Let the punishment fit the crime? Feh! All criminals are scum, and deserve nothing less than full justice!
This is what happens when a law enforcement apparatus is afflicted with Black-and-White Insanity.
In fiction, if an empire or government is meant to be seen as evil, any crime, no matter how minor, is punished with the same brutal force. Most often this manifests itself as a slight slip-up in the presence of a ruler, such as merely speaking a bad word or telling a joke about the emperor (or being even tangentially suspected of helping a rebel in any way, even unknowingly) getting you put to death, imprisoned for life, mind-wiped, tortured, crucified or punished in a similarly excessive way.
The problem, however, is that if merely suggesting the emperor is fallible carries the death sentence, what do you do with more severe criminals such as arsonists? Traitors? Murderers? Bank robbers? Jaywalkers?
One has to assume that every crime imaginable is punished in this same way (although The Caligula may feel that disagreeing with him deserves a more harsh punishment than crimes against humanity), which sort of defeats the purpose of law and punishment in the first place. One would almost expect petty criminals, knowing it's execution for them either way, to "go for broke" and engage in more violent crimes for the fun of it or possibly spite and/or despair. In both fiction and real life, this frequently results in a variety of Fates Worse Than Death for the big crimes while a pickpocket "only" gets his head cut off, which, if you think about it, sort of defeats the concept of All Crimes Are Equal in the first place and making it just plain Disproportionate Retribution.
Certainly, this method of governance has a great tendency towards generating rebels: since even minorly disagreeing with those in power brands you a traitor anyway, screwing you over forever, why not die fighting the power that has so unjustly attacked you?
When this applies to punishment in the afterlife, then we have an Easy Road to Hell, a.k.a. All Sins Are Equal.
In stories where a steady supply of criminals to use as a Condemned Contestant or Boxed Crook is required, society may devolve to this to keep the stream of "volunteers" coming once the obvious choices for felons have been exhausted.
The flip-side of this is a Played for Laughs version when all crimes receive the same punishment, but it's community service or equally light punishments.
- Akame ga Kill! has Seryu, a soldier who believes all acts of evil are punishable by death. By the time she was killed, she killed some petty thieves and a woman who assisted a gang of bandits because they were forcing her to.
- Light from Death Note really had only one punishment to give out, and he used it on various criminals and anyone who stood in his way. Before the series is out, we see such things as people committing suicide by graffiti. Plus the purse-snatcher he sentences to death at one stage. He follows the logic of "kill the worst criminals, whoever they may be". As the killings caused drops in crime rates, the "worst" criminals became petty robbers and such. He was eventually planning to kill people for being lazy. Teru Mikami actually did this, and Light's only complaint was that it was way ahead of schedule.
- Digimon Fusion has the Heaven Zone, enforced by the ruthless president, SlashAngemon, who is also the chief of police. Crimes punishable by public electrocution and/or death include making a public racket, defacing holy symbols of the Zone, and criticizing the police's methods.
- In Dorei Shouni Shika Sentakushi Ga Nai Desu Yo, there are no jails or prisons because any and all crimes, from petty theft to murder, result in being enslaved. Slaves who fail to sell a certain number of times at auction are shipped off to the mines, to work there until they die.
- Zamasu/Goku Black from Dragon Ball Super believes that everything mortals do, no matter how noble or evil, is a sin and must be exterminated. He also comes to believe the gods are no better since they do nothing about mortals. It's for this reason he believes the only person worth living in all realities is just himself.
- The Municipal Force Daitenzin from Excel Saga was founded by Kabapu to put an end to crime and evil in F City; once they stop a total of 10 crimes, they can break free from their suits. Only problem is, people in F City are very lawful, so in order to get their suits off, they have no choice but to consider this. They get desperate enough to even go so far to set up the crime just to make sure it counts when it's dealt with. Suffice to say, their super-powered super suits often resulted in an all-out overblown special attack. Its like being forced to swat a fly by detonating a nuclear bomb.
- In Garbage Brave all criminals convicted in court are sold into slavery, no exceptions. They lose all their human rights, and it's not a crime to abuse or kill them. It's even a crime in itself to free them unless the ruling powers grant them a pardon, or they are found innocent of their original crimes.
- The realm of Neotopia in Kiba was established on a foundation of Absolute Law, which is this trope. Most outsiders who encounter this are shocked at this black-and-white morality. Even Noah was shocked at first but was eventually persuaded to embrace it as the ultimate form of order.
- One Piece: Admiral Akainu holds this opinion, and various members of the World Government are of a similar mindset. Robin was hunted down since the age of eight simply because she possessed the ability to read the Poneglyphs and desired to learn the True History. Luffy and Ace were kept a secret from the world by their (in the case of Ace, adoptive) grandfather, simply because their sires were world-class criminals, for fear of being killed by their parents' enemies (which amounted to the entire world). Just being born for them was in itself a sin. These are "crimes" equivalent to, or perhaps even greater than, committing mass murder.
- Oz from PandoraHearts is sentenced to the Hell-like Abyss for what seems to be the most ludicrous of all crimes. "Oz Vessalius! Your crime... is your very existence!" Subverted. Oz is currently sharing a body with Jack Vessalius, the man who plans to send the world crashing into the Abyss. Oz himself is also Jack's ace in the hole for the plan, because while Oz had existed beforehand as an Animate Inanimate Object, he was only fully brought to life so his immeasurable destructive power could be used by Jack to end the world.
- In Saint Beast, Pandora tries to hint that purging an angel for a one-time minor theft is Disproportionate Retribution. Zeus disagrees and continues making an insanely long list of angels he plans to burn and banish to the netherworld.
- In Sword Art Online, downplayed by SAO's player cursors; any player who commits a crime gets their cursor turned orange instead of the usual green, regardless if that crime is Player Killing or just transporting a green player to the prison area (including if that green player is just sitting as bait for a guild of orange players). Possibly because of this, SAO players give the nickname "red players" to murderers (it may also originate from the 1997 MMO Ultima Online, where lawful players have a blue tag and minor lawbreaking bestows a grey tag, but serial murderers are identified by their red tag). However, the permanence of the cursor-change is variable; if you PK, you're orange for good, but otherwise it'll wear off over time unless you commit repeated offenses.
- In the Big Finish audio play Night of the Whisper, the title vigilante initially only goes after killers, but then starts to attack minor offenders, such as spray painters, with deadly force. It turns out to be a side effect of the Whisper's creation, a melding of a murdered girl and a robotic Star Marshal.
- Steve Martin on the album "Comedy Is Not Pretty".
I've figured out the solution to overpopulation: death penalty for parking violations.
- Brian Regan mentioned that the lamest crime ever is loitering and that the worst-sounding one is manslaughter. He imagined two inmates in the same cell, one for either crime.
Inmate 1: So what are you in for?
Inmate 2: MANSLAUGHTER! I SLAUGHTERED A MAN! JUST LIKE A PIG! I PUT HIM ON A SPIT AND PUT AN APPLE IN HIS MOUTH! WHAT ARE YOU IN FOR?
Inmate 1: Loitering! I'm like you man! I live on the edge! They were like, "You'd better move along!" and I'm like, "I don't think so!"
- This is the philosophy of the Pale Horseman in Astro City. In his world view all crimes, from murder to jaywalking, warrant the same punishment: death.
- Played in a Batman story where Red Hood's motto is Let the punishment fit the crime, which is pretty disturbing, considering that he just kills all villains and uploads it on Internet.
- Turned on its head in Phil Foglio's Buck Godot: Zap Gun for Hire in that the only law on the planet of New Hong Kong is, and I quote, "There shall be no laws on New Hong Kong".
- That was how New Hong Kong saved itself from the "help" of a nigh-invincible race of Lawful Stupid robotic law enforcers - by giving the robots no laws to actually enforce. But while nothing is ever formally acknowledged as law on New Hong Kong, there are quite a few local customs that the residents are very vigilant about enforcing for themselves. Often with plasma cannons.
- In point of fact, the NORMAL operation of the Lawgivers is to vanish anyone who breaks any active law. The New Hong Kong situation developed because when the planet was being settled, a programmer hacked the Lawgiver list and added the "No New Laws" rule, which everyone promptly voted into effect. The programmer has vanished because the law against interfering with the Lawgivers was already active, but none of the other laws could ever go active, causing all the Lawgivers to leave except for one observer.
- As it says on the sign at the spaceport, ""No laws" doesn't mean "No rules"".
- The Manhunters from The DCU also eventually decided that all life = crime and went on a genocidal rampage or three.
- Doctor Doom is this when he is in control of Latveria. One issue of Fantastic Four shows the guillotine used for anything from murder to speaking out. Though, as with so much about Doom and his country, the degree or even presence of this tends to vary.
- In Gold Digger, Brianna the inventor has a series of AI-bombs called Peebos that are programmed to target bad guys. The real problem is she also made a series of mini-peebo bullets called Peebees, and their small size means they are waaay too dumb to accurately tell what's bad, blowing up things like bridges for being too unsafe or a couple for one of them stealing a kiss, and finally climaxing in a villain convincing them to target Brianna herself due to the amount of damage caused by her firing them off in the first place.
- A Green Arrow story arc had a demon army summoned by an overzealous man named Albert Davis trying to keep the peace in his city. The good news: It worked. The bad news: It worked by having the demons disable all technology more complicated than fire and also teleport out of nowhere to kill anyone who broke any law. Theft? Death! Assault? Death! Littering? Death! Green Arrow and sidekicks have to go to hilarious lengths when they arm the town's cops and mafioso (with bows and arrows, natch) and pit them as an army against the demon summoner. They get the bows by being let into stores by the owner of those stores, leaving enough money behind to cover everything they've taken, and they don't make a single move against the summoner until the army has been deputized by the sheriff and they've gotten a warrant. Then they go to... arrest him.
- There have been several antagonists in Judge Dredd that have adopted more extreme views on Justice Dept.'s duties and practices.
- Judge Death and his cohorts come from an Alternate Universe where it was determined that since crime is only committed by the living, all life itself was made a crime punishable by death. Even before they issued that ridiculous Dystopian Edict the corrupt Judges of that dimension were already murdering people on the streets for any infraction imaginable.
- Mechanismo was a program for new robotic Judges implemented after severe manpower shortages. They quickly started to malfunction during live field tests, handing out Isocube sentences that exceed even the disproportionate standards of the regular Judges (25 years for littering? Judge Dredd might be an asshole, but he'll probably settle for 1 week in the cubes), and later going on murderous rampages to kill "criminals".
- Hanging Judge Roy Bean, in his appearance in Don Rosa's The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck: The Prisoner of White Agony Creek. He claims that hanging is an appropriate punishment for both kidnapping a woman and accidentally making the judge spill his drink.
- Ever since the Registration Act was passed in Marvel Comics, any unauthorized use of superpowers gets you thrown in the Negative Zone prison for life or until you agree to work for the government, whether said powers were used to start a fire or save a baby from the fire.
- Under Norman Osborn, this has been expanded to "Doing anything that slightly annoys him or questioning his minions in any way."
- One comic from the FLIGHT Anthology has a group of anthropomorphic animals stumble upon the "Perfect Lemming City". Unfortunately, lemmings are so obedient and ordered (and also intuition-stupid; they need white lines on the ground to get to work) that any infraction equals death, nothing more and nothing less, INCLUDING A REFUSAL TO SIGN DEATH CERTIFICATES AFTER BEING FOUND GUILTY. Luckily, that intuition-stupid part about lemmings means that they just throw the group a few feet from the city and wait for them to stand there and die. Also, the jail has good sandwiches.
- When The Punisher was first introduced, he was a fairly typical vigilante; targeting murderers or drug-pushers. This characterization remained the same way for his first few appearances, but eventually he gunned down people for minor infractions (jaywalking, running a red light). This was retconned in his first miniseries to him having been unknowingly drugged.
- The 2099 alternate universe Punisher from Marvel 2099 devolves into this. At first, he's killing murderous scum in reaction to his Mom and sister being murdered by crooks who got away with it. At the end of the series, sponsored by a new regime, he's gone around the bend. Among many things, the age at which someone can be tried as an adult is now in the single digits and everything is a crime punishable by whatever he wants it to be (and brain scanners are used to cover bad thoughts). At one point, he expresses the desire that consensual adult sex should be punished.
- The Decepticon Justice Division of The Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye. Any Decepticon that hinders the cause in any way meets with the same punishment: brutal execution. This goes all the way from a fairly reasonable reaction (a Person of Mass Destruction turning traitor for money and destroying a Decepticon fleet) to insanely Disproportionate Retribution (a suicide bomber failing to detonate the bomb inside of him because of a mechanical malfunction).
- Rorschach from Watchmen is very close to this trope, but arguably comes up just shy of it. He holds a strict Black-and-White Morality that doesn't allow for compromise and seems to view most people as irredeemable garbage. But he also doesn't go around beating everybody he sees as immoral to death. He spends his time brutally dishing out "justice" to murderers and rapists, leaving the petty thieves, whores, and the rest alone unless they specifically cross him or get in the way of his pursuit of bigger fish.
- Wonder Woman Vol 1: In the Golden Age, after Paula von Gunther and Dr. Psycho proved adept at escaping from custody, Wondy had a bad habbit of taking any female criminal she captured to Reformation Island to be indefinitely locked in brainwashing Venus Girdles without trial regardless of their crime. This meant that Byrna Brilyant, whose crime was holding people for ransom in a way that was specifically designed not to cause physical harm or remove them from their families, ended up locked up under the same conditions as mass murdering, human trafficking war criminals.
- Zombo: Obmoz, Zombo's Evil Counterpart, is a zombie super-soldier created to fight crime on Earth with his teeth and flesh-disintegrating Death Shadow. He eventually goes crazy and thinks everyone is a criminal, including girl scouts crossing a street.
- Apotheosis (MHA): Villain Protagonist Izuku Midoriya doesn't care about how many cases a hero solves, how many villains they capture, or how popular they are — if they're a hero for the wrong reasons and/or can't live up to his very strict moral standards, he'll De-Power them and kick them out of the hero system. However, he is willing to reinstate heroes whose issues were mostly behavioral (like being an Attention Whore) if they prove they've learned their lesson.
- Implied by the narration to be the case on Unicornicopia in My Brave Pony: Starfleet Magic.
Petty or harsh crimes would not be tolerated and subjected to small sentences— a week of community service, or a night in small prisons, things like that. Then there were VERY serious crimes that usually were handled by trial, but that was hardly the point.
- The Pokémon Squad episode "A Hero is You" features RM becoming a superhero, and then arrests June for jaywalking, Roger for littering, Elmo for drunk driving, etc. Naturally, the results in an angry mob. Needless to say, his friends had to hide the suit.
- Damn You, Batman! from Those Aren't Muskets! asks the question "What if Batman acted like, well, Batman even toward normal everyday crimes like loitering?"
- Turnabout Storm: While this certainly isn't the case for both universes involved, after Phoenix learns that in Equestria they punish the very rare crime of murder with banishment to the Moon or the Sun, he's left worried for a while thinking that this might be their to-go punishment for every crime. He brings this up later when he takes part in breaking and entering during an evidence hunt:
Phoenix: I really hope I don't get sent to the Sun for this!
- Aladdin: Razoul and the rest of the palace guard. It doesn't matter if you're an old man, a woman, or a child, or a Justified Criminal like Aladdin who only steals food to survive. If you commit any crime at all, you're on their list. Case in point: at the beginning of the first movie, Razoul and a large squad of soldiers pursue Aladdin for stealing a loaf of bread. This is Truth in Television, as back in that day and age, laws and punishments were very harsh, regardless of where you lived. And anyway, it's not like Razoul and his goons want to do these things; they're Punch-Clock Villains, and while they'll ordinarily do whatever Jafar tells them, they ultimately answer to the Sultan, so Jafar can be overruled.
- The Archer: No matter what their crimes (real or alleged) girls at the camp are sent there indefinitely (or at least until they're 21).
- Brubaker, featured the convict Bullen. Turns out he's a lifer due to "three strikes" laws (see Real Life below), and while his first two strikes (both Grand Theft Auto) could arguably be justified, the one that put him away was ridiculous. As he told Brubaker, he'd been picked up for a minor thing, he's in the holding cell with a bunch of others, there's a scuffle, the cell's toilet is broken in the process, and he got the rap for Destruction of City Property Over $50, which was in the books as a felony. He got Strike Three and was declared a "Habitual Offender".
- Cool Hand Luke:
- Every infraction, whether major or minor, committed in prison is apparently punished with "a night in the box".
- Luke's original crime was getting drunk and cutting the heads off a town's parking meters. For this, he was given two years on the chain gang.
- The film later subverts this trope though, with the "Boss Keane's Ditch" punishment given to Luke after multiple escape attempts. Also, one assumes for more serious signs of rebellion, the guards can just leave you in the box for more than one night, as they did to Luke at one point.
- Cruel and Unusual: Murdering both your parents, your own children, killing yourself because you feel you're a burden upon your family and accidentally killing your wife (who had also deliberately poisoned you) all receive the same punishment in the afterlife.
- A non-governmental example: in The Dark Knight, Two-Face gives everyone who he views as partially responsible for Rachel's death the same chances of being killed, avoiding any attempt to assign varying degrees of blame to those who actually perpetrated the act versus those who merely made it possible or failed to stop it.
- In Equilibrium, anything at all that might trigger an emotion (like paintings or poetry) is burned, and any experience of emotion punishable by death (also through burning).
- Harrison Bergeron (1995): It's shown very early on that people are shot by firing squad for nonviolent, minor crimes (all broadcast on live TV. Later it gets worse...
TV announcer: This is the first execution to be held under the new law passed by the board of legislators that extends capital punishment to traffic offences. Francis Narrows (?) is about to pay the ultimate price for making an illegal left turn. Beside me is Lorraine Newbound, head of the Miami chapter of the League Against Non-Capital Punishment. Now, Ms. Newbound, you are of course in favor of this new law.
Ms. Newbound: Absolutely. I just wish they would go one step further and include non-moving violations.
TV announcer: Parking offences?
Ms. Newbound: Well, a crime is a crime. Why should we pay good money for jails just to keep criminals alive? Death to all crooks! (smiles in joy)
- Administrator John Klaxon later claims to Harrison however that these are mostly reruns, and serve to deter crime (this how they're justified). One of the lower administrators finds them appalling.
- Escape from New York: In 1997, all crimes are punished by life on Manhattan Island, whether state or federal apparently, since the rule is once people enter they don't leave alive.
- Fortress (1992): In the dystopian future, everyone is sent to a high-security Alcatraz-esque prison for crimes ranging from homicide, breaking the pregnancy statute, or bouncing checks.
- As in the novel in the film of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix this occurs at Hogwarts when Dolores Umbridge installs thousands of restrictive rules in the school, which prohibit not only meetings which could be used to fight her authority but also rules which prevent girls and boys walking together and are designed to give her the final say in any situation she can think of that may come up at Hogwarts.
- In Judge Dredd, Judge Griffin proposes to reduce crime rates by imposing the death penalty for "lesser crimes". He is shot down by the much more wise Chief Justice Fargo, which prompts Griffin to come up with a plan to get rid of the Council and run the city himself.
- In Kingsman: The Golden Circle, Statesman Agent Whiskey's wife and child were killed by drug dealers, simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Because of this, he tries sabotaging Eggsy's and Harry's attempt to obtain the antidote to Poppy's poison, laced into all recreational drugs. In his eyes, the users are all scumbags, even his fellow Statesman, Tequila.
- The other Muppets attempt to use this trope on Kermit in The Muppets to justify kidnapping Jack Black, saying that trying to destroy the Muppets is far worse than abducting a celebrity.
- Nothing but Trouble: J.P. Valkenheiser runs a courtroom still operating under feudal law in modern-day American coal country. This gives him the right to execute people for anything varying from attempted murder of one of his officers to running a stop sign.
- One of the favorite sayings of Oh Dae Su's tormentor in Park Chan-Wook's Oldboy (2003): "Whether a stone or a grain of sand, both sink the same in water."
- In the Red Scare era Film Noir Pickup on South Street, a pickpocket accidentally steals some communist spy's microfilm, but refuses to give it up to the authorities, because he'd go to jail for life admitting he stole it due to a "three strikes" law (see Real Life entry below).
- The Postman: Among the Holnists' laws, one states "The only punishment is death", even for such "crimes" as failing to sit down when ordered to because there weren't enough chairs. We see this demonstrated when the poor fool who had failed to gets killed by General Bethlehem. This may seem short-sighted to kill useful men, but it does instill quite strong obedience through fear.
- The little town of Refuge in Purgatory is populated by dead criminals who, if they can live cleanly for a decade, have proven that they can go to Heaven. Said criminals range from your expected murderous thieves, to a woman who slaughtered her father for molesting her, to a woman who gambled and was Famed in Story for being a Hooker with a Heart of Gold. The being who set this all up is seen as fair, though.
- Frank Darbo, AKA The Crimson Bolt, from Super, lists molesting children and selling drugs in the same list of crimes as butting in line, and reacts the same way to each.
- Subverted in The Star Chamber. We only see the secret court go after freed killers, with the punishment that, in their view, fits the crime-death.
- Subverted in Thor: Ragnarok. The Grandmaster is more than willing to casually execute people but is clearly shocked when his chief enforcer expects him to kill Loki for speaking out of turn.
"Why are you handing me the melting stick? He interrupted me, that's not a capital offense!"
- Turkey Shoot: People get sent to the reeducation camps for being political dissidents (naturally) but also protesting police beating up a suspect or just allegedly working as a prostitute.
- In George Orwell's 1984, if you're a member of the Party, murder, rape, theft, treason, falling in love, etc., are considered irrelevant to your crime except as evidencenote - the real crime is "Thought Crime" against the Party, for which you'll get ten years in a labor camp if you're lucky (unless that's a lie, as it often was in Stalin's Russia) - or more likely, tortuous brainwashing.
- In Alice in Wonderland, the Queen of Hearts would order people beheaded at the slightest provocation. Though no one actually gets executed, according to the Griffin: "They never executes nobody, you know." This is revealed to be because the King of Hearts always pardons them once the Queen's back is turned.
- Bazil Broketail: Most crimes in Padmasa are punishable by death. By the gates of its capitol, at least some corpses are always hanging from gibbets.
- Black Fleet Crisis: Yevethans don't have a single prison, jail or stockade in their society. All their crimes are punished with a beating (if minor) or death. One official expresses astonishment that other species keep criminals around living, and agrees with Han's remark that this cuts down on expenditures (he didn't realize it was sarcastic).
- In the Vonnegut novel Cat's Cradle, the island of San Lorenzo has only one punishment for any crime: death by impalement on a giant hook. (However, it's later revealed that the hook hasn't been used for several years.)
- In City of Thieves, this exists because of circumstances. As a city under siege, Leningrad has very little food and starvation is commonplace. As such, killing criminals, even those with only minor offenses, is a way to help everyone else survive.
- Played straight to a chilling degree in Death Star. The book starts off with the penal planet Despayre (a play on the word "despair"). Are you a murdering psychopath? You get sent there. Are you a smuggler who was in the wrong place at the wrong time? You get sent there. Are you a normal person whose only crime is guilt by association, or someone who backed the wrong candidate in an election? You get sent there. The planet is set up to have Everything Trying to Kill You. You are there for life, with no possibility for parole, and escape is very difficult at best...and impossible at worst. Only the prisoners chosen to work on the Death Star are taken off the planet, but they clearly are stuck building a giant superweapon. And it goes even darker from there. How so? Well, once construction of the Death Star is complete, Grand Moff Tarkin decides to celebrate its completion...by testing the Death Star's superlaser on Despayre. Conan Antonio Motti tried to point out the possible political fallout of this action. Tarkin simply blew it off, because he was convinced that everyone on the planet were just condemned criminals sentenced for life, none of those people would ever return to civilization, and all of them were an unnecessary burden on Imperial troops and resources, and many Imperial alien slaves. He also wanted to see what his biggest weapon would do when he needed to use it before going into battle. Oh, and he also says that instead of imprisoning criminals, they will just use the death penalty and that Imperial justice is about to become swift and sure. And all this was before that business with Alderaan...
- The Empire has many other prisons and other prison worlds, which they went back to when that whole Death Star thing didn't work out. In the Jedi Academy Trilogy and the X-Wing Series we get a look at Kessel, which is a nearly airless world which doesn't have as much hostile wildlife but makes up for it by forcing inmates - the same sort of mix of murderers, members of a galactic crime syndicate, political prisoners, and people failed by Imperial justice, as well as their descendants - to work in the spice mines, harvesting the secretions of exceedingly dangerous giant spiders. The good thing about it is that, at least in the days of the Republic, you can get less than a life sentence, and at the end of it, if you've survived, you can be shipped off. The operative word being "if".
- Barely subverted in The Wee Free Men. One of Tiffany's flashbacks relates the tale of a woman who had stolen a baby. When confronted, the woman was clearly not in her right mind and genuinely believed the baby hers. Everyone was aware of this, but the laws were clear on theft and kidnapping, and Miss Robinson would've been sent to prison regardless. Only the subtle intervention of Tiffany's Granny Aching convinced the Baron sitting in judgment to seek out an alternative option.
- The kingdom of Genua under Lady Lilith in Witches Abroad. Some places will cut your hand off so you don't steal again. Lady Lilith will cut your head off so you don't think of stealing again. To make things worse, "crimes" aren't just offenses against others, but anything that doesn't fit Lilith's idea of how your "story" should go, hence we see a toymaker being punished for not whistling while he worked.
- In Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files, the single punishment for violation of the Laws of Magic is execution by decapitation (regardless of whether the perpetrator was aware of the Laws or if they knew they were performing dark magic). The White Council justifies this by the fact that even minor dark magic perpetuates more and more dark magic use until the warlock's mind is twisted beyond recognition.
- Though the White Council has suspended the sentence if someone is willing to speak up for the perpetrator. Both Harry and Molly Carpenter have benefited from this.
- And they're the only ones of their respective generations. It turns out that if the person who got their sentence suspended reoffends, the sponsor also dies. This has a... discouraging effect on potential defenders of the inculpable.
- Initially the White Council distrusted Harry because he killed his mentor with magic, which is against the First Law of Magic. In reality, it was self-defense since said mentor was planning on mind-controlling Harry (as he'd already done to his other student) and attacked with intent to kill when Harry discovered his plan and tried to escape. The White Council was more than willing to ignore these mitigating factors and kill Harry until one of the senior Council members vouched for him; after that, his sentence was commuted to the "Doom of Damocles" which amounts to probation, with a very eager and distrusting probation officer.
- As Anastasia Luccio, the Commander of the Wardens (i.e. the wizards actually charged with enforcing said death penalty among their other duties), explains to Harry in a later book, another reason in modern times is simple overpopulation: with the rapid increase in the number of humans in the world over the last century or two, more new magical talents are being born than the Council is equipped to carefully judge on an individual basis each time they step over the line.
- Though the White Council has suspended the sentence if someone is willing to speak up for the perpetrator. Both Harry and Molly Carpenter have benefited from this.
- Edgedancer (a novella of The Stormlight Archive): Nale punishes every crime with killing the criminal under the assumption that milder punishment leads to recidivism.
- In the first book of the Engineers trilogy, Devices and Desires, one of the main characters — Ziani Vaatzes — escapes prison after being sentenced to death. While escaping, he kills a guard with a lamp, dismembers another and decapitates a third. He then commits theft, arson, identity theft, and breaking and entering while escaping. The original crime he was sentenced to execution for? Creating a machine that contained components up to 1/8 inches off of the commercial standard — for personal use.
- Mack Bolan, The Executioner, kills everyone even remotely related to The Mafia. Never mind that these people may have families to support. Surprisingly, he never seems to kill anyone who is innocent, such as an undercover police officer.
- Harry Potter
- In the Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix novel/movie, this trope is utilized, not for an empire, but a school. Dolores Umbridge installs thousands of restrictive rules in the school, including prohibiting any meeting which could be used to fight her authority (or, in her mind, the Ministry). Many of these rules were nonsensical and invented as needed any time the existing ones didn't cover a very narrow situation Umbridge wanted to shut down.
- Azkaban, with its joy-stealing dementors, seems to be the only wizard prison in all of Britain. Almost any crime can earn you a trip there - Hagrid was even sent there just for being a prime suspect for a crime in Chamber of Secrets.
- Judge Dee: One city the Judge visits is placed under special jurisdiction due to an Imperial Princess living there: the army takes care of police work, and all crimes are punishable by death. This has the benefit of scaring away small-time criminals, but has the side effect of bringing in criminal bigwigs: they know they won't be bothered by their rivals.
- Used somewhat in the Knight and Rogue Series. Minor crimes like theft or fraud have minor punishments while major crimes like arson and murder can get you hung. Where this trope comes in is in the redemption for crimes. For the right cost, paid by another person, any crime can be 'redeemed' and the criminal becomes indebted to whoever paid for their crime until that person legally declares that debt repaid. The only exception is murder, in which case you are automatically marked 'permanently unredeemed' if not hung. Should you fail to repay your debt, which can require anything from paying the person back in cash to years of servitude, you will be marked 'permanently unredeemed', at which point you lose all legal rights and everyone will assume you're some sort of warped killer. Michael, whose crime was being duped, and who refuses to spend a life in servitude, is a victim of this.
- At one point in Larry Niven's Known Space tales, almost every crime is punishable by death, including multiple traffic tickets. The reason is that due to the perfection of organ transplant technology, all state executions are done in hospitals to provide organ transplants, and to maximize their availability, nearly all crimes carried the death penalty.
- In Peter F. Hamilton's The Night's Dawn Trilogy, due to Earth's damaged environment and extremely high population (~40 billion), deportation is the standard penalty for nearly all crimes, "from rape to tax evasion".
- An interesting take on this trope is described in Perdido Street Station. To the Garuda, all crimes are not equal, but all crimes are the same crime, different only in degree; taking away someone else's choice is the crime, and depending on whether that was the choice to eat the food you took, the choice to not be murdered by you, or the choice not to sleep with you, your punishment may vary - but the crime is always considered to be the same.
- Officer Shrift from The Phantom Tollbooth regularly sentences offenders to prison terms of millions of years, merely because he can. Fortunately, he's not good at keeping track of time, so assumes that anyone who escapes his city's Cardboard Prison has served out his or her time.
- The A Series of Unfortunate Events series has the Village of Fowl Devotees, which holds the punishment for all crimes as burning at the stake. It's mentioned that even putting too many nuts on a sundae is grounds for this. But then, this is a series that really doesn't take itself seriously.
- The former king of Hou in The Twelve Kingdoms used to execute people for such crimes as being unable to work due to sickness and for wearing a comb in your hair outside. After he executed three hundred thousand people in one year, the people rose up and overthrew him.
- In Utopia, before the story about Utopia itself, there are discussions of several other nations with Meaningful Names. One of these points out the various flaws of having all crimes punished by death.
- The specific example is that a person who robs a house will then go to any length to escape rather than consider giving up.
- Specifically, a prospective thief has every incentive to commit murder rather than just theft — he will be no worse off if caught, and by killing the principal (or only) witness, he reduces his chances of getting caught.
- In the seventh Warrior Cats arc, Bramblestar's body is hijacked by a spirit pretending to be him. This cat insists that the only way to restore the Clans' connection with StarClan is to punish "codebreakers" - no matter how serious - or not - the crime. Had a forbidden relationship with a cat from another Clan? Exile. Left the Clan for a while but later returned? Exile. Accidentally took a couple steps across the border? Exile. Questioned his orders by asking him to please un-exile the medicine cat? Exile!
- The White Cloaks in Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time have the same punishment for theft (steal once and be whipped in public, steal twice and they'll cut off your right hand, steal thrice and you're executed) "whether you steal a loaf of bread or a king's crown."
- The people in the Mary Suetopia of Marge Piercy's novel Woman on the Edge of Time all trust each other, and there is little friction in society. How do they do that? By having very minor punishment for the first time someone commits a crime, but the second crime they commit, they execute them. Nemo Me Impune Lacessit, indeed.
- In The 100, all crimes on the Ark are punishable by execution, unless the offender is under eighteen years of age. This totalitarian justice system is necessary because the Ark is thought to be the last outpost of humanity, and extreme measures must be taken to ensure that the species survives.
- A repeating plot element in Brimstone, at least on the supernatural side: you sin, you go to Hell. Period. No mitigating circumstances considered. A couple of the 113 - and Zeke himself - are actually quite sympathetic, decent people who made one big error in judgement... but that doesn't save them from eternal torment. This is revealed to be the cause of the plot - it doesn't even matter if you follow a different religion; if your people were conquered by Abrahamics, then you're judged as one. Ashur Badaktu AKA Detective Ash was a high priestess of a pagan religion which Abrahamics exterminated to the last man, meaning there was no one left to carry on her beliefs and condemning her to Hell by default. You cannot imagine how pissed off she is.
- Though, funnily enough, the series never presents the alternative as more desirable, instead pointing out that before the rise of the god of Abraham, all souls were judged by whatever gods they worshipped. This means that countless people who committed genuine atrocities in the names of their gods (mass murder, burning children alive and forcing women into prostitution at the low end) were never punished because the only beings in a position to do so were the ones that ordered the atrocities in the first place.
- There was a Monster of the Week that killed criminals. Any criminals. Arson? You die. Murder? You die. Jaywalking? You die.
- Another episode had the sisters unwittingly enter a distorted version of their reality. It seemed normal, until one of them encounters a traffic officer, who shoots Phoebe in the stomach because of a minor parking violation. Death or limb-removal is the only punishment for any "crime," up to and including being a potty-mouth.
- The evil mirror-universe featured an amusing inversion of this. Any good deed results in an instant death sentence. Even something as simple as saying gesundheit.
- The Judoon from Doctor Who and The Sarah Jane Adventures threaten execution for murder, physical assault, obstruction of justice, and playing music too loudly.
- Game of Thrones: All sinners are equal before the gods according to the High Sparrow. Bearing false witness is as grave a sin as any, as Margaery can attest from a penitent's cell.
- Garrow's Law takes place in the time of the "Bloody Code", during which 220 crimes carried a penalty of death under English law. Garrow, being the Ur-Example of a defence lawyer, naturally has to have his wits about him. For further details, see the Real Life section below.
- In The Good Place, at eyes of the Bad Place, everyone there merits to be tortured regardless of exactly how minor their transgressions were on Earth, or if they were just jerks instead of actually being evil: Jason was a petty criminal who dealt drugs and would frequently burn things down with Molotov Cocktails to avenge himself against those who "wronged" him, and died trying to rob a restaurant. Eleanor was just unbelievably rude and selfish. Chidi, while a decent fellow, made everyone around him miserable with his dithering. And Tahani did good things, but not for altruistic reasons — it was her way of proving to her parents she was just as good, if not better, then her sister. It's implied that the demons don't really care about a person's actions at all, they just take pleasure in torturing whoever the system sends their way.
- iCarly: Punishment for anything bad is detention, no matter how small. Occasionally subverted by adding extra punishments like having to do star jumps or washing the teacher's car as well.
- In Loki (2021), the Time Variance Authority will arrest anyone who causes a deviation in the Sacred Timeline. The punishment is always the same - they're taken to the TVA to be tried and pruned, while their entire branched timeline is exterminated. The deviation could been you collecting the Infinity Stones and becoming ruler of the universe, or you could've just been late for work when you weren't supposed to be.
- The MacGyver (1985) episode "Jack in the Box" combines this with the Corrupt Hick trope to create a plot wherein a town in the Deep South uses their "justice" system to recruit workers for a mine said to contain treasure.
- A variation in The Orville episode "Majority Rule", where the Human Aliens of Sargus 4 practice absolute democracy using a global social network and a system of up- and downvotes as social currency (Facebook as a means to run a society). A single act that causes an outrage and a picture/video of it going viral can be enough to start an avalanche of downvotes for a person. Going above 500,000 downvotes is enough to be refused service in most places. Going above a million automatically classifies the offense as a crime against the state, resulting in an arrest. The accused then goes on an "apology tour", attending talk shows and trying to convince the public of his or her sincerity. By the end of the tour, if the accused has accumulated 10 million downvotes, he or she undergoes "correction", which is the local equivalent of a lobotomy. No one is executed, but the "correction" is arguably a Fate Worse than Death. Oh, and attempting to flee "correction" may result in the accused being shot. The crew of the Orville manage to convince one local girl to stop participating in this system.
- Parks and Recreation: Pawnee's sister city, Boraqua, Venezuela, does this. Even if all you do is miss a dental appointment or play music too loud, you go "right to jail."
- Peacemaker (2022): Yeah, the show is about Peacemaker AKA Mr. Christopher "I cherish peace with all my heart. I don't care how many men, women and children I need to kill to get it" Smith, but even he takes pause at how much glee Vigilante gets from killing lawbreakers, regardless of the severity of the crime being committed.
Vigilante: (sighs) Do you think I feel good, when after some dude does some atrocious act, that I have to kill them?
Peacemaker: I don't know.
Vigilante: When I find out someone murdered an innocent person, or sold somebody heroin, or did some graffiti, and I kill that person with my bare hands their eyeballs... POPPING out of their SKULLS. You think THAT gives me pleasure?
Peacemaker: (Exasperated sigh) No...
Vigilante: Well it does. (Laughs)
- The Purge: More serious crimes (called "R-level" felonies) are now punishable by death on the next Purge. This was apparently the result of a fictional Constitutional Amendment (and possibly the Purge itself too), along with restricting accuseds' rights to due process. As a result, there is greater deterrence for crimes committed outside the Purge itself (in real life, the US Supreme Court has ruled that only offenses resulting in death can be subject to capital punishment, necessitating such an amendment).
- Stargate Atlantis. In "Condemned", the Olesian government banishes most criminals to a remote island to be culled by the Wraith. Long ago, the Wraith agreed not to cull Olesia's general population as long as the Olesians keep the island sufficiently populated. The only reason All Crimes Are Equal at the time of the story is that banishment had proven such an effective deterrent to serious crimes over the years that in order to keep the island populated, the government had to continually expand the list of crimes punishable by banishment. Then the Wraith all wake up at once and decide they need more than the island's usual supply, causing the government to go on an arresting spree.
- Stargate SG-1 had an episode where the team was sent to a prison planet for unwittingly aiding a man who stole a loaf of bread. They escape with the aid of a genocidal war criminal who'd been banished to the same planet.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has the season 2 episode "Paradise", where Sisko and O'Brien get stranded on a planet with a community of similarly-stranded colonists led by a Luddite woman. Making an example of people who commit offenses against the community means getting put in a metal box in the hot sun for hours, whether the crime is petty theft or wasting time trying to get off the planet. Then subverted when it turns out that the woman really is just crazy and manipulative. Trying to get off the planet is a crime because it would reveal that she sabotaged all their chances of escape with another piece of tech.
- A variation is presented in the early Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Justice", where crime on a particular planet is only punished within one randomly selected zone at a time — but the punishment for any crime within that zone is death, with no mitigating circumstances allowed, and the planet is kept idyllic by nobody daring to take the risk. Wesley accidentally runs afoul of the law (he tripped and fell onto a lawn with a "do not walk on the grass" rule), but the horrified crew eventually convinces the Sufficiently Advanced Alien that it's enforcing the planet's law to at least let them safely leave. Oddly this was presented as a more or less positive example that actually worked: as the Edo people proudly explain, no one has actually committed a crime in centuries due to using the death penalty as a deterrent for everything, which they see as inherently logical. It never occurred to them that an off-worlder unfamiliar with their laws might break one, even by accident. Even then they aren't sadistic about it, and in fact are rather horrified that this means they'll have to execute Wesley - because none of them has ever actually had to execute anyone before. Nonetheless, they grudgingly argue that if they make an exception for Wesley, their legal system will fall apart and fall back into the anarchy they had before it.
- In Supernatural, the Monster of the Week in "Folsom Prison Blues" (S02, Ep19) kills anyone she sees as guilty, no matter the crime.
- A version of this is shown in The Thundermans episode "The Thundreth". Apparently, all of the superhero saves count the same. Max and Phoebe were trying to make their 100th save spectacular and felt that nabbing a man who didn't pay for his soda refill wasn't worth it. That man was eventually revealed to be escaped supervillain Professor Meteor. This meant that thwarting his plan to kill their family with a meteorite crashing into their house was not counted as a save as they let him go earlier. In the end, the save that made their 100th was saving Chloe's ice cream after it fell from her spoon.
- Many if not most Christian sects believe that "the wages that sin pays is death" (Romans 6:23) and that breaking one law is as bad as breaking them all (James 2:10). This means sin lands you in destruction unless you repent. More to the point, everyone is equally guilty of sin from the moment they're born. This comes from different verses in The Bible dealing with humanity generally falling short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and the idea that thinking a sin is seen as equal to doing it in God's eyes, and the inaction of doing good is just as bad as doing evil. What makes sin very grievous is that it can be a way of following Satan's character, since he had rebelled against God before the world was created (I John 3:8). Applying this trope in the opposite way, this also means all sins are equally forgivable in the eyes of God, whether it's knowingly allowing a cashier to give you too much change or something much more serious, as long as the repentance is truly sincere.
- Averted if one has a culturally informed understanding of ancient near east views of crime and punishment, in which case the suffering of hell is proportional to the crime, so a cashier guilty only of petty theft would face less severe punishment than a mass murderer. Jesus used a parable that describes people receiving lighter or harsher punishments based on if they knew they were committing a bad deed (Luke 12:47-48) and even directly claims that some people will be punished more than others (Matthew 11:21-24), while Paul describes how sinners are "storing up wrath" for themselves and will be punished "according to their works" (Romans 2:5-6). Similarly, the rewards in heaven are meted out the same way: those who are sincere and conscientious followers of God will enjoy a place of greater honor than those who merely pay lip service to their faith. Unfortunately, this concept of circles of Hell/Heaven is not actually mentioned in the Bible and rests firmly in Word of Dante territory, even if degrees of punishment is. As for the passages quoted in the above point, you could argue they are not saying "all crimes are equal" but rather "you can't get away with one crime by just not doing another one".
- Also Averted by Augustine of Hippo. While he may have argued that there is a very Easy Road to Hell, he also claimed that "the mildest punishment of all will fall upon those who have added no actual sin, to the original sin they brought with them; and as for the rest who have added such actual sins, the punishment of each will be the more tolerable in the next world, according as his iniquity has been less in this world" (Enchiridion XCIII).
- The Quran, in comparison, explicitly says that punishment is proportional to sin, with hell split into many different levels according to severity of sins, and some punishments are only temporary. Heaven also contains multiple levels with those people who did good in life rewarded in descending orders.
- It's possible to argue that under the doctrine of original sin — the notion that "everyone is equally guilty of sin from the moment they're born" — being born is itself the sin: one is automatically damned for the crime of existing. In addition, since the only way out of the punishment is to actively ask for forgiveness, "redemption" for one's sin is more akin to entrapment than anything else.
- There's also the Catholic interpretation, which defines original sin as simply "a lack of sanctifying grace", which is the key to getting into Heaven. Adam and Eve gave up their sanctifying grace, and thus they lost their kinship with God and were disinherited; children cannot inherit a fortune that has already been lost. Humans, as children of Adam and Eve are born without this grace much like how genes are passed on from generation to generation. Baptism is thus considered to be God giving that fortune back to humans, a vaccine if you may think of it to the congenital disease of the original sin. Even without sanctifying grace, good people were not thought to go to hell, exactly, but to Limbo, where they wait to go to Heaven. Oh, but that's another long, long trek into the Catholic Catechism than is needed for the purpose for which this page was created...
- According to Orthodox Christianity, ALL sins can be forgiven by the Lord — except you are only able to do it while alive, and the only unforgivable crime is an unrepentant sin, and suicide (as suicide is viewed as self-murder, and a person can't repent of it after that, as they have died.) note These are grouped into the eighth Deadly Sin of Despair.
- Islam wholly rejects the idea of an original sin, though most people will fall into temptation in life. Yet Allah forgives. In fact "Most Merciful" is one of the many Islamic names of God.
- The Mighty Boosh radio episode, "Jungle," features this trope.
Jungle Club MC: You are aware of the policy?... If you perform well, you live. If you play badly, the penalty is death. If the crowd dislikes you in any way, death. If the gig goes badly, death. If it starts out well and then goes a bit shaky, death. Enjoy the gig!
- The city of Skullport in Forgotten Realms completely turns this trope on its head. The city is ruled by a cabal of floating skulls, who are beings of pure chaos. The only crimes in Skullport are disturbing the peace and undermining the authority of the skulls, but the skulls' punishment can be anything — from hugging a stranger to gruesome death.
- The Protectorate of Menoth gets so close to this in Iron Kingdoms. In the Urban Adventure sourcebook for the RPG, there's a page dedicated to law and order, listing fourteen crimes - improper speech, drunkenness, assault, theft, burglary, tax evasion, smuggling, major theft, destruction of currency, counterfeiting, arson, treason, piracy and murder - and the variety of punishments you can receive for each in the main countries in the setting. The column for the Protectorate of Menoth has the phrase "death by burning" appear no fewer than eleven times; wracking appears nine times, and flogging seven. The only crimes for which you can't be burned at the stake are assault, theft, and drunkenness.
- In the role-playing game Paranoia, all offenses against Friend Computer are treason. The exact level of punishment, however, depends on the "flavor" of game the GM is running, and may include a logical and rigorously fair system of fines, censure, enforced medication and brainscrubbing, or just cut straight to... Zap! Summary execution! (In a true "Zap!" style game, virtually anything can and will end in laserfire..) The list of things that constitute treason, other than being a Commie Mutant Traitor, is a long one. Failure to complete your assigned mission. Unauthorized trespassing into the restricted security area where your mission objective is located. Wasting assigned paper, ink and/or grenades. Not using assigned paper, ink and/or grenades. Not proactively professing your admiration for the New Improved version of Bouncy Bubble Beverage. Failing to deliver constructive criticism of the New Improved version of Bouncy Bubble Beverage. Being issued shoes that are five sizes too small and failing to immediately turn in the responsible party. Being out of uniform, especially when submitting an official report of treason. Asking to know information above your security clearance, whether or not you know it was above your clearance before you asked. Asking whether or not asking about certain information is treason (nobody likes a smartass). Failure to maintain the required level of happiness. Displaying knowledge of the rules of Paranoia. Good thing you have six clones, though it might take you seven to complete the mission...
- Since a player can also purchase new clone packs in case s/he runs out of the original six, the whole "death" punishment does sort of lose its 'kick'. However, for GMs loving the aforementioned system of fines/censure/medication/brainscrubbing, there is a punishment worse than death: "erasure" of your clone template. Also, new clone packs are expensive, and getting your genetic drift cleaned up is even more so.
- Oh, and reading this entry, in case you were wondering, is definitely treason.
- In Sigil, the central backdrop of the Dungeons & Dragons Planescape setting, criminal justice is enforced by the Mercykillers, who have two punishments: death for felonies and mandatory 10 years' imprisonment for everything else.
- And for crimes above their pay grade/comprehension, there's always The Lady's justice. Which leads to one of two things: Permanent exile to an extra-dimensional maze if you're lucky, or being sliced to ribbons instantly if you're not.
- Mercykillers means two things. First, they were the result of the combination of the brutal gang known as the Sodkillers, and the policemen known as the Sons of Mercy. Secondly, they kill the concept of mercy itself.
- Vladeska Drakov in Ravenloft fifth edition has adopted impaling as the standard punishment for any offence, in order to ensure supplies to fight the Zombie Apocalypse. This is totally unnecessary, however; if it wasn't for Vladeska's stubborn, prideful refusal to back down or give up the territory she'd claimed, the people of Falkovnia could survive the zombies by simply leaving during the one week in every month when the Mists are clear. Since Vladeska is a Darklord, however, she's declared that attempting to do so is desertion...and captured deserters are impaled.
- In Warhammer, this is one of the reasons dwarfs are dying out. Any offense, no matter how minor, is written down, remembered and avenged. This has led to generations of war to avenge some forgotten slight, which again causes them to die out because of the casualties of war. Killing a dwarf in war is also a crime, and you get where this is going.
- Zig-zagged in Warhammer 40,000. Make no mistake, you're going to run into a Hanging Judge if you stick around long enough, but others actually care what you're guilty of so they don't waste precious anti-magic bullets on mundane criminals, or send Chaos cultists to infiltrate valuable penal legions. Other sectors like Ultramar even have regular judicial systems. It really depends on the planet you're on, and the scale of the crimes everyone else is committing.
- The Malleus Maleficarum from Witch Girls Adventures consider being a Witch a crime punishable by death, regardless of how they use their powers. Torment and kill mundanes for your amusement? Death! Turn the school bully into a frog because he's picking on your friend and you're a kid who doesn't know any better? Death! Local doctor who covertly uses their magic to help when regular medicine isn't enough? Death! Benevolent princess of a fantasy world come to Earth to study abroad and use your magic to help people? Death!
- Colonel McKinsey, the base commander for the Spare Squadron, in Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown, is such a glory hounding neidermeyer, that he will throw any insubordination, no matter how minor it is, such as how one convict called him out how he will just sit on his ass collecting medals, into solitary confinement.
- The Adventures of Robin Hood: Hanging is the answer for murder, thievery, poaching, trespassing...
- Avernum (and its original version, Exile), a series of shareware RPGs, used it very straight. The introductory text suggests you were probably thrown through the one-way portal to the underworld for stealing a loaf of bread or speaking out (or even simply "not fitting in"), and NPCs you meet will admit to being there for anything from being on the wrong side after a regime change to having had rebels hold a meeting at their inn to, in one case, being lesbians.
- The last one had a whole new spin put on it in Exile III when you meet a random bureaucrat NPC who has a rainbow-striped pen as a "symbol of pride". Not so unusual, except you find him working in the Empress's fortress! Obviously this suggests that the Empire has seriously relaxed this policy since the Empress succeeded her father.
- Borderlands 2: Expect this to pop up wherever Hyperion is in charge.
- The Sheriff of Lynchwood punishes everything with hanging. Not because she really thinks it's an effective deterrent or anything, she just really likes hanging people.
- Similarly, littering is punishable by death in Opportunity. Complaining about the laws is considered verbal littering.
- Also, Overlook. If Hyperion's in a generous mood, the Grinder (i.e. machine full of large, crushing gears) will only be used to punish "egregious" crimes. Like profanity.
- The law system of Long Life Town in Chulip works like this. Every time you commit any crime, you get a "crime stamp" on your record. You aren't punished until you get three crime stamps, then you go to the Graveyard. This only applies if you commit three different crimes, though; committing the same crime multiple times won't get you more crime stamps.
- In City of Heroes, registered superhumans are allowed (even encouraged) to pummel, burn, electrocute, irradiate, freeze, shoot with automatic weapons, and drain the souls of people with suspected criminal affiliation for such crimes as purse-snatching, minor vandalism, or simply loitering in a public area.
- Up until the release of the City of Villains stand-alone expansion, you were always "arresting" or "subduing" your targets; this implies that you either held back the ridiculous powers just enough to knock someone out, or they get the same "saved from instant death" teleportation treatment players get. If you make (or become) a villain, you do indeed get to go "take out" people, and sometimes they'll even outright say you're to kill them.
- Discussed in the Robin Hood video game Conquests of the Longbow. After Tuck hands the captive Sheriff of Nottingham some venison, the Sheriff claims that it's just one more crime against them. To which Will Scarlet says "Who cares? One crime or a hundred, the penalty is the same - the rope."
- In the adventure mode of Dwarf Fortress, every crime you commit is punished by the whole town trying to kill you! Even if you only steal a single bolt. Even the kids try to end your life! The fortress mode has a proportionate (if somewhat crude) justice system in place.
- Lampshaded in a loading screen in Fallout 3: Since the Wasteland has no system of law and punishment, if you wrong someone, prepare to pay with your life. Murder? Death! Stole some food? Death! Turned on a radio that doesn't belong to you? Death!
- And the fun continues in Fallout: New Vegas. You haven't lived till you've had all of Camp McCarran come down on you like the fist of an angry god after ganking one of their butter knives. The only upshot this time is that they don't all assume you're going to steal whatever passes under your crosshair and constantly remind you that they can see you eyeing their stuff.
- Even better since the NCR (who controls Camp McCarran) prides itself for actually having a system of law and punishment - one of the first factions you interact with are escaped NCR prisoners. Although this is lampshaded in a loading screen, too the NCR is apparently very unhappy about being forced into the position of the Mojave's police force and, as such, have made most crimes punishable by instant execution.
- In the immortal words of Primm's new sheriff: "Howdy-do folks, I'm Sheriff Meyers. Be good, or I'll shoot you dead."
- And the fun continues in Fallout: New Vegas. You haven't lived till you've had all of Camp McCarran come down on you like the fist of an angry god after ganking one of their butter knives. The only upshot this time is that they don't all assume you're going to steal whatever passes under your crosshair and constantly remind you that they can see you eyeing their stuff.
- Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise: All criminals in Eden City are pursued with lethal force, and anyone who surrenders is sentenced to the gladiator ring. Eden really is a paradise compared to the rest of the post-apocalypse wasteland, and anyone stupid enough to mug an old lady while the police have kill-on-sight orders is begging for a quick death. The rule is used to justify the dissonance between Kenshiro living in a Kamachuro-styled wasteland colony while constantly murdering (not beating up, straight up murdering) petty criminals.
- Deliberately invoked in the backstory of Gothic, where the punishment for any crime was imprisonment in a mining colony since the kingdom needed the magical ore from these colonies to make swords for their armies to use in the war against the orcs. In the end, they lost.
- In Hitman, get caught strangling a security guard to death with piano wire? Met with deadly force. Get caught taking the clothes of a dead or unconscious construction worker? Deadly force. Wave a handgun or knife around? Deadly force. Enter the employees only area of a restaurant? Deadly force. Walk around a hotel in your bathing suit? Deadly force. And finally, set off a metal detector with what could be car keys or a watch? Without even checking to see if you did in fact have a weapon, immediate deadly force.
- In Liberal Crime Squad, if death penalty laws go Arch-conservative, every crime is punished by death. From terrorism (causing a meltdown at the nuclear power plant) to loitering.
- Midnight Train: The eponymous Midnight Express imprisons criminals inside its Prison Dimension and psychologically torments them regardless of what crime they committed. Committing perjury, illegally experimenting and making chemicals, accidentally killing the mayor's son, and stealing jewels, as done by Neil, Diana, Apollo, and Selene, respectively, gets them the same treatment as Luna, Cynthia, and Justice I, who have killed tons of people on behalf of their organization, Black Gear.
- The watchmen in NetHack's Gnomish Mines will kill you for any crime they see, including stealing from shops, picking a lock, or drinking too much from a fountain. Fortunately their definition of "crime" is very specific, and they take no notice as you kill every gnome and critter in the place.
- In Path of Exile, criminals of the small island nation of Oriath are sent off on a boat and dumped off the shores of the nearby continent of Wraeclast, a land teeming with monsters and undead, for all crimes ranging from serial murder to speaking out against the church. Your character is one of these exiles. In truth, it's a method for High Templar Dominus to obtain test subjects for his thaumaturgic experiments.
- Justified in the Reincarnation series of browser games; the demon isn't looking for any one crime in particular, just evidence that his targets are still generally evil, so doing something mean-spirited and gross will get you death just as well as actual murder.
- Inspector Carmelita Fox of Sly Cooper fame is a firm believer in this, believing that all lawbreakers should be brought to justice no matter what. Whether you're a jaywalker, a murderer, or a simple thief, if you do a crime, she can and will chase you to the ends of the Earth. It should be noted that this is in more of a Lawful Stupid manner (given that Carmelita's a professional cop first and foremost) than full-on Black-and-White Insanity, as this doesn't stop her from having a Dating Catwoman relationship with Sly himself, or teaming up with the Cooper Gang to take down the Big Bad in the end.
- This is the major set up and conflict of Ultima V, with the virtues from the last game turned into laws with very nasty punishments.
- Danganronpa has the school rules set so that breaking any of them at all is punishable by death. This goes from lending other students your ID card to murder. Murder technically isn't against the rules, as it is encouraged — unless the other students catch you.
- The entirety of Goanimate videos. You could litter on the sidewalk and get sentenced to 60 years or even worse...death. An even more ludicrous example of this is Caillou getting arrested for simply being a baby show character after calling the cops that his dad was going to rob a bank.
- OverSimplified: Robespierre, in the second French Revolution video, ordered people to be sent to the guillotine whether they were suspected political opponents or were simply committing petty infractions such as complaining about the price of bread or addressing a man as Monsieur, or even looking like they're thinking anti revolutionary thoughts.
- Element Animation's Villagers from Villager News are put in the Pit of Death for any crime, whether it's stealing or littering or not giving away the antidote to giant-creeper-ness.
- Stated to be the case for the Alternian justice system in Homestuck. Legislascerators gather evidence of crimes committed. This evidence is presented to His Honorable Tyranny, who dispenses justice if the accused is brought to court. The only crimes seen in-comic that have been prosecuted, however, were all pretty major ones (murder - Vriska; murder, pillaging, and property destruction - Mindfang; and embezzlement from royal funds - Lemonsnout) so it is possible that minor ones are just not brought to court since they aren't worth His Honorable Tyranny's time. It is stated, however, that even if the accused later turns out to have not committed the crime they were convicted of... well, they're now guilty of wasting the court's time, aren't they?
- I'm the Grim Reaper: What Scarlet finds out with her second sinner. The red X appears on sinners, be it a murderer or a thief, a sinner is a sinner. After discovering this she tries to find out more about her targets to make sure she is actually killing a vile person rather than someone that just stole something quick to eat.
- Averted when the sinner is actually in Hell though, as Satan places sinners in the level of hell that fit their crime. When Scarlet sees a serial killer only going to the 6th level, she is horrified and wonders what she did to justify being sent to the 9th.
- Rather Anviliciously done in Muertitos. After a run-in with the school bully, Honeo is suspended, and when his father showed up and demanded to know exactly what Honeo did, the principal says that he struggled to defend himself and get away, thus potentially hurting his attacker, when he should have gone limp and taken the abuse. This comes with a footnote saying that the joke is that there's no joke, and this is actually how some zero-tolerance policies work. Just to be extra cynical, it also comes to light that the bully didn't get in trouble at all because his father is a major financial benefactor of the school.
- In The Order of the Stick, the Empire of Blood seems to punish all crimes by making those convicted into gladiators who are imprisoned until they're killed in the arena. If a prisoner survives for long, he's ransomed off to his family for obscene amounts of money.
- In the Sluggy Freelance story arc "Phoenix Rising", Oasis sets herself up as the defender of Podunkton by killing any criminal she finds. Oddly enough, she's the hero of the story, although most of the secondary characters are at least a little uneasy about her.
- The Water Phoenix King: Tamantha, a massive deconstruction of classic karma systems. All crimes may not be equal, but all 'sinners' are judged with death and a suffocating afterlife, and all crimes are punished with a randomly generated curse on the world, with the severity dependent on the crime. The worst part is that the system's virtues are racism, sexism, and elitism - crime is defined as any deviation from being a self-righteous bigoted asshole, and the weakest-willed, most obedient xenophobes (who are probably indirectly responsible for much of the world's suffering, given such people under this system would usually be pretty high up on the caste system to be protected from the overflow of curses) are the only ones in heaven. Naturally, the protagonists are doing everything they can to kill karma.
- In Adventure Time, the earl of Lemongrab has some... er, interesting concepts when it comes to punishing those who do wrong. Making a mess? Thirty days in the dungeon. Asking questions? Thirty-TWO days in the dungeon. Refusing to clean up mess, or asking who exactly Lemongrab is talking to? Three hours dungeon. Harmless prank? Seven years dungeon, no trials. Assuring Lemongrab that the prank was harmless? Twelve years dungeon. Elaborate painful prank involving spicy food? ONE MILLION YEARS DUNGEON!!! (Lemongrab isn't evil- he's just young, angry, and a bit of an idiot.)
- In the second episode of Aqua Unit Patrol Squad 1 (and at the end of the first one), Shake awakens from a cryogenic lab to arrive in a strange new world. Every time someone does anything immoral, they are killed instantly by a bolt of lightning. Later, Shake discovers that the cause of all this is an alien named Allen (actually Alien, but the sign maker spelled it wrong) living in a tower in the Earth's orbit, sending lightning bolts from above.
- Played for Laughs in Avatar: The Last Airbender when Azula becomes the Fire Lord because the punishment for five-minutes delay or any "treason" of this range is banishment and not death.
- In The Batman episode "The Laughing Bat", Joker decides to dress up as Batman and fight crime for a change. Unfortunately, any "crime" he comes across, such as jaywalking, one item too many at the express line, or just kids playing with chalk (or "graffiti", as Joker puts it), receives the same punishment: Joker Gas.
- In the very last episode of Batman: The Animated Series, "Judgment Day," a vigilante called The Judge (a faceless British judge, complete with a powdered wig atop his cloak), believes that criminals who avoid prosecution must be privately killed for justice to be served. A Gotham City councilman who wants to appear tough on crime likes this attitude and begins cooperating with the Judge. This alliance backfires horribly when the Judge discovers that the councilman has been keeping a slush fund, and decides that is a crime punishable by death. The Judge also attempts to kill The Penguin, Killer Croc, and Two-Face - even though all Penguin, Croc, and Two-Face had done was participate in a black-market jewel deal and manage to avoid getting caught for it. At the end of the episode, when the Judge is unmasked, he turns out to be Two-Face, who had developed a third Split Personality that the other two personalities were not aware of.
- Darkwing Duck episode "Time and Punishment" features Darkwarrior Duck, an alternate-future version of Darkwing who thought Gosalyn had died and eventually overreacted into this trope. Once he'd cleaned the streets of all obvious major criminals, he began to enforce his will on the citizenry for such "crimes" as staying out too late and having high cholesterol. Upon learning that Gosalyn isn't dead, but was instead brought to the future by a time machine, Darkwarrior dreams of using said machine to go back in time and do such things as improve the Code of Hammurabi (Ever imagine you'd hear the death penalty offered multiple times in Disney animation?) and be present when the first prehistoric life form crawled out of the sea and onto dry land so he could "get a few things straight" with it concerning how he expected it to behave. Fortunately, events in the episode make sure the Knight Templar version of him never comes to pass.
- Though the later comic book series reveals that Darkwarrior Duck does still exist in an Alternate Universe.
- Dexter's Laboratory: In the Dynomutt, Dog Wonder crossover "Dyno-Might", Dexter becomes convinced that Dynomutt is too much of a goofy idiot sidekick to be any help to Blue Falcon, so he decides to design a new "Dynomutt X-90" to replace him. While Dynomutt X-90 initially starts out arresting armed muggers, he soon spirals off into this. Parking violation? The car gets eaten. Jaywalking? Machine guns. Littering? Fire breathing on the litterer. Finally, he's about to zap a little girl with laser eyes for violating a "Keep Off the Grass" sign when Blue Falcon and Dexter step in; he promptly declares them "guilty of obstruction of justice," No Sells their attempts to restrain him, and starts crushing them both with Combat Tentacles.
- The Fairly OddParents: At the end of "Transparents", Principal Waxaplax gives everyone a week of detention: Timmy for faking his show and tell, Chester and AJ for going into the girl's bathroom, and Crocker for trapping her in a toilet paper cocoon and promising two small boys they could enslave the Earth.
- Futurama has the Robot Santa, originator of the quote at the top of the page, who is programmed to decide who has been naughty and who has been nice. Trouble is, his standards are set quite too high, and everybody is naughty... except Zoidberg.
Fry: This is not how Xmas is supposed to be. In my days, Xmas was about bringing people together, not blowing them apart.
- In the Justice League episode "In Blackest Night" the Guardians of the Universe say that the Manhunters "Could not understand the subtle gradations between good and evil". Sounds like it might have been the trope.
- The Alternate Universe setting of the Justice Lords showed people being arrested and carted away for something as simple as complaining about the check at a restaurant being totaled wrong, as it constituted a "public disturbance".
- Men in Black: The Series: In "The Worm-Guy Guy Syndrome", the Lawful Stupid enforcers from planet Kalifadik come to Earth to teleport alien fugitives to life imprisonment for any violation, no matter how minor.
- In one episode of The Powerpuff Girls (1998), the Mayor decided that he was relying on the girls too much and took matters into his own hands by patrolling the city in a hot-air balloon and punishing any criminal he sees with a spring-loaded boxing glove. Unfortunately, his behavior soon devolved into this trope, forcing the girls to set him straight.
- The Simpsons:
- In the "Treehouse of Horror V" story "Nightmare Cafeteria", when the teachers at school begin eating students, the slightest of infractions can get a student sent to detention, which is a death sentence.
- In Treehouse of Horror X, repeat offender Snake falls afoul of Springfield's ludicrous "Three Strikes" law note . His first strike was torching an orphanage, his second was blowing up a bus full of nuns (Snake claims "that was self-defence"), but he is sentenced to death for his third crime- smoking in a no-smoking area.
- In "The PTA Disbands", when the school loses its teachers and takes on large numbers of grossly unqualified substitutes, Jasper makes everything the kids might do punishable by "a paddlin'". This is a spoof of the Cool Hand Luke "night in the box" speech mentioned above.
- In On a Clear Day I Can't See My Sister, Chief Wiggum throws Bart in jail for violating his Hollywood Restraining Order. It's then revealed that Snake is in the adjacent cell for trying to kidnap the president, and Wiggum's fellow officer Lou is in the cell next to him for bringing Wiggum cold coffee.
- In The Venture Bros., Underland, led by the tyrannical Baron Underbheit, has "Underlaw". All infractions of Underlaw are punished with death. This winds up annoying Underbheit when he captures Dr. Venture and needs to hold him before killing him. Since Underland has no prison, he's forced to lock him in the pantry.
- Downplayed in ThunderCats (2011) when Lion-O attempts to shame a Powderkeg Crowd of Thunderian townspeople by announcing that a pair of stockaded Lizard scavengers, enslaved for raiding crops, "don't deserve this [harassment]," their pointman replies: "These barbarians deserve death!" And with that, an Angry Mob is born. The surprise comes when King Claudus is incredulous at Lion-O's attempt to stop them.
- The Quintesson's court system in The Transformers works this way. The punishment for all crimes, from being Transformers to showing up on their planet, is execution by Sharkticon pit. What's worse is the outcome for all verdicts is the same. Prisoners found innocent are thrown into the pit the same as the guilty.
- 15001800 Gold Coast Africa. Because slaves were so profitable, the local rulers began to make slavery a punishment to sell people to the Europeans. The incentives of this system quickly became clear to the leaders. Murder? Slavery. Treason? Slavery. Theft? Slavery. Late in paying taxes? Slavery. Say something rude? Slavery. Mentioned in the book Roots.
- Joe Arpaio, Sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona (the county that contains Phoenix) 19932017, deliberately made it policy that a stay in his jail be as horrible as he can for everybody who passes through it (prison terms that are shorter or for lesser crimes can be served in jail) — regardless of whether you're in there because you've been accused of murder or because you didn't pay a parking ticket; everybody who enters is subjected to the same awful conditions; furthermore, these policies failed to distinguish between inmates who are serving a sentence and those who are being held over the course of an ongoing case (because they were denied bail or don't have the money to pay it), and since the latter are still considered innocent in the eyes of the law, this treatment that was questionable even for convicted criminals became a real issue when it was applied even to those who had not yet been convicted of a crime. This (combined with his policies targeting undocumented immigrants) played a significant role in his defeat by Democrat Paul Penzone in the 2016 election; between voters opposed to Arpaio's policies on principle and those who felt that the innumerable lawsuits and massive national opprobrium the policies were generating weren't worth whatever benefit they had, there were enough people who no longer wanted him around for him to be voted out.
- This is the practice behind many "Zero Tolerance" laws in schools and workplaces. In this case, the broad and severe punishments are supposed to take the "burden" of decision-making out of the hands of teachers and administrators (particularly to protect them from getting sued). This has led to the problem of otherwise-outstanding students getting suspended or expelled for possessing such "dangerous substances" as Midol or mouthwash and such "dangerous weapons" as fingernail clippers. This leads to such ridiculous situations as middle-schoolers receiving suspension for fighting back against bullies who receive suspensions for the same or even lesser amounts of time. As demonstrated in this Not Always Learning story, particularly badly thought out rules against fights can even cause fights since students know they'll be punished either way and might as well earn the punishment.
- In 1688 in England, there were 50 offences on the statute book punishable by death, but that number had almost quadrupled by 1776, and it reached 220 by the end of the century. The "Bloody Code" included some 220 crimes punishable by death, including "being in the company of Gypsies for one month", "strong evidence of malice in a child aged 714 years of age", and "blacking the face or using a disguise whilst committing a crime". Children were commonly executed for such minor crimes as stealing. There was no real rhyme or reason to any of this — while some of the newly-minted capital crimes, such as "arson in a naval dockyard", seemed perfectly reasonable (indeed, arson in a naval dockyard was one of few capital crimes remaining in the last years of the death penalty in the UK), it just happened that a few MPs in 18th-century England were a bit bloody-minded, and whenever something happened that disgusted them, they said "why, There Should Be a Law" and promptly decided that whatever offended them at that moment deserved death.
- To cancel out the trope, only one class of executed criminals' bodies were available for dissection by medical students: those who had been convicted of murder. Apparently, going unburied was a fate even worse than death (in religious doctrine, being denied Christian burial was indeed a punishment, often used for suicides).
- Another reason for so many capital crimes was that, until the 1820s, Britain didn't have a formal police force, meaning that the chances of catching a criminal were small, so the punishments for the few caught had to act as a deterrent.
- This period also gave us the sayings "in for a penny, in for a pound" and "one may as well get hanged for a sheep as a lamb". Since even crimes that had lesser punishments than death tended to have fairly disproportionate punishments, criminals, realizing that how much they stole was irrelevant to the sentence, began to shoot for larger hauls. Why bother stealing a mere penny or lamb, when one could steal a pound or a sheep and the punishment was no worse if caught? And if there were any witnesses, they might kill them, too, to escape a death sentence that would come just as easily for theft as committing murder.
- In a similar vein, in most legal systems, the punishment for attempted murder is generally significantly lighter than that for actual murder. This is mostly to discourage people from going back to finish the job if they didn't manage to kill their guy the first time around.
- The problem actually existed even earlier: in Utopia (1516), one of the characters critiques the idea of the death sentence for theft over the same possible result.
- In practice, this may have led to more crimes as well as worse crimes: many judges and juries modified the charge, ignored evidence, or outright acquitted certain offenders so as to avoid having to hang them for some of the more ridiculous statutes. Thus, it led to legal corruption and disrespect for the very law they were tasked to enforce. Ironically, because of this, the period under which the Bloody Code occurred actually had fewer executions. Moreover, death sentences were commonly commuted in more "ridiculous" cases and the offenders were sent to the Army and the Navy or Australia. Nothing in the law says you can't sentence someone to death and then reduce the sentence for "merciful" reasons. At times, this happened simply to empty out their prisons, as they couldn't even hang people fast enough. This was far too often simply a slower death sentence—a huge percentage of enlisted soldiers died of diseases without ever even getting to see a battle, the mortality rates on both naval ships and especially transport vessels to Australia were horrible, and Australia itself was no picnic. Lots of people died in prison from "gaol fever" as well, before ever getting hanged. Therefore, even non-capital sentences could mean death functionally.
- "Three Strikes Laws" are statutes enacted by state governments in the United States which require the state courts to impose a life sentence on persons who have been convicted of three or more serious criminal offenses. Some defendants have been given sentences of 25 years to life in prison for such crimes as shoplifting golf clubs (Gary Ewing, previous strikes for burglary and armed robbery) or, along with a violent assault, stealing a slice of pepperoni pizza from a group of children (Jerry Dewayne Williams, previous convictions for robbery and attempted robbery, sentence later reduced to six years). Some managed to score themselves sentences of 50 years to life for stealing videotapes (Leandro Andrade, previous strikes for petty theft, residential burglary, transportation of marijuana, and escape from prisonnote ). In Rummel v. Estelle (1980), the Supreme Court upheld life with possible parole for third-strike felony fraud in Texas, which arose from a refusal to repay $120.75 paid for air conditioning repair that was subsequently considered unsatisfactory.
- The Athenian law code of Draco. Much like the Bloody Code, while not all crimes had the same punishment, his constitution did set death as the punishment for numerous minor offenses. Unlike the Bloody Code, however, he justified his... erm... liberality with the death penalty by saying that it was the only fitting punishment he could think of for certain minor crimes, and as for worse offenses, there really isn't any worse punishment than death, is there? The Greeks weren't particularly fond of torture at this point. From this, we get the term "Draconian" to describe harsh laws; the fact that his name means "dragon" is merely a poetic coincidence.
- Similar to Draco's rule, Wallachia under Vlad the Impaler. Legend has it that people were so afraid of him (and his punishments) that one day he (purposely) left a gold cup in the street, and the next day it was still there.
- This is a common criticism of the current anti-terrorism law of Argentina, as it is completely unspecific and may be open to any interpretation. According to it, terrorism is any action that seeks to worry the population or influence actions of the government. Blow up a building? Terrorism. Kill top-level government politicians? Terrorism. Stage protests against abusive taxes? Terrorism. Conduct a study, determine that the annual inflation rate of the Argentinian Peso is over 25%, and publish it? Terrorism.
- The Khmer Rouge government of Cambodia considered the ownership of money, the collection of fruit by yourself, owning Western clothing, criticizing the government and sleeping on the job to be all punishable by death. Almost anything that would appear to violate the ideology of the dictator Pol Pot would send someone to prison, where 99.9% of inmates were later killed. Even Khmer Rouge cadres themselves were arrested because of how corrupt the government was and how easy it was to commit a "crime" accidentally.
- This is exactly why the Qin empire only lasted twenty years after Qin Shi Huangdi died. The laws were extremely draconian, with the death penalty being prescribed for minor crimes for reasons similar to Draco's (to terrorize the populace). However, one of these laws created a rather perverse incentive: the penalty for tardiness in arriving at one's post in the government and military was death. One company of soldiers managed to get stuck in the swamps of the southern provinces on its way to reinforce a northern fortress against barbarian attack and realized they would not be able to report on time. It dawned on them that since the penalty for tardiness was death, and the penalty for mutiny was also death, they stood a better chance of living if they revolted (also, being killed in battle would be more honorable than summary execution). Thus they charged into a town, declared their captain Chen Sheng King of Chu (Chu being one of the nation-states conquered by the Qin),note and attracted an army of xenophobes and disgruntled peasants (who had also found Qin rule distastefully foreign and oppressive), beginning a rebellion that ultimately led to the end of the Qin Dynasty and the establishment of the pan-Chinese Han Empire.
- The founder of the Han Dynasty, Liu Bang, had a similar story during his rise to power. Though born a peasant, he had through his personal charisma made connections that ended up with him as a (low-ranking) officer in the Qin army. He was assigned to escort a number of prisoners from his province to work on Qin Shihuang's tomb. However, a number of the prisoners escaped, and guess what the punishment for letting prisoners escape was? That's right, death. So Liu decided he would desert the army since at least as a fugitive he could try to survive. He also let the rest of the prisoners go free. A number of them joined him in hiding, where they became the nucleus of the army he eventually led to win the throne.
- The list of capital offenses in the modern People's Republic of China goes from the "classical" — murder, rape, kidnapping, treason, espionage — to offences such as aggravated assault, robbery, drug trafficking, and economic crimes such as defrauding the Treasury, mass fraud, smuggling, forging VAT receipts, embezzlement, bribery, counterfeiting money and aggravated theft. Unless you can say Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!, such as the infamous and memetic "My dad is Li Gang!", or in some cases, Screw the Rules, I Have Money! where people have bribed someone else to serve their sentence for them.
- Parents often impress on their kids that no matter what you do you'll get in trouble if you're being bad. A common response along these lines when a single-digit-aged child steals something for the first time, no matter how cheap or minor, is to threaten to call (some actually go through with it) the police and Scare 'Em Straight. This can backfire terribly, however, if the police actually do arrest and jail them. Meanwhile, at least one police force actively discourages this practice.
- In real life, this sort of situation can occur because of the felony murder rule, which provides that each and every member of a group involved in the commission of a felony if anyone dies as a result, even if accidental, is liable for first-degree murder, and thus the maximum punishment. So killing a guard during a bank robbery, or running over a pedestrian during the getaway, makes every member of the gang eligible for life in prison without parole, or (where still available) the death penalty. But it also means any additional murders are "free" since they can't be punished any worse. So, killing witnesses or intervening cops after someone dies, are crimes of no significance to the criminals, since they're already eligible for the maximum anyway. This is one of the reasons such laws are criticized (and have been abolished in certain jurisdictions), plus the fact that it's held to negate individual responsibility (for instance, assuming one member of a gang kills someone when it isn't part of their overall plan, or it's accidental as mentioned earlier). In some particularly egregious cases there have been felony murder convictions for the fact that a cop killed one of the perpetrators while the heist went down.
- Among the Jehovah's Witnesses, the following are deemed serious sins worthy of a judicial committee: they include major crimes such as murder, rape and arson, acts deemed as moral failings such as homosexuality, polygamy, use of tobacco and pornography and religious offenses such as apostasy, spiritism, joining the military, voting (since it contravenes the doctrine of isolation from the world) and blood transfusion. Their punishment can go from mere reprimand to disfellowshipping, which involves total shunning from other members, relatives included. Official publications from the Watch Tower linked disfellowshipment to the death penalty: