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Confess to a Lesser Crime

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Jesse: Why'd you go tell her I was selling you weed?
Walt: Because somehow it seemed preferable to admitting that I cook crystal meth and killed a man.

Your crimes are catching up to you. The cops/your boss/your wife knows that you're hiding something, and they're no longer buying your lies. What are you to do?

Confess, of course, just not to what you really did. Maybe you admit to a piece of what you did, but not the whole thing, maybe you completely make something up. Either way, you hold them off discovering what you're really up to.

There are clear advantages to pretending to come clean. When you admit to wrongdoing, people usually don't assume you're lying. When they think they've caught you, they don't usually keep investigating, and you've got a perfect explanation for why you've been acting strangely and looking guilty.

The disadvantage, of course, is that you're on the hook for whatever you confessed to, so you better be sure it's worth it to keep the greater crime concealed.

May be used by an undercover cop to keep from being exposed, or by a Justified Criminal to avoid punishment.

Different from a Plea Bargain in that the character is trying to keep their crimes concealed, not trying to strike a deal to avoid punishment.

A Subtrope of Infraction Distraction. Contrast False Confession, Taking the Heat, and Embarrassing Cover-Up.


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    Anime And Manga 
  • In the Ace Attorney manga, the murderer in the second case admits to setting the fire at Wolfe Manor because otherwise, Bobby, the defendant, would go free. Phoenix's defense had hinged on disproving that Bobby would not have willingly burned up his spider and spider book collection, so he's at a loss for words until he realizes that just as the arsonist set a timed ignition device, he also set a timed device to kill the victim and create an alibi. Afterward, Phoenix thanks Edgeworth for calling for a recess and bringing the witness to the stand, thus enabling him to find the truth.
  • In Ace Attorney (2016), Furio Tigre admits to impersonating Phoenix Wright in court, but not to killing Glen Elg. Of course, the fact that he admitted to anything at all keeps him on the spot, and Wright is able to deduce his real crime anyway.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Akira in Part 4 is given three years for grand theft. This is after committing murder and attempting to kill Joseph Joestar. Granted, explaining the murder would require the judge to know what Stands are (they're Invisible to Normals). Akira gladly takes the jail time, because the alternative is Josuke and Okuyasu kicking his ass every day for the rest of his life.

    Fan Works 
  • The King Nobody Wanted: After his appointment to the Small Council, Rys Chelsted tells Davos about how his family first came to the Westeros while making a point about how Davos shouldn't feel like the Blue Bloods are better than him. He describes how the first Lord Chelsted gained prosperity in a Rape, Pillage, and Burn manner. The chronicles say that there was "some" rape in the process. Rys disdainfully notes that for the chronicles to even acknowledge that at all, there must have been a lot of rape, which the first Lord Chelsted then downplayed by confessing to a lesser number of rapes done in the heat of battle to appear contrite about the whole affair.
  • The Rigel Black Chronicles: Harry is adept in this technique, and recalls a childhood incident where Lily caught her sneaking back to bed after brewing potions in the basement without permission. Rather than get in big trouble, Harry thought fast and blurted out, "I only had one!" which led Lily to assume that she was sneaking into the biscuit tin. Harry got off with a very minor scolding for snacking between meals, but the vials of hair-growth potion tucked into her slippers went unnoticed.

  • Gang Related features a variant when two dirty cops try to frame a petty crook for murder. He confesses to a robbery he actually did commit as an alibi, stating that 3-5 years in prison is better than ten years to life. 
  • Spy Game: Nathan Muir spends most of the film using CIA resources to plan an unauthorized operation to rescue his protégé. When the CIA discovers he's been accessing satellite data, Muir admits to misusing agency resources... to research retirement properties.
  • White Heat has Cody Jarrett confess to a hotel robbery in Illinois to escape suspicion of the train robbery at the start of the film. To put things into perspective, the train robbery had four fatalities and involved government payroll.
  • Shattered Glass: When people start poking holes in Stephen Glass's made-up articles that he can no longer cover up, he contrives to make it seem like he was simply negligent in fact-checking. When more concrete evidence of his active deceit comes up, he again makes it seem like he was trying to hide his negligence and not his complete and total fabrication of his articles.
  • In Breaker Morant, a soldier is accused of murdering a suspected spy, but confesses that, at the time, he'd been in the bed of a married woman. Turns out he had time for both.
  • The Naked Gun: In 33 1/3, Frank is persuaded to come out of retirement to help with a case, but tries to conceal this from his wife Jane. When she finds evidence that he's returned to police work, he attempts to distract her with this trope:
    Jane: You're lying! Now I know why Ed's been calling every half hour. You've been back on the case, haven't you?
    Frank: No! I swear, it's another woman!
    Jane: In your wildest dreams!
  • At the end of Ocean's Eleven, Danny turns himself in for parole violation while the rest of his team makes their escape after successfully robbing Terry Benedict's casino.
  • An Invoked Trope in The Winslow Boy (theatre play and both films). The esteemed lawyer Sir Robert Morton is approached to defend a young boy accused of the theft of a postal order. Morton subjects Arthur Winslow to a merciless grilling during which he suggests that Arthur stole the postal order as a joke. However Arthur tearfully denies this, convincing Morton that he really is innocent, as a guilty person would have taken the opportunity to downplay his crime into a harmless prank.
  • In the film adaptation of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, Redd White confesses to breaking and entering, but not to murdering Mia Fey or stealing evidence.
  • At the end of The Stone Killer the Mafia boss who was behind The Purge is shown attending confession during which he confesses to various petty sins and asks for absolution for these "and any other sins" he might have committed.

  • 87th Precinct: A variant occurs in Long Time No See when someone confesses a lesser crime, not to the authorities, but to a confidant who he's afraid will go to the authorities if he tells the real story. In the Back Story, the murder victim was an Accomplice by Inaction to the Unfriendly Fire murder of his superior in The Vietnam War. Years later, he needs to bare his soul and talk to his therapist about what happened, but claims that it was a gang-rape he stood by and witnessed instead of a murder (rape has a statute of limitations and murder doesn't).
  • In one of the novels based on the Paranoia RPG, a villain is reported for concealing a dangerous mutant power, but saw it coming and registered a different mutant power (chronic runny nose) first. The Computer bought it, and thus disbelieves the report because mutants with multiple powers are unheard of.
  • In Robert A. Heinlein's If This Goes On—, Lyle is advised to pretend to commit a lesser offense to help cover up his involvement in La Résistance. He's further told that faithfully adhering to all of the regime's many laws is unusual enough to get the regime's attention, so he should "never try to pretend lily-white innocence". Lyle leaves evidence of gambling, gets "caught" and lectured on it, and then is let go.
  • John Putnam Thatcher: In Double, Double Oil and Trouble, the exposed Big Bad confesses to the bribery scheme that led to the murders (there's too much evidence to pretend otherwise) but denies committing the murders themselves, even as more evidence is uncovered. No one buys his story.
  • Paul Sinclair: In Against All Enemies, the suspected traitor insists that he got the money in his secret bank account from illegal sports betting rather than selling military secrets to a foreign power. Almost everyone is convinced that this trope is at play. They're right, and the false confession doesn't save the spy from being convicted of treason.
  • Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm a Supervillain: Penny decides to tell her parents she is sneaking out to go on a date when in fact she is sneaking out to commit crimes in her secret identity as a supervillain.
  • The Nero Wolfe novel The Second Confession features a man confessing to an accidental hit-and-run to avoid being suspected for actually intending to kill the victim with the car.
  • A similar method to The Second Confession is used in the Perry Mason book The Case of the Cautious Coquette - a murderer tries to take credit for a hit-and-run to hide his role in ending his partner's life. Unfortunately for him, there was an eyewitness, who wrote down the actual hit-and-run's license plate.
  • In The Count of Monte Cristo, the Count's cover story for Haydee's presence is that she is his Sex Slave, rather than the central piece in a decade long revenge-scheme. It also helps him to justify why a man of his standing isn't courting women. Yes, at the time it was better to be seen as keeping a Sex Slave rather than be assumed Gay or Impotent....
  • Invoked and subverted in the climax the fifth Spy School novel by Stuart Gibbs. CIA trainee Ben Ripley and his friends have been framed for trying to kill the President by a treacherous member of the joint chiefs of staff (who was actually just trying to steal the nuclear launch codes) and when all of them are cornered by Pentagon guard, Ben realizes that protesting his innocence will just sound like a bad case of You Have to Believe Me!. So instead, he confesses to setting off the bomb, but explains that it was to steal the launch codes rather than to kill the President, and claims that he was working for the actual bomber. Said bomber tries to deny this, but the guards agree that it does seem more likely that he was the true culprit rather than a teenager acting alone (and who seemed to be confessing to them) and arrest the general and his accomplice, with their interrogations quickly providing the evidence to exonerate Ben.
  • The Secret of Santa Vittoria: After hiding over a million bottles of their rare and prized wine from the Germans. The villagers then deliberately hide a smaller quantity of wine (300,000 bottles) elsewhere, pretend that there is no wine left in the village at all, and then give up the smaller to placate the Germans and keep them from assuming there's more wine hidden nearby. It works, but only for a while.
  • In the Honor Harrington series, after the prisoners on Planet Hell revolt and overthrow the Peep prison guards, they hold trials to punish the Peep officers that previously abused the prisoners. They make a point to try the Peep's under their own civil laws and military codes of conduct to prevent accusations that they were just after revenge willy-nilly. One Peep officer accused of the rape and murder of a prisoner confesses to the rape, but steadfastly denies the murder. The members of the judge panel all agree that this is probably what's happening, since murder carries the death penalty under the Peep laws but rape does not, but do not have concrete proof to support the murder accusation. They drop the murder charge, and sentence the officer to prison for the rape.
  • From A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • In A Game of Thrones, Littlefinger frames Tyrion Lannister as the man who hired an assassin to murder Bran Stark (it was actually Joffrey), which prompts Catelyn Stark to arrest him in retaliation and take him back to the Vale, where Lysa Arryn acts as the Hanging Judge and throws Tyrion in prison to be tortured. Tyrion finally says that he will "confess his crimes", and once he's brought back to Lysa, he "confesses" to numerous personal indiscretions and character flaws, but refuses to admit to the crime he's actually accused of.
    • In A Dance with Dragons, having been imprisoned for numerous crimes by the Faith Militant in the previous books, Cersei Lannister confesses to several of the minor charges (like sleeping around with other men after she was widowed and bearing false witness) to get herself a reprieve from captivity and start planning a way to turn things around before she can be found guilty of the more serious charges (like treason, regicide and deceiving the entire realm into believing the bastard children born of her incestuous affair with her twin brother are the legitimate offspring of her late husband, King Robert).
  • The Big Bad of Time Spike, a 1632 spinoff, poisoned his elderly tenants to cash in their social security checks for himself in the Back Story. By the time he was caught, the bodies were decomposed enough that he was able to claim that they died of natural causes and he was only guilty of fraud.
  • Downplayed in the first short story in Whodunit — You Decide! by Hy Conrad. After the body of a man shot while robbing a bank is dumped on his land, a farmer is caught trying to move the body away from the scene of where he'd recently killed his wife so that the police won't notice that when they secure the crime scene. He doesn't confess to being the second bank robber, but doesn't raise much of a defense, because bank robbery has a shorter prison sentence than murder.
  • Judge Dee: Subverted in "The Chinese Bell Murders", when the Judge gets Lin Fan to confess to dropping the titular bell on the judge in the same breath as his accusation of smuggling salt, as he knows he can use his connections to avoid problems (his many previous crimes, involving the murder of his brother-in-law's family after causing their ruin, aren't addressed as he's managed to destroy the evidence). The judge then informs Lin Fan that an attack on a magistrate is considered a crime against the state, meaning all his relations won't help at all. Lin Fan ends up sentenced to one of the worst possible death in the Tang dynasty's code, being pulled apart by buffalo.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Breaking Bad:
    • In the first season, Skyler confronts Walt about his odd behavior and why he is consorting with a drug dealer. Walt, who has recently entered the crystal meth business, "confesses" that he's been buying marijuana from Jesse. This leads to a little comedic misunderstanding where Skyler confronts Jesse, saying that Walt told her everything, causing Jesse to get bewildered for a moment, and then get confused when she just demands he stop selling Walt pot.
      Jesse: And why'd you go and tell her I was selling you weed?
      Walt: Because somehow it seemed preferable to admitting that I cook crystal meth and killed a man.
    • Walt's cover for his disappearance is that he was wandering through the desert in a "fugue state." When he becomes unable to uphold that lie, he confesses to his psychiatrist that he made it up, and instead claims that he consciously chose to run away because he just got sick of his family (a better story than the truth, which is that he was kidnapped by a rival drug dealer).
    • Later on, when Walt has to explain all the money he's been making to his DEA brother-in-law Hank, he (actually his wife Skyler) says he earned it from counting cards. The earlier "fugue state" lie also comes into play, saying it was because he had lost the family's life savings on a bad gamble.
    • During season four, after Jesse returns to his rehab sessions, he tells them that he relapsed and "confesses" that he had to put down a "problem dog" that hadn't really done anything wrong. In reality, Jesse was forced to murder a defenceless person, which had been eating him inside up for weeks, so he had to confess something to other people.
    • Even more later on, Skyler nearly confesses to Marie that Walt is a drug dealer, only for Marie to pick up Walt's early conversation that Skyler is depressed due to Ted's accident. Skyler just goes along with that. If she did confess to Marie then and there, LOTS of lives would have been saved.
    • Done as a warning in season five, when Walt threatens to release a tape to the DEA where he "confesses" that he was forced to cook meth for Hank, the "real" Heisenberg, in order to get Hank, who now knows Walt is Heisenberg, off his back.
  • Better Call Saul:
    • In "Cobbler", Jimmy invokes this when representing Daniel. Daniel has been stealing drugs from his workplace and selling them to Nacho. He quickly gets robbed, and is foolish enough to call the cops, who very quickly spot enough holes in his story that it's clear something's going on. Jimmy intervenes by making Daniel 'confess' to selling fetish videos of him sitting in pies and crying. All this would be perfectly legal but few people would openly admit it to the police.
    • In "Magic Man," Gus has to do damage control after Werner is tricked into revealing some details of his secret construction project. He confesses that Werner was directing the construction of a new chiller, when he learned about the drug business and stole some product. Gus claims he'd tried to hide the theft to conceal his own failure. Juan Bolsa is pacified, but Lalo doesn't buy it for a second.
      Lalo: "South wall's going to look beautiful."
    • In "Bag Man" Jimmy had just been caught up in a shootout and forced to walk through the desert for over a day after doing a favor for Don Lalo Salamanca. He lied to Kim about what happened because he didn't want her to know he was in a shootout, but she was already suspicious because she'd seen the bullet hole in his coffee mug. When she confronts him about it without mentioning the mug, he confesses... that he drank his own urine while in the dessert.
    • Mike makes an anonymous tip to the police about a body buried out in the desert. Mike tells the operator he doesn't want to give his name because he was trespassing looking for arrowheads with a metal detector. In reality, it was because the guy was killed to Leave No Witnesses to a robbery Mike committed against the cartel (although Mike himself had nothing to do with it), and Mike located his body due to guilty out of indirectly causing his murder.
    • Howard's death is faked as a suicide, but his widow suspects Jimmy's involvement. Jimmy does truthfully admit to harassing Howard and that he regrets it, but conveniently leaves out the scheme that inadvertently led to his death.
  • Cluedo: Only the killers are allowed to lie to the interviewers, and so they sometimes confess to smaller crimes instead of the bigger ones that provide their motive for murder. For instance, in "The Best Insurance", Reverend Green claims to fear Cosmopolitan Insurance because he lied about his health status while getting life insurance from them. Actually, he lied on his insurance claim after the church was robbed to be reimbursed for items that he didn't own and had merely borrowed.
  • Cold Case: In "Mind Hunters", after George kills Janet Lambert, a park ranger hears the shots and confronts him, but merely assumes that George is poaching. George wordlessly seems to acknowledge this accusation, and the ranger lets him go with a warning.
  • House of the Dragon: When Alicent Hightower confronts her in "King of the Narrow Sea", Rhaenyra Targaryen admits that she snuck out with her uncle Daemon and went to a brothel, but convincingly denies that anything happened between them.
  • Murder, She Wrote had an interesting variant that crossed over with Framing the Guilty Party: a killer confessed to stabbing a victim that Jessica eventually deduced was already dead at the time of the stabbing. However, he was responsible for the victim's actual death and he had counted on a forensic analysis proving that the victim was already dead when stabbed to get him a lesser charge of attempted murder.
  • The Sopranos: In "College", Tony Soprano is asked point-blank by his daughter Meadow if he is in The Mafia. He denies the existence of the Mafia as a whole, claiming that it is a stereotype about Italians and that it is offensive, but he then grudgingly admits that his business does include some illegal gambling. The rest of the series sees him walking a very fine line with Meadow, since he continues to deny the existence of the Mafia but also sometimes goes out of his way to rub in the fact that her nice suburban life is financed by his criminal activities.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
    • Odo first met Major Kira when investigating her for the murder of a Bajoran shopkeeper. Eventually she is forced to give her alibi: She could not have committed the crime because she is actually a member of La Résistance and was busy planting a bomb on a different part of the station at the time. It is not until years later that Odo discovers the truth: She actually did murder the man, who was a Cardassian collaborator; the bomb was set by an associate. (This is playing with the trope a bit, as planting the bomb is actually the more serious crime, but it is also not the one Odo is investigating. He could still turn her in for the bombing, but she plays on his sympathies to convince him not to.)
    • Garak consistently denies being a spy, continually insisting that he's a simple, ordinary tailor. When asked why a tailor would be exiled from his homeworld, he shamefacedly admitted to tax evasion. Played humorously, as no one actually believes his story, but insists on it all the same.
    • Quark tries to holo-record Major Kira for a holosuite porn program; when he's spotted, he lies that he's putting together a battle simulator with the DS9 crew (still illegal, but less icky). Kira isn't fooled for a moment.
  • Dexter: When finally confronted about his mysterious disappearances at night by his girlfriend, he told the truth. She accused him of doing drugs and he admitted to having an addiction. He does have an addiction - just to murder, not drugs. This all came to light when Dexter admitted to knocking out her ex and injecting him with heroin in order to protect her and her kids. She immediately latched onto the fact that he knows how to cook heroin.
  • Frequently used on Lie to Me. Justified in that Cal and his team can always tell if you're lying, or guilty, or ashamed — but not what you're lying, guilty, or ashamed about. This trope may be the only way to throw them off your trail.
  • In one episode of Frasier, the gang travels to Canada in a Winnebago, unaware that Daphne isn't allowed to leave the country without her green card. Frasier and Niles act as one would expect from them, making customs suspicious until Martin "confesses" that his dog Eddie doesn't have a proper pet ID.
  • Frequently used in Burn Notice to maintain cover identities. In one memorable case, a drug dealer finds out Michael has been making phone calls to his girlfriend (actually, the girl he's stalking, who's an undercover DEA agent). The dealer assumes they're sleeping together and plans to kill her, until Michael "confesses" that he was asking around about the man because he wanted to do business with him. Thus confessing a minor violation of privacy to cover up a Secret Relationship which was itself a lie to cover up her being a cop.
  • On Boardwalk Empire, Eli and Van Alden are caught trying to steal Capone's ledgers to give to the FBI; the only plausible cover they can come up with is that they were trying to steal Capone's money. (This is still a "lesser" crime but not by much; Capone eventually sees through the lie but it's questionable whether he would have let them live either way.)
  • Invoked on an episode of CSI: NY. Aiden accuses their suspect of slamming the Victim of the Week's head in his pizza oven (what killed him; they can't prove the suspect was the actual person who did it, since none of the witnesses co-operated), but then bluffs him by also accusing him of then chasing the suspect and stabbing him to death (which they know didn't happen). Thus the suspect assumes his attack didn't kill the suspect and accidentally implicates himself thinking he's invoking this trope.
  • On Rookie Blue the cops bust a marijuana grow house and catch a teenager trying to escape out the back. The guy freely confesses to being in the house to buy weed and even admits that he is a small time weed dealer. The cops assume that he is just a screwed up kid, go easy on him and try to get him some help. Just as he is about to walk out the door, the cops figure out that he is the mastermind behind the operation and he shot and killed his partner shortly before the cops arrived. Because he confessed so quickly and cooperated with the cops, he stopped being a problem for them and they did not take a second look at him until it was almost too late.
  • On Graceland Briggs realizes that his FBI superiors have become suspicious of him so he sets things up so it is discovered that he is a recovering heroin addict. He knows that his bosses will be reluctant to act on this since it could prove to be extremely embarrassing to the FBI and in the meantime he has the time to proceed with his extremely illegal plan to set up a Mob War that will force a notorious cartel assassin into the open.
  • On The Shield, Claudette demands an explanation from Ronnie about why Shane tried to kill him and Vic. Ronnie confesses that they were doing an off-books investigation into Lem's murder (leaving out the crimes they committed in the process), that they found out Shane did it (but leaving out that he did it to cover up all their crimes), and that they had arranged a meeting with Lem the night he was killed (but he claims that they did it to convince him to turn himself in).
  • On one episode of Bones, they've got the suspect, but he isn't talking. Until Sweet figures out that he also committed the rape they uncovered during their murder investigation. Booth tells Sweet that even if the suspect were to confess right then and there, they wouldn't be able to charge him with both crimes. So the perp, seeing his way out admits to the rape, and is promptly told he just confessed to murder. When the perp calls them out on lying, it's pointed out to him that the FBI can only charge him with the murder, the rape falls to a different jurisdiction.
    Booth: DC Police will charge you for that.
  • In the premiere of Turn, Abe confesses to the British authorities that he has been involved in some low level smuggling (trading cabbages for cloth) during the few days that he was absent from his farm. While smuggling is a fairly serious crime, Abe's family connections will protect him from any real punishment. This is a ploy to hide the real reason why he was away for so long: he was intercepted by soldiers from the rebel Continental Army and an old friend of his tried to recruit him to spy on the British. In a twist, Abe's father does not believe the story but instead assumes that Abe is using this trope to hide his involvement in the murder of a British officer.
  • A memorable incident in Castle where a suspect alibis out on account of he was having sex with the victim's wife at the time. (Technically adultery isn't a crime in the United States, but it's still normally a motive for murder rather than an alibi.)
  • Invoked on Benson. One episode has a businessman from out of state (whose father is an old friend of the Governor's) try to negotiate a deal with the state. He goes out on a date with Denise and tries to have his way with her. Since he has good lawyers (he's done this before and always gotten off), the staff decides to pretend Denise was murdered and try casting suspicion on the businessman. (The production is so over the top, words will not do it justice.) It works and he confesses to attempting to rape Denise, but when he fails to repent, his father fires him.
  • Suits: When Louis discovers Mike's transcript contains a grade he could not have legitimately earned at Harvard Law, Mike confesses to falsifying the grade to avoid telling Louis the truth, that he never actually attended law school.
  • In The Good Wife Kalinda has her pet hacker show her how to tamper with email metadata in order to get Cary's drug conviction overturned. When they're interviewed by an investigator from the prosecutor's office dealing with the ramifications of the invented Brady violation (it could send a sleazy but technically innocent Chicago police detective to jail for falsifying evidence), they claim that the hacker was making a couple of Kalinda's parking tickets go away. The investigator doesn't buy it.
  • One episode of Death in Paradise has a murderer confess to murder after having set up things so that the murder confessed to seems like attempted murder upon further investigation on account of the victim already being dead at the time (lesser crime being a relative matter — attempted murder is a serious crime liable to get you several years in prison, but it's not quite as serious in sentencing as a successful murder).
  • In 24, Jack Bauer tortures his own brother Graeme after discovering he was involved in the terrorist events of the day. His brother admits to being behind the assassination of ex-President David Palmer and to several attempts on Jacks' own life, and admits that the "terrorists of the day" more or less stole from and double-crossed his company to carry out their campaign. After Jack leaves, though, their father- revealed to be the Big Bad of the season- talks to Graeme and asks why he gave up that much, and Graeme admits that he had to tell Jack something to get him to stop the torture- no matter how bad the stuff he told Jack was, it was really just the tip of the iceberg as both of them are involved in serious, far-reaching criminal conspiracies and thus his dad murders him before he can tell Jack anything else.
  • In Game of Thrones, Ned Stark returns home from Robert's Rebellion with a baby boy, Jon Snow, who he presents as his own illegitimate son that he fathered with another woman while married to his wife, Catelyn. Ned raises Jon as his son alongside his trueborn offspring at Winterfell and refuses to talk about Jon's mother, straining his marriage to Catelyn and leading to Jon becoming Catelyn's Unfavorite. However, Ned's cover story was far preferable to revealing the truth: Jon is Ned's nephew, not his illegitimate son. Jon (born Aegon Targaryen) is the Trueborn son of Ned's sister Lyanna Stark and Prince Rhaegar Targaryen, who was just slaughtered — along with most of the known Targaryen line (save for a few) — during Robert's Rebellion and the rightful heir to the Iron Throne. The dying Lyanna asks Ned to keep her son safe. Out of love for Lyanna and Jon, Ned spends the rest of his life protecting Jon, raising and loving him as his own son, and claims him as his own illegitimate child to save him from the wrath of Robert Baratheon as Robert would have killed Jon if he knew the truth due to his hatred of the Targaryens. Ned pretends to be an unfaithful spouse, accepting the stain on his honour, while he was actually committing treason against Robert — all to protect his sister's only child.
    • In a much later episode, Davos and Gendry are caught on the beach by a pair of Goldcloaks while engaged in a mission to bring down Queen Cersei. Davos plays it off as them being a couple of smugglers, complete with some crates of contraband to bolster their story, and bribes them to look the other way, even making a point of grumbling about how much more they ask for these days. He'd have gotten away with it if Tyrion hadn't walked up just as they were leaving.
  • Rome. Evander is kidnapped and tortured by Pullo and Octavian until he confesses to sleeping with Vorenus' wife. Pullo is prepared to kill Evander on the spot, but Octavian stops him, realising that his ready confession is covering for something else. He's fathered a child by her, who would be killed if Vorenus found out.
  • In one episode of NCIS, the team interviews a Smug Snake trust fund brat for the murder of a Marine officer, but the suspect is cleared when a paparazzi video surfaces of him going into a hotel with a senator's underage daughter at the time of the murder. Ziva promptly arrests him for statutory rape to get him back for being a dickhead.
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003): The first-season episode "Litmus" ends with a Galactica enlisted man confessing to criminal negligence in a Cylon suicide-bombing on Galactica. He's dishonorably discharged and imprisoned, but no one is implicated as a Cylon collaborator, which was what the tribunal was after. Tyrol comes clean to Commander Adama that the crewman was really covering for him and Boomer, who were continuing their Secret Relationship against direct orders from Colonel Tigh, but Adama lets the verdict stand: the crewman is now provably guilty of perjury, and forcing Tyrol to go back to work knowing an innocent man ruined his career for him is punishment enough. Tyrol and Boomer have a nasty breakup immediately afterwards.
  • In The Flash (2014), Harrison Wells (who is actually Eobard Thawne impersonating the real Wells) admits to ignoring a warning that his Particle Accelerator would send a destructive wave of dark matter across Central City, but not that he designed it to do so on purpose.
  • In Prison Break, Don Self finds out that The Company knows he's been prying into their affairs, but The Company doesn't know that he knows. They'll kill him if they find out what he's uncovered, so he does some further digging in order to find something else that isn't worth killing him over. The way he really sells it, though, is he doesn't wait for them to confront him. Instead he goes straight to The General and confronts him with multiple accusations which he pretends he thinks are much more potentially damaging than they really are. He preempts a Have You Told Anyone Else? by telling The General he's taken precautions in the event that he's killed. The General tells Self that he's actually recruited people who tried something like this, but Self doesn't go for it.
  • In an episode of Elementary, a man confesses to Holmes and Bell that he's stolen several cell phones. He didn't have much of a choice, as they could see the phones on a table the moment he answered his door, but it's enough for them to incorrectly dismiss him as a murder suspect on the grounds that's he too stupid to pull it off.
  • Columbo: In "Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star", the murderer arranges for a photo of him speeding to be taken by a speed camera at the time the murder was being committed. On showing this photo to Columbo, he facetiously says he cannot see any way out of this and confesses to speeding and says he will pay the fine. Needless to say, Columbo is not satisfied.
  • In an episode of House, House artificially shrinks a patient's tumor in order to get it small enough to operate on. When Cuddy confronts him about something he shouldn't have done, he says he tried to hide the fact that it's his birthday. That's actually what she was talking about, but his reaction tips her off to the fact that he's done something worse.
  • The Wire: When Bunk and McNulty sweat Cheese over the "Dawg" shooting phonecall, they do correctly place the picture of the guy he had shot over the dog fight incident on the table, but because of they mistook his use of the word "Dawg" to mean a (human) friend, and play him the tape, Cheese skates by by just copping to improper disposal of an animal and discharging a firearm in city limits.
  • Yellowjackets: In "Qui" when questioned by the police about Adam Martin's disappearance (whom she killed), Bad Liar Shauna simply confesses that they are right, she's a bored housewife who had an affair with an exciting young artist like Adam to put some spice into her life. That's not a crime, is it?

  • Inverted in the song Long Black Veil. The narrator is executed for a murder he didn't commit, because he refused to say where he was during the crime. He'd been in the arms of his best friend's wife.
  • Similarly inverted in Gary Moore's Over The Hills And Far Away; the man is convicted of armed robbery because his pistol was found at the crime scene and he had no alibi, because he'd been sleeping with his best friend's wife at the time.
  • Inverted in "I Shot The Sheriff," as the singer confesses to shooting the sheriff, but claims he didn't shoot his deputy. That said, the lyrics notably only clarify that the sheriff was shot and not necessarily killed, and that the singer may have had a plausible excuse. However, the deputy is clearly dead—a second officer shot, particularly to death, would result in more grievous charges regardless of the rank of the additional officer.
  • In Alice's Restaurant, Arlo recalls getting a phone call from the police department about the garbage he dumped earlier that day–with only an envelope as evidence, to which Arlo responds "I cannot tell a lie: I put that envelope under that garbage."

    Video Games 
  • This happens a lot in Ace Attorney, mainly because every case involves murder revolving around other events and crimes.
    • In the second case of the first Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney game, the murderer, who claims to have witnessed the murder through a window, trips up and reveals details he shouldn't have been able to see through a window. When called on this, he makes up a story about planting surveillance devices in the murder scene in order to spy on the victim. Although incidentally, said murderer was spying on the victim with a wiretap, however in reality it was his employee who had actually been to the offices to place the wiretap on the phone. He makes up that he was the one who placed it in order to justify why he knew details about the scene of the murder, aka the offices, that he shouldn't have known unless he had been to said offices before.
    • The real murderer in case 5 of game one, Chief Gant, confesses to having forged and withheld evidence, and tampering with the crime scene all to blackmail the sister of the apparent person who took the victim's life in the SL-9 Incident when he comes under fire for the fact that he had withheld that he was the first to find the body. He unknowingly confessed to the murder in a second-hand way itself by doing this.
    • In Case 2 of Justice for All, the strange circumstances consist of Maya channelling a spirit, only for the possessed Maya to kill her client who requested the channelling. Then it turns out said client brought a gun as well, presumably to coerce the channelled spirit into signing a confession he prepared if his plans went south. Phoenix is offered to have the defendant plead self-defense because of this, but he turns it down since if that offer was taken, Maya would still be charged with killing someone. Then it's discovered that no spirit was channelled in the first place; the murderer was a seperate living person.
    • In Trials and Tribulations, you manage to save your defendant from a conviction for grand larceny on the first day of his trial, by discovering that the "Ace Detective" Luke Atmey, who had supposedly been on your client's Gentleman Thief persona for years, actually did it. The suspect happily admits that yes, they did it! Victory, right? Wrong! Your defendant is promptly accused of murder, and you have to prove him innocent of that crime, despite the fact that you just proved he doesn't have an alibi for it, because he wasn't off committing (not actually) grand larceny, Turns out Luke Atmey faked the theft he confessed to on the first day, then committed the murder, confident that he could confess to the theft and therefore have an alibi for the murder, getting off scot-free. In the end, your client receives no jail time for the thefts he actually did commit besides the one he was tried for, due to the fact that he was acquitted for that particular one, and double jeopardy protects him. But he's such a sweetheart that it's hard to feel like he should be in prison at all.
    • Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney:
      • The true killer of Case 2 admits to trespassing, burglary and property damage when they say they broke into the murder victim's office to try and steal a medical chart. By that time the killer had already admitted that she only married a mob boss's son for his money, and that the chart she was trying to get proved she knew said boss's son's life was in major danger, thus she was trying to protect her life. They also, later in the case, admit that she threatened someone with a gun. They do all this because if they did not admit to any of these smaller crimes, then it would mean they were guilty of a much bigger crime: murder.
      • In Case 3, the true killer has evaded the legal system's golden rule that decisive evidence must be presented to convict for a crime. He's only taken down because his act of insurance against his accomplice is rendered null because in the latter's home country, smuggling a powerful and dangerous cocoon out of Borginia is a capital crime punishable by death. Apollo convinces him to confess in the Japanese/American courts for being the killer's accomplice for the smuggling, as their laws would only give him some lenient nonfatal punishment for smuggling instead of leaving him to be extradited to Borginia and tried for the smuggling there. The confession becomes the decisive evidence needed to catch the killer.
      • In the flashback case, when Phoenix has proven that a witness, Valant, tampered with the crime scene and tried to throw off the time of death, he admits to everything he did, yet continues to deny that he killed anyone. For good reason, as he didn't; Magnifi wasn't murdered.
      • In the same case, Vera is proven to have been illegally making forgeries (granted, without knowing it was breaking the law) and she even confesses as such when they are accused of murdering their own father.
    • Dual Destinies:
      • In the third case, the true killer, Aristotle Means, tries to claim to have helped Juniper Woods cover up her crime. Not only is the culprit guilty, but as Athena points out, the person in question is actually responsible for Juniper coming under suspicion in the first place.
      • Inverted in the DLC case, as the cornered and defeated culprit admits to murder, due to being unintentionally responsible for the victim's death over a moot point and he was a Benevolent Boss, now wishing for a harsh punishment. Phoenix however, asks the Judge to hold his Not Guilty verdict for the defendant, and proves with some unaccounted-for fingerprints of the culprit on a ladder and on the victim's body that he actually tried to save him, but failed due to the victim intentionally letting go and falling to his death. The Judge instead hopes that the culprit will be rehabilitated now that he's just being charged for covering up the death and trying to frame the defendant. He gets better.
    • The killer of the third case of The Great Ace Attorney 2: Resolve confesses to being an accomplice to another character's murder plan, and demands the trial end in a Not Guilty verdict for the defendant. Them being so insistent on a quick end to the trial makes Ryunosuke very suspicious though, and he gets the verdict postponed so they can hear one more testimony. Sure enough, it reveals they really murdered the victim personally.
    • In the second case of Spirit of Justice, the defendant is offered at the start of their trial to plead a lesser charge since the circumstances look like the victim died in an accident at the hands of the defendant and practically all of the evidence is stacked against them. Apollo still pushes to get a Not Guilty verdict.

    Web Comics 
  • Sleepless Domain: When Undine caught Mark sneaking around outside during curfew, she asked him if he was some kind of criminal. He admitted to trespassing and dumpster diving, which he was using as a less-than-honest euphemism — considering the magitek grenade in his possession, he had likely been stealing from government weapons caches.

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons: In "Mr. Plow", Homer crashes his car. Fortunately, it's insured, but the agent wants to know exactly what kind of business Moe's is. Not wanting to admit he'd been drinking, but wondering what else is open late at night, Homer claims it's a porn shop, where he was buying pornography.
  • Gravity Falls, Robbie tries to win Wendy back by offering her a piece of music he said he composed. Dipper finds out that the music had a subliminal message that could have influenced Wendy. When confronted about this, Robbie admits he didn't actually make the song. Either way, Wendy cuts ties with him for good.

    Real Life 
  • In 1974, Mexican authorities arrested a number of men for smuggling indigenous artifacts. Among them was one Brígido Lara, who insisted that the artifacts in question were all fake: he wasn't a smuggler, he was a forger. He eventually proved his case and was exonerated, and now makes a living crafting completely legal replicas. His forgeries were good enough to fool many experts until he showed them what to look for, and even ended up in several museums, some of which still don't believe they were duped.
  • Similarly, Dutchman Han van Meegeren was arrested after WW2 for selling a Vermeer painting to the Nazis. As the painting was counted as a Dutch national treasure, selling it to the enemy was an act of treason, punishable by death. Van Meegeren explained that he had forged the painting, and was able to demonstrate his skill; after experts examined the painting, they were able to confirm that it was, indeed, a fake, and it was subsequently revealed that numerous other paintings attributed to Vermeer and other Dutch masters had in fact been painted by van Meegeren. He was convicted of forgery and died of a heart attack a couple of years later, although having successfully conned the Nazis earned him something of a folk hero status in the Netherlands (which is ironic, as Van Meegeren was actually pro-Nazi himself and had published anti-Semitic literature which had Hitler's personal approval).
  • Alexander Hamilton's "Reynolds Pamphlet" was written with this goal. While it's largely known as the document directly connected to America's first sex scandal, many forget why he wrote it in the first place (save for musical theater fans): to deny allegations of financial speculation and treason. James Reynolds, the husband of the woman Hamilton was sleeping with, had allowed the affair to continue for as long as he was paid, so when he was arrested for defrauding veterans' pensions, he attempted to take Hamilton down with him by accusing him of the same financial crimes. Given that Hamilton was Treasury Secretary at the time, if the allegations had born fruit then he would have been arrested for treason and likely hung, so instead he publicly confessed to the infidelity while denying the financial crimes.
  • After underage Serial Killer Craig Price murdered the Heaton family, the police determined that the killer cut his hand in the process. Price's injury was noticed, he claimed it was the result of drunkenly punching a car with the intent to steal from it. The police quickly saw through the story due to a lack of a vandalism report and broken glass on the street the alleged vandalism occurred on. He later admitted the crimes as including the detail about cutting himself in the process.
  • When sexual misconduct accusations resurfaced against R. Kelly in 2017, he released a track titled "I Admit" in 2018 where he confessed to a laundry list of personal issues and misdeeds such as infidelity and being gullible, all the while refuting the criminal accusations thrown his way. He was ultimately convicted of numerous criminal offences in 2021 and 2022.