenience store, and forced him at gunpoint to OD on the drugs he bought with the money.
- On Newhart, the town's church bell is damaged. George, whose grandfather built the bell, lobbies to be the one to repair it only for someone else to sweet talk his way into doing the job instead. George defiantly sneaks into the bell tower to perform the repairs in secret. The town councilmen catch him in the act and enact a punishment for defying a council order. The sentence is community service, but since the bell is the only thing in the community that requires service, he's allowed to proceed.
- In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Survivors", the Enterprise crew encounter an alien entity who committed genocide against a warlike species after they killed his human wife during an attempted conquest of the couple's colony. Picard decides the only thing they can do is to leave the immortal energy being alone. The Enterprise has no way to pass sentence on him, but he's already mad with grief over his wife's death and filled with remorse for his crime. His self-imposed isolation is its own sentence.
- Many branches of Christianity teach that God's main punishment of sin is the ENJOYMENT of the sin committed. So many of our sins are easier to stop on day 1.
- This extends to Hell- sinners are punished by giving them exactly what they want: separation from God, and everything that comes with it.
- Also part of a theological theory that unites the traditional Fire and Brimstone Hell with a Self-Inflicted Hell; if one can physically "burn" with hatred and lust and pride here in this life, what's to keep anyone from spiritually "burning" with all the same evils in the hereafter?
- Several Christian faiths believe this is the case. The only reason God gives commandments is because he knows those courses of action inevitably lead to misery and destruction whether the law's enforcers ever catch up with you or not, and these inevitable consequences of your actions are the punishment. Old Testament law merely fast-tracked some of these consequences in an effort to deter people from proceeding further down this road to ruin.
- A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum—"Suicide's illegal! The penalty is death!"
- Likewise in The Mikado, Ko-Ko the Lord High Executioner explains why he refuses to be his own victim: "In the first place, self-decapitation is an extremely difficult, not to say dangerous, thing to attempt; and, in the second, it's suicide, and suicide is a capital offence."
- In the backstory of Mortal Kombat, it's stated that the Elder Gods punished Shang Tsung for taking a soul with a curse which not only forces him to kill his enemies, but to take their souls as well. Only in this way would he hold off his grim fate: to age rapidly and die prematurely. Unfortunately this kinda backfires on them when Shang Tsung absorbed Great Kung Lao's soul after the latter was deafeated by Goro, he also gained knowledge of Shinnok's whereabouts and gave to them Quan Chi in exchange for resurrecting Sindel. Smooth move there, Elder Gods.
- In Mass Effect 2 after finding Jacob's father in his loyalty mission and learning that he's ran a colony of spacecraft wreck survivors as his own personal fiefdom that's now falling apart, you have the Paragon option of radioing in an Alliance vessel to arrest him and bring him to face justice or the Renegade option of Leave Behind a Pistol. A third option is to simply leave him where he is and let him deal with the mess he created.
- The VeggieTales episode "Larry-Boy and the Fib From Outer Space!" has a mild version. Junior's lies cause the Fib to grow giant. It grabs him and begins terrorizing the town. In the end, his parents decide the entire incident is punishment enough for lying.
- After Kim Possible and Shego are released from Dr. Drakken's mind control chips at the end of the episode "The Twin Factor", Kim decides not to bother capturing Drakken — he'll be punished "ten times worse" when Shego gets her hands on him.
- In an episode of The Buzz on Maggie, Maggie went to see a PG-13 movie her parents forbade her from seeing and it ended up scaring her so much she was left traumatised. After Maggie confessed to her parents they decided her trauma was more than enough punishment.
- Arthur tried this once as an excuse to get out of being punished. It didn't work - he was still grounded.
- Franklin had an interesting subversion - after Bear and Franklin got poison ivy rashes from taking an unapproved shortcut, they weren't punished, but they grounded themselves.
- In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, "Just for Sidekicks", Spike offers to petsit for the mane six—solely because he wants to be paid—and then neglects to actually look after the pets. This results in Spike getting put through the wringer and losing all the gems he was paid with. At the climax, as Angel tries to return to his owner, Spike apologizes for his neglect, prompting Angel to relent. Angel helps Spike evade the mane six and escape further punishment.
- At one point the penalty for attempted suicide was death by hanging (in England at least). The thinking was along the lines of punishing someone for their own attempted murder (since they had no more right to take their own life than anyone else's). Successful suicides were punished by being buried as a convicted murderer would be (at the crossroads, away from sanctified ground).
- One man in Africa was caught having intercourse with a goat. The locals handled the matter by forcing him to marry it...
- Ambrose Bierce's definition of bigamy in The Devil's Dictionary: "A mistake in taste, for which the wisdom of the future will adjudge a punishment called 'trigamy.'"
- An Internet message board administrator once joked about the change in moderation policy to a much more laissez-faire one consisting of only deleting obvious trolling and spam as "Under the old system if you posted something ridiculous and/or offensive, the punishment was we'd delete your post. Under the new system the punishment is we don't delete your post." and made the point that leaving such posts up would also bring ridicule and ostracization to those who posted them rather than allowing for cover with them being deleted.
- Any teenager who has ever felt terrible and racked with a guilty conscience after being a complete terror to their parents feels like this trope is in effect, regardless of if they're punished for it or not.
- Anyone in general who's lashed out at someone who didn't deserve it almost always has this reaction.
- Often enough, this is true of people who abuse vices such as drinking, drugs, smoking, or gambling due to addiction or the inherent negative consequences of those actions.
- May be the reason behind a Shotgun Wedding in some cases, particularly in more traditional societies.
- After Richard Nixon was forced to abdicate because of his corruption during the Watergate scandal everyone expected him to be put on trial. However, his successor, Gerald Ford, simply pardoned Nixon for "any crimes he may have committed during his presidency", because he felt that "he had been punished enough." It was a controversial decision, which effectively cost Ford his own re-election, but the line of thinking did make sense. At that point Nixon had been on TV for two years trying to deny the undeniable, ruined his entire reputation and would always be followed by the shame of being the first US president to abdicate to avoid Congress impeaching him. A simple imprisonment wouldn't be that much worse as a punishment and it would have kept the Watergate affair in the news for years to come. This would have been worse for the USA and its reputation abroad than it would have been for Nixon, though others contend it set a bad precedent for leaving people unpunished who had committed major crimes.