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Artistic License Law
aka: Artistic Licence Law

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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.

This should not be listed on a work's page as a trope. Please use the appropriate subtrope provided below.

  • 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: Some Truth in Television. In the end, however, schools and universities are not sovereign entities; they are still subject to local and national laws.
  • Accidental Marriage: In the US, 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 is a contract; if you didn't consent to the contract or signed it under duress, it's not legally binding.
  • Ambulance Chaser: In some jurisdictions (such as Europe), being one of these is illegal. Even places where it's legal still take a very dim view of this. 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.
  • 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.
  • 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: Law enforcement officers and agencies cannot hire or use a civilian to circumvent their own rules; it's 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.
  • Courtroom Antic: Many of these 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".
  • 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, 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. 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.
  • 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. 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.
  • 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, in order 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 long and steady history of accepting worthless cases and have not learned their lesson from multiple previous run-ins with the state bar association 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. 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 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.
  • 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 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 (i.e. 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.
  • Interpol Special Agent: Interpol is tasked to facilitate cooperation between the law enforcement agencies of independent countries, but they do not have supremacy over those agencies. If an Interpol agent started investigating or arresting people in sovereign countries on his or her own accord, they'd soon find themselves being booked for flaunting false authority.
  • 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.
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: Courts frankly don't give a shit about how much your victim deserved what was coming to them, and impersonal malice as opposed to deliberately targeting bad people may honestly be more in your favor, as it presents a less compelling case for premeditation. Ask anyone who has worked in criminal justice for any meaningful amount of time and they will tell you that a significant amount of violent crime victims are just as bad as the people who victimized them, and they'll also tell you that no, it usually doesn't make a meaningful difference.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.)
  • 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 federal regulators, and will likely result in a recall. Not to mention that parents will likely sue you if their child is injured.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 
    • 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.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 rest of the 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").
  • 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, 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.
  • 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).
  • We All Live in America: Once again, Real Life law varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. The United States has created a large amount of "law" shows since the inception of film and television. We seriously recommend that you consult your local laws, otherwise you (and your show) will be mocked for Critical Research Failure at the very least.
  • 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, i.e. 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 

    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 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.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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.
    • 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 of 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.
  • In 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.
    • Finally, 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.
  • 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 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 copyright law.
  • Rampage: 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 two-day "settling" period before they become official. Since Seth knows the FBI is arriving within the hour and they would halt all transactions, the sell order would never go through in real life, and would be a completely meaningless gesture.
  • 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 (being a civilian not tried under the UCMJ).
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

  • 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 would 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.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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.
  • 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..
  • CSI: NY: The episode "Grand Master" dealt with fugu being openly sold in a sushi bar. This is extremely illegal in the US. Even in Japan there are very specific laws strictly regulating the selling and serving of fugu.
  • 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.
  • 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 "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.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • As noted by a few reviewers including SF Debris, in the preceding episode, "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.
  • 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, the Good Samaritan Law protects people from being charged 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 potentially armed criminal.
  • 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.
  • Monk: Where to begin...
    • First of all, SFPD 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 an episode of Frasier, Martin tells Frasier that he once failed to read a suspect his Miranda rights because the suspect took a swing at him when he tried. Miranda rights don't have to be read immediately upon arrest, only before the police ask the suspect any questions. Martin could have taken him to the station, cuffed him to a table in an interrogation room and tried again.

    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 begs 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 lists comprehensively all the crimes you have committed throughout the game. However it erroneously lists killing medics as violations of the Geneva Convention - all medics in the game are visibly armed combatants so they are therefore exempt from the Geneva Conventions protections. Even then the Payday Crew are not strictly combatants in a war so not only does the Geneva Convention not apply to them to begin with, but even if they did apply, attempting to claim the crew violates it opens up the police and FBI themselves to war crime accusations - attempting to use the protections of the Geneva Convention to protect armed combatants with the intent to mislead the enemy is technically perfidy.
  • Saints Row 2: 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 violatee 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 Miles Edgeworth be seriously find 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 twenty four when the murder happened when he was just nine years old. Yes, there is no statue 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.

    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.
    • "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 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 usually 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 "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 Sprinfield. 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 Ambiguous Disorder, but this is clearly not the case in the Underworld.
  • Archer: In the episode "Vision Quest" (in which the gang gets trapped in an elevator), the 9-1-1 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 9-1-1 center policy, and besides 9-1-1 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 neglegence, especially if someone was hurt or killed due to first responders being delayed from rendering help.
  • 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.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Artistic Licence Law



In Part 1, the Critic is put under house arrest, under the orders of a congressman, without trial, for breaking a law that does not yet exist. Turrell tries to get them to add other charges (most of which are valid) but gets blown off.

How well does it match the trope?

3.67 (3 votes)

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Main / ArtisticLicenseLaw

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Main / ArtisticLicenseLaw