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Failed Execution, No Sentence

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If someone sentenced to death is impossible to execute for whichever reason, they are freed.

This trope has been Launched!
Proposed By:
marcoasalazarm on Nov 26th 2017 at 10:11:14 PM
Last Edited By:
marcoasalazarm on Dec 13th 2017 at 9:43:18 PM
Name Space: Main
Page Type: trope

This is an Artistic License Law or Hollywood Law Trope. Dunno if we have this one and hope that it can be launched.

—-

A man sentenced to death. He may be the most vile person in existence, 12 men and the judge certainly believed it so, and the moment the word was said everybody got on their knees and praised the heavens.

There is a bit of a problem, though. The man cannot be killed. They have tried to hang him, and that didn't work. They have tried to shoot him, and that didn't work. They have tried to gas him, electrocute him, toss him from a very high building... nope, none of those methods worked. There may be mundane reasons (like sabotage or mis-preparation) or there may be supernatural reasons (like Nigh-Invulnerability or a prophecy protecting the man) at work.

So what other options remain? In a more fair world, maybe the court would continue trying to perform executions . At the very least, it would "downgrade" the sentence to the harshest type of lifetime imprisonment that the crime would require.

But Fiction Isn't Fair, and the judge decides that, if a man sentenced to die has survived fifty or sixty execution attempts, then he deserves to be released. No other circumstances, no other appeals, no pleas from an irate public nor a victim's grieving family will be heard — the man walks.

This was in fact the custom in historical periods, where surviving an execution was often seen as a pardon from God, but in modern times this line of thinking has fallen out of favor (this is why when this sentence is given, the judge will explicitly say that it will be applied "until (the one sentenced is) dead").

Related to The Man They Couldn't Hang, which is a character who survived a hanging.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Comic Book 
  • In one Golden Age Wonder Woman issue, the villain Baroness von Gunther is executed for murder but then pseudo-scientifically resurrected by her minions, who bribe the prison doctor to give them the corpse. It's then stated that she can't legally be executed again.

    Film — Live Action 
  • Super Fuzz subverts this. The film opens with the main character about to be executed in the electric chair after several other methods of execution failed due to his super powers. The electric chair fails too.

    Jokes 
  • An orchestra conductor is known for being exceptionally terrible at his job. One day, he finds a guy and kills him. He's found guilty of murder and sent to the electric chair. But when his execution comes, he survives the electrical charge. Deciding this must be a sign from God, the authorities release him. However, he goes on to commit worse crimes, is arrested for each, sentenced to the electric chair, and survives each time. (This can go on for as long as the listener is willing to listen.) Finally, the executioner asks him how he keeps surviving the electric chair. He replies "Didn't you hear? I'm a bad conductor."
  • A doctor, a lawyer and a Pole are scheduled to die one day in the electric chair. The doctor pleads for his life: "I'm a doctor and if I'm freed, I'll treat people for free and maybe save lives." But they try to execute him, and it doesn't work. They let him go. The lawyer is next and pleads: "I'm a lawyer and if you let me go I'll work pro bono." The same thing happens, and he's freed. Then the Pole says: "I'm an electrician, and if you reconnect that loose wire over there...."

    Literature 
  • In The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, the main character is sentenced to death for not being able to take his hat off in the King Derwin's presence(a new hat appears on his head every time he takes his old one off). But because the executioner refuses to kill anyone that's still wearing a hat, he has to let Bartholomew go.
  • Discworld: Invoked in Making Money, after Moist confesses his former life as a con artist, before the events of Going Postal, at his trial. Lord Vetinari uses those this trope to explain why he gave Moist a second chance without losing face (in reality, Vetinari had the hangman fake Moist's death so he could make him a Boxed Crook).
  • In the children's book The Five Chinese Brothers, based on an old Chinese legend, a set of identical quintuplets each have a different power. After one of them is sentenced to death for an Accidental Murder, they do repeated Twin Switches to prevent each method of execution — the iron-necked brother survives the attempted beheading, the brother who can hold his breath for hours survives the attempted asphyxiation, etc. Eventually, the judge declares that god is intervening on the first brother's behalf and pardons him.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Torchwood: Miracle Day, in which humans all over the world suddenly stop dying, notorious child-rapist and child-murderer Oswald Danes is released on a legal technicality because the death sentence carried out on him was passed but didn't work.
  • In The Good Wife, a client of Diane Lockhart's scheduled to die by lethal injection suffers through at least two botched attempts because his prior drug use damaged the veins in his arms, causing the injection to fail. Diane manages to legally obstruct the third attempt (using veins in his feet), and the state gives up. (He isn't released, however: his sentence is commuted to life in prison.)
  • The Twilight Zone (1959):
    • The episode "Escape Clause" has this trope attemped to be invoked by the protagonist. See, the man had made a Deal with the Devil and obtained immortality, through which he had done an increasing number of death-defying stunts which had escalated to the point he went and commited a crime with full intent to get sent to the electric chair. Unfortunately, the man's lawyer managed to get his sentence reduced to life in prison, and knowing he will eventually Go Mad from the Isolation which will come from living centuries behind bars, the man decides to invoke the titular clause and have the Devil come and take his soul already.
    • The episode ''Dust" has a guy be sentenced to be hanged. The rope breaks, and the town has a change of heart and lets him go.
  • The Twilight Zone (2002): the story "The Executions Of Grady Finch" features the titular man sentenced to die because of a murder charge that he keeps insisting he's innocent of, and every attempt to execute him (electrocution, lethal injection, gas, and the victim's irate son pulling a gun on him and trying to shoot him) is stopped by Divine Intervention prefaced by Finch hearing a ghostly voice saying "not yet!" Finally, after about a dozen attempts, Finch's lawyer is able to convince the court that keeping on trying would be considered cruel and unusual punishment and that it must mean he's innocent and they must let him go. Right after being set free, Finch finally musters up the courage to confesses to his lawyer that he was the murderer and walks out of the courthouse... and this is the moment when he hears the divine voice whispering "now!" and he's crushed by the courthouse's statue of Justice falling on him.

    Real Life 
  • People who survived hanging were granted pardons several times throughout British history, most famously Anne Greene.

Feedback: 30 replies

Nov 26th 2017 at 11:45:02 PM

First thing disturbing me: it's either "didn't work" or "hasn't worked". "didn't worked" isn't used as far as I know.

Nov 27th 2017 at 12:18:30 AM

English is second language. Still hit the occasional snag.

Nov 27th 2017 at 3:06:36 PM

  • Invoked in Making Money, after Moist confesses his former life as a con artists, before the events of Going Postal, at his trial. Lord Vetinari uses those this trope to explain why he gave Moist a second chance without losing face (in reality, Vetinari had the hangman fake Moist's death so he could make him a Boxed Crook).

Nov 27th 2017 at 1:18:44 AM

Nov 27th 2017 at 1:54:56 AM

In Torchwood Miracle Day, in which humans all over the world suddenly stop dying, notorious child-rapist and child-murderer Oswald Danes is released on a legal technicality because the death sentence carried out on him was passed but didn't work.

Nov 27th 2017 at 4:46:49 AM

The Discworld also has a tradition where if it takes more than three tries to hang a man, he gets free breakfast while the gallows is fixed.

Nov 27th 2017 at 7:25:28 AM

Film - Live Action

  • Super Fuzz subverts this. The film opens with the main character about to be executed in the electric chair after several other methods of execution failed due to his super powers. The electric chair fails too.

Nov 27th 2017 at 10:36:09 AM

TV:

  • In The Good Wife, a man scheduled to die by lethal injection whom Diane Lockhart is defending suffers through at least two botched attempts because his prior drug use damaged the veins in his arms, causing the injection to fail. Diane manages to obstruct the third attempt (using veins in his feet) legally, and the state gives up. (He isn't released, however: his sentence is commuted to life in prison.)

Nov 27th 2017 at 12:47:31 PM

The Twilight Zone 2002: the story "The Executions Of Grady Finch" features the titular man sentenced to die because of a murder charge that he keeps insisting he's innocent of, and every attempt to execute him (electrocution, lethal injection, gas, and the victim's irate son pulling a gun on him and trying to shoot him) is stopped by Divine Intervention prefaced by Finch hearing a ghostly voice saying "not yet!" Finally, after about a dozen attempts, Finch's lawyer is able to convince the court that keeping on trying would be considered cruel and unusual punishment and that it must mean he's innocent and they must let him go. Right after being set free, Finch finally musters up the courage to confesses to his lawyer that he was the murderer and walks out of the courthouse... and this is the moment when he hears the divine voice whispering "now!" and he's crushed by the courthouse's statue of Justice falling on him.

Nov 27th 2017 at 1:10:41 PM

  • In the children's book The Five Chinese Brothers, based on an old Chinese legend, a set of identical quintuplets each have a different power. After one of them is sentenced to death for an Accidental Murder, they do repeated Twin Switches to prevent each method of execution—the iron-necked brother survives the attempted beheading, the brother who can hold his breath for hours survives the attempted asphyxiation, etc. Eventually, the judge declares that god is intervening on the first brother's behalf and pardons him.

Nov 27th 2017 at 6:24:13 PM

Added the current examples.

Nov 28th 2017 at 7:13:03 AM

Jokes

  • An orchestra conductor is known for being exceptionally terrible at his job. One day, he finds a guy and kills him. He's found guilty of murder and sent to the electric chair. But when his execution comes, he survives the electrical charge. Deciding this must be a sign from God, the authorities release him. However, he goes on to commit worse crimes, is arrested for each, sentenced to the electric chair, and survives each time. (This can go on for as long as the listener is willing to listen.) Finally, the executioner asks him how he keeps surviving the electric chair. He replies "Didn't you hear? I'm a bad conductor.

Nov 28th 2017 at 9:02:07 AM

Film Animated

  • When the Book of Peace is stolen, Sinbad Legend Of The Seven Seas is believed to be the culprit. Having faith in his boyhood friend, Prince Proteus is willing to put his neck on the block, literally, while Sinbad goes asea to retrieve the Book from Always Chaotic Evil goddess Eris. When Sinbad returns the morning of the execution empty-handed, he relieves Proteus on the block. However, this means Sinbad passed Eris' Secret Test Of Character, and she appears to return the Book of Peace as promised, because Even Evil Has Standards. So, the most important Mac Guffin in Syracuse gets absconded for a while, but nobody loses their head over it.

Nov 28th 2017 at 9:17:10 AM

^ Sounds like he was cleared at the last minute rather than getting off because the execution failed.

Nov 29th 2017 at 7:34:23 AM

Think this could be a super trope to The Man They Couldnt Hang (or that one is the Super trope, either is fine by me).

Dec 1st 2017 at 11:35:02 AM

Another episode of The Twilight Zone, "Escape Clause", has this trope attemped to be invoked by the protagonist. See, the man had made a Deal With The Devil and obtained immortality, through which he had done an increasing number of death-defying stunts which had escalated to the point he went and commited a crime with full intent to get sent to the electric chair. Unfortunately, the man's lawyer managed to get his sentence reduced to life in prison, and knowing he will eventually Go Mad From The Isolation which will come from living centuries behind bars, the man decides to invoke the titular clause and have the Devil come and take his soul already.

Dec 4th 2017 at 8:56:12 PM

C'mon, fellas, needs more hats.....

We've gotten six examples. I think we may be unto something here.

Dec 4th 2017 at 9:11:31 PM

  • People who survived hanging were granted pardons several times throughout British history, most famously Anne Greene.

Dec 9th 2017 at 12:27:23 AM

Jokes: A doctor, a lawyer and a Pole are scheduled to die one day in the electric chair. The doctor pleads for his life, "I'm a doctor and if I'm freed, I'll treat people for free and maybe save lives." But they try to execute him, and it doesn't work. They let him go. The lawyer is next and pleads "I'm a lawyer and if you let me go I'll work pro bono." The same thing happens, and he's freed. Then the Pole says "I'm an electrician, and if you reconnect that loose wire over there...." Live-Action TV: Not a perfect example, but the Twilight Zone episode 'Dust" has a guy be sentenced to be hanged. The rope breaks, and the town has a change of heart and lets him go.

Dec 8th 2017 at 2:47:01 PM

OK... that needs some editing...

Dec 9th 2017 at 12:24:44 AM

I have edited my previous post. Also, I can't find the Real Life thing yet, so I'll edit it again

Dec 10th 2017 at 5:55:46 AM

In one Golden Age Wonder Woman issue, the villain Baroness von Gunther is executed for murder but then pseudo-scientifically resurrected by her minions, who bribe the prison doctor to give them the corpse. It's then stated that she can't legally be executed again.

Dec 10th 2017 at 6:28:25 AM

Eliminate the "means" and replace it with a comma and see if it works.

Dec 11th 2017 at 6:22:01 PM

  • In The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, the main character is sentenced to death for not being able to take his hat off in the King Derwin's presence(a new hat appears on his head every time he takes his old one off). But because the executioner refuses to kill anyone that's still wearing a hat, he has to let Bartholomew go.

Dec 12th 2017 at 11:23:19 AM

I don't like the name. "No execution" sounds like one wasn't even attempted. Shouldn't it be "Failed execution" or "Unable to execute" or similar?

Dec 13th 2017 at 12:36:39 AM

OK.... seems we are doing OK with examples.... needs more hats.

Dec 13th 2017 at 9:43:18 PM

OK... think it needs one more Hat.

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