In detective stories and thrillers, sometimes a framed man fights to prove his innocence—usually of murder—and in doing so commits a series of smaller crimes, yet does not pay for them at the end. Crimes that are often committed in the pursuit of the proof of innocence include resisting arrest, assaulting a police officer, grand theft auto, breaking and entering, reckless endangerment, assault and fraud. The immunity to consequences for those acts is a specific form of Hero Insurance, perhaps granted because they are perceived as acting under compulsion, like a twisted version of a Boxed Crook. In many cases, the transgressions they commit are also comparatively minor (property damage against the bad guy, petty or returnable in same condition theft, perhaps an assault that doesn't result in lasting injury) when compared to the crime they have been wrongly accused of, thus allowing the audience to overlook them and maintain sympathy with the character; when the crime isn't, however, then good luck keeping them on the hero's side.
Note that Would Not Shoot a Good Guy is generally in play; most such characters do not actually murder people who honestly believe them to be crooks.
In some stories, this can be Hand Waved by how high the conspiracy to frame the hero goes; if the trial would embarrass the government, showing how easily the justice system can be fooled or how entrenched the corruption within agencies sworn to defend the law, the parties involved might prefer to sweep the mess under the rug over confronting the imperfections in the system. Alternately, the government may be sufficiently damaged over the course of the story that it no longer has the capability to prosecute the hero.
A subtrope of Saved by the Awesome. See also: "Get Out of Jail Free" Card; Hero Insurance; Boxed Crook.
If the hero is hated due to being accused of a particular crime, yet (in the course of the plot) commits several other incredibly heinous deeds without anyone batting an eyelid, that's Selective Condemnation.
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Anime and Manga
In Monster, Tenma breaks out of jail and shoots some people. However, since all of his actions are justified, and his name is cleared due to having a good attorney, a criminal psychologist, and a cop's thorough testimony on his side, the trope is averted.
Subverted in Outlaw Star. What's the first thing Gene does upon his return to Sentinel? Jail time. Turns out that meeting robot God doesn't excuse you from overdue parking tickets or leaving the planet without clearance - even if intergalactic pirates are to blame. Fred paid bail though, so it's alright (or, considering how much Gene already owes Fred, maybe not).
In Patrice Dard's L'Histoire de France de Marie-Marie, Producer Darryl E. Nuck really has Wrongful Accusation Insurance... more precisely, he is "insured against miscarriages of justice". In fact, he appears to be insured against EVERYTHING that could possibly go wrong.
Subverted in Awakening Of The Magus. After Fudge announces Sirius innocence in public, he attempts to bring up the matter of Sirius escaping Azkaban... until a journalist reminds him he announced Sirius would be free of all charges up to date.
Commonly played straight in every HP fanfic that uses this plot, actually. Probably justified by the fact that he was locked up in very irregular circumstances, to the point where any criminal investigation would be focused on the people who locked him up in the first place. In other fics, he's officially declared guilty of the relatively smaller crimes but, since the time he previously spent in Azkaban is more than the combined sentence one can get for them, he officially already served it.
The Interpreter has the main character break into a UN panic room and try to murder a head of state with a gun (though she desisted at the last minute). The last scene in the film shows her casually sitting in the UN garden and having a friendly chat with Sean Penn's DS character about leaving the country, with no indication that anything she did would ever have repercussions.
The Negotiator is built around this trope. Samuel Jackson's character takes over an office building and holds people hostage, but it's all right as long as he catches the bad guy in the end.
In particular, Samuel Jackson's character is most likely guilty of murder because one of his prisoners is killed (and deaths during the commission of a felony are considered murdernote Although the fact that the people killed are killed by a third party attempting to foil him by killing his hostages to prevent them from talking to him probably screws with the usual "foreseeable consequence" requirement of felony murder.) However, we never actually see what happens.
The film ends with Jackson's character being taken away via ambulance, but considering the massive amounts of police corruption he uncovered, chances they'll try to sort his charges out as quickly and quietly as possible.
The protagonist of the French film Tell No One caused a massive pile-up on one of Paris's busiest roads, one that certainly caused a lot of property damage, if no actual injuries.
In fact, even filming this insanely dangerous stunt (with dozens of high-speed vehicles and no special effects) seems kind of ethically shady.
Jamie Foxx's character in the end of Collateral is forced to impersonate an assassin and ends up committing a few crimes over the course of the end of the movie trying to save the last victim of said assassin. Good thing the last victim on the list was a prosecutor, because when this is over he's going to need all the legal help he can get.
There's a general legal principle that you are not responsible for acquiescing when someone with a gun to your head tells you to commit a crime (other than murder) or die.
The protagonist and girlfriend in The Sixties' monster mash Attack of the the Eye Creatures were framed for a murder committed by the "creatures". Our heroes break out of jail and steal a police car. The girlfriend's influential father "takes care of everything" by having these charges dismissed.
In the early 90's film remake of The Fugitive with Harrison Ford, Dr. Kimble commits multiple burglaries (a clinic, a hospital, an apartment), thefts, auto theft (ambulance to be specific), unauthorized use of medical records, accessory after the fact in the murder of a transit cop (disposing of the gun, even though he didn't shoot the officer), and more in the course of proving that he didn't murder his wife. This is to say nothing of his original escape from custody, which is illegal whether or not you are innocent of the crime you are accused or convicted of (running away to avoid being hit by debris from a derailing train is justified, but continuing to run instead of turning himself in...). Notably, however, the film ends with him in the custody of the US Marshals who were pursuing him throughout the movie, and while he's cleared himself of the original murder, there's no indication that all the other stuff is going to be let slide.
This may be justified in light of the fact that Kimble doesn't seem to care so much about clearing his name as he does about catching the guy who killed his wife.
An even more glaring example of this is seen in the sequel, U.S. Marshals, in which Mark Sheridan commits numerous felonies in the course of proving his innocence and attempting to flee the country—kidnapping, assault, and technically even attempted murder of a federal agent (when he shoots Gerard, even if he did deliberately aim for his bulletproof vest). His girlfriend counts as well, for aiding and abetting him. What's more, she might not yet be a US citizen and might even be in the country illegally, so her actions are enough to warrant her being deported. But at the end of the film, they're all seen walking out of a courthouse with a few throwaway lines about him being "cleared of all charges." However, it probably doesn't hurt his case that one of the people assigned to guard him, and later pursue him, was actually attempting to murder him to cover up his own crimes, making surrender something of a non-option. Given that Richard Kimble's crimes were so minor in comparison, one can Hand Wave that he received the same treatment.
It's almost guaranteed Kimble would not be charged with anything. The Chicago District Attorney and the local police would be already hard-pressed to explain why an innocent man was convicted of murder and was essentially forced to find the real killer himself. On top of it, as the real killer is a former Chicago cop, the CPD would already be looking like they framed Kimble to cover for one of their own. The only way they could make themselves look worse would be to charge Kimble with anything else.
Similarly in Firewall, while not out to clear his name, Harrison Ford's character, in the course of trying to save his kidnapped family: (1) breaks into an apartment and arrives at a murder scene, (2) gets his hands on the murder weapon clearly leaving prints, (3) takes a bank teller hostage at gunpoint, (4) breaks into his ex-secretary's apartment and apparently forces her to help him after firing her earlier, and (5) then hacks into the bad guys' account to erase their money.
Double Jeopardy has a variant where the protagonist is being chased for violating parole, having already been released for murdering her husband. She goes free after exposing her husband for faking his death earlier, in spite of breaking and entering, stealing Lehman's car, stealing his gun, transporting said gun across state lines without a permit, property damage, and let's not forget her unremitting plan to kill a man, thanks to this film's use of Hollywood Law.
The sci-fi setting makes it easy enough to Hand Wave this though - if you can arrest people for murders they haven't yet committed, who knows what other laws have changed in the future?
Assuming the laws haven't changed, I think he'd be guilty of Felony Murder for anyone who is murdered after he kidnapped one of the precogs which happened at least once. Also, while he never killed any of the cops, he did put at least one in severe danger of death, which is at the least reckless endangerment.
About 1/4 of the way through It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, the police note that even though none of the treasure hunters have a criminal record, they now have resisted arrest, destroyed property, burglarized a hardware store, assaulted many people, etc. This is all met basically with a shrug. (Justified in that the cops are waiting for these people to lead them to the stolen money.)
In the ending of Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, the titular duo kill four Federal agents in the process of evading capture for a (grossly) wrongful accusation of terrorism. Presumably, that gets included in the full pardon they get at the end from President Bush. Although the deaths were due to the agents' incompetence rather than caused by H&K directly, it would be their word against the government since there were no surviving witnesses, and anyway it'd still count as felony murder.
Subverted in JCVD. JCVD is ultimately arrested, convicted, and thrown in jail for a seemingly minor crime that he committed while trying to resolve the hostage situation and clear his name.
Hackers: In the course of stopping the crimes for which they were framed and obtaining the evidence of the real villain's plans, the heroes wreck an incredibly expensive supercomputer, but the FBI apparently doesn't prosecute them for it, since we see the main character and his girlfriend living (more or less) happily ever after at the end. This is most likely because the truth (which was broadcast worldwide by other hackers) embarrassed the FBI to no end - the real villain manipulated the FBI into assisting him in environmental terrorism.
The 2010 The A-Team references this near the end, when the team gets arrested for escaping federal custody, and Hannibal points out that the fact that it was an illegal imprisonment (kinda) is irrelevant.
Considering the number of US and foreign jurisdictions the heroes enter illegally and commit crimes in, they can only be saved from jail by this trope being played completely straight. It is not. Even if they get pardoned in the US, Germany will want their heads.
It's played straight at first when Agent Lynch promises their freedom in exchange for tracking down the man who framed them.
An obscure Western centered on a judge having to deal with this trope. A man was convicted of murder and was about to be hanged and killed the hangman while trying to escape. While a new hangman is brought in, the man is proven innocent of the original crime. The judge has to decide if the guy should hang for the new killing. In the end he deems it a case of self-defense.
Averted in the Sin City film. Marv is both wrongfully accused and ends up having to commit several acts of violence... for revenge. He knows good and well what this will lead to (the comics make it even more obvious) and has little intention of trying to clear his name. In the end, he is not only tried for the killings he was accused of but also the ones he did commit. He is sentenced to death.
The protagonist in Shooter kills an awful lot of Mooks in order to avoid being caught for something he didn't do. Luckily, they're all deniable government assets - and he kills the ringleaders of the conspiracy in the final scene, so all the prosecutors are left with is a whole lot of carnage that no-one wants to acknowledge - and a One-Man Army who's made it clear that all he wants is to be left in peace.
In the French thriller Ne le Dis à Personne, the protagonist causes a good deal of property damage in the course of clearing his name, all of which is forgotten about at the end of the movie.
Taken Up to Eleven in The Mask. Stanley Ipkiss is not only not tried for the crimes he committed in order to take down the Big Bad (breaking out of custody, stealing a car, stealing a gun, holding a police officer hostage), he is also not tried for a bank robbery he committed much earlier under the influence of the titular mask, and which could probably be linked to him. Justified in that a large number of local dignitaries saw him take down the Big Bad, and are explicitly stated to be willing to look the other way. Also justified in that the Big Bad was also wearing the mask that influenced Ipkiss to do the above in the first place, in public in front of witnesses; everyone just assumes that he was responsible for the above as well, and that Ipkiss was set up.
In the Sylvester Stallone version of Judge Dredd, Dredd is wrongfully convicted of murder. Despite knowing he's innocent, he strictly adheres to the law and allows himself to be stripped of his rank as a Judge and sent to Aspen maximum security prison to serve a life sentence... But when the transport is shot down en-route and he finds out the real killer's identity and what his plans are, he sneaks back into Mega City One, infiltrates the headquarters of the Judges, and directly or indirectly leads to the death of about a dozen of his former colleagues. And at the end of it all, he not only doesn't get called out on his tactics, he's offered the position of Chief Justice! This is likely justified by the fact that it's set in a Bad Future dictatorial city-state, and they could presumably let him off for it all.
Benjamin Weaver, the protagonist of David Liss' historical mysteries finds himself framed for a crime in the second (and so far final) book in the series after being treated unfairly in court by a judge who was formerly his friend. After being helped to escape, he breaks into the judges house and then slices off his ear to get him to explain his odd behavior. Mind you, this is done in a period where almost every crime is punishable by death and he really only escapes prosecution because the judge was involved in a political conspiracy (he was blackmailed into acting unfairly toward the protagonist) and forced to flee the country.
In Peter Lovesey's The Summons, a convicted killer escapes and kidnaps the Chief Constable's daughter, demanding that his case be reopened. When he is finally cleared, he is not charged with the kidnapping.
"In the course of proving Optimus innocent of breaking and entering, the criminal acts you commit include: resisting arrest, interfering with a crime scene, removing evidence from a crime scene, assaulting a police officer, destruction of police equipment, unauthorised access of a police computer system, vandalism, industrial espionage, and breaking and entering. What lesson have we learned today, children?"
In The Outsiders, Ponyboy is on trial for running away from home. In a variation, he truly believes himself guilty of killing a Soc, but the Socs testifying say that Johnny did it. He resolves himself to set them straight, but to his surprise the judge never gives him the chance (read: doesn't ask him about the killing) when questioning him. He gets off with a "Not Guilty" verdict.
In the beginning of the first novel of Michael Z Williamson's Freehold series, protagonist Kendra Pacelli is framed by her superiors for their crime of selling weapons to terrorists. She flees to the titular Freehold of Grainne, a minarchist nation with no extradition treaties with Earth. Over the course of the novel, Earth invades Grainne to destroy its competing economy - by then she has enlisted in the Freehold armed forces and does an impressive amount of damage as a resistance fighter. After the Grainneans drive them off, they prevent a second invasion by hitting Earth with a massive WMD strike that reduces the superpower to a third-world nation - one that actually acknowledges that she was framed by her superiors, hoping to draw the hero of the resistance to rejoin Earth's military. She "respectfully" declines.
In Stieg Larsson's Millennium series, the protagonist commits a long series of crimes (theft, forgery, computer hacking, illegal border crossing, unlawful use of a weapon, assault, attempted murder and so on) to get rid of the bad guys and the Swedish authorities end up by bringing her to a trial. The trope gets subverted by the fact her friends uncover such a grand network of crimes and conspiracies involving a great deal of people that the prosecutor simply drops all charges to get himself out of the mess before the judge reached a verdict.
Live Action TV
In order to clear his name of various accusations, 24's Jack Bauer has done everything from resisting arrest to kidnapping the president, and typically spends no more than 2 hours in detainment before being let free to pursue the terrorists.
Burn Notice seems to be working towards this. Though the main character might just be good enough that he'll be allowed back into wherever he was burned from because they don't know...
In the third season premier, it's explicitly stated that he had it, to keep him out of jail, and cover him for all the things he did as a spy even before the show started. Emphasis on the "had."
Then he goes out and purchases some independently, by setting up a sting on an actual criminal... and also implicating that criminal in all of Westen's crimes.
Following season three, his regular insurance is back in effect.
Sometimes used when it comes to the clients. In the episode, "Wanted Man" a wrongfully accused man hides out at Michael's while they try to Frame The Guilty Party. He's told that he'll be free by the end of the week, even though he's at least guilty of evading arrest at this point.
Happens every couple of episodes on The Dukes of Hazzard. (And if Boss Hogg really wants to arrest them, why doesn't he just get them for the car chase in last week's episode?) There's also the fact that the average lifespan of a Hazzard County police car is measured in days...
Prison Break ends with something like this for some of the characters who survive to that point. Notably, only Lincoln Burrows was innocent of his crime; Michael Scofield robbed a bank to get into prison to free Lincoln and the other escapees were legitimate felons but the MacGuffin was this for all of them except T-Bag.
Things not working this way sets up the entire premise of one season of Red Dwarf. In proving themselves innocent, they committed crimes that added up to a sentence equal to the one they'd spent the three-parter trying to get out of.
One episode of Monk, "Mr. Monk Is On the Run," features the titular character escaping from jail to clear himself of a false murder. In the course of his time as a fugitive, Monk gets help from Natalie, who supplies him money and clothes, and Stottlemeyer, who helps him fake his death. Both of these people could have faced charges of aiding and abetting a state fugitive. Later on, when cornered by the corrupt sheriff who set Monk up at a Nevada car wash, Monk and Natalie attack him, with Natalie using a fire extinguisher on him, then escape by stealing his car, which could see them facing being charged with auto theft. On the other hand, given that Monk averted an assassination attempt on the state governor in the end, he could have gotten a pardon and hence the trope could be averted.
Double Subversion in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. A man escapes from prison to clear his name after his son falsely accused him of molesting him. Olivia discovers the truth, and the governor sentences the man...to time served for escaping, which essentially amounts to a release.
A straight example would be Olivia's brother Simon who jumped bail and took hostage the detective who framed him for a series of rapes. Justified, as both he and the detective were let off easy once they sorted out the whole mess rather than the police face the truth about how one of their own forged evidence.
Lois and Clark when Lois was accused of murder and Superman helped break her out. Justified, as the lawyer prosecuting her helped frame her and the DA's office wanted to put the whole mess behind them.
JAG featured a Double Subversion: the man who took Admiral Chegwidden hostage was sentenced to 8 years, then got time served for the time he spent in prison for treason.
Played with in Renegade; a lot of the wrongfully accused people Sixkiller Ent. helped seemed to get off scot-free, but there was the one time Reno helped a fugitive since the 70s prove that the person he "killed" never died in the first place, which surprises even him. He thought he did kill his friend, but accidentally, not the murder he was charged with. He's sentenced to community service for evading justice, which, from what we see, means singing to kids. He doesn't seem to mind. We never get to see what would happen to Reno himself if his name were cleared, unfortunately.
Subverted, possibly twice, by the sixth season Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Suspicions". Dr. Crusher performs an autopsy on a scientist she believes was murdered, in direct violation of his people's lawnote The Ferengi sell the body parts of their dead for some level of profit. An autopsy "damages" the goods, making them unsellable., resulting in Picard removing her from her post as ship's doctor and stripping her of her rank pending a court martial. Although she eventually proves her case afterward, the end of the episode makes it clear that her career's hanging by a thread regardless... and yet she's right back on duty in the next episode like nothing ever happened. We can assume that the court martial exonerated her off-screen, but since the affair is never mentioned again, there's really no way to be sure. It may have helped that she actually caught the killer. And proved the scientist's work is valid, ensuring the man's family can still sell the technology for the money they lost for what she did to his body, which of course is a very persuasive argument for the Ferengi.
In the mini-series For The Term Of His Natural Life, the wrongly convicted main character Rufus Dawes mentions that a pardon will not be enough; he didn't commit the original crime but he's committed plenty since then. He ends up receiving an unconditional pardon for any crimes he has committed.
Subverted and then played straight in Home and Away. Kane Phillips is arrested when he is caught with the proceeds of an armed robbery and a shotgun in his car. The robbery was committed by his father Gus, who tricked Kane into picking him up and then abandoned him. The man who forced Gus into the robbery then identifes Kane as the perp, and Gus himself arranges for Scott, Kane's imprisoned brother, to stitch up Kane at his trial. In the middle of the trial, during the jury's deliberations, Kane and his wife skip town and he is found guilty in absentia. Three years later Kane is captured and is charged with a number of robberies that he committed while on the run. To protect Kirsty and their son, Kane pleads guilty to these and accepts jailtime. However, later in the year, Kane decides to appeal and is somehow released even though he was never exonerated for the original robbery, to say nothing of the ones he did commit.
Averted in NCIS episode UnSealed. A Navy SEAL breaks out of prison to find the man that murdered his wife. At the end of the episode, though the actual murderer is arrested, the team arrests the SEAL as well.
Averted in Once Upon a Time. Mary Margaret has been framed for killing Katherine, and is in holding. When someone slips her a key, she uses it to escape. Emma tracks her down and convinces her to return pointing out while they may be able to prove her innocence in Katherine's death, if anyone else learns that she escaped she will be guilty of that, and no one will be able to help her. It's eventually revealed that Regina slipped her the key, for that very reason.
Played with in Castle; at one point, Castle is framed for murder by an old enemy who informs him that he's arranged for Castle to be murdered as soon as he arrives at Central Processing. Castle proceeds to arrange for his escape from custody, at which point he and Beckett work together to prove that he was framed. Once the proof is discovered, Captain Gates points out that Castle will still need to surrender himself to the District Attorney and will face charges for escaping police custody, but notes that the unusual circumstances mean that he'll most likely only receive a slap-on-the-wrist fine and the time he's already served as punishment.
Subverted in one episode of Starsky & Hutch. When Hutch is wrongly charged with murdering his ex-wife, Starsky is ordered to bring Hutch in. However, in the middle of arresting him, Starsky instead handcuffs the accompanying officer to a table and effectively kidnaps Hutch to track down the real killer, probably exposing himself to more serious obstruction charges than Hutch.
In Condemned: Criminal Origins, the protagonist is an FBI agent who is accused of murdering two cops. During the course of proving his innocence, he also kills a small army of hobos, drug addicts, and lunatics. To be fair, it was self defense, but still...
Ethan has an influential friend: Malcom VanHorn, who presumably helped the charges disappear between games.
In the sequel Malcolm is killed, so how Ethan gets away with killing a new army of hobos, plus breaking and entering, possibly murdering some security guards and police officers, resisting arrest, interfering in another arrest is an interesting question. The fact that the last couple were conducted while fighting corrupt cops working for an Ancient Conspiracy might help.
Pretty much the same happens in the first Max Payne game, though in this case Max getting away unpunished is explicitly due to him having an influential friend (Senator Alfred Woden). Also, he doesn't think he deserved to get off and is therefore even more of a psychological mess in the sequel.
It helps that those he killed were criminals and gangsters, many of whom shot at him first, and he's DEA. It might get ridiculous how far you can stretch self-defense or some other case for him here, even though it's justified.
The character Preacher in Twisted Metal: Black fights in the tournament — committing no small number of homicides, with many of the victims being innocent bystanders, in the process — with the intention of clearing his name for a mass murder he committed under the influence of a powerful demon during an attempted exorcism. Subverted somewhat in that it turns out Preacher was, in fact, guilty of the crime for which he sought to clear his name — he was not possessed by a demon, merely criminally insane, and the event at which he committed the murders was a baptism, not an exorcism.
Subverted in the text based adventure Corruption where, in order to escape a charge of insider dealing, you may have escape from prison, break into your colleagues office to steal valuable evidence and assault a police officer. At the end of the game, you are tried for all these crimes but are let off with a suspended sentence
Played very straight in Heavy Rain. Ethan Mars is being chased by the entire police force, thinking him to be the Origami Killer (he's not). He (depending on the player's actions) may wind up evading arrest and assaulting police officers and damaging property and driving recklessly and, though not directly related to the evasion, deliberately kills a largely innocent man (although the police probably doesn't know he did it). If he doesn't get caught, once the police stop chasing him he's off scot-free. The fact that Lt. Blake -the cop supposed to stop him- is fucking psychotic probably plays in his favor too. There's also the whole time limit on his son's life and trials thing, so it could be argued that he was under duress at the time.
In Ghost Trick, Cabanela stops Jowd from escaping from prison because, even though Jowd can be proven innocent, escaping prison is still a crime and Jowd could just as easily be executed for that. Also at the end, Yomiel accepts prison time as the consequences of everything he did while attempting to escape police custody, even though he was innocent of the initial accusation. This is the entire reason arresting people who are likely innocent is Cabanela's favorite tactic. He figures it's best to put them in jail so that he can legally get them off the hook, without worrying about them running off and doing more illegal things to get themselves further in trouble.
Sonic and Tails destroy a heck of a lot of military equipment in Sonic Adventure 2 due to the military coming after them thinking Sonic is Shadow, but never seem to come to any grief over it. Then again, they did save the world in the process.
And for that matter, there's no mention of the military being slapped with a lawsuit for wrongfully detaining and then subsequently trying very hard to kill Sonic simply because he happens to look (marginally) like to a wanted fugitive.
One of the most common jokes made about Minority Report Everybody Runs is that Anderton brutally kills a few hundred cops over the course of the game while trying to prove himself innocent of a single murder. It's obviously Gameplay and Story Segregation as the story treats it like he's taking out all his opponents non-lethally (even if that involves throwing them through plate glass windows or tossing them off hundred story buildings), but he's still resisting arrest and beating up hundreds of cops.
Dishonored: even if Corvo makes it though the game without killing anyone there is still the fact that he broke out of prison, damaged state property, assaulted several people, sold several people into slavery, stole a ton of stuff, many cases of breaking and entering and other crimes (a lot of them arguably unrelated to proving his innocence). It does help that in two endings, he becomes the regent for empress Emily; on the other hand, he's still wanted in the Bad ending, and quits the Empire anyway.
The Order of the Stick has an interesting example. Belkar murders a guard escaping from prison and has the charge reduced from Murder 1 to Manslaughter after the circumstances of his arrest (namely, that he was imprisoned under false pretenses and was arrested by an agent acting outside the law who was in turn being misled by her superior) are brought to light. Not to mention that, once the dust settles from the impending battle, there's no place left to imprison him and nobody left to do the imprisoning, so… He is also out on what is basically work release, officially he still has jail time coming even after the sentence reduction for aiding in the battle.
In Schlock Mercenary, Tagon's Toughs end up on trial by the UNS for deliberately destroying the interior of an entire syndicated television network's building. Due to a bit of fleeing arrest and the interest of the local galactic god AI Petey, the judge for the trial is Petey himself. Over the course of the trial, it becomes apparent that while, yes, the Toughs were responsible for the bombing, the reason why the UNS is prosecuting them for the crime is significantly different than they thought (complex social engineering by the UNS government was involved) and ultimately Petey is able to convince the UNS to sweep the whole thing under the rug lest he publicly reveal the fact that the UNS is deliberately bombing reality TV as part of a social engineering program.
An episode of The Fairly OddParents has Timmy escaping from the police station to prove he wasn't shoplifting. He isn't punished for this. Though, to be fair, he was only ten, they might be more forgiving at that age.
The lack of this was used in an episode of The Powerpuff Girls, when they were framed by people wearing very bad costumes and put in jail. The simply break out by flying through a hole they made in a wall and catch the real criminals. At the end of the episode the Mayor says they have to go back to jail for breaking out, and they all have a laugh before he says he was serious (this was never mentioned again).
Subverted in The Simpsons, where Mona Simpson is acquitted for the charges she went on the run for (destroying samples in Mr. Burn's biological warfare lab) but then gets put back in jail when Mr. Burns tricks her into admitting to a crime she frequently committed for the sake of avoiding arrest. Namely, giving false names to National Park registries.
Also subverted in an episode of Timon & Pumbaa. The duo is accused of committing a crime; they break out of jail and prove their innocence. They are then thrown right back in for breaking out of prison, because, as the police pointed out, "It's still a crime, even if you were innocent."
In the Disney version of The Wind in the Willows, in the process of escaping from jail after being wrongly accused of stealing a car, Toad steals a train right in front of the engineer and no one points out that even if he never stole the car, he still stole the train. However, since he jumped off the train while driving it, it might have been counted as "borrowing it without permission" because he only used it that one time.
While there isn't anywhere on Earth that plays this completely straight, there are some places where the law expressly forbids punishing someone for exercising their natural "desire for freedom". Sure, they'll still do their damnedest to get you back, as well as try you for any crimes committed during your escape, but not for the act itself (e.g. escaping from jail without breaking any laws vs. escaping from jail by murdering your guards). However, on the other side of the coin, some places such as Germany punish escape attempts by doubling your sentence and then holding you to it even if you are later exonerated of the crime for which you were imprisoned in the first place.
Also, juries of your peers can make it less likely for anyone in this situation to be convicted (people are generally not inclined to throw innocent people back in jail for the crime of trying to escape an unjust punishment, particular as, in several of the fictional examples, they were accused under fraudulent or false pretenses in the first place), though it won't stop them getting charged.
The trope may be played straight sometimes with two conditions: when The Hero's unlawful actions are comparatively minor and when the evidence he or she leaves behind is too flimsy for the authorities to build a case against him or her. However, too many people tend to take the trope at face value and seek their justice in a manner a bit too rough to get free out of jail.
Played straight with a little known, and less used, concept in American law called "Jury Nullification" where a jury may decide that either the circumstances surrounding the crime require the jury to ignore the law or in cases where the government's actions are so egregious that a jury simply refuses to convict.