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Artistic License – Law

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Hans Moleman: Are you really allowed to execute people in a local jail?
Reverend Lovejoy: From this point on, no talking.

This is a listing of liberties taken with how the law is presented for entertainment.

Real litigation or prosecution takes months, not minutes, and almost none of it happens in court. Watching lawyers read mountains of documents and write briefs doesn't make for an enjoyable show, so creators modify the process to be entertaining to the audience. This causes the legal procedures portrayed in fiction to have little to no correlation with how the process would go down in Real Life.

Laws varies from country to country and between jurisdictions. What may seem like an inaccurate portrayal of the legal process by residents of one region may actually be valid legal procedure in another, and vice versa. (This is common in historical works as most legal systems have been fine-tuned over centuries. Go back 200 years and chances are court procedures are comparatively sloppy.) As with all Acceptable Breaks from Reality, examples can become particularly egregious, especially when it's the substance of the law, not the procedure, that the creators are obfuscating.

  • Abomination Accusation Attack: Making these is a great way to find yourself receiving a cease-and-desist from the other party's attorney, and if you don't back off or they can demonstrate that they suffered economic harm as the result of inflammatory falsehoods, you have a good shot at finding yourself on the wrong end of a defamation suit.
  • Absurdly Powerful School Jurisdiction: Sometimes Truth in Television, depending on the school and the country in question. In the end, however, schools and universities are not sovereign entities; they are still subject to local and national laws. Some of the things that student councils attempt to get away with in fiction would not only never be allowed by a real university, but those who try to implement the schemes anyway would be expelled at best; several of them could wind up with someone getting arrested.
  • Accidental Marriage: If you didn't freely consent to a marriage, it's not a legal marriage, and can easily be annulled before a judge. After all, a marriage (legally speaking) is a contract between the spouses; if you didn't consent to the contract or signed it under duress, it's not legally binding. This is true for any kind of contract, let alone a marriage agreement. Not to mention, there's a few checks in the process before you can even sign a marriage agreement in the first place. If someone tried to force you into a marriage when you were drunk, high, unconscious, under the legal age to be married, with a gun to your head, or under threat of something terrible happening to you if you backed out, anybody could easily see that you weren't doing this of your own free will and refuse to issue a marriage license in the first place.
  • Ambulance Chaser: In some jurisdictions, being one of these is illegal. And even in places where it's legal, the practice is still viewed with a lot of suspicion. Taking a worthless case just to shake someone down with a scary letter and make them panic-settle may, at the very least, net you an envelope in the mail with a none-too-polite letter from their attorney. The same goes for representing clients in an overly aggressive, belligerent, and uncivil manner; taking a no-holds-barred, scorched-earth approach to representation is a great way to lose cases, get sued for malpractice, and, again, find yourself on the wrong end of a smackdown from a pissed-off judge or state bar association. Attorneys with an established reputation for being unethical tend to find themselves struggling to operate over the long term, as they will not be extended the favors by other attorneys that are often crucial to practicing (and will likely be met with a boxing glove treatment during any sort of negotiation), and are similarly unlikely to be extended the benefit of the doubt or any sort of understanding by judges.
  • Amoral Attorney: Attorneys are supposed to be impartial and give all clients the best representation that they can possibly provide. A criminal defense attorney will tell you that providing the best possible representation to the worst people serves a twofold purpose: it keeps the police and prosecution honest and forces them to do things by the book, and it eliminates the possibility of any sort of successful appeal from the defendant. If they absolutely cannot represent a client in good faith, they have an ethical and legal obligation to relieve themselves of their duty. The level of moral bankruptcy that is often seen in fiction would cause most attorneys to be disbarred, or even arrested, a long time ago.
  • Artistic License – Child Labor Laws: When kids in fiction work despite being too young.
  • Artistic License – Law Enforcement: Inaccuracies regarding how law enforcement agencies are portrayed.
  • Bail Equals Freedom: Bail is treated as an easy way to skip a future trial and possible sentencing. In real life, it's a monetary guarantee that the accused will show up for trial and "jumping bail" is a crime in itself. Flight risks or those who pose a clear and present threat to the community will generally not be granted bail, and additional conditions may be attached depending on the nature of the charges; no-contact orders, curfews, travel restrictions, and substance restrictions are all fairly common ones.
  • Bait-and-Switch: While you sometimes have a case if this happens in real life, the standards for a successful claim are much higher than in fiction. The seller must be offering an enticing product or service that they have no intention of selling so they can sell a similar, but lower-quality product or service. If they actually have the product, or ran out but offer rainchecks, or indicate that it's first-come first-serve and you got there after they were sold out, you probably don't have a case. Same goes for the concept of "promissory estoppel" (a court forcing one party to hold up their end of an agreement that they had withdrawn). It comes up a lot in employment situations and commercial services, and the standards are very high — for a successful promissory estoppel request, you have to have sunk a significant amount of time, money, and resources into something that you had every reason to believe was a done deal, only to have it arbitrarily withdrawn and for you to be in a much worse place than you were when you started (e.g., you moved across the country for a job you were offered and bought a house near the job, only for the offer to be withdrawn at the last minute).
  • Beware of Vicious Dog: In real life, a poorly-behaved dog that attacks members of the public unprovoked can usually cause the owner to be fined and/or ordered to control or relinquish the dog, as well as being opened up to civil liability for any injuries or property damage caused by the dog. If the dog is still a problem, or if it really does serious harm to someone, the dog may be euthanized.
  • Chalk Outline: Might have been occasionally used in the distant past before cameras, but not used at all any more thanks to more advanced technology.
  • Chewbacca Defense: Creative or unorthodox tactics have a place in the courtroom. Frivolous and/or sophistic ones do not. A good judge will tell an attorney who is using one to quit wasting the court's time. Those who ignore the warnings will quickly find themselves on the business end of a benchslap, and a long and consistent history of this will absolutely result in sanctions up to and including suspensions or disbarment (though to get disbarred, you usually have to really get the bar association to hate you and have at least a few moments that are so ridiculous, are in such bad faith, and fly so flagrantly in the face of basic human decency and professional ethics that anything less would compromise the integrity of the profession).
  • Citizenship Marriage: Just because you marry someone from another country doesn't mean you automatically become a citizen of that country — at best, it reduces the time it takes to become a naturalized citizen. Immigration authorities are quite wise to the usual green card/sham marriage tricks.note 
  • Conviction by Contradiction: While a legal case has to hold together logically to some extent, "logic dictates that this must be what happened" is not sufficient for a conviction in a criminal case. In a civil case, the principle of res ipsa loquitur (the thing speaks for itself) applies, and it basically amounts to "we can't conclusively prove just how this occurred, but there is simply no explanation that does not open the defendant up to liability" (e.g., a section of pallet racking collapses and crushes an employee; whatever the reason may be, properly maintained and loaded pallet racks are not supposed to suddenly collapse on people). Furthermore, an investigation that seems may be running solely on the fact someone used the wrong grammar on his statement as "the" clue (to give an example, but equally flimsy things have been used in fiction) would probably be dismissed as harassment or hearsay.
  • Conviction by Counterfactual Clue: A statement, testimony, or alibi from someone at the witness stand is not automatically and completely discredited just because it contains one item that isn't absolutely true. Trials in some places happen months or even years after the fact, depending on the crime. In that time, details can very easily become fuzzy in a person's memory.
  • Cops Need the Vigilante: While law enforcement officers and agencies can hire or use a civilian or a non-governmental organization to help solve a crime, anyone involved must follow the same rules they do. They are not allowed to circumvent the law's own rules; it's extremely illegal. And those who try will find evidence gathered by this vigilante thrown out thanks to the "fruit of the poisonous tree" doctrine — essentially, since the act of getting the evidence was illegal, the evidence itself is also illegal and therefore can't be used in court, no matter how incriminating it is.
  • Courtroom Antics: Any attempts to spice up court proceedings with wackiness would most likely result in the perpetrator(s) being reprimanded by the courthouse staff.
  • Creator's Culture Carryover: Real Life law varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. We seriously recommend that you consult your local laws, otherwise you (and your show) will be mocked at the very least.
  • Crime of Self-Defense: What is and is not "self-defense" is complicated and thorny legal ground, and varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Generally speaking, self-defense claims require that the threat instigated the event or massively escalated it (and, more importantly, you didn't; if someone else was the aggressor but you responded in kind or ran your mouth and said things that any reasonable person would see as making a bad situation worse, good luck claiming that you didn't bring it on yourself and that your use of force was a necessary response to an unprovoked threat), you weren't able to get away, you only used the amount of force necessary to remove the threat, and immediately stopped once the threat was gone. And even that only might work. Telling the nice police officer "But it was self-defense!" won't keep you out of courtnote , and it is most certainly not a defense to things like Disproportionate Retribution. Furthermore, a history of violent offenses that allegedly occurred in self-defense is likely to lead a judge (or really any reasonable person) to conclude that, at best, someone is too good at placing themselves in these sorts of situations to be blameless, and at worst is a violent person who thinks they have discovered "one weird trick" for getting away with starting or massively escalating fights and seriously injuring or killing people.
  • Crooked Contractor: There are plenty of them in real life, and they are often just as hard to permanently get rid of (shady contractors dissolving, laying low, then resurfacing as a new business entity in a year or so are very Truth in Television, and getting money out of them is usually just as hard as it is in fiction due to their tendency to be judgment-proof due to minimal assets and the inherent difficulty of even tracking them down), but many jurisdictions have funds set up to help reimburse people who were done dirty by a contractor who they realistically will never get money from. Larger business entities also have a responsibility to vet prospective contractors and subcontractors, and requesting accident and environmental hazard records is a standard part of due diligence in those scenariosnote .
  • Department of Child Disservices: Family courts and child services hate to separate children from their parents permanently. The mandate of social services is not to punish the parents, but to rehabilitate the family. While they may remove children from a household temporarily, it is usually only until the parents can clean up their act to make the household suitable for the children again. A permanent separation only occurs when the parents are truly unfit and present a clear and present danger to the children.
    • While real-life agencies probably get just as many false reports as they do in fiction (if not more), agents are trained extensively in how to detect false reports. While they are required to investigate them, the typical sources of false reports (angry exes and their families and friends in divorces or custody battles, crazy, vengeful family members, ex-friends or neighbors, or children with certain mental illnesses) will lead agents to approach the case with the assumption that it is unsubstantiated.
  • Diplomatic Impunity: Real-life abuses of it definitely occur, but any nation that values its relationship with the host country will deal with it. International incidents, especially serious criminal offenses, do not foster goodwill. In the case of truly egregious offenses, the host can always declare the offender "Persona Non Grata" (which essentially banishes the person from that country under threat of jail time if they ever come back), though doing so is usually a last resort, as the act of doing so is usually viewed as a giant middle finger to the sending country and is all but guaranteed to significantly strain relations. On the other hand, ignoring parking tickets and other minor violations is absolutely Truth in Television. Matters can be complicated in cases where the offender has committed an offense that is treated far more harshly in the sending country.
  • Disneyland Dad: Non-custodial parents deliberately spoiling their kids, letting them do whatever they want when they visit, or not following through on restrictions or punishments that the custodial parent had instituted just to undermine the custodial parent falls under the mantle of "parental alienation". Judges are wise to it and very quick to tell you to knock it off and/or find you in contempt if you do not comply.
  • Disregard That Statement: There are types of questions an attorney simply may not ask a witness in court. There are types of statements a trial attorney may not make in court. Asking such questions or making such statements deliberately, then backing down from it with "Disregard that" or "Withdrawn" is a risky tactic for a trial lawyer. The courts do have the power to sanction a lawyer who does this excessively or blatantly, not to mention the risk of creating something appeal-worthy; even one of these can lead to a successful appeal for allowing a jury to become unduly prejudiced, since asking or making an extremely loaded or leading question or statement simply cannot be unheard by a jury. As a rule, the sort of things that get said in fiction would get most lawyers in a world of hurt.
  • Divorce Assets Conflict: Divorce has a way of bringing out the absolute worst in people, but the scorched-earth behavior that is often seen in fiction can and will lead to sanctions against both the offending party and their attorney. Your attorney's job is to advocate for your interests financially, not help you wage war on your ex-spouse.
  • Double Standard Rape: Female on Male: Rape is against the law. Female-on-male rape is no exception. Though this was once Truth in Television, as many common law jurisdictions explicitly defined "rape" as a man raping a woman who was not his wife, thereby also allowing the Marital Rape License.
  • Dr. Feelgood: Sometimes Truth in Television, particularly in locales with limited or nonexistent restrictions and transparency related to prescription medicines, or with corrupt monitoring authorities, but many jurisdictions have very strict oversight over the prescribing of medications known to be recreationally abused, and even one overdose from recreationally abused prescription medication (especially opioids) can bring down the wrath of government authorities and end a doctor's career if it is tied to a prescription they wrote.
  • Eagleland Osmosis: People in every country have seen a lot of American Law Procedurals, and often assume the law works similarly when making one set in their own country.
  • Emancipated Child: Less common and more difficult to obtain than TV would have you believe. There has to be evidence that the parents are unfit to take care of them, that there are no relatives willing or able to act as legal guardians, that they are sufficiently mature and capable of making good decisions, and that the child can reasonably support themselves (meaning that they can demonstrate that they are currently financially self-sufficient and will continue to be, as well as being unlikely to apply for welfare or resort to illegal sources of income). They will not be granted custody of younger siblings at the same time, unless circumstances are well and truly bizarre.
  • Empty Cop Threat: They may try it. But they do so knowing it's an empty threat. And really bad examples can be grounds for evidence to be suppressed or an entire case tossed.
  • Enfante Terrible: Out-of-control children who consistently resist all attempts at parental direction, habitually run away and/or are truant, and are involved in wantonly self-destructive, violent, or criminal behavior can be subject to a child in need of supervision (CHINS) petition (nomenclature may differ depending on the locale), which gets family services involved and typically starts with family counseling and community-based care. Incorrigibility petitions exist in some jurisdictions, and those are for more severe cases — if a child is successfully declared incorrigible, they pose a clear, present, and immediate danger to themselves or others, or are so disruptive that they create an unsafe environment for others.
  • Enhanced Interrogation Techniques: In the past, it was used (hence references to "rubber hoses" or "the third degree" or vague threats by cops to "take you down to the station and see how tough you are" in many Hard Boiled Detective novels). Nowadays, while it's still done by some police forces, the cops know very well that it's illegal and will move heaven and earth to keep it out of the courthouse.
  • Evil Debt Collector: Collections is a heavily regulated industry, and the actions agencies can take are heavily controlled. Harassing debtors, publicly shaming them, continuing to contact them after a debt is disputed or proven to be invalid, or other common sleazy collector practices will, at the very least, result in a big fat payout from either a successful lawsuit against the agency or from regulatory fines (often both).
  • Expensive Glass of Crap: Swapping out top-shelf with cheap liquor and charging a premium for it is very illegal, and anyone who is even suspected of doing it (usually when they've been ratted out by a disgruntled former employee) can expect a visit from the regional liquor commission or analogous monitoring authority, and, if caught, can expect stiff fines and quite possibly the suspension or revocation of their liquor license if it's particularly egregious or is not their first time getting caught pulling this sort of thing.
  • Failed Execution, No Sentence: There used to be a time when people surviving an execution (or a set amount of execution attempts, such as being hanged three times) were given a full pardon, either with the argument that it was God's will the prisoner live, or that to try again would be cruel and unusual punishment. More recently (talking at least a hundred-plus years or so), this started to be seen as a no-no (this is why any execution sentencing will have the judge saying that the method will be applied "until (the prisoner is) dead"). Of course, Fiction Isn't Fair and not only does this code live on, but sometimes will be presented in a sillier fashion.
  • Fell Off the Back of a Truck: The law assumes that most reasonable people would raise an eyebrow at items purchased far under market value, or under surreptitious circumstances. If you had reason to believe that something was stolen, and went ahead with the purchase anyways, "I didn't know it was stolen" would not be a successful defense.
  • Fingertip Drug Analysis: At best, it's stupid. One would have to be a reckless idiot to put an unknown substance into their mouth! At worst, it's evidence-tampering. And it's not up to the cop investigating the scene to figure out what a mysterious substance is, anyway. That's what the crime lab is for.
  • Fisticuff-Provoking Comment: This was originally covered under "fighting words" doctrine, and the case people often cite for this is Chaplinsky v New Hampshire. At the time of that ruling, the court reasoned you didn't have a right to free speech if what you say could cause a reasonable person to retaliate with force. However, the scope of the law has been drastically narrowed in the years following. Terminiello v City of Chicago ruled seven years later that the purpose of free speech was to invite dispute, even if it incited people to anger. Cohen v California then narrowed the definition of "fighting words" to any speech that was inherently likely to invoke a violent reaction, not just words that might make a reasonable person want to hit you. Gooding v Wilson then determined that speech which was simply vulgar or offensive was protected under the first amendment (during a case which involved the defendant threatening to choke a police officer no less). Finally, Brandenburg v Ohio ruled that in order for "fighting words" to be outside first amendment protections, it has to have the intent to incite violence and that violence must be imminent and likely to happen. So no, you are not legally justified in punching someone for "hate speech" (a legal term that's already hard to define) under this doctrine — successful uses involve extremely specific circumstances. What is much more likely to happen is that they are used to justify a reduced sentence or award. Say that someone is being sued for assault and battery after they got in a heated argument with another party, repeatedly punched them in the head, and gave them a concussion. During the discovery process, it is revealed that the argument started out fairly minor, was greatly escalated because the plaintiff was belligerent and verbally abusive and deliberately antagonized the defendant, and culminated in physical violence after the plaintiff used a racial slur. In a situation like that, there is a good chance that the plaintiff's conduct would result in a substantially reduced award or (in a criminal case) be treated as a mitigating factor in sentencing.
  • A Fool for a Client: Representing oneself pro se is generally a really bad idea, but there is little truth to the notion that all pro se litigants are either crazy or have no case. Most are just people of limited means trying to resolve a problem to the best of their ability. Crazies and bullies exist, but they do not represent the majority of pro se litigants. Also, courts recognize that a good pro se litigant is trying to resolve their issue, and generally work with them or take it easy on them. Criminal defense is rather different, however. While misdemeanors are regularly handled pro se unless there is a procedural disputenote , in many jurisdictions in the US, pro se defense for a felony requires the judge to explicitly allow the defendant to go without legal counsel, before proceedings commence, and the rules for permitting it grows ever more strict as the severity of the crime increases (this is counter-balanced by the Miranda rule requiring the state to provide a public defender if the defendant cannot afford private counsel). It is nearly impossible to get a judge to permit a pro se defense in a murder or rape case. Furthermore, the Bar Association in most states outright prohibits a current or former lawyer from defending themselves in such a case and will penalize (or even disbar) a standing officer of the court for even requesting it.
  • Freudian Excuse: In fiction, defense attorneys have a pretty good track record with getting clients off incredibly light or getting them off completely by using a deeply painful or abusive childhood or a generally terrible life as a defense for why they did what they did. In real life, courts don't really care about how shitty your childhood was or how much your life sucks — they just care about what you are accused of doing. If it does come up, it's usually during sentencing, though it can also affect flimsier charges (usually by invalidating the intent portion) and may also be a factor for competency evaluations and/or insanity pleas, as people who have been so warped by trauma as to become fundamentally divorced from reality may present a compelling case for an insanity plea or incompetence finding.
  • Frivolous Lawsuit: Lawyers are required by law to make a reasonable inquiry into the factual and legal merit of every case before filing to reasonably ensure that it is legitimate. If they fail to do so, they can face sanctions up to and including disbarment if they have a lengthy history of accepting junk cases and have not learned their lesson from previous run-ins with disciplinary boards and angry judges. If an apparently worthless case is taken, then it likely either had enough factual and legal merit (that may not be readily apparent) to justify accepting it, or the client lied or grossly misrepresented important details. If the client did lie or embellish details, it is the attorney's responsibility to cease representation as soon as they learn of the deception. Lawyers are sometimes depicted as eager to take on frivolous lawsuits on a contingency-fee basis. However, in addition to the above, they have a strong financial disincentive to do so. Repeatedly filing these as a pro se litigant is also a great way to be declared a vexatious litigant, which doesn't bar you from filing so much as it makes it incredibly difficult and expensive to do so as a way of curbing a lengthy, well-established pattern of abuse.
  • Gold Digger: This is what prenuptial agreements are for. While they generally aren't 100% foolproof, a good prenup will keep one of these from hollowing you out in a divorce. As for wills, one of these convincing a testator to leave everything to them presents a slam-dunk case for undue influence come probate.
  • Grade-School C.E.O.: Minors (especially those under the age of 12) in most developed nations cannot sign contracts or hold employment. When a parent dies, leaving control of major assets to their child or children, a Trust or Conservatorship will be created by the court to manage the assets and look after the best interest of the child, if the parent didn't create one in their will.
  • Hanging Judge: Can be Truth in Television, especially in countries with corrupt legal systems (or, depending on the time, pre-modern justice systems), but while they can and sometimes do exist in locales with legal systems that have a better array of checks and balances, they are far less likely to get away with it. How much they can get away with depends on the circumstances. Unreasonably harsh or arbitrary sentences, sentences motivated by prejudice, or outright illegal sentences? Guaranteed appeal, and the judge can face consequences all the way up to being removed from the bench in the case of truly egregious misconduct (though never as a first resort). The judge watching you enter the courtroom in filthy ripped jeans and a vulgar novelty shirt from Spencer Gifts for the same thing that you've gotten into trouble for many times before, then taking a look at your rap sheet, noticing that you have been getting into trouble with the law almost nonstop from the time you turned eighteen, have multiple serious offenses on your record, and have clearly not learned a single thing from any of those experiences, and deciding to hurl the book at you? Nope, you're probably not going to get anywhere with appealing that.
  • Hero Insurance: In Real Life, such things as "Good Samaritan" Laws exist to help people avoid getting sued if they have to help with an emergency — but only within reason. Not getting sued if you hurt someone while applying the Heimlich maneuver is "within reason". Demolishing five city blocks while pursuing a criminal as a vigilante is not. And it also needs be said — Good Samaritan Laws don't force you to help; however, some countries do have "duty to rescue" laws where you are expected, at the very least, to summon emergency services if you happen across someone in trouble. Coming across a serious car accident and deciding to video someone bleeding to death for your YouTube channel instead of calling an ambulance and trying to stop the bleeding will get you into serious trouble in those locales.
  • High-Altitude Interrogation: Like other types of Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique/Enhanced Interrogation Techniques, information obtained through them would be seen as illegally acquired (and unreliable because it was given under torture) and a serious backfire on the career of anybody who so much as proposes it would ensue.
  • Hilarity Sues: Seriously depends on the application and the jurisdiction. There are times when (seen from the outside in) it would be perfectly legal to apply them (yet Fiction Isn't Fair), but other times it falls under the purview of Frivolous Lawsuit and all the issues it implies (explained above).
  • Hollywood Law: The multiple methods through which Hollywood has perverted law in order to squeeze a little bit more drama out of a law and order story is just impossible to count. Suffice to say, it's easier to point out when is law being showcased correctly.
  • Hollywood Restraining Order: In fiction, restraining orders require the stalker to stay a fixed distance away from the person who holds the order against him/her, and can be enforced, sometimes lethally. In Real Life, they only urge the stalker not to contact their stalkee, and they work on the "honor system," seeing as (unless the stalker has been placed under house arrest, and sometimes even then), it really can't be enforced as it can in fiction. The person who holds the order can call the police on them, but even then, it might not do much. Also, in these stories, sometimes the stalkee will deliberately intrude on the stalker's space, making him move around and mess up his life. In Real Life, this would be instant grounds for dismissing the order, as restraining orders are not toys and are used because you ACTUALLY do not want this person around you.
  • Improvised Weapon: If an everyday item or terrain feature (such as a parking block) can reliably kill or cripple someone, it can be considered a deadly weapon, and certain everyday items that are commonly used as weapons under specific circumstances (e.g., a baseball bat, golf club, or crowbar in the trunk of a car) will be considered weapons by the court.
  • Inheritance Murder: Slayer clauses automatically prevent beneficiaries from inheriting anything if they kill the testator.
  • Inhumanable Alien Rights: Considering the fact that we have not made actual extraterrestrial contact, it is impossible to determine how this trope would actually work out in Real Life — and yet, long story short, the one court case known that could be considered precedent for the ruling of "if you're an extraterrestrial, you have no rights" is very visibly a judge's use of Laser-Guided Karma on a Frivolous Lawsuit's plaintiff. Several jurisdictions (such as Scotland) apply murder under a broad sense of "willful destruction of life", and there are 70 nations that currently have laws forbidding human cloning — should it ever become possible. It's highly unlikely, then, that in practice intelligent aliens similar to us would be barred legal rights if the issue ever actually arose.
  • Insanity Defense: In real life, if an insanity defense works, the defendant doesn't walk out of court a free person. They walk out of court in the company of a couple of burly orderlies from a mental institution. Whether they ever walk out of there a free person depends on the psychiatrists and psychologists. Their stay can very well be longer than what their prison sentence would have been. Also, an insanity defense is only used in less than 1% of US criminal trials and is successful ~25% of the time. That's less than one-quarter of one one-hundredth of criminal cases that it works. If it seems like it happens more often, that's because it's so rare and risky that it garners more attention when someone attempts it. Note that this has nothing to do with legal competence; being adjudicated incompetent is an entirely different matter, though it often follows that someone who is legally incompetent is likely also criminally incompetent.
    • Likewise, being judged legally incompetent to stand trial is not the same as being not guilty by reason of insanity. For starters, one doesn't have to be "insane"note  to be found incompetent to stand trial. Moreover, a person declared incompetent doesn't get out of standing trial: they are removed to a psychiatric facility and rehabilitated (and often medicated) to the minimum of competency, at which point the trial continues. This can happen multiple times during the course of a trial. If a person decompensates (i.e., reverts to being incompetent) during the course of a trial, the trial is suspended and the person returned to a hospital until they can continue. In most jurisdictions, the standards of legal competency are astonishingly low, often involving simply being able to identify one's lawyer, knowing which person in the courtroom is the judge, and understanding what will happen if one is found guilty… information that most people — including children, persons with advanced dementia, people suffering from psychosis, and the intellectually challenged — have absorbed simply through watching television. In short: you're not getting out of this trial, and if you somehow do, you probably were not able to function on a daily basis without extensive aid to begin with.
  • Insurance Fraud: They happen, but real-life insurance investigators are much wiser to the usual tricks than fictional ones tend to be. Fictional examples are largely based on either exceptional cases, or early cases from before the insurance companies wised up.
    • The incidence, and success, of such cases often varies wildly by jurisdiction, especially in what used to called the Second and Third World nations — for example, Staged Pedestrian Accidents and other vehicular scams became a serious problem in Russia in the late 1990s and early 2000s, which led to the widespread adoption of dashcams. Note, however, that the crux of most such scams is to get the victim to make an immediate payoff in order to avoid involving the troubled, underfunded, and often corrupt police and court systems in the areas hardest hit by post-Cold War economic downturns. This seems to have eased since 2010 or so, but at the same time, it has grown more common in other countries such as Vietnam, Brazil, and the Philippines as their economies rapidly change.
    • Arranging one's suicide to look like murder or an accident in order to provide one's beneficiaries with a hefty insurance payout is, uh, less necessary than fiction would make it seem. It is a common misconception that insurance companies never pay out in the case of suicide — a misconception that most insurers don't put a lot of effort into correcting, for obvious reasons. However, most term-life policies have a suicide clause of anywhere from two to five years in order to prevent people from taking out enormous policies and killing themselves immediately afterwards, both as a method of preventing fraud and as a suicide deterrent. After the clause expires, insurers are legally required to pay the full policy amount even if the insured person is known to have committed suicide. Obviously, suicide is never recommended, even for the purpose of defrauding a financial institution.
    • Back in the day, insurance fraud was much simpler: take out a policy on any random item (or person) whether or not it was yours, then destroy the item (or person) and collect. Many serial killers (such as Belle Gunness and H.H. Holmes) began their murderous careers in just this way. For this very reason, all insurance companies now require proof of insurable interest — that is, reasonable proof that you have a legitimate interest in the continued existence of this object (your house) or person (your spouse) and would suffer a genuine loss if anything should happen to them (e.g. your house burns down and you have nowhere else to live; the loss of your spouse significantly impacts your life and/or income). Likewise, for this reason, one must be able to prove ownership of the insured item or have the insured person verify that they are aware that you have taken out a policy on their behalf. Often they have to verify this while in the presence of an insurance agent so that there can be no forged signatures or having one's spouse sign a policy while believing it's something else. In short: the insurance companies are on to all those would-be Bluebeards and black widows and have made it increasingly difficult to insure someone without their knowledge or consent. While modern crime writers should bear this in mind, the lax laws of the past might still allow historical writers to get away with (fictional) murder depending on their time period.
      • There's one major exception to the above: a parent is legally able to take out a policy on their underage child without the child's knowledge or consent. In fiction, this is portrayed as highly remarkable and a sure sign of Offing the Offspring, particularly when a parent insures an infant. In real life, it's actually very common to insure babies, for a lot of practical, non-murderous reasons. Ironically, the most common reason is in case the child does die young in order to cover the cost of an unanticipated funeral. But young, healthy children are very cheap to insure, and insuring them early may allow them to maintain lower premiums even after they're grown. Moreover, by the time the child reaches adulthood, the policy may have "paid up," allowing the child to cash it in or maintain it without paying further premiums. Whatever the motive, taking out insurance on a child doesn't raise any automatic red flags with either insurers or law enforcement.
  • Interrogation by Vandalism: Damage to property (or threatening to) is illegal anyway, let alone when used to get information.
  • In Vino Veritas: Truth in Television, but not as much as fiction would have you believe. Still, ask a detective who has been around for long enough and odds are decent that they will remember at least one case that was cold or on its way to becoming cold that wound up being rejuvenated by a drunken slip of the tongue.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Varies depending on the jurisdiction. Varies wildly. In Western countries, torturing a suspect is generally illegal and any information thereby obtained is inadmissible in court, which is codified in the United States under the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution (which does not mean it never happens, only that it generally means the case is going to get thrown out if discovered). There are ways they can still secure a conviction, but if word gets out, they can expect a lot of public outcry at the very least.
  • "Just Joking" Justification: Varies. "I was kidding", "it's hyperbole", or "it's social commentary" are not acceptable defenses for genuinely defamatory statements; while the burden of proof is higher for public figures due to parody and satire protections, no judge is going to accept a hasty take-back to a defamatory statement ("Bob is a child rapist — whoops, haha, I'm just playing") as anything other than a transparent ruse to escape accountability, but if most reasonable people would clearly infer that it was in jest or you were making a satirical dig, the other party doesn't have a case.
  • Laxative Prank: This counts as criminal poisoning in many jurisdictions, and is also extremely likely to get you sued for any and all resulting damages. The results of deliberately tricking someone into ingesting laxatives are not at all funny — sure, they may have a Potty Emergency, but they are also quite likely to wind up in the hospital with anything from severe dehydration to, in extreme cases, a ruptured bowel or severe gastrointestinal bleeding, both of which are life-threatening events. If you leave out a trap for a coworker or roommate who keeps stealing your food or bake them into brownies to present to someone who you don't like or want to prank, odds are pretty good that you will be facing serious criminal charges or get a judgment entered against you. In general, spiking food with any sort of substance that turns it into something that you wouldn't eat counts. It doesn't have to be a laxative, Blazing Inferno Hellfire Sauce or some other distasteful substance would also count.
  • Leonine Contract: Varies considerably by jurisdiction, but in general, contracts that have 'unconscionable' terms and conditions (such as forcing the signer to become a literal life-long slave of whoever owns the document) are considered unenforceable.
  • Loophole Abuse: Courts do indeed hate that one weird trick, but odds are good that:
    • A) Someone tried it or something similar before and you're not as clever as you think you are, and/or...
    • B) The loophole was closed via case law or, barring that, an amendment to the relevant statutory law. Furthermore, trying to exploit loopholes to get away with bad behavior or evade consequences is a great way to piss off the court or the other side and ensure that they come down on you even harder (if they can) or go out of their way to get you for whatever they can (if they can't get you for that specific thing).
  • Made Out to Be a Jerkass: A very risky move on a Real Life court of law. Even the biggest jerk in the galaxy can have an actual legal grievance, so trying to redirect the blame to make the plaintiff look like an asshole that deserves whatever crime he was a victim of just makes the defendant look like a Manipulative Bastard — also, this is why juries are instructed and screened to try to keep bias out of the equation (although it doesn't always succeed). It can also actually be a defense in defamation cases; if the plaintiff's reputation is already so terrible that there's no more damage that can realistically be done, the "actual harm" portion of most defamation statutes may be impossible to satisfy.
  • Mattress-Tag Gag: It's only illegal to rip the tag of a mattress or pillow if you are a seller or manufacturer of that mattress or pillow. For your average, everyday non-mattress-vendor person to do it, it's perfectly legal, and there are no consequences. (Even for the vendor, it's more likely to result in a fine than anything else, and certainly not a Longer-Than-Life Sentence or anything crazy like that.)
  • Miranda Rights: A commonly invoked mistake (when in the United States) is that the police did not remember to read the suspect their rights upon arresting. Reciting the "Miranda Rights" or "Miranda Warning" is only necessary for custodial interrogations, but it's usually given on arrest so it isn't forgotten later. If witness testimonies and/or physical evidence is sufficient for conviction, reading the suspect their rights is not necessary. Also, in the US the penalty for failing to Mirandize a suspect is that their testimony isn't admissible in court, not that they get a literal "get out of jail free" card. Furthermore, the "public safety" exception exists for Miranda, which holds that in narrow circumstances where someone poses a grave threat to the public, interrogations without a Miranda warning may be admissible. Furthermore, as many frustrated criminal defense attorneys will tell you, incriminating statements recorded over the jail phone (unless they are privileged communications, they are being recorded) are not covered under Miranda, and if your client confesses to everything or commits new crimes over the jail phone, there's nothing you can do about it. Same goes if they are properly read their rights, then keep talking and make incriminating statements after the fact; unless you can somehow make a case for coercion or duress (and, as most criminal defense attorneys will tell you, fat chance that you're going to pull that one off), there's no legal remedy for your client being too stupid to keep their mouth shut.
  • Motive = Conclusive Evidence: Having a reason to commit the crime is not enough evidence to put you in jail nor for the investigators to stop looking for answers. Investigators have seen it all, and they are very willing to accept that someone with every reason to commit the crime in question may not have done it and vice versa, and that people will commit crimes for stupid, nonsensical, or bizarre reasons or for no reason whatsoever, and quite likely may have done it as a spur-of-the-moment impulsive act that they didn't think through or even think about period. It is the prosecution and defense that like motives, as they help build a narrative for why someone did or did not commit the crime that they are accused of.
  • Murder Simulators: While people have been killed in the name of video games before, using the fact that a person played a violent video game (or had a history of playing them) is not enough to declare anyone mentally unfit or insane. Attempt to use it in court, and the judge will throw it out for being prejudicial when the other attorney inevitably objects.
  • Must State If You're a Cop: Undercover officers have no obligation to inform criminals that they're police, even when asked about it point-blank. The idea that not stating they're a cop is "entrapment" is also false; entrapment is if a police officer has you commit an illegal act that you would not have done if the cop hadn't approached you. Asking this will just weaken your case should you be arrested, since it basically communicates that you knew full well what you were doing was a crime. It's also more likely the prosecutor will consider you a career criminal, rather than someone who broke the law once on a whim. The reason this trope still exists is that cops take advantage of this urban legend during their undercover sting operations. Cops aren't exactly in a hurry to correct someone if they think undercover cops "have to" say so.
  • My Little Panzer: Attempting to release an unsafe toy will likely get you in trouble with regulators and will likely result in a recall. Not to mention the class-action suits if a child is harmed.
  • No Adequate Punishment: A law does not need to exist to punish a specific crime. As an example: In the aftermath of World War II, some defenders were arguing that there was no law to punish the genocides of Nazi Germany. It was ruled that it was still punishable, and the Nuremberg trials were made specifically to dole it out. More generally, the position of those who espouse the idea of natural law assert that all people have certain fundamental rights that most sane and rational people broadly agree on, and that those who violate those rights can justly be punished even without a specific law on the books.
  • No Badge? No Problem!: In real life, the police take a very dim view of people acting like they have legal authority when their position does not give it. In this case, what varies by jurisdiction is not whether you'll get in trouble for doing it, but how deep the trouble will be. Exceptions exist (namely citizen's arrest), but those are highly situational and afford you far fewer privileges than would normally be available to law enforcement.
  • No OSHA Compliance: The ridiculous situations seen in fiction would get a workplace slammed with fines at the very least, if not outright given a stop-work order or shut down on the spot, and most occupational health and safety agencies around the world have some sort of "egregious violator" standard to severely punish employers who flagrantly spurn health and safety standards, constantly get into trouble for serious issues that never get resolved, or have such a persistently high rate of serious injuries that they may as well not even have a health and safety program, and the penalties attached to that status are usually enough to cripple or destroy all but the largest of Mega Corps.
  • No Product Safety Standards: Can be Truth in Television in pre-modern settings, in jurisdictions with weak or corrupt regulatory authorities, or in industries with minimal regulation, but many industries that have historically been prone to this are extremely heavily regulated. In general, if a bad lot goes out or a product is found to be defective or dangerous, the response will vary based off of how it was handled — it will certainly be subject to recall one way or another, but if it was caught and handled right away, some heads in high places were sent rolling, and the company demonstrates that they know they messed up and are believably sincere with their response, the regulatory authorities will generally be satisfied, and any business with its shit together will have extensive internal audits, investigations, and reviews to ensure that it cannot happen again. On the other hand, if a company knowingly allowed multiple bad lots or a defective or dangerous product to ship out and either did nothing or tried to cover it up, they will be fined out the ass, operations will almost certainly be suspended, and people very well may go to prison.
  • Not Proven: It's not enough for the police and prosecutors to say "well, who else could it have been?" — they have to have a sufficiently strong legal case against a specific person, built on admissible evidence and through witness testimony. In addition, in the United States, the burden of proof is on the prosecution, and it must be proven "beyond a reasonable doubt" that the defendant is guilty. In short, it's not "no one else could have done it"; it's "only this person could have done it, and here's why". Sort of subverted for civil cases, as "preponderance of the evidence" is the civil standard of proof and can generally be taken to mean "there's enough evidence to indicate that you're liable"; there can be a shadow of a doubt, but the evidence against you is strong enough that beyond maybe a few slightly contentious points, any real doubt is willful contrarianism.
  • No Warrant? No Problem!: Varies by jurisdiction, but broadly speaking it is illegal in most jurisdictions (either barging into a house to obtain evidence without a warrant or stalking a suspect for the sake of Perp Sweating). On the other hand, most searches are made without a warrant, it's just that there needs to be a lawful reason the cops didn't get a warrant.note 
  • Off on a Technicality: A case being "dismissed on a technicality" almost always means that the judge or jury wanted to acquit the defendant in the first place; in cases where the evidence against them was overwhelming, it is usually due to extreme police or prosecutorial misconduct that absolutely cannot be rewarded. A technicality will still weaken a case, but isn't enough to get a case dropped or a Not Guilty verdict on its own. Something severe enough to make or break a case on its own is, by definition, not a technicality.note 
    • Another common example is that a crucial piece of evidence being acquired illegally. Generally-speaking, rules against illegally-acquiring evidence are meant to prevent the police from conducting illegal search and seizure, and there are many exceptions to these rules. For example, in the United States, evidence acquired by a private citizen and turned over to the police — even if acquired in the process of breaking the law — is admissible (unless the police asked the private citizen to illegally seize the evidence). Similarly, illegally-acquired evidence that would have been found later on anyway during a later, legal search and seizure, would be permitted.
  • Omnidisciplinary Lawyer: As a general rule of thumb, in small towns, you'll find "country lawyers" who do a little of everything, for typically small stakes. For cases involving large sums of money or very complex, specialized areas of law, you'll want an attorney who specializes in that area, and in fact, most small-town lawyers will "tag-team" with a specialized lawyer to take a case to court. It's just like the difference between a general-practice physician and a specialized surgeon.
  • One Phone Call: In the US, you don't have to be given "one phone call". You have to be given a reasonable opportunity to get in touch with legal counsel. Criminal defense attorneys wish that they could eliminate the jail phone (calls from jail phones in most jurisdictions are recorded) for the same reason that prosecutors love it, however — you can prepare the best case that anyone could have prepared under the circumstances that will almost certainly get them off very lightly or completely, but if your client uses the jail phone and confesses to everything, threatens a witness, attempts to coordinate the destruction of evidence or false testimony from another party, or otherwise completely screws themselves over and incriminates themselves, there ain't a damn thing you can do about it.
  • Only Bad Guys Call Their Lawyers: If you've been charged with anything with consequences above a ticket, call your lawyer. You are always entitled to legal counsel, whether you have committed the crime you are accused of or not. Using that right does not make you look guilty by default, and having a lawyer present can protect you from a wide range of things.
  • On One Condition: Can be Truth in Television up to a point, but particularly outlandish conditions and/or those that restrict the beneficiary from exercising a fundamental right or are otherwise against public policy are likely to be found invalid.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: Courts hate vigilantes and revenge stories, and they're not going to give you a break just because your victim really had it coming. At best, it may serve as a mitigating factor during sentencing depending on how good a reason you had. At worst, it will result in an even harsher sentence, especially if what you did struck beyond the pale or if the prosecution can establish that you were just looking for a good excuse to seriously harm or kill someone. The jury may take pity on you, but it's probably best not to bet your freedom on it unless your lawyer thinks its an extremely good idea.
  • The Perry Mason Method: The defense does not have to find the "real" culprit — to establish reasonable doubt, all a competent defense attorney needs to do is weaken the prosecution's case to "not proven" and/or posit another theory of events. Worse, this has been known to backfire, depending on the jury. Sometimes, even proving the guilt of another, even if it really is beyond a reasonable doubt, the jury may disregard it, on the grounds it doesn't truly contradict the evidence against the defendant. This is partly because there can be and often are cases where more than one person participated in the murder, but it's mostly that people will, correctly or otherwise, see this as misdirection and call Humbug.
  • Plea Bargain: The reality varies widely by jurisdiction. In the US, where it's most common, the biggest difference between fact and fiction is when it's offered; in Real Life, a plea bargain is almost never offered once the trial has begun. It is also usually offered when someone is accused of a (relatively) lesser offense that is simply not worth spending the time and money needed to fully prosecute them when there are bigger fish to fry; in other words, it's easier and cheaper to get the guy caught with a small bag of Perc 30s, the guy soliciting nudes from underage girls on Snapchat, or the guy who stole a dirtbike out from under someone's back deck to plead down so that more resources can be devoted to the area's biggest drug supplier, the "modeling agency" that is really just a child porn manufacturer, or the chop shop that they have all had their eyes on for far longer.
  • A Plot in Deed: A deed is mostly a record of who owns a property, and most modern jurisdictions have copies at the nearest government building. Simply having the deed in one's possession does not make them the owner of the property, especially not if it was stolen.
  • Precrime Arrest: For the most part, the current justice systems around the world make a serious emphasis on "innocent until proven guilty" and "punishment after the crime". Attempting to capture someone before a crime has been committed (and there is no solid evidence of criminal conspiracy to support the suspicion) would be seen as wrongful arrest or even entrapment… and this is without taking into account the sci-fi angle of the Trope (which could be seen as violation of privacy, plus whichever discussion would ensue if there is a possibility, however small, for the criminal to say "Screw Destiny"…)
  • Private Detective: Truth in Television, kinda, but their jobs are usually far more mundane, especially when they need to avoid running afoul of the courts. The average private eye can expect to get a lot of process service and skip traces, divorce cases (mostly investigating suspected adultery, concealment of assets, or parental unfitness), insurance investigations (especially worker's comp and personal injury), and (if they specialize in it) due diligence for investors seeking risky investments, and while tailing someone or prowling around outside of their residences absolutely does happen (particularly in worker's comp cases; anyone who has dealt with these will tell you that the car with blacked-out windows camping out in front of someone's house is an inevitability), most of it involves creeping through public records and social media.
  • Rape and Revenge: The type of premeditated manhunts that are standard to this trope would be considered straight-up murder, especially when it's someone other than the victim themselves doing it. (See also Crime of Self-Defense.)
  • Read the Fine Print: Contract law is as wildly varied and thorny as self-defense law, but as a rule of thumb you must at least be able to read it (and although fiction depicts contracts as irrevocably binding, in reality courts sometimes decide that certain parts of a contract are unenforceable for one reason or another, with vagueness and/or being overly broad being the most common reasons). Non-competes are another frequent target; they are to prevent former employees from running off with a bunch of clients or jumping ship to a competitor with a bunch of valuable information, and overly broad and/or restrictive non-competes that make it inordinately difficult or impossible for people to find work (especially if they do not have a particularly valuable or specialized skillset) are almost always smacked down by a judge. Non-competes exist to ensure that high-level or valuable workers do not use their positions to gain unfair advantages, not to cut their legs out from under them or chain them to a job. On the other hand, liability waivers usually are enforceable, but only within reason; the most reliable standard is that if they are extremely vague or broad, are hidden in fine print or written in a confusing or misleading manner, have a massive power imbalance (e.g., most employment-related ones), are against public policy, or are cited as a defense to extreme negligence or recklessness, they're probably unenforceable. However, a specific, reasonable, and easily identifiable liability waiver is something that will be upheld under most circumstances (as the whole point of them is to ward off Frivolous Lawsuits).
  • Reading Your Rights: Varies wildly by jurisdiction.
  • Ridiculous Repossession: Although Real Life repossession rules vary from place to place, roughly speaking when you owe a bank money and they send repo men, it is legal for them to take the Ferrari you bought with a loan, but it most definitely is not to take your liver (not even if you paid for its transplant with said loan) and your grandmother (as "collateral").
  • Rogue Juror: Specifically, the "Amateur Sleuth in the jury starts own investigation" sub-division (which has appeared in various ways including Trope Codifier "12 Angry Men"). Any attempt at doing this, be it sneaking out from wherever the jury has been sequestered or try to ask questions to a witness right in the middle of the courtroom) will equal getting kicked out of the jury and probably getting arrested for perjury. One of the main goals of voir dire (the jury vetting process) is to make sure that people like this don't find their way onto juries; if even a hint of prejudice is detected, you're out of the running. If a runaway juror does make it on and is successful in unduly prejudicing a jury, that's a guaranteed appeal that will likely be successful.
    • A variant of this is when someone is disagreeing with the jury solely to prevent a unanimous verdict so they can keep the trial going indefinitely for personal reasons...often, it's to stay sequestered in a hotel and mooch off the government or stay away from someone. This will backfire for four reasons:
      • 1) Juries are very rarely sequestered. Sequestration exists to ensure that juries know only information about the case that has been discussed IN the courtroom and available paperwork and evidence. In almost all cases, jurors will never hear any information about a case outside those things, so sequestration is unnecessary. If the case isn't making the news, you go home at night. If the case IS making big news, like the O.J. Simpson murder trial, the legal system must take precautions to ensure the jurors are isolated from things like news reports, editorials, sensationalist stories, random conjecture, and the like. So...yeah, unless one of the biggest celebrities in the world is on trial, there's no hotel for you, just your regular life. Sequestration seems far more often than it is because by definition, people only hear about the big, newsworthy cases, and assume most cases are like that.
      • 2) Even if you are sequestered, it will not be a comfortable experience. Despite what many comedies present, you will not be placed in a luxury suite where everything is free. You will be placed in the cheapest hotel they can find (after all, it is taxpayer money, and the idea of sequestration is not to relax and have fun), and you lose all contact with the outside world. There is no television, no Internet, no newspapers, and no amenities whatsoever. At best, your family can occasionally visit you, but they are absolutely forbidden to tell you anything about what people out there are saying about the case. There is a reason is called "sequestering", not "an escape"; the OJ jurors equated the experience somewhat to prison.
      • 3) Chicanery like this would not go unnoticed. Judges and bailiffs will notice this behavior if it goes on for far too long, and even if they do not, the other jurors can report to them about the issue, and if bad faith can be proven, they are removed from the jury and likely in big trouble for juror misconduct, and the case is likely deemed a mistrial.
      • 4) Even if a person somehow got away with this, they cannot do it forever. If the jury cannot reach a verdict after a period of time (the exact length depends on the case and the judge's discretion), it will officially be a "hung jury" and the judge will declare a mistrial, which will likely involve a retrial at some point with a new jury.
  • Rules Lawyer: Varies wildly. Depending on the laws being cited, there is bound to be some stretching of definitions in a way that helps your case and/or hinders theirs, but there is a definite line of acceptability. It's up to a judge to decide when you've gone from "a bit of a stretch, but okay" to "blatant Chewbacca Defense", and sanctions may be possible if you have a particularly flimsy or outright frivolous case that you attempted to prop up with some particularly ridiculous semantic leaps. Words count, but they don't mean shit if the case itself has no meat, and if you are successful in basing a substantial portion of your case around the interpretation of certain laws, it was either due to an incredibly specific set of circumstances or a badly-worded statute or decision.
  • Self-Defense Ruse: Self-defense is a valid defense in law. However, it often requires specific circumstances to apply or else self-defense can't be claimed (for instance, proportional force), which also vary wildly by country. It is no way open and shut, especially if these precise circumstances can't be proven. Most often when this trope applies, it relies on the audience understanding that self-defense is a "thing" and then ignores any further nuance.
  • Sensitivity Training: A regular workplace comedy trope in fiction, an actual legal necessity in Real Life. Companies that are able to show that employees were told what not to do (and yet did it anyway) in a sexual harassment or hostile work environment lawsuit will be better protected than those who didn't.
  • Silly Will and its more hostile variant the Spiteful Will: While there have been examples of them in Real Life in the past and even now the implication is obvious if someone is left out of a will, more (relatively) recent amendments to inheritance law have made them all but unenforceable when they are as "loony" as they appear in fiction — simply said, if a will includes a clause about inheritors being hit in the face with a boot and getting a rabid Tasmanian Devil stuffed down their pants, then the part of the will that says the deceased was "being of sound mind" when he made it is highly questionable, which risks the entire will becoming null and void.
  • Simple Country Lawyer: Truth in Television in the past, but increasingly rare today to the point of being a Dead Horse Trope (See "Omnidisciplinary Lawyer").
  • Slipping a Mickey: Tricking someone into drinking a drugged beverage is illegal, even if it's merely to help a friend or family member mellow out.
  • Social Services Does Not Exist: In Real Life, they do; while their effectiveness is largely tied to budgetary limitations, they do the absolute best that they can. As a result, events that would bring their attention to a child's plight (such as Hilariously Abusive Childhood) but would be shrugged off in fiction will be dealt with. Even in cases where their biases are clouding things, they'll at least do a token investigation and make a record of it. Which itself will build up if the parent/caretaker doesn't stop causing people to call all the time.
  • Solomon Divorce: Not totally unusual in Real Life divorces (in the legal terminology, this is usually called a "split parenting situation"); however, because it can be a traumatic experience for a child, the total disconnection from the other siblings that is seen in fiction is frowned upon if not forbidden by law (so such thing as visitation times or some psychological counsel are at least suggested).
    • A regular variation on this trope is that one parent gets the sole legal and physical/residential custody of the childrennote  with no visitation/parenting time for the other spouse. This one is a doozy… note 
  • Spousal Privilege: Fictional uses of this tend to be considerably broader than Real Life laws allow.
  • Stop, or I Will Shoot!: This varies from country to country and has changed over time. In the US, law enforcers are now not generally allowed to shoot at a fleeing suspect (unless the suspect is shooting at them).
  • Streisand Effect: Truth in Television, and can often play a major role in deciding whether litigation is worth it. Yes, you may have a case, yes, you'll probably prevail, and hell, you may even be in the right morally. If the circumstances of the case make it very likely that you'll kick up a shitstorm by litigating, however, a good attorney will advise you to seriously consider whether being right is worth the blow to your reputation. There are times where a favorable determination is not worth the consequences in the court of public opinion. Gag orders can sometimes curb this, but getting one that won't be thrown out the minute that their attorney contests it is quite difficult; to get a gag order to stick, the defendant generally has to have repeatedly and publicly spoken about their case in a way that is going to greatly inflame the passions of the public and impact both parties' right to a fair trial.
  • Suicide Dare: Shitty, but generally not illegal. The rare few cases where someone has successfully been convicted of murder or manslaughter for encouraging suicide have involved either prolonged, relentless campaigns of adamant encouragement (the Michelle Carter case, and even that involved a great deal of deliberation that only resulted in a conviction because of the sheer egregiousness of her conduct) or deliberately leaving a trail of breadcrumbs for an individual that they know is actively suicidal (e.g., leaving a loaded firearm or a full bottle of pills that reliably cause fatal overdoses in plain sight), and, like the former, it really has to strike beyond the pale.
  • That Was Objectionable: Arbitrarily objecting for no good reason just to stall or throw the other attorney off their game will quickly get you chewed out by a judge, and doing the same in a deposition will likely be reported to the judge when the other side gets sick of your shit and decides to pursue sanctions (especially if you abused speaking objections to coach clients on how to answer), and will get you sanctioned in general if it's a favorite tactic of yours and judges have had enough of you wasting the court's time with pointless and ridiculous objections.
  • There Is No Higher Court: Well, yes, eventually you'll get to the highest court that has jurisdiction to hear the case. Depending on the jurisdiction, that could be quite a few steps.
  • Trash of the Titans: Hoarding and filth are a legitimate reason for Adult Protective Services (or similar agencies for non-US tropers) to step in, and if the building is dirty and poorly-maintained enough, most local government authorities can and will condemn it. Similarly, local authorities (namely town/city governments and HOAs) will step in if your property is badly overgrown, covered in broken appliances and inoperable vehicles, has garbage on it, or is otherwise unsightly or disgusting, as it degrades property values, attracts wild animals and provides breeding grounds for insects, and creates hazards for people stepping onto your land.
  • Unconventional Courtroom Tactics: Many unconventional courtroom tactics common in fiction would result in the lawyer being warned, and possibly removed from the case or punished for contempt of court. Major antics could be cause for the verdict to be overturned on appeal (See "Off on a Technicality") or could cause the judge to declare a mistrial, and a consistently ill-behaved lawyer would risk disbarment. While the courts tend to be a little more lenient with pro se litigants, being disruptive, verbally abusive, or aggressive will still result in the court telling you to knock it off, and habitual bad behavior in the courtroom, when combined with a lengthy, well-established track record of abusive pro se litigation and Loophole Abuse to evade consequences, presents a strong case for being declared a vexatious litigant. Lastly, if a client vehemently insists on trying something incredibly stupid and poorly-reasoned despite their attorney's attempts to talk them out of it, they will usually be allowed by their attorney to directly address the court, which is usually courtroom code for "my client is a moron and I tried many times to get them to not do this, but they wouldn't budge, and I take zero responsibility for anything they may say to sabotage their case".
  • Unexpected Inheritance: Anyone receiving a windfall asset should always verify its authenticity before taking it and the taxes must be deducted from the amount immediately after agreeing to it. A person should also seek advice if they are unsure of what to do with the money. Also in most countries, if someone dies without making a will ("intestate" in legal terminology), their estate goes to their surviving kin. If no family can be found, the escheat doctrine applies and the government gets the lot. Kinship rules vary by jurisdiction as they can forbid relatives beyond a certain degree of kinship (typically second-degree: descendants of the person's grandparents) from inheriting by intestacy, preferring that these "laughing heirs" (yes, that is the technical term) not take and instead having the lot escheat to the state.
  • Vigilante Man: Courts take an extremely dim view of vigilantism and people taking the law into their own hands. Most of the actions that are celebrated in fiction would lead to convictions for first-degree murder, kidnapping or false imprisonment, or any number of other extremely serious offenses. Perverted-Justice and other online "pedo hunter" groups deserve a special mention; in real life, courts tend to hate predator-hunting vigilantism because it almost always gets in the way and throws a gigantic monkey wrench into cases that should have been done deals. Ironically, one of the most common justifications for online predator hunts ("these people will just get Off on a Technicality") is also a common self-fulfilling prophecy, as efforts of civilian pedo-hunter operations often do cause their cases to get thrown out or result in nonconvictions or successful appeals (usually either due to entrapment or because they rendered large amounts of evidence or testimony inadmissible).
  • Weapon for Intimidation: Very, very illegal. Threatening someone with a gun, knife, or other implement that can reliably cause lethal physical injury is usually treated just as harshly as actually attacking them with it, and in jurisdictions that issue weapons permits at the discretion of issuing authorities, you will not be granted a permit if they suspect that you just want something to scare people with. The only time that it is ever not illegal in a civilian context is if it's part of an escalation of force in response to a credible threat, e.g. you told an attacker that you had a gun and that they needed to back off, they persisted, and you pulled out the gun, pointed it at them, and repeated what you said and warned them that you would shoot rather than immediately pulling it on them.
  • Witless Protection Program: In theory, this is sometimes Truth in Television, but almost never to the same extent as in fiction. If you follow all the rules, the chances of you being successfully hunted down are infinitesimal; there are a lot of layers in the program and general failsafes, and while bad guys can certainly try to find you, the Marshals will find them well before they find you. On the other hand, "you can't fix stupid" absolutely applies, and protectees sometimes do carelessly blow their cover or wrongfully believe that they can have their cake and eat it too.
  • Wrongful Accusation Insurance: In Real Life, there are three things wrong with this scenario:
    1. If someone has been successfully framed for a serious crime, they most likely aren't free to investigate it. They're in jail or on the run from the law.
    2. To the legal system, why you committed a crime is utterly irrelevant. Having a good reason doesn't get you any points unless, say, it gets murder knocked down to involuntary manslaughter.
    3. If you've already been convicted, even later-proven innocence is not a defense. You don't have a right to a pardon, a new trial (unless there was a procedural error), or any reduction of your sentence.note 

    open/close all folders 

     Anime and Manga 
  • Gunsmith Cats: Bail bonding and bounty hunting have been illegal in the state of Illinois since The '60s.

    Comic Books 
  • Comic book writer and lawyer Bob Ingersoll has written the column "The Law Is an Ass" since the 1980s. In it, he points out various legal situations that comic book writers have gotten wrong in their stories.
  • The plot of Civil War (2006) revolved around a Super Hero Registration Act, with some heroes being for it and some being against it. The Artistic License comes in from several pro-reg heroes attempting to enforce the law before it had been signed. In other words, they were trying to enforce a law that wasn't a law yet.
    • Even once it's signed, the law would take still quite a large amount of time to be fully implemented (Laws generally do not go into force the moment they're signed, if for no other reason than to give time for the people responsible for enforcing them to be briefed on what they now can or cannot arrest people for). This is also ignoring the various constitutional challenges such a legislation would likely face, especially since it's basically singling out an entire group of people and forcing them to work for the government.
    • For that matter, both sides quickly go into vigilantism for basically no reason. The side in favor of the legislation has the entire United States government on their side, while those against it could easily use their large amounts of wealth to fund a lawsuit against the federal government. Even if such a thing would not be successful—and we have no reason to believe it wouldn't be—it would be a much better plan than becoming fugitives.
  • "The Trial of Peter Parker", a story that took place during The Clone Saga was pretty much entirely this trope. Peter was framed for murder by his clone, Kaine. The murder took place in Utah. The trial occurred in New York City. The prosecutor opened with prejudicial statements that would have gotten an immediate objection from anyone remotely qualified to practise criminal law. The prosecutor then summoned a surprise witness (artistic license in itself) who turned out to be none other than Mary Jane! Aside from the fact that she hadn't been informed that she was going to be called as a witness beforehand, the fact that she was Peter's wife would have made her immune to being forced to testify against him. The prosecutor asked her a total of one question, which he then used to openly accuse Peter of being a murderer, then dismissed her without allowing the defense to cross examine. The story cut away to other events, and when it came back to Peter's trial the jury was preparing to render a verdict despite it apparently being the same afternoon as when the trial had started. In reality, a murder trial would take weeks before the jury would vote on the verdict. On top of that, the prosecutor asked them to apply the death penalty, despite sentencing being an entirely separate affair that would have been done at a later date with an entirely different jury.
  • The very premise of Batman: No Man's Land revolves around the U.S. government just declaring that Gotham City is no longer part of the country and shutting it off from the rest of the country, which the government can't do in real life. However, even In-Universe, the characters know this is bullshit: Nicolas Scratch was manipulating Congress to do this so he could take control of the city once it's undone, Lex Luthor also knows this and his ascendancy to the Oval Office is in part due to hijacking Scratch's scheme, the Penguin spends all of his time in during this preparing for it, and the majority of those who remained are just trying to hold on until the reversal happens.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animated 
  • The Loud House Movie: The movie takes a lot of liberties with British noble titles. First, noble titles in the U.K. are hereditary, so Morag usurping the title, and Lincoln passing it on to Angus in the end would be impossible. Second, Lincoln wouldn't have been the first in line to inherit the title, even if the title is for men only, since his father and paternal grandfather are both still alive. Third, Lincoln being given control over the town along with his new title is also not likely to happen in real life; Scottish dukes were never rulers of cities to begin with, and in the 21st century noble titles in general no longer grant political power or duties; they’re just proof of having a prestigious ancestry.
  • South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut: Sheila says that Terrance and Phillip are under citizens' arrest and produces a court order allowing it. However, court orders give government approval for such a thing, technically not making it a citizens' arrest.
  • Zootopia: Judy is excited to begin her first day as a police officer, only to find out she's stuck on parking duty. Most major cities in real life have a whole separate department of parking services whose primary job is issuing citations so that the police are free to handle bigger crimes. While suburbs and smaller towns might still leave this task to the police, a city as huge as Zootopia would not.
    • Also the elephant owner of the ice cream parlor trying to deny Nick service simply because he’s a predator and trying to justify it by pointing to the Right to Refuse Service to Anyone. In reality he’d be breaking the law because he’s violating anti discrimination laws. Right to refuse service only applies if any customer in a business is being disruptive, such as drunk and disturbing the peace or the like.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Glass Onion: The court case between Andi and Miles is implied to have hinged on proving which of them came up with the original idea for the company. Andi originally wrote the idea on a napkin, which she threatened to use as evidence against Miles. Business ideas are generally not legally protected. Control of the company would be determined from contracts and ownership of company shares. It does not matter who came up with the business plan.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • In Iron Man 2, during the Senate Committee hearing, Senator Stern orders Rhodes to read a single line from his report on the Iron Man armor — clearly out of context — about Iron Man being a potential threat, then cuts him off before he could explain what he meant. Tony had every right to ask Rhodes to finish his statement. Of course, Rhodey calls out the Senator when he makes this demand. More generally, Tony's ownership of a weapons suite with mounted anti-tank missiles is blatantly illegal and would get him arrested in short order. As would his vigilante activities in the first movie, including flying out to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and shooting people. His refusal to share his technology with the government would also never stand. Legally, the government doesn't even have to ask him, they can just take it and invoke Eminent Domain, then compensate him a reasonable pricenote . Which, in Real Life, they certainly would, considering the world-changing implications of a 3 gigawatt clean reactor the size of an apple. Tony's stunt of "hacking" the monitors in the hearing would also be more likely to get him into further trouble rather than having everyone in the room in awe at how awesome he is.
    • Captain America: Civil War: The Sokovia Accords are presented in this movie as American law. Since it's a UN treaty, two-thirds of the Senate would have had to agree to ratify it before it could be valid in the USA — and because it blatantly violates basic American civil liberties in a dozen different ways, there is no way it could ever pass.
    • Spider-Man: Homecoming: The situation that sets up the plot of the film, Damage Control voiding Adrian Toomes' legal city contract without compensating him (followed by one of them mocking him for thinking that they would), is highly illegal. In any situation like this, the government has a legal obligation to compensate businesses for what is essentially seizure by eminent domain, and given the stakes involved, a salvage company operating on a city contract in New York City (the most contested real-estate market in the world), Toomes had more than enough to sue for a big fat check from the government.
  • Jem and the Holograms (2015):
    • Jerrica is asked to sign a solo recording contract by music executive Erica Raymond. Nearly everything about the signing scene is wrong:
      • There is no lawyer present for the signing, nor a review of the contract. Jerrica simply takes a cursory look at the contact and signs without reading any of the fine print.
      • Multiple reviews of the film pointed out that there are virtually no major record label contracts that only require you to initial the first page. Nearly every contract signing, regardless of industry, requires that the signer(s) read and initial each page so that they understand what is being said.
      • Jerrica waives away any royalties or income until an unspecified point in time after her tour is completed. No mention is made by her of how she's supposed to support herself, how Erica's offer is better than any other label's or how this is legally sound.
      • Jerrica signs the document as "Jem", her stage alias. Not only is this absurd, but it isn't legally enforceable. If she chose to, Jerrica could break the contract and simply claim that the signature wasn't hers if she was taken to court.
    • The ending montage establishes that numerous fans have Jem and the Holograms merchandise and figures from previous incarnations of the franchise shown, including the 1980s animated series. This opens up a can of worms regarding trademark law and fair use: If Jem and the Holograms (that is, the '80s series) exists in this universe as a form of Celebrity Paradox, Erica Raymond and her production company would be found liable for infringement on an existing brand.
  • In I Shot Jesse James, the outlaw Frank James is acquitted of charges in Colorado, and the jail immediately let him go, even though they acknowledge he's wanted in other states like Kansas and Missouri. In reality, the Colorado authorities would’ve alerted the other states (telegrams were widespread by 1892, so there wouldn’t be a long delay) and kept Frank locked up until one of the states contacted them about extradition via the U.S. Marshals.
  • The Hitman's Bodyguard:
    • Massive liberties are taken to make Kincaid's testimony the only thing that can get Belorussian ex-dictator Dukhovich convicted at the Hague. A victim whose family was killed in front of him and was put in a work camp for three years has his entire testimony dismissed out of hand, with the implications that all of the other witnesses so far have had the same. Such testimony would not simply be declared "hearsay" (which, by the way, is when a witness is asked what they were told happened by somebody else, not what happened to them personally) and struck even if the defense claimed they were merely political opponents doing smear jobs. Somehow Kincaid was the only person to have pictures as proof of Dukhovich's crimes despite this being set in the modern day and that is the only kind of evidence that seems to work.
    • Also, it is entirely possible to have witnesses testify from remote locations. Kincaid could easily have testified on a video chat from his cell and given the website information from there. This is common practice precisely when the witness might be endangered by coming to the trial.
    • Even disregarding the above, you'd think the court would be a little more lax with the Exact Time to Failure considering that someone tried to murder Kincaid en route to the Hague.
  • In the 1991 martial arts film American Kickboxer 1, professional kickboxer B.J. Quinn (John Barrett) is sentenced to a year in prison for committing manslaughter. In addition, the judge also places a restraining order on Quinn by banning him for a period of five years from partaking in any competitive martial arts. In reality, a judge would not have the authority to ban someone for participating in a sport; that authority comes from said sport's sanctioning or governing body. Strange enough, Quinn never tries to appeal the judge's ban on competing.
  • The Hitman: It would not be legal for a police officer to work undercover as a contract killer, no matter how much of a Cowboy Cop he may be.
  • The Dark Knight Rises: The full scope of the Dent Act, an anti-organized crime law passed after Harvey Dent/Two-Face's death and Batman's disappearance in the previous film, is not fully explained in the film, but supplementary material states that it was passed by the Gotham City Council, denied parole to every inmate locked up in Blackgate, and does away with separate prisons for men and women. In real life, no American city except Washington, D.C. would have this amount of authority over the criminal justice system — that belongs to the state governments, and it would certainly have been struck down by the courts as unconstitutional.
  • Moriarty's trial in Holmes & Watson resembles nothing that has ever happened in a British courtroom. The judge wielding a gavel is just the beginning of the problems. Later, Dr. Watson is arrested and sentenced to hang without any trial occurring in between.
  • The horror movie Curse Of Bigfoot has a weird example where a teacher is talking about horror movies, but never actually names any of them, instead just alluding to "films about demonic possession" and "The movie with the great white shark", presumably because everyone involved in the production was under the misconception that actually saying film titles violates some trademark law.
  • Rampage (2009): In one of his political rants, Bill claims that firearms purchases do not mandate background checks, and cites this as proof of the gun industry's greed making mass murderers such as himself possible (whether or not Bill himself believes this is ambiguous, as he's a Manipulative Bastard trying to create random chaos, but the point is not refuted in-film). In truth, this gets complicated. Licensed firearms businesses (where, obviously, the overwhelming majority of gun sales take place) or "FFLs" are obligated under federal law to perform background checks on ALL their customers. No matter the location — there is no such thing as an Internet or gun show "loophole" for any lawful purchase. Private purchases, where one person might decide to sell a gun to one of their friends living in the same state, do not. If it's across state lines, an FFL will have to act as a middle-man. "Universal background checks" effectively places an additional tax on private individuals who probably cannot afford such a burden, in addition to possibly trespassing privacy rights. In other words, Bill's statement is technically correct in an extremely forgiving Exact Words interpretation, but wildly misleading all the same.
  • The writers of Hunter Killer seem to think that in Russia, the Minister of Defense can legally seize power in time of war if the President is incapacitated. In fact, the next in line is the Prime Minister. Also, Durov is clearly in his 50s, and yet his medals include the medal "For the Victory over Germany in the Great Patriotic War 1941–1945", which was only given out to WW2 vets.
  • Wall Street: When Gordon Gekko asks Bud Fox to follow rival corporate raider Lawrence Wildman around, Bud complains that he could lose his NASD Series 7 stockbroker license and/or get imprisoned. In reality, there's nothing illegal about following someone around and noting that he ate lunch in a public restaurant with other people, as this is all publicly observable information. It would only be illegal if Fox harassed Wildman in some way, and Fox tries not to be noticed by Wildman or anyone with him. The first illegal act Fox actually commits is searching a law firm's records (under the ruse of co-owning the cleaning company) and making copies of them for Gekko.
  • Boiler Room: At the end of the film, Seth browbeats a senior stockbroker into signing a sell order for a client so he can make his money back. In reality, most securities transactions have a SEC-mandated "settling" period before they become official. Since Seth knows the FBI will halt all transactions upon arrival, the sell order would never go through in real life and would be a completely meaningless gesture.
  • Lethal Weapon 2: Arjen Rudd's plan for using diplomatic immunity to commit crimes out in the open wouldn't have worked in real life. If a diplomat gets caught committing a crime in a foreign country, that country's law enforcement has every right to report it to the diplomat's superiors, who may revoke the immunity at their discretion and leave the diplomat open to arrest and prosecution. And no matter how corrupt the regime is or could be, they still would do that if the crime was serious enough, given the negative political consequences the country would suffer from having one of their diplomats abuse their position, especially on the soil of a country as powerful as the United States. Rudd's country of origin, South Africa, wasn’t exactly high on the world’s popularity list at the time, so it's almost certain they’d do anything to save face in relations with the US.
  • Even in 1898, a judge could not sentence a defendant to enlistment in the army for life, as the judge does to Jesse Lee in Posse.
  • Slashers's whole premise is founded on the idea that a legal jurisdiction (in this case Japan) would grant immunity to participants on a game show for any act they committed while on that show; up to, and including, murder. There isn't a jurisdiction anywhere in the world who would make this kind of deal even if they were able to. In most countries, this kind of thing would be specifically forbidden by their constitution (or equivalent) or by specific laws.
  • xXx: Xander Cage is forced into being an operative for the NSA via a Boxed Crook gambit: a protest stunt he just pulled (consisting of stealing an anti-video gaming Sleazy Politician's expensive sports car and deliberately driving it off a cliff) is said to have triggered a three-strikes law, meaning he otherwise doesn't get out of prison until he's an old man, if ever. A three-strikes law is for re-offending ex-felons: it can't be three charges from the same incident, and at least one has to be a serious violent felony. And even if the NSA ran operatives at all (in real life it just does signals and electronic intelligence gathering), due to separation of powers a federal executive branch agency has no power to pardon state-level offenses (the inciting incident would be tried under California law), nor would Xander be serving his sentence in the military prison at Leavenworth (the Uniform Code of Military Justice explicitly does not apply to civilians, even if they work for the military).
  • In 12, the Russian remake of 12 Angry Men, the main plot, as in the original, relies on a single juror holding up the deliberations by voting "not guilty". Here's the problem: in Russian jurisprudence, while the jury is advised to strive for a unanimous verdict, if the decision is not reached within 3 hours, then the jury must vote, and the majority vote is taken to the judge. Case over. In addition, Russian jurors are required to answer three questions: did the criminal act take place, was it committed by the defendant, and is the defendant guilty. In the remake, the jurors vote only on the third question as it would be in the American system.
  • 12 Angry Men was also remade for TV in 1997. The problem with remaking it in the late 90s is that there is no way there would have been an all-male jury. The lawyers for both the prosecution and the defense vet jury members before the trial starts, and there's no way an all-male jury would have been considered. It's simply not diverse enough for any lawyer worth their salt, since it shows a clear bias that might have constituted a mistrial.
  • Among the problems of the original 12 Angry Men is that jurors are not allowed to conduct their own research. This means the knife juror 8 bought that is identical to the murder weapon cannot be used to establish reasonable doubt.
  • John Doe: Vigilante: The judge in John Doe's trial is wearing a black robe and no wig, and the barristers are wearing business suits. At a trial in an Australian Supreme Court, the judge should be wearing a red robe and full wig, and the barristers black robes and horsehair wigs.
  • The plot of the 1991 remake of Cape Fear is driven by an attorney's choice not to bring up the sexual history of a rape victim, which caused his client to receive a much longer prison sentence. This ignores the fact that by the time of that film, most US states had passed "rape shield laws" which seriously limit, and very often prohibit, the victim's sexual history from being introduced in any manner at trial.

  • Shadow Ops has to take some... liberties with the law to make its story surrounding a Superhuman Registration Act even remotely possible:
    • The McGauer-Linden Act, which allows the government to imprison Latents without trial for refusing to join up, or execute Latents who hold particular abilities — especially as a huge number of Latents are teenagers — is extremely unconstitutional. In US law, while conscription is permitted, no Congressional act or executive order can violate the Constitution, and the McGrauer-Linden Act is among the most extreme imaginable violations of due process, which is protected by the Fifth Amendment.
    • The mere existence of FOB Frontier is a violation of the War Powers Resolution, which says that the President must inform Congress within 48 hours of a foreign military deployment and must withdraw them within ninety days without a Congressional authorization of military support. It's no surprise that the President is really, really unhappy with the idea of FOB Frontier becoming public and is willing to let everyone there die to keep it a secret.
  • In Kieshara, the serpiente legal system, which is presented as entirely humane and unproblematic, executes without trial any person accused of rape. Even by medieval fantasy standards, such a law would not work; every murderer could use it to kill their victims. Makes you wonder...
    "It is considered better to let an innocent man die than a guilty one live."
  • The Jack Ryan novel The Teeth Of The Tiger has the protagonists running a privately funded assassination squad against terrorism suspects. This includes a stack of fill-form presidential pardons pre-signed by former President Jack Ryan (naturally throwing in a contrast with the Fox News Liberal administration that succeeded him), just in case they get caught. Besides the dubious legality of such a concept in the first place, this does absolutely nothing for an operator arrested by a foreign government or even by a US state government: the President can only pardon federal offenses.
  • Touching Spirit Bear:
    • Cole Matthews is sent to a remote Alaskan island by a group called Circle Justice for beating Peter Driscal to the point of near death. Realistically, if you were to beat someone to near death, they wouldn't just leave you on an island for a year to heal the soul: Cole would have been charged as an adult for attempted manslaughter and the crimes he was said to have done beforehand, and put in juvenile detention.
    • At one point, Garvey tells Cole that his physically abusive dad might take custody of him. While it's a minor detail that doesn't come up again, it should be worth noting that if a parent has history of domestic abuse, then there's most likely a chance that the request of custody would not be approved.
    • Peter is sent to the island with the now-healed Cole to heal as well near the end of the book. In reality, a victim of physical abuse would never be sent to a remote island with his/her/their abuser, as noted in the author's notes.
  • In the British YA novel Guitar Girl, the protagonist Molly Montgomery comes into conflict with her manager Paul over wanting to leave her contact, with him saying he’ll sue her for breach of contract. However as she points out:
    • She signed the contract in public while intoxicated and without a lawyer present. Since she was not of sound mind at the time, it automatically voids the contract. Not to mention that since Molly didn’t have a lawyer to go over the fine print, she didn’t know what exactly she was signing.
    • She was also barely eighteen when she signed, and before her birthday, her parents never received a copy for their lawyer to look over. They could testify this in court, proving that Paul deliberately waited until she was an adult to get the contract signed.
    • All in all, Paul would be jailed for violating contract law.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In 30 Rock when Jack and Avery’s daughter Liddy is born in Canada they’re upset that she won’t be able to be President one day. While not settled law, the general understanding of the natural born citizen clause of the Constitution is that you qualify for the presidency as long as you are a US citizen at birth, even if you aren’t born in the US. Liddy would be a US citizen by birth no matter what since both of her parents are. In 2008 when John McCain, who was born in Panama to American parents while his father was stationed there in the Navy, ran for president the Senate commissioned a study that came to the conclusion that he would be eligible and passed a non-binding resolution in support of it. Ted Cruz, born in Canada to American parents (although his father wasn’t a citizen at the time), also ran for president without any serious pushback in this regard. note  However, neither of them ended up winning so the question was never formally answered. Little Liddy would almost certainly be able to run for president but for now there is no definitive ruling.
  • Arrow, in the second episode, Oliver forces a crooked businessman to admit he had one of his employees killed. The recording of the confession is somehow enough to get the guy convicted of murder, despite the fact that any lawyer worth his salt should be able to get a confession extracted at arrow point by a murderous vigilante tossed out as coerced.
  • Arrested Development: Cousin marriage is legal in the US state of California. The show ignores this in favor of Rule of Drama. George Michael has a crush on his cousin, and thinks cousin marriage is illegal. This cannot he explained away as George Michael simply being misinformed, because it's heavily implied that he has researched this law extensively.
    George Michael: For instance, in some states, it's legal to marry your own cousin. California's blocked it twice, but that's only because they tacked it onto an estate law thing that wasn't gonna pass. We had the signatures.
  • Burn Notice: In "Truth and Reconciliation", the client tries to use a document from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to get the Monster of the Week to return to Haiti to stand trial. Although the episode is right when Sam points out that the United States is not a signatory, in real life, unlike the International Criminal Court, the IACHR doesn't prosecute individuals for human rights abuses, but whole governments.
  • CSI
    • Had an episode where evidence was thrown out because the team didn’t wait to be sure they had a warrant before seizing it. But the “good faith” clause in the U.S. means that evidence can be presented if it was seized “in good faith” that the proper warrant was obtained.
    • In the episode "Ending Happy", the five people who tried (but failed) to kill the titular asshole former boxer are let off the hook by the fact that they had not been successful- Happy died via drowning from a chair breaking and dropping him in a pool. Stokes even snarks that a good enough Amoral Attorney would blame it all on the chair. No mention whatsoever of Felony Murder, and the show had used this detail several times before to take down an apparent Karma Houdini.
  • Bones
    • It also had a case where the “good faith” clause would have applied. It was when the Gravedigger was having her hearing to see if she could be tried.
    • Not to mention the many times the cases would have been endangered by Brennan’s interrogation antics or Booth not stopping talking after someone asked for a lawyer.
    • Brennan gets sentenced to six months probation for assault in season 11, and Booth is assigned as her probation officer. Not only does Booth not have the required training to work as a probation officer, but he and Brennan have been married for several years by this point, which would create a massive conflict of interest and therefore no judge in their right mind would assign him to supervise her.
  • Chernobyl: Despite Craig Mazin's claims to have done extensive research into the disaster and the Soviet Union of the time, he has made a number of mistakes:
    • Dyatlov, the deputy chief engineer of the power plant (third or fourth in the hierarchy after the director), throwing a folder at a subordinate would likely have consequences for him. Doing it once would likely have them call an ambulance to see if he was delirious. Doing it habitually would have them report it to the party committee, labor union committee, district committee, and probably one or two other committees. No bureaucracy is in need of superiors who throw folders at their subordinates.
    • Dyatlov swearing at a subordinate and threatening to fire him, as well as to make sure that he never worked at another power plant again, would definitely be overstepping his authority. There would have to have been a valid, documented reason for the firing. And if it was an empty threat, then he'd be risking a complaint to his own superior about abuse of power and creating a hostile work environment at an important facility. At best, he'd be able to try to force the employee to quit of his own volition.
    • The coal minister himself would never have gone to talk the miners into helping out with the disaster recovery, especially with armed soldiers. For one, no one would've given him soldiers. And two, the way it would've happened (and did happen) was for the order to be passed down through the proper channels. And three, the real coal minister was himself an ex-miner and wasn't the Upper-Class Twit shown in the series. He understood the plight of the working man very well.
    • Shcherbina threatening to shoot Legasov for failing to explain to him how a nuclear reactor works is complete nonsense. This wasn't Stalin's USSR. Summary executions were a rarity, and Legasov was told to report directly to Shcherbina, so simply asking for an explanation would've been simpler and had fewer consequences. Plus Legasov was an important enough individual that he wouldn't have to fear Shcherbina's threat. In addition, the soldier in the helicopter would be under no obligation to follow Scherbina's clearly illegal order.
    • The idea of the KGB putting the pressure on Shcherbina is laughable. Shcherbina was number two in the Council of Ministers, while the KGB was a committee under the Council of Ministers, which means that Shcherbina was higher in the pecking order than any KGB official. It was the KGB that would have to fear Shcherbina, not the other way around.
    • In addition, the KGB would never have tried to cover up the disaster, since nuclear power is outside their purview.
  • CSI: NY: The episode "Grand Master" dealt with fugu (Japanese pufferfish served as sushi) being openly sold in a sushi bar. This is extremely illegal in the US because of how difficult it is to prepare fugu without poisoning your customers. Even in Japan there are very specific laws strictly regulating the sale and serving of fugu, and they still have several hospitalizations and deaths every year (though nearly all of them are of amateurs who tried to prepare it themselves instead of relying on a trained chef).
  • Doctor Who: In "The Sound of Drums", American President Winters refers to himself as "president-elect", which would mean he's not the President yet; the term refers to someone who has won a Presidential election, but hasn't yet been sworn in, meaning the outgoing President is still in charge. Russell T. Davies later admitted that he didn't know what the term actually meant, and had assumed it to be a longer ceremonial title of the US President.
  • Each episode of Ed usually involves one of the eponymous protagonist's cases, and generally takes a lot of liberties with the legal procedures. Frequent examples include lawyers testifying instead of asking witnesses questions and submitting evidence, judges allowing inappropriate questions and Courtroom Antics which would result in mistrials or verdicts being overturned on appeal, and completely inadmissible evidence being admitted. Many episodes also revolve around clearly Frivolous Lawsuits, filed both by Ed and his opponents, which would be dismissed without trial in real life.
  • The Golden Girls takes very creative liberties with estate law in the popular episode "It's A Miserable Life", all in the name of the Rule of Funny:
    • Mrs. Claxton owns and lives in the house whose property includes a very old tree the city council wants to demolish, and Claxton (who hates all living things, and is hated by them in return) supports this. Her support is seen as critical despite the protests of the rest of the neighborhood, including the girls. Fair enough so far, but then after Rose tells her to drop dead and she promptly does, the episode promptly changes tack.
    • For reasons never adequately explained, the girls find themselves in custody of her remains and responsible for her funeral arrangements. In order for this to be the case, they would have to be the (joint) executors of her estate. The idea of Mrs. Claxton appointing these women she so despises to execute her will is ludicrous, but there is no other explanation as to why they are able to make decisions on her behalf. Even assuming she died intestate (without a will) and the State of Florida had to appoint someone to adminster her estate, it's unlikely the state would choose a group of neighbors unrelated by blood who she was so hostile toward that her dying words were an expression of hatred towards one of them.
    • Even if we assume the girls are the executors of her estate, that also means they should be in charge of disposing of her assets — namely her house. This alone would provide them the leverage they need to save the tree, as the executors of the estate of the woman whose property the tree is located on. However, instead the tree is saved because Rose scattered Mrs. Claxton's ashes around the tree, making it her final resting place. What becomes of the house (whether the girls sell it or pass it on to a next-of-kin) is never revealed.
  • iCarly: In "iOwe You", Sam urges the iCarly viewers to send them as much money as they can so she can have enough to pay Freddie back; however, Principal Franklin orders the girls to send the money back because it's illegal to solicit money from kids over the internet under the age of 18... unless, as Spencer puts, they provide a product or service in return. In real life, asking people for money is not illegal in the US as it would violate your freedom of speech; you have your freedom to ask people for money, even over the internet and without providing a return product, as long as you are not defrauding anyone and are not lying why you need the money.
  • In the beginning, Law & Order, specifically the original, went out of its way to avert this, at least on a significant scale note  but as the series went on, straight examples became more common. Later series in the franchise had this more frequently as well.
    • In the SVU episode "Denial", a judge orders the ADA to bring charges against a witness for the prosecution. This is in blatant violation of every principle and custom of criminal law, in which the prosecutor has the total and absolute prerogative to bring charges against whomever they please (which a judge can then dismiss if they feel the prosecution doesn't have a case). Such blatant judicial overreach would almost certainly get the judge censured at the very least in any Real Life situation, and the ADA is outraged (and, of course, is found in contempt for arguing with the judge), but the judge gets away with it since the ADA's boss finds additional evidence against the witness and files charges over her head.
    • In the SVU episode "Screwed", a judge throws out damning evidence against a defendant because said defendant made a comment to the effect that he had a lawyer representing him in an unrelated case. In reality, it's extremely unlikely that any judge would rule that the detectives could reasonably be expected to interpret an offhanded mention as him asking for a lawyer (and if a trial judge did, it could almost certainly be overturned on appeal).
  • In an episode of Lois & Clark where President-Elect Tempus was giving out orders as if he had already been sworn in. Orders to arrest and execute all the poor in America (and anybody who did not owned a phone). It's a pretty good thing that "John Doe" had the capacity to brainwash anybody who used a phone line (the reason for the aforementioned order - poor people obviously didn't owned phones) on his side…
  • Madam Secretary:
    • During the election arc in the first half of season three, President Dalton, after losing his party's primary and unable to win a majority in the electoral college while running as an independent, instead forces a three-way draw so that the election will be punted to the House of Representatives, where he ekes out a win. This part is perfectly legitimate under the quite unique American Political System (it's happened three times in real life), but after that his main rival, Governor Sam Evans, sues in Ohio, hoping to get the waiver of their sore-loser law that got Dalton on the ballot overturned under a lobbying law, thereby invalidating Dalton's win in Ohio and giving Evans the win. This idea ignores a fundamental fact about the electoral college: all the state popular vote does is suggest to the state's electors how the residents want them to vote, and all electoral college ballots are final once submitted. At most Evans might delegitimize Dalton's win and cause him political problems down the road, but he can't actually overturn the election once the electoral college and House have already voted.
    • "Family Separation" borrows its plot from the Trump Administration's real-life policy, but the policy wouldn't make much sense in the immigration-moderate Dalton Administration. So the show has a state governor enacting the policy, even though US states are not empowered to execute immigration law in any respect (it's a civil matter under the auspices of the President's power to execute foreign policy as enacted by Congress).
  • Monk: Where to begin...
    • The San Francisco Police Department doesn't have detectives. It has inspectors, so back when Monk was still a cop, he should have been called Inspector Monk.
    • Stottlemeyer and Disher are shown to be personally investigating cases. Except they're a police captain and lieutenant, respectively, and such people typically engage in more managerial duties, leaving investigations to regular detectives/inspectors.
    • "Mr. Monk Gets Jury Duty": As a police consultant, Monk would likely be ineligible to participate in a jury trial. Also, there's no requirement that the police hand off a criminal to the feds in a court building rather than a prison.
    • "Mr. Monk in Outer Space": When Monk proves that Brandon Lorber was already dead when he was shot, Stottlemeyer says that it's officially not their case since there's no crime. Actually, if the shooter wasn't certain that the man was dead at the time of the shooting, then this qualifies as attempted murder. And if he was certain that the man was dead, then he's guilty of desecrating the dead, which is a Class 6 felony.
    • "Mr. Monk and the Captain's Wife": Captain Stottlemeyer is personally investigating the case of his wife being hit by a tow truck. Except cops are not allowed to take part in investigations involving immediate relatives, as it presents a conflict of interests.
    • "Mr. Monk and the Rapper": After the explosion of a limo that killed a rapper, the driver is taken to a hospital. The killer sneaks in and kills him before he can testify. Except in Real Life there'd be police protection for the only witness to a crime.
    • "Mr. Monk and the Game Show": It's unlikely that Roddy Lankman and Val Birch's plan would have worked, given that game shows have people who watch the recordings specifically to catch attempts at cheating, and Birch wasn't exactly hiding it well, especially when he answered the question even before he saw the picture it referred to. In addition, cheating on a televised game show is a federal crime.
  • In the NCIS episode "Ships in the Night", a suspect alibis out of the murder of the week via paparazzi video of a rendezvous with a senator's 17-year-old daughter. Ziva promptly arrests him for statutory rape to get him back for being a jerkass, and he goes "She told me she was 18." The age of consent in Virginia is 18, but in Maryland and Washington, D.C. it's 16 (ditto the UCMJ, although the suspect is a civilian so that isn't relevant), and Maryland and D.C. also have Romeo-and-Juliet laws. In other words, this is only a valid charge in one of four jurisdictions where the show typically takes place, and it isn't stated where the incident actually took place.
  • The Practice (and, by extension, its Sequel Series Boston Legal) frequently engage in instances of Hollywood Law, despite being written by a former prosecutor (David E. Kelley).
    • Aside from lawyers being given carte blanche to make spectacles of themselves in court or make dramatic, showy interjections (seen most notably with Denny Crane), one of the longest-lasting running tropes in the series involves prosecutors routinely meeting with judges in their private quarters outside of trial, which is not typically allowed in U.S. law, to the extent that it's sometimes arranged with the judge in front of opposing counsel without objection. As a nod to this, the series finale of Practice has Amoral Attorney Alan Shore get reamed out in dramatic fashion by Eugene Young (who's been promoted to a judge role), both for acting chummy with him in court to the extent of calling him by his first name instead of "Your Honor", and for an existing rivalry that led Shore to score a decisive victory against his former firm's attempt to sue him.
    • Bobby and Helen are in a relationship while both are still taking cases against each other. Later Lindsey and Helen are housemates and close friends while doing the same thing. In both cases, it would be unethical due to the potential bias they could have towards each other. Though it's unclear if the judges know of this sometimes, they never bring it up among themselves either until one case where Judge Hiller says it would be fine while in reality, they don't allow this.
  • RoboCop: Prime Directives sees a flashback where a pre-cyborg Alex Murphy and his then-partner get called out to deal with a dog barking like crazy and quickly discover the dog gnawing on human remains, hear a scream, and decide to investigate with Alex initially worried about them not having a warrant. Except, as noted, they were already responding to a call and discovered human remains, so they'd have Probable Cause on their side.
  • Seinfeld: The series finale involves the cast being brought to trail for violating the "Good Samaritan Law" when they fail to help a man being mugged. In real life, good Samaritan laws protect people from being charged for accidental harm caused when they do try to help someone is danger. The trial is also filled with various examples, such as the judge allowing witnesses that have no relevance simply because the prosecution already paid for their travel expenses. Also, the maximum punishment for such a violation would be a $300 fine, not a one-year prison sentence, especially since there was a cop standing close by and not doing anything to help and even testifying to that effect. Even their fictional version of the law is stated to only require offering aid "when it is reasonable to do so" — any lawyer worth a damn could easily argue that there is nothing remotely reasonable about requiring random civilians to intervene against a possibly armed criminal. And they also recorded a video of the mugging - sure, it provides evidence of their Jerkass attitude (they were jeering the whole situation) but it also could have been requested as evidence for the mugging by the police and then let go.
  • Servant of the People: Ukrainian law forbids a president who has resigned voluntarily to seek reelection. And yet that's exactly what the main character ends up doing.
  • The first two episodes of She-Hulk: Attorney at Law center around a number of legal matters that dramatically change lead character Jennifer Walters' circumstance — and are heavily suspect from a legal point of view:
    • The instigating situation that causes Jennifer's identity as She-Hulk to be revealed involves a "superpowered influencer" named Titania, who is fleeing traffic court in order to escape a fine leveled at her, and attacks a nearby courtroom in a rage. Typically, the nature of traffic court cases in the U.S. are motivated by individuals contesting the fine after it was already issued. You can't "escape" a fine you were already given, especially if you didn't like the result of a court case you had to initiate yourself and subsequently lost.
    • It's claimed that the case Jennifer presided over in the pilot episode (which was attacked by Titania) would have been declared a mistrial, which would mean that the case is irrevocably "lost". This is not true in U.S. law — the case would be retried due to extenuating circumstances (in this case, interference from an unrelated party), and the jury (and possibly even counsel) would have been reshuffled and the case tried again. If anything, the D.A.'s office would have simply leveled fresh charges against the accused party in the case, and would have moved Jennifer to a non-advocate role instead of active counsel. This is used as justification for the following...
    • Jennifer's firing is a wrongful dismissal suit waiting to happen. She is approached after-hours by her boss (the District Attorney) when she is at a bar, and possibly in a compromising positionnote . She is then told that she is being fired immediately because her presence as a "superhero" in courtrooms would lead to a bias on the part on the jury — and this is used as the reasoning for why no other law firm in California, not even a criminal firm, will subsequently hire her after the fact. Besides the fact that Jennifer is a public defender who, given the office, was either appointed by her boss or voted in by Californian voters, she likely signed a contract with her firm, which would have clear terms for firing and severance. (Additionally, the case she was presiding over is judged to be a mistrial, which she is only made aware of after the fact, despite being primary counsel.) Even in the worst real-life scenarios, the lawyer is called in for a meeting and informed of their firing, not told after-hours that they are being let go for an extremely tenuous reason (e.g. firing a "superstar" lawyer because they're "too good" at their job, in a universe where superheroes have publicly existed for more than 15 years by this point). In an extremely-competitive market like California, which routinely has high-powered lawyers representing celebrity clients, the notion that not a single firm would be poaching Jen because of her newfound star power, if not making her a partner in their firm, is positively absurd.
    • Jennifer is called in by her new boss in the second episode and told that he wants to give her a case representing a superpowered client (Abomination, a.k.a. Emil Blonsky, from The Incredible Hulk). The character in question directly attacked her cousin in a very public incident more than a decade beforehand (and tried to kill him), and Jennifer notes that this is a clear conflict of interest because it could lead to the jury's perception that she is biased towards one of the participating parties in the incident. Her boss tells her that if she doesn't represent Blonsky, she will be let go again... which is a completely-absurd notion. Conflict of interest is a very serious deal, and the connection between one of the representing lawyers to a subject in the case likely would have been brought up in pre-trial or discovery. (The show excuses it by claiming Blonsky signed a waiver which absolves her of any conflict-of-interest concerns, which is also not how the U.S. legal system works). No attorney in their right mind would put a legal defender on a case where they have a very public connection to one of the parties and attempt to hold it over their head in order to ensure continued employment.
    • Episode 5:
      • Titania is able to instantly trademark the name "She-Hulk", seemingly days after Jennifer first takes up the (reluctant) mantle of the same name, and uses this as grounds to sue Jennifer for allegedly using the same name as a line of beauty products she's debuting at the same time. Putting aside the notion that Titania would even be allowed in a courtroom after attacking one just days earliernote , trademark protection usually takes several months to approve — and it only protects a brand, not the name of a character who is being identified as such (despite her own wishes) by members of the public.
      • Among other observations made by by LegalEagle here, the episode's solution hinges on whether Jennifer can claim she was using the "She-Hulk" identity as a trademark before Titania was. To get it overturned, Jennifer turns to the string of men she's dated who were interested because she's She-Hulk... instead of the fact that she was hired by her current law firm explicitly because she's She-Hulk and that the firm has been advertising her services as such, which is indisputably commercial use of the term and therefore a much better argument for her having a prior trademark.
  • Sherlock:
    • Early in the third episode of season 1, the case-hungry Sherlock travels to a prison in Minsk and listens to a prisoner describe a run-of-the-mill crime of passion. Bored, he gets up to leave. The prisoner, whose English is spotty at best, tells him that he'll get hung for sure. Sherlock corrects him on his grammar by saying he'll be hanged. Apparently, neither character is aware that Belarus uses the firing squad to execute capital offenders. It's odd for a citizen of that country and also odd for a world-class detective.
    • In the "Many Happy Returns" short, Anderson claims that someone matching Sherlock's description participated in a jury trial in Germany. Except Germany doesn't have jury trials.
  • In the Star Trek: Discovery episode "Context Is for Kings", protagonist Michael Burnham suspects Captain Lorca is developing biological weapons aboard Discovery and cites the Geneva Conventions' ban on them to him. There are a couple of problems with this:
    • In real life, the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention cited actually doesn't outlaw bioweapons; those are covered by a different set of treaties (the 1925 Geneva Protocol prohibits their use but not their creation, while the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention outlaws them altogether). However, Burnham also cites a fictional 22nd-century version of the Conventions under which these are apparently covered.
    • In "Battle at the Binary Stars", Burnham and Captain Georgiou developed a plan that directly violated a different portion of the Geneva Conventions, namely Article 6 of 1980 Protocol II, mining an enemy corpse so that it would detonate when recovered, which made her statement to Lorca seem rather hypocritical to viewers versed in international law.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959):
    • Lampshaded in "Shadow Play". In trying to prove that it is all part of his dream, Adam Grant points out to the district attorney Henry Ritchie that he was convicted and sentenced to death on the same day, which doesn't happen in reality. He is also executed very shortly after his conviction, which is highly unusual in the United States.
    • In "I am the Night - Color Me Black", Jagger is publicly executed on May 25, 1964. The last person to be publicly executed in the United States was Rainey Bethea in Owensboro, Kentucky on August 14, 1936.
  • Yellowstone:
    • In season 4, Montana Attorney General Jamie Dutton watches a man bump into his secretary with coffee and jokes, "That's called battery!" However, in Montana, "battery" is not a crime. There is assault, aggravated assault, and assault with a weapon. This instance is odd since this very distinction comes up in season 3 when John Dutton tries to tell a woman who assaulted a cop that she's actually charged with "battery," only for her lawyer to correct him that the charge is in fact "assault."
    • In season 4, there is a subplot hinging on whether a woman will "press charges" against Beth for aggravated assault. Jamie talks her out of it by reading from her police report, and the matter is dropped. However, private citizens don't determine whether someone will be prosecuted for a crime. They simply file a police report, and the district attorney makes the decision. So with the report already filed, Jamie would should have had to convince the district attorney not to prosecute.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Nine times out of ten, when a non-champion in pro wrestling steals a championship belt and tries to goad the champion into putting the title itself on the line to get its physical symbol back, either the champion themselves or the resident authority figure will cave to this demand. This is often justified by the expression that "possession is nine-tenths of the law," meaning that according to professional wrestling, thievery is one of the best ways to become a #1 contender for a championship title. And even in that tenth time of ten when someone is recognized as the champion without the belt (as John Cena was when the belt was stolen by The Great Khali), it raises the question of why the wrestling company couldn't just make another belt.
  • CHIKARA 2015: Manager Sidney Bakabella was holding Oleg The Usurper's contract over him, even though he didn't think highly enough of Oleg to draft him to The Wrecking Crew team for the Challenge of the Immortals tournament. At King of Trios 2015 Night II, September 5, 2015, there was a match between The Arcane Horde (Oleg and The Batiri [Obariyon and Kodama], w/UltraMantis Black) vs. The Devastation Corporation (Max Smashmaster, Blaster McMassive and Flex Rumblecrunch, w/Bakabella, who were 3/4 of The Wrecking Crew with Jaka). At one point in the match, Bakabella was in the ring holding Oleg's contract saying, "I own you, I own you!" The crowd chanted "Tear it up, Oleg, tear it up!" and Oleg did exactly that, finishing by blasting Bakabella with his Finishing Move Off With His Head! This completed Oleg's Heel–Face Turn, and freed him from having to work for Bakabella ever again.

  • When Charles, Prince of Wales and soon-to-be-king of England refuses to grant assent to the Media Regulation Bill in the 2014 play King Charles III, the Prime Minister retaliates by proposing a bill to strip the Crown of its power to grant assent to any bill, which in normal constitutional circumstances can't make much progress in Parliament without King's Consent since it affects the Royal Prerogative.

    Video Games 
  • In PAYDAY 2, the FBI Files feature comprehensively lists all the crimes you have committed throughout the game. However, it erroneously lists killing medics as violations of the Geneva Convention, which is incorrect in two ways: First, neither the Payday Crew nor the police are combatants in a war, so the Geneva Convention does not apply to them to begin with. Second, even if we assume that the Geneva Convention applies regardless, all medics in the game are visibly armed and active in combat, and so are exempt from the Geneva Convention's protections for medical personnel. Because of that, the FBI claiming that the Payday Crew violated the Geneva Convention by shooting their armed medics would itself be a Geneva Convention violation, as improperly citing it with the aim of protecting armed combatants is technically perfidy, falling under "the feigning of protected status by the use of signs, emblems or uniforms".
  • Saints Row 2 invokes this for comedy. The game begins with Johnny Gat being tried for "... one count of attempted murder and 387 counts of murder." Johnny claims that with the statute of limitations being what it is the latter count "should be closer to two-fifty", only for the exasperated judge to roll her eyes and explain that there is no statute of limitations for murder. Of course, Johnny is just trolling — it's a foregone conclusion that he's going to be found guilty and given the death penalty, so he's annoying the judge because he can.
  • The entirety of the Ace Attorney series plays very loose with the legal system of Japan. The legal system is so skewed out of the realm of reality that it barely resembles the Japanese legal system at all. For one, the courts in Ace Attorney violate major sections of the Constitution of Japan in regards to legal rights, including the right to not self-incriminate, the right to a fair trial, and protection against unlawful detention. Plus, the games are working from a stance of "guilty until proven innocent", but it's more like "guilty until someone else is proven guilty". Early games are especially bad about this, as just failing to prove a killer's motivation (even if it's beyond all doubt that someone is the culprit) results in an innocent person going to jail. The games exist in their own fictional version of Earth which makes the disconnect easier to swallow, but still has moments where one questions how this justice system gets anything done.
    • An incident in the backstory of Miles Edgeworth is particularly bad about this. How could Edgeworth be seriously found guilty of a murder committed when he was a child that he was present for but, beyond his confession, there is no evidence of the true culprit? There is no proof of what happened and mitigating circumstances, including a loss of oxygen in the room and a brawl breaking out between a bailiff and Edgeworth's father (not to mention Edgeworth being so young and panicked so his memory could not be legally trusted), are seemingly irrelevant to the court. Time should factor in as well given the murder is almost a decade-and-a-half old which means Edgeworth accidentally discharged the firearm and is being held guilty for it at the age of 24 when the murder happened when he was just nine years old. Yes, there is no statute of limitations for murder, but somehow Edgeworth's young age doesn't factor into the decision at all. All that matters is he threw a gun in an effort to break up a fight (yes, threw it, not fired it, it went off by accident even by his own confession), it discharged, and Gregory Edgeworth died, and nothing else seems to be remotely relevant in the eyes of the law.
    • Spirit of Justice gives us a threefold example in the form of Armie Buff's RC helicopter, Sergeant "Sarge" Buff. First off, why they would allow an RC helicopter with functional weapons into the courtroom, even if it's a toy, is beyond understanding. Any sane judge would have it swapped out with a simple two-way radio. Second, said weapons are used repeatedly against Apollo over the course of the drone's testimony. The third example is recursively twofold in that at one point, Athena's Mood Matrix session is interrupted when Sarge steals Widget, and when the judge tries to bring order to the court, Sarge steals his gavel as well before he can use it, and threatens to turn the case into a military tribunal with Sarge as the judge (not the person, the toy chopper). Immediately thereafter, an attempt at getting the stolen items back results in a firefight breaking out between Athena and two bailiffs vs. Sarge. Altogether, even if Sarge was allowed in lieu of something more practical, the various antics it causes would normally result in Armie being charged with theft (Widget and the judge's gavelnote ), assault (attacking Apollo, Athena, and the bailiffs), and contempt (everything else), and had their testimony thrown out on grounds of insanity as a result. And even if Armie was allowed to continue, Sarge would have been confiscated and replaced with something less likely to attack those around it.
    • The Great Ace Attorney changes things up by setting the majority of the game in London, with protagonist Ryunosuke Naruhodo operating under the British legal system. This means the introduction of a jury- which only manages to make things even more absurdly unrealistic. The six (not twelve) jurors can interrupt proceedings at any moment to announce they've made up their minds about the guilt or innocence of the accused on their own initiative, irrespective of how much evidence has or has not been presented or whether the defence has even been allowed to cross-examine witnesses, and if all six decide they're guilty then the trial is immediately suspended and the judge renders their verdict. The defence can force the jurors to explain their reasoning and attempt to convince them to change their minds, but even the procedure for doing so is considered archaic and no longer practiced because it supposedly never worked. Given that every case in the series starts from a position of overwhelming evidence against the accused which the player is expected to chip away at, the idea that the jurors can simply force a trial to stop without even giving the defence a chance almost completely undermines the very concept of legal procedure.
  • Fable: The Hero automatically becomes the new rightful owner of the Darkwood Bordello when he retrieves the deed from where the original owner keeps it. Ordinarily, this wouldn't do anything to transfer the legal title from the original owner, but apparently Albion operates under the "Possession is nine-tenths of the law" principle.

    Web Animation 
  • In The Tunnel episode of Civil Protection Mike's reasoning after finding a corpse. Of course it's an totalitarian dystopia but still.
    Now we have hard evidence. We can arrest anybody we want.
  • Turnabout Storm:
    • The story climaxes when Phoenix and Twilight (initially) struggle to present evidence implicating a person other than Dash in the murder and thereby clearing her name. Though it could be explained away as a quirk of Equestria's (and by logical extension, Ace Attorney's pseudo-Japanese setting's) legal system, this violates a central tenet of Real Life criminal law, in dubio pro reo (When In Doubt, For The Accused). At this point in the trial, the defence has already successfully dismantled much of the alleged evidence linking Dash to the killing, whittling the prosecution's case down to circumstantial evidence such as Dash's possible motive as well as her presence near the crime scene — both of which make for a laughably flimsy case on their own meritnote  and offer plenty of grounds for an acquittal. The burden of proving the killing of Ace Swift by Dash (and that said killing constituted murder rather than, say, manslaughter) beyond reasonable doubt rests squarely with prosecutor Trixie;note  it's not on the defence to remove every last shred of suspicion. This principle turns out to be very well-advised when it is ultimately revealed that Ace Swift had electrocuted himself.
    • Likewise, the final reveal of Ace Swift ending up being killed by a thunderbolt discharging from a volatile thunder-cloud that Rainbow Dash had unwittingly left parked next to him could still open up Dash to charges of negligent homicide. This possibility is however not brought up at any point.
  • Turnabout Theatre: After prosecutor Prince Blueblood examines only a single witness, he tries to pressure the defence into letting him examine the defendant in order to establish a possible motive. Should the defence refuse, he threatens to simply forego discussing any of the remaining evidence (and thus rob the defence of the possibility of poking holes into them) and call for a swift guilty verdict. This threat (and the request it's meant to back up) are invalid for several obvious reasons (such as the fact that either party should generally have the right to request the examination of all submitted evidence before a final verdict is passed), but the main one is that all the evidence should have already been disclosed to the defence ahead of the trial, giving them plenty of opportunity to investigate and dispute it to their heart's content; as a matter of fact, a trial lawyer is advised to never bring up a question in cross-examination to which he does not already know the answer. Conversely, the under-preparedness of the defence is a running theme in Ace Attorney in general.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Darkwing Duck: In instances when Darkwing gets arrested, he is thrown into jail pretty much immediately without a hearing. On top of that, he is allowed to retain his Darkwing costume and identity while behind bars, instead of having to be Drake Mallard in a prison uniform.
  • Total Drama gives a lot of examples for Chris McLean:
    • In "Masters of Disasters", he frets that if the teens drown in the locked submarines, his show will be cancelled, but is relieved when they manage to escape. However, in reality, the show would've been cancelled anyway due to the near-death of 9 kids (not that anything else they have to do on the show is much better). The only difference being that if they did happen to drown, Chris would have been arrested rather than simply fired.
    • In "Scarlett Fever", Chris doesn't seem worried that all the contestants could die if the island exploded, even though this would likely lead to the show being cancelled and him being arrested again.
    • To be fairly honest, pretty much half of the stuff that he does would be more than enough to get him fired at the very least. Given how some of the injuries — such as Heather's jellyfish stings — could easily have fatal or life altering side effects — like Trent eating poisonous blowfish — have nearly killed the contestants, Chris, in real life, would have been fired, arrested, and likely jailed barely a third of the way through the first season.
  • The Simpsons:
    • "The Boy Who Knew Too Much", about Mayor Quimby's nephew being tried for assault, illustrates (and lampshades) how crazy the legal process is in Springfield. Witnesses are bribed in open court, and no one cares. The judge reopens the case knowing that doing so is grossly unconstitutional, but she "just can't say no to kids". But even aside from that, the things that aren't jokes are quite inaccurate. First, the jury is made up entirely of major cast members, when by rule no juror can be personally connected to any other juror (or the defendant, plaintiff, or any witnesses) — that's a key part of keeping the jury impartial. Principal Skinner's presence on the jury illustrates the problem and serves as a plot point — potential witness Bart is afraid to admit that he saw what really happened, because in doing so he would admit to a school official that he was skipping school. His dad Homer is on the jury too, because The Main Characters Do Everything, and Apu is on the jury despite not yet being a U.S. citizen. Finally, the presence of new evidence which could have changed the original verdict usually does allow the case to be reopened.
    • "Much Apu About Nothing" centers around a proposed law which would have Springfield round up and deport all of the illegal immigrants living there. Under U.S. law, the federal government has exclusive authority over matters of immigration — a town such as Springfield could legally collaborate with the feds to apprehend illegal immigrants, but not take matters into its own hands. Which could explain why in future episodes, Groundskeeper Willie was back as if nothing had happened.
    • "The Parent Rap" shows that Judge Snyder and Judge Harm are both incompetent, for opposite reasons. Snyder is way too lenient, willing to let Bart off with a scolding for an admitted felony (it is suggested he's the reason Bart tends to get away with everything). Harm, on the other hand, is way too strict, handing down sentences that would likely be considered torture and are directly referred to within the episode as cruel and unusual (and later, commits a very serious legal taboo, presiding over a case dealing with a crime in she was the victim). The episode also shows Judge Harm presiding simultaneously over juvenile and regular criminal courts (which doesn't happen in real life for the same reason you don't see an Omnidisciplinary Lawyer), as well as Snyder replacing Harm in the middle of the hearing (which wouldn't happen without the first judge's agreement, and Harm very much did not agree).
    • Cruel and unusual punishment seems to be legal in the town, such as flogging, being catapulted out of the city, and torture for remembering that Skinner is not the real Skinner.
    • When Homer and Ned Flanders get married to a couple of hookers in Las Vegas, and the hookers return in "Brawl in the Family", Harm refuses to allow them to get the marriages annulled because bigamy is legal under Nevada law. But many real-life Las Vegas marriages are annulled for reasons Homer and Ned can claim — they were extremely drunk and already married.
    • In "Bart the Fink", Krusty gets indicted over tax evasion, so the IRS has his salary heavily garnished until he pays his back taxes, which is expected to take the rest of his life. Inexplicably, they also take most of his show's budget, which is not legal (Krusty doesn't own the station) and is a stupid idea (the show can't make any money if they can't make anything for people to watch).
    • In There's Something About Marrying", Springfield chooses to legalize gay marriage. Prior to gay marriage becoming legal on the federal level in 2015, its status was determined on a state level. A singular city would not be able to set its own gay marriage laws independent of its state.
    • In "The Monkey Suit", Flanders and Lovejoy browbeat Skinner into teaching Creationism at school, and later the mayor approves a law that makes it illegal to teach the Theory of Evolution. McLean vs Arkansas Board of Education in 1981 established that teaching creationism in schools is against the Constitution, so it should have been easy for Lisa to force the issue, though you do hear about states like Kansas trying to replace evolution with creationism and considering how everyone in Springfield is backwards and anti-intellectual (they once tried to burn Principal Skinner at the stake because of his claims that the Earth revolves around the sun), the writers probably thought it would be best just to forget that piece of Supreme Court history.
    • In "Sweets and Sour Marge", Marge files a lawsuit against a major sugar manufacturer, and after hearing her case Judge Snyder passes a law banning sugar from Springfield. A judge is only supposed to interpret existing laws, preside over trials and pass judgement, NOT make up new ones at his whim. Lampshaded at the end when Snyder strikes down the ban after acknowledging that he had no authority to enact it.
    • "The Bob Next Door": Sideshow Bob intends to kill Bart at a fictional location called Five Corners where five states' borders meet, in such a way that the crime takes place in all five states (Bob stands in the first, fires the gun in the second, the bullet travels through the third, hits Bart in the fourth, who falls dead in the fifth), thus making it impossible to prosecute. In actuality, crossing state lines like this would result in Bob being charged federally with first-degree murder, with a probable death sentence given the child victim and premeditation. Also, most of the land at the real-life Four Corners is part of Native American reservations, which are federal criminal jurisdiction by default. (The Four Corners Monument, which is located hundreds of feet from where the borders actually meet due to a surveying error, is administered by the Navajo Nation.)
    • In "Midnight Rx", Homer travels to Canada with Ned Flanders, Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, and Abe to purchase affordable pharmaceutical drugs. While there, Flanders encounters a Canadian man who looks and speaks like him, and the two get along until his Canadian counterpart asks "Say, would you like to try a reefer-ino? It's legal here". At the time the episode premiered (January 2005), non-medicinal marijuana was still illegal in Canada (although the punishments were less harsh than those in the United States), and it wasn't until October 2018 that they legalized marijuana.
  • In a DuckTales (1987) adaptation of a Carl Barks story, a fox named Fritter O'Way bursts into Scrooge McDuck's mansion and lays claim to his entire fortune thanks to a long-forgotten contract between their ancestors. Apparently, Seafoam McDuck was supposed to deliver a shipment of marbles to Diddle O'Way, but it was lost at sea. The contract held Seafoam liable, and Diddle was supposed to get Seafoam's property in compensation, except Seafoam also lost his property at sea except for a gold watch. Seafoam ran away with the watch. Generations later, Scrooge sold the watch to buy a plane to get to Klondike, where he acquired his fortune. Except simply showing up at someone's house with a piece of paper has no force of law. Fritter would have to sue Scrooge and prove that this flimsy chain of events entitles him to everything Scrooge owns. And the courts are unlikely to side with Fritter. At most, they may demand that Scrooge pay him the amount the watch was worth at the time (adjusted for inflation), which would be a tiny amount of Scrooge's fortune. In the episode, the matter is resolved by finding the original shipment at sea and returning it to Fritter, thus fulfilling the contract.
  • The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy: In Fred Fredburger's debut episode, he gets called for jury duty, but his antics constantly interrupt the court hearing and clearly frustrate the judge and other jurors. In real life (or at least in the U.S.), Fred would be charged with contempt of court, or alternatively, he could be excused or accommodated for his clear mental disorder, but this is clearly not the case in the Underworld. Not to mention the exasperated judge forcing the jury to render a verdict while Fred is in the washroom, or one juror eating another who voted differently, forcing a tie.
  • Archer: In the episode "Vision Quest" (in which the gang gets trapped in an elevator), the 911 operator dismisses Ray's call for help as a prank call, because "you can't get stuck in an elevator!" and hangs up on him, then blocks his number when he tries to call her back. Such a thing in real life would be a massive violation of 911 center policy, and besides, 911 does not have the ability to block your number. The operator who disconnected on Ray would likely be fired at the very least, and at the worst could see civil or even criminal charges leveled against her for criminal negligence, especially if someone was hurt or killed due to first responders being delayed from rendering help. Additionally, you can get stuck in an elevator — it is actually a very real and very dangerous situation, especially since it can indicate a larger-scale incident such as a structure fire or impending building collapse.
  • In the Steven Universe episode "Steven's Birthday", Connie cracks a joke about an older-looking Steven sneaking her into a PG-13 movie, then going back into Sincerity Mode about how she’d never ask him to break the law. The problem is that not only can a child under 13 be legally admitted to a PG-13 movie, they don't even require supervision from someone older; the PG-13 rating is merely advisory. And even if it was an R-rated movie, it still wouldn't be illegal, merely a violation of policy.
  • Non-canon Gargoyles episode "And Justice For All" is all about Goliath willingly undergoing the judicial process to set a precedent for gargoyles being accepted under human law. A noble idea, perhaps, but the way he goes about it, he would be damaging his case even further: willful destruction of property, escaping from police custody, and all the evidence he finds would be inadmissable anyway.
  • Family Guy:
    • "Road to Europe" has a German tour guide who angrily insists that the Holocaust never happened and that everyone was "on vacation" between 1939 and 1945. In Germany, it is actually a very serious crime to deny the Holocaust and has resulted in prison sentences of up to five years. However, absolutely nothing happens to this tour guide.
    • "Screwed the Pooch" has Brian brought to court by Carter for having sex with and impregnating his racing dog Sea Breeze.note  Peter is brought to the stand and Carter's lawyer asks a series of extremely biased, leading questions, such as if Brian is better described as "sexual deviant" or "African-American haberdasher." Peter consistently admits that the former, negative part of the question is closer than the non-sequitur latter part, which the lawyer then thanks him for, cutting off Peter as he tries to clarify what he really means. If Peter, as a legally retarded man, can see the holes in this logic then the judge should have immediately declared a mistrial for the lawyer's line of questioning, which is illegal in the first place, and also for his not allowing Peter to finish his sentence and therefore influencing the court record in his favor.
    • The entire plot of "Padre de Familia" is that Peter's mother originally didn't want him so she went to Mexico to get an abortion but ended up having Peter there, at which point she changed her mind and brought him back to America but neglected to register him as a citizen and, therefore, Peter is actually an illegal Mexican immigrant and has been for his entire life. Except no, he wouldn't be: this would seem to be a cut-and-dry reversal of the American law that anyone born on American soil is a natural-born American citizen regardless of where their parents came from, leading to the stereotype of Latin American mothers rushing across the border at the very end of their pregnancies in order to have an "anchor baby" that will allow them to stay in the country. But there's actually another ruling on natural-born American citizenship, that anyone who has at least one parent who was an American citizen is also considered to be natural-born regardless of where they themselves were born. If anything, this would just mean that Peter has natural-born dual citizenship as both an American and a Mexican, not that he's one or the other.note 
    • "The Juice is Loose." Joe Swanson gets Peter to wear a wire so that he can get O.J. Simpson to confess to the murders of Nicole Brown-Simpson and Ron Goldman. Said murders occurred in the state of California, well outside of a Rhode Island police officer's jurisdiction. Furthermore, Simpson had already been tried and acquitted of both slayings, so even if he had confessed to the murders, double jeopardy would apply (that is, Simpson could not be tried again).
    • "12 and a Half Angry Men" features the cast as a jury trying Major West for murder and takes place entirely over the course of their deliberation, and at the end they find him innocent. In the final minutes of the episode Brian, who was on the jury, commends himself for a job well done by not convicting an innocent man, and Stewie gets all pissy with him because the real murderer is still out there as if it was Brian's job to find and catch him. First of all, if the murders were still taking place during the trial, then West should have been found innocent right then and there because he clearly couldn't be the one responsible. Second, it was never the place of Brian or anyone else on the jury to actually solve the case because that's not what a jury does—their one and only purpose in any given trial, in this case for West being accused of and tried for a murder, is to determine to the best of their ability if the defendant is guilty or not and that's all. Thirdly, Adam Wests' jury consisted of not just Carter, the father of his wife Carol, but Peter as well. If you are found to be a relation of the accused you cannot legally serve on their jury due to potential bias.
    • In "Screams of Silence", Joe claims that the police cannot intervene against Brenda's abusive boyfriend unless she files a complaint. In reality, there were multiple witnesses to Jeff's outbursts, any of which could have pressed charges and helped the prosecutor build a case. Even disregarding that, there is the fact that Joe himself was present when the guys spied on Jeff as he started beating up Brenda, which by itself would be enough for him to be arrested for assault and battery.
    • Joe Swanson, a paraplegic, would in no world be allowed to work as a patrol officer. In-universe, it's justified since Joe has near-superhuman abilities that make him as competent as most able-bodied officers.
  • Rick and Morty: In "Rick and Morty's Thanksploitation Spectacular", the Turkey President gets the approval of all members of Congress by repeatedly raising their pay. In reality, not only does all legislation involving money have to originate in the House of Representatives, the 27th Amendment makes any change in Congressional pay not take effect until after the next election. And why would Congress even be in session on Thanksgiving (a federal holiday)?
  • In the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "The Krusty Sponge," Mr. Krabs' greed goes as far as intentionally selling rotten Krabby Patties that resemble SpongeBob to his customers, poisoning them and turning them yellow with spots. When he is on trial for his crimes, Gene Scallop, who was one of the people poisoned, is in the jury giving the verdict. In real life, anyone personally affected by the defendant's actions would not be in the jury.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Artistic Licence Law


Stone dissects Liar Liar

As stated by an actual lawyer, just because Samantha was a minor when she signed the prenup doesn't automatically render the contract void. It makes it voidable, which means that she would have the option of voiding it upon reaching the age of majority. And while it could be claimed that she's expressing that wish now, the fact that she's lived as Richard's wife and enjoyed the benefits of marriage could be used to argue that her actions have been affirming the prenup for 13 years. The truth is, the case would continue for a while and would most likely be decided in the husband's favor.

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