In a Police Procedural, interviews are short and sweet, and the characters try to give as little useful information as possible. This is done to keep as many of the characters as possible suspects for as long as possible, but often falls flat. In order to give an excuse for this unhelpful behavior, the characters that didn't do it often have a Big Secret. In cases of You Didn't Ask, they'll answer your questions as specifically and as literally as they can, dragging the whole thing out.
One need not be a suspect to be as unhelpful as possible. Almost never, in the entire history of television, has a victim's family been interested in finding the actual perp once a Red Herring suspect has been identified. If a suspect has been wrongly convicted, the family will occasionally go as far as to actively hinder the investigation, even when it is obvious that the real killer is still at large, preferring the "closure" of a conviction. This is one of the rare cases of a cop show mirroring real life.
This trope is sometimes inverted, rather than subverted. The guilty party has been providing information to clear his name, expressing support for the investigation at every opportunity, and generally being too helpful — all in an effort to deflect suspicion. (CSI is fond of this variation, as is Scooby-Doo.) Another alternative is Infraction Distraction, where the guilty party confesses to minor wrongdoing to cover up major wrongdoing.
Note that in real life, doing this is not always a bad thing. Knowing where your rights begin and end and what limitations police officers have in questioning, holding, and searching you, and that you always have the right to remain silent, can save you being unjustly inconvenienced, held, or even mistreated. Of course taking this too far, actively hindering the policenote , or wrongly assuming your or their rights can easily land you in cuffs and a squad car. At least for our tropers in the United States, asking "Am I being detained?" is a good question to post to a policeman who's trying to sit on you as it puts them in a Morton's Fork situation unless they have valid legal reasoning to suspect you of a crimenote , though asking this in a country without such rules for police officers would probably be a pretty bad move.
- In Monster, Tenma actually starts out being cooperative when captured, until Lunge, who is beginning at this point to catch on that Tenma might be innocent, quietly tells Tenma to hold up the investigation, and that the best way to do this is simply to keep utterly silent and never say anything. Tenma does so.
- Rem in Death Note, when answering the questions L asks her about the Death Note.
- The Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye: Subverted when Cyclonus is arrested under suspicion of decapitating Red Alert. He doesn't give any answers to Drift's questions... because he wasn't involved in the slightest. Rodimus just instantly assumed Cyclonus did it because he looks like a bad guy.
- System Restore: When Kuzuryuu realizes that Togami and Hinata suspect he might be involved in Pekoyama's murder, he reveals he has a good idea who the murderer is... but refuses to tell them, as he wants to bring down the culprit himself. As a result, the information he's withholding doesn't come out until the school trial, where he gives a lengthy and insulting summation revealing all he knows... only to learn his suspect has no idea what the hell he's talking about.
- In Zootopia, Nick is intentionally unhelpful to Judy's investigation into the disappearing predators. Later, when she blackmails him into helping he, he goes out of his way to waste Judy's time, like making their trip to the Zootopia DMV take all day instead of just a few hours.
- In Once Upon a Crime, several of the main characters lie outrageously and try to create alibis for each other about the murder they're caught up in. It's a rare justified example because they're all innocent but due to several bizarre twists of fate (such as one of them stealing a suitcase that contains the body) they find themselves implicated, and fear that unless they have some kind of alibi, they'll be sentenced no matter how innocent they are.
- In Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, the investigation of a quintuple murder is stymied by the fact that no one they interview wants to answer any questions. This has a much simpler justification than most examples of this trope: all of the interviewees know who committed the murders, and they're terrified of him.
- This is mentioned in The Lives of Others. At the beginning of the movie, a Stasi officer explains that if you question an innocent man for several hours, he will get seriously pissed off and start screaming at you. On the other hand, someone who's guilty will try to be helpful and cooperate, no matter how long the questioning.
- In Shrek the Third, Prince Charming forces Pinocchio to answer questions about Shrek's whereabouts, under the idea that Pinocchio cannot lie without his nose growing. To that extent, Pinocchio gives an answer so convoluted and riddled with evasive language as to make any politician proud. It works: Charming is too confused to derive any meaning from Pinocchio's answer and stomps off. Doubles as Loophole Abuse too: As Pinocchio's nose didn't grow, it means he WAS telling the truth—it's just that the truth doesn't have to be simple and easily understood.
- A non-police version is seen in Winds of Fury. Mornelithe is under magical coercions, and isn't happy about it. He places his own set of coercions on his mind, forcing himself to follow this trope whenever Ancar asks him anything (Ancar simply uses his prior coercions to get information out of Mornelithe, but it was a good try.)
- In the Horatio Hornblower books, Hornblower has this problem almost every time he's in an involved military operation. You'd think, say, the Spanish, as their allies, would give the British Navy all possible assistance when trying to retake crucial military positions. Nope. He has this problem with other elements of the British Navy, too.
- When a member of CSI indicates that the husband is always the first suspect when a wife is murdered, the husband's response is typically "You think I did this? This interview is over!" While common sense might dictate giving all the information to clear your name as quickly as possible, it's actually more pragmatic not to. In Real Life, the police expect ordinary people to get angry when accused of crimes they didn't commit.
- Also occurs in Lie to Me. They realize that a suspect is innocent when he gets enormously angry at various accusations rather than trying to defend himself. Lightman points out that most men do not like being accused of rape.
- The one exception to the statement that "victims' families lie" occurs in Life On Mars, where the parents of a murdered schoolgirl actually send ransom notes and threats to the police because they feel that by imprisoning the Red Herring and ignoring various pieces of evidence in order to close the case rapidly, the police were insulting the memory of their daughter. Of course, they are still as unhelpful as possible, since being helpful would make it obvious that they were blackmailing the police.
- Befitting its reputation for being a Medical Procedural, House features patients who, even in the face of their impending nasty and painful deaths from various illnesses, will still lie to protect their pointless secrets. Usually happens for one of four explanations that keep popping up: a) the patient wants to keep a secret that would ruin him or her, b) the patient doesn't know the secret, c) the patient doesn't realize that the secret is connected to his illness, and the overriding d) the patient doesn't believe their life is in danger because, hey! They're in a hospital! There are also cases where some immediate family member will be the one keeping the secret, usually for one of the same reasons above. This was actually later lampshaded by a patient who remarks "You know what my favorite time to lie is? When my life's hanging in the balance." It doesn't help that quite often the doctors perform their interview with the patient with their family, friends, or whoever they actually care about keeping the secret from right in the room. Even when they realize the patient probably has a secret, they only occasionally bother to try to talk the patient alone or assure them they will keep the secret. Asking people to reveal secrets is a lot easier if you provide some measure of confidentiality. You know, as doctors are legally bound to do. There are exceptions, but whatever the person is concealing rarely qualifies. Not that it stops these doctors from spilling the beans half the time anyway.
- Lampshaded when Booth points out to a film student suspect that this is the point where the innocent person helps, and the guilty person asks for their lawyer. He's not actually telling the truth, just manipulating the student. The kid helps. At the end of the episode, they know they've got the right guy when they present him with evidence and he...asks for his lawyer. On several occasions in the show, the innocent parties have called a lawyer, sometimes to protect some other secret not related to the case.
- Played with on Bones again later, during the coma dream episode. Everybody believes Booth is the killer... and they're all being as difficult as possible to protect him. Of course, none of them believe him when he says he didn't do it, and they refuse to stop, even when he asks them to.
- When Booth and Bones are in New Orleans, she becomes a murder suspect. Bones, being logical, tells the police everything she knows to clear her name faster, against Booth's vehement advice. Booth, being a cop, knows her story of makes her sound guilty, and calls their lawyer friend to represent Bones. Their lawyer friend also tells Bones to shut up.
- On one Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode, a man is accusing three women of raping him. The ADA specifically asks him if there's anything else he'd like to tell her, and he looks uncertain for a second and says no. Turns out in court that he tried to sue his rapists, making him look like a golddigger. He was just trying to get information on them, but the ADA still rips him a new one. Of course, Cabot was holding something of an Idiot Ball herself; what type of ADA doesn't check the records of an accuser to find something the defense can use to discredit them?
- In Breaking Bad, Hector Salamanca, an old cartel boss now almost completely paralyzed and only able to communicate via a bell on his wheelchair, makes a point of being as big a pain in the ass to the feds as possible when brought in for questioning. On the two occasions he was with the feds in the series, he intentionally soiled himself the first time, then with the help of a woman reading off the alphabet to him while hitting the bell for the correct letters to convey his messages, told them "SUCK MY" and "FUC".
- The Shield:
- It uses the normal example straight many times, but also notably uses the Inverted example as well. Dutch Wagenbach and Steve Billings are investigating a serial child rapist, and Billings figures out that the child shelter manager who has been extremely helpful has been *too* helpful. Yup, turns out it was him.
- Another Inverted example occurs when Dutch is investigating a routine shooting, and asks three suspects for gunshot residue tests to see if they've fired a weapon. Two of the suspects refuse, and the third agrees. Turns out, the third guy did it. He didn't refuse the test because, "Well, you said it was a government test, right? I figured...how accurate could it be?"
- Averted in NUMB3RS, when a rich father finds his Paris Hilton Captain Ersatz daughter has decided to go all Patty Hearst. He rushes into the station, takes one look at the TV paused on a shot of his daughter, and says he'll do anything he can to help the police. When the FBI Agent remarks that he's being remarkably helpful, he says that the sooner they get his daughter home safe, the sooner he can prepare a defense.
- Thankfully averted during the serial killer storyline on Blue Heelers in 2005. When the (innocent) prime suspect, a psychiatrist, is talking to the detective socially, he realises midway through their conversation how much of the evidence points to him: he lives across the street from the first victim, he runs the support group for child sex abuse sufferers that victims 2 and 3 belonged to, he used to be a priest (tying in with the religious symbols next to the bodies), he has a criminal record for domestic violence and he has no alibi for any of the nights on which the murders occurred. He immediately chooses to make a statement, and, once cleared, helps them catch the killer.
- Although not a crime show, Lost frequently maintains its mysterious mysteriousness with this trope. The characters repeatedly encounter people who have very useful information that is critical to their survival but refuse to share this information even when it would be a really, really good idea. These kinds of characters often make cryptic references which indicate they have a deeper knowledge of the situation, but the protagonists never bother to ask them direct questions.
- Inverted in an episode of The Sentinel. Ellison is trying to track down a serial killer, and a profiler is brought in to tell them about the psychological make-up of the killer. It turns out near the end of the episode that the profiler was the serial killer. He had killed the real profiler and took his place, and provided them with completely accurate information about himself just to screw with them.
- Try counting the number of times "No comment" is said in the interrogation room on UK crime drama The Bill.
- Refreshingly averted in one episode of Castle, where the suspect (who they are absolutely certain is the killer) gives them absolutely everything they need, over the objections of his lawyer. "Save the defense for when I actually kill someone, all right?"
- It is something of a Running Gag commonly done by Lee Mack on Would I Lie to You? though other panelists certainly use this as a strategy to buy time.
David Mitchell: What happened immediately after the foot-running-over moment?Lee: "Ow!"David: Can you roll that forwards?Lee: "Ow! That was my foot!"
- Despite being played straight in practically every episode of Law & Order, the show also includes a couple of glorious subversions of the concept as well. One of the most notable involves an old woman on the neighborhood watch, who can't describe the suspect...but the next thing she says is that she took down his license plate number. The detectives, nearly at wit's end, are temporarily stunned. Mike Logan asks her husband if it's okay to give her a hug.
- It's not a police procedural, but a large number of patients on Casualty would be treated a lot faster and more accurately if they were honest about the cause of their injuries and what they've been taking. The doctors don't even ask when the police are in the room, in the majority of cases, yet the patients still lie.
- In the JAG episode "Skeleton Crew" (season 1):
Bud Roberts: Well, the medical examiner faxed over more autopsy details for Agent Turque.Harmon Rabb: Can I see them?Bud Roberts: Sorry, sir. Agent Turque instructed me that these were for his eyes only. In fact, his exact words were, "Don't hand any faxes over to Commander Rabb."Harmon Rabb: I see.
- Done for laughs on Psych, when Lyin' Ryan witnesses (and is accused of committing) a murder in his apartment. In addition to the outrageous story he concocts about the real assassins, he tells Shawn and Gus that he can provide a time, place, and name of the next "hit" to gain their trust. Unfortunately, his details are so vague that they're almost useless.
Lyin' Ryan: The time was 10:00.Shawn: 10:00.Lyin' Ryan: ...to 4:30.Shawn: 10:00 to 4:30.Gus: A six hour window? What, do your killers work at the cable company?
- Discussed in an episode of Babylon 5. After interviewing a member of station security regarding his gambling habits, Garibaldi states that he's lying. Sinclair responds that everybody lies. The guilty lie because they have no other choice, and the innocent lie because they don't want to be blamed for something they didn't do.
- Once Upon a Time has this happen in the episode "A Tale of Two Sisters", when Anna sets off to find the truth about her parents' deaths, despite Elsa's objections. Kristoff ends up managing to stall Elsa as long as possible so that Anna can leave by spinning a lie about Anna running out to find cake frosting, but Elsa can tell he's lying to stall her.
- The Defenders (2017): When Matt, Jessica and Luke are being questioned by the NYPD about fighting against the Hand, they are evasive in their answers and refuse to share vital information about them because their enemies have eyes and ears everywhere, and they fear that letting the NYPD know too much might put them in danger, which vexes Misty Knight, since she is trying her best to help them while being Locked Out of the Loop for the most part.
- During the trial in Lizzie, Emma Borden answers questions in the most confusing, counterproductive, and circular manner possible. This is so she can help her sister Lizzie stay out of jail without obviously perjuring herself.
- During Bigby's investigations of the multiple murders in The Wolf Among Us, many of the fables that he questions end up like this. While some of them are directly involved with the murders and are trying to throw Bigby off, most of the fables take their time to yell at Bigby about how inefficient the government is. The player can have Bigby call some of them out on how hypocritical their actions are, but it changes little about the investigation.
- This is a large part of Ace Attorney, particularly in the later games where you have to break the "Psyche-Locks" that represent their secrets by showing evidence to them.
- Justified the first time you have to use this ability. The person whose secret you're trying to uncover is an eight-year-old girl. She's worried she'll get in trouble if she admits what she's hiding, and is too young to understand that she's impeding a murder investigation.
- Similarly, in Ace Attorney Investigations Miles Edgeworth 2, Edgeworth gains "logic chess", where he visualizes the secrets a person is concealing as chess pieces, which are captured/destroyed as he uses logic in his interrogation process.
- Played straight to a ridiculous level with Phoenix Wright himself, no less! (Albeit his younger, college self.) He literally tackles Mia and steals away a crucial piece of evidence that will help prove his innocence, and proceeds to swallow it.
- Averted in Ace Attorney Investigations with Palaeno, who is quite possibly the most helpful, least secretive and least incorrect witness in the whole series. Which is extremely effective because fans of the series will instantly assume Palaeno is the real killer just for that, in addition to his constantly closed eyes and hand-rubbing, plus his huge mane of hair that'd be perfect for a confession freak-out.
- In Apollo Justice, the third trial has, at one point, the Judge demand that Apollo explain how a magic trick used during a rock concert works, on threat of declaring Apollo's client guilty if he cannot. Trucy is able to figure it out very quickly... but refuses to tell Apollo because she mustn't reveal the secrets of a fellow magician.
- In Dual Destinies, Simon Blackquil is incredibly tight-lipped about the circumstances behind his arrest, which is a bit of a problem when his sister takes hostages with the demand that Phoenix get Simon off death row. Simon not only refuses to cooperate but continues to make up new lies that fit in seamlessly with each other every time Phoenix and Athena find something new to poke holes in his testimony. Of course, Simon has a reason for this- his belief that if suspicion is drawn away from him, it will fall onto Athena, whom Simon had sworn to protect out of gratitude toward her mother, and who Aura hates, since Aura believes Athena killed Metis.
- Speaking of witnesses who are repeat offenders and fit this trope to a T every time, Larry Butz, Wendy Oldbag, and Lotta Hart. Larry, without a doubt will be a Spanner in the Works, and because of his shenanigans he comes across evidence and witnesses things he should never see. And he always hides it, until either the very last moment (such as in case 1-4) or someone forces the information out of him (3-2, 3-5, 6-DLC, Investigations I-5, II-3). Oldbag will always witness something, but always leave out some case-breaking crucial details, such as "Murderers" and "Victims" who happen to be wearing costumes which cover their whole body and face, masking their true identities. Lotta Hart deliberately hides facts because she's a reporter Going for the Big Scoop, and doesn't want to reveal any information before she gets the chance to publish it (at least without getting anything in return).
- Larry deserves special mention in Ace Attorney Investigations, as his unhelpfulness crosses into Too Dumb to Live territory when he feels compelled to defeat Edgeworth in a "battle of wits"...while Edgeworth is in the middle of attempting to prove him innocent of committing murder.
- Borderline example: in Mega Man X4, the Reploid military force Repliforce is accused of attacking and bringing down a sky colony, causing millions of deaths. Uncharacteristically of them, the Maverick Hunters try to get Repliforce's members into custody peacefully so they can investigate and possibly clear their names (instead of blasting them into scrap at first sight), but they're too proud to disarm and state they will fight to the death before they would ever put away their weapons. They're labeled Mavericks and all but annihilated, afterward, as a result.
- Of course, the Repliforce crosses the Moral Event Horizon by turning their peaceful rebellion into a violent one, becoming definitive Mavericks in the process. Reasonably, the hunters (X and Zero in this case) try to talk Repliforce out of their rebellion, but everything's gone too far. This is the event that ends up making X seriously question the inherent violence in the Maverick Hunter system (previously, he was a reluctant, but willing fighter), and gives Zero a Heroic B.S.O.D., both of which come back to haunt them.
- In L.A. Noire, everyone is holding out something from you. Everyone. Even people who want to be helpful (though in many cases, it's not a question of them purposefully withholding information, but rather directly answering the question, requiring a follow-up on a different track).
- Example in an early interview: When talking to a witness who is otherwise totally uninvolved and has nothing to fear, she'll still lie to you. If you catch her out, she admits that she was holding back some info in hopes of selling it to the newspapers.
- In the diagnostics portion of Trauma Team, roughly half the patients fall into this. Another is perfectly helpful, though wanting to get everything finished quickly, and another is... discreet.
- Jack French:
- In the second game, Lucy and Dr. German lie about their alibi, making them seem suspicious. When they come clean about it, you learn that it has nothing to do with the murder.
- The witnesses from the third game are all aggressive and reluctant to co-operate with Jack. Justified, as they know Vince, so they are aware they can't trust the police.
- Ghost Trick:
- Most of the people you save are understandably quite pleased that you're trying to stop them from dying, and will offer whatever help they can come up with, except two guys. Jowd is something of a Death Seeker, and spends the whole time offering insincere apologies for your trouble and making snarky comments instead. And the Justice Minister refuses to even acknowledge that the person Sissel's saving is him, wails constantly about how his past self is so pathetic, and generally gets on Sissel's (and the player's) nerves. The one time he does give good advice, Sissel is shocked.
- Justified with Lynne who, as a detective, would have access to sources to find who Sissel used to be but refuses to find out. She wants to help, but she only has one night to save someone and can't waste any time.
- Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth has the citizens of Innsmouth whose response to inquiries regarding a missing person mostly consist of a barely human guttural growl telling you to get out of their face. Of course, anyone at all familiar with the Cthulhu Mythos is hardly surprised; the citizens of the town are pretty much Half-Human Hybrid people of the worst kind who follow the teachings of the local Path of Inspiration and worship an Eldritch Abomination or three.
- Everyone in Contradiction. Of course they all have something to hide.
- In Super Mario Sunshine, there are plenty of Piantas who have Shine Sprites for Mario as rewards for helping them... which raises a few questions considering how they were so furious at the loss of the Shine Sprites to begin with. Considering that they arrest Mario for allegedly causing the Sprites to disappear, one would think they'd be more willing to just give him any that they had, so the island could be cleaned more quickly. That's not even going into the more ridiculous ways the Piantas are obstructive (for example, the one in Hotel Delphino who refuses to let Mario go into the pool - and thus get the Shine Sprite in plain sight in the room - because he's not wearing proper swim gear, thus forcing him to go on a ridiculous Fetch Quest to enter the pool through the air vent).
- In Super Danganronpa 2, Hiyoko is initially the prime suspect in the second murder, having been seen leaving the scene of the crime, and being the only one who could have left behind the small footprints on the sand. She didn't actually do it, but the fact that she lies about having gone there (there are two Non-Stop Debates in which Hiyoko's statements are the ones you have to disprove) and withholds a letter that suggests that she was told to come to the beach house half an hour earlier than the meeting time the victim got (which means the letters were forged and used to set Hiyoko up), causes almost everyone to conclude that she did it, which would have resulted in everyone except the actual murderer being executed if Hiyoko had been chosen.
- Stop snitching. Rapper Camron infamously said in an interview that if he knew he were living next to a serial killer, he'd move rather than go to the police - or help them in their investigation.
- Field Marshal Bill Slim reported on the "helpfulness" of British civilians in Burma early in World War II. His best example was of a man he asked for help buying horses:
Civilian: Oh, you should have asked X. He could get all the horses you need, at reasonable prices.Slim: Excellent. Where can I find him?Civilian: Alas! He died three years ago.
- In the discovery phase of litigation, the person from whom discovery is sought will typically give the absolute minimum amount of information necessary to answer the discovery. More prominent individuals or larger organizations will often take the opposite tact: Throwing the kitchen sink at the other side in order to drown them in irrelevant information.
- Many traditional moral codes around the globe dictate "group loyalty" in the sense that whatever happens within the group (family, clan, company) must stay within the group, at any cost. This may be justified by phrases like "family honor". This makes the members of said group actively cover up wrongdoings and resist investigation when something really bad happens — if not out of loyalty then out of fear of harsh retaliation from other group members who would see that as "treason". This practice, ironically, extends to the police themselves. See the Blue Wall of Silence.