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"Get Out of Jail Free" Card

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Heel-Face Turners and Anti-Heroes are often fascinating characters. They can add a level of grey, be someone who understands villain motivations, or provide a good source of angst. In a series with Cardboard Prison tendencies, it's a lot more of an effective way of ending a threat.

However, the writers eventually have to explain, at least on a Hand Wave level, why this person isn't in jail or otherwise punished. The Morality Pet is a type of "Get out of Jail Free" Card, as heroes wouldn't want to punish them as well. Sometimes it's explained that their service is a mandatory replacement to incarceration, or the condition of The Pardon. Other times, they're revealed to be one of The Chosen Ones.

The underlying logic to this trope is probably twofold: one, a character in prison isn't a potential cast member, and two, if the only reward for turning away from the path of evil and towards good is to be sent to prison and punished, then why would anyone ever abandon evil if they're going to be punished either way? In other words, being allowed to remain free — tormented or not — is almost like a karmic reward for the new hero's redemption, a second chance. That doesn't mean they necessarily feel good about it.

This can be Truth in Television but in a much more complicated way than in fiction. People in organized crime facing life sentences or even the death penalty have been given immunity from prosecution for testifying against mob bosses, but the road to immunity has historically been so dangerous, in some cases necessitating a lifetime of witness protection, that it's a legal sentence in and of itself.

See also Saved by the Awesome. Contrast Karma Houdini, where no such explanation is given. Also contrast Never Going Back to Prison. Compare Boxed Crook in which the threat of jailtime is used as leverage for this situation.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Fullmetal Alchemist:
    • Roy Mustang and his subordinates committed numerous atrocities and war crimes during the Ishval Civil War, but were commended and treated as war heroes because they were part of the winning side. Mustang and Hawkeye consider themselves war criminals for participating in the genocide, with Mustang in particular being disgusted that people consider him a hero for it. A big part of his motivation for becoming Führer of Amestris is so he can ensure nothing like Ishval happens again; when Hawkeye points out that Mustang's ultimate goal will lead to him most likely being tried as a war criminal himself and sent off to prison, Mustang tells her he's just fine with that and wants it to happen.
    • It is specifically stated when Scar has his Heel–Face Turn that he will not get one of these; they make him swear that he will turn himself in and face judgment after everything is over. He agrees, swearing on the only thing they know is truly important to him. It ends up being played straight as he is declared legally dead during the climax and returns to rebuild Ishval. It's pretty justified, though, as the vast majority of the cast are not exactly innocent themselves.
  • Fruits Basket: While she does go through a genuine Heel–Face Turn, Akito Sohma still ends the original series by earning her happy ending with Shigure and receiving no punishment for the years of physical and emotional abuse she heaped on the rest of the Sohmas. While they acknowledge that what she did was wrong, the rest of the family understand that Akito herself was a victim, that she's remorseful for her actions and trying to change, and simply want to move on with their lives.
  • Lyrical Nanoha:
    • The first season has the Time Space Administration Bureau justifiably arrest Fate Testarossa for her actions during the "Jewel Seed incident." However, seeing as Fate was a minor, acted on the orders of an abusive and insane parent, never personally committed a major crime, and had expressed remorse and a sincere desire to repent, sympathetic officers were more than willing to represent her at her trial and were able to get off with only community service (i.e. working for the Administration), which she was more than willing to do. One of these officers later adopted her. Her familiar Arf received similar treatment.
    • In A's, the Wolkenritter get much the same treatment, as they were not responsible for the actions they were forced to undertake as slaves to an Artifact of Doom. They did get a much stiffer and longer sentence than Fate, though, because of their lengthy, unpleasant history with the Bureau, and their sheer power. It helped that they were now beholden to a moral little girl who was eager to join the Bureau. Oddly, in the third series their master Hayate would be blamed for the trouble caused by the "Book of Darkness," despite having been unwittingly and indirectly involved at most. Then again, the one doing the blaming was an unsympathetic General Ripper, who may or may not have simply disliked the fact that a "criminal" like Hayate was running a Mobile Unit and nosing around in his (illegal) affairs.
    • ViVid shows us one instance of a character who apparently refused the card; Lutecia is confined to what is probably the most luxurious Penal Colony in fiction, a bright and beautiful vacation world with no limits on communications, visitors, or delivered items. The only apparent restriction to her activities is that she's not allowed to leave the planet (and even then, she is shown leaving the planet on at least two occasions without any punishment). Then again, Lutecia's circumstances were very similar to Fate's in the first season, having committed almost all of her crimes in the name of saving her mother and being told by a trusted adult that it was okay to do what she was doing.
  • Ken, the ex-Digimon Kaiser/Emperor, falls under several of these. First, he was one of the Chosen Children. Second, he had a Morality Pet, Wormmon. Third, he was affected by a Dark Seed. Last, and most importantly, he became The Atoner afterwards, seeking absolution from the main characters and the world itself before he could become part of the True Companions. It does take a while for the rest to forgive him, though; particularly Iori, who distrusts him, and is wary of his ability to change for a long time... and takes much fandom hate for that.
  • In Spiral, Ayumu gains control of the tape with Rio confessing to murder, but Eyes threatens to tell the police about their criminal connections to his brother, Kiyotaka, if Ayumu tries to turn them in. Ayumu refuses, saying he'd prefer if it the entire world was after his brother so that he might actually, y'know, FIND him. Then Eyes points out that he might not mind, but isn't there someone else who would be deeply hurt by such a fiasco...? Not wanting to cause his sister-in-law any more pain, Ayumu reluctantly agrees.
  • In Trinity Blood, Leon Garcia (a convicted murderer) is let out of prison on a quite superficial Hand Wave, whereupon he joins the hero team. In the Manga and Novels, it's elaborated on, in that his sentence is ridiculously high, and he IS still in prison...but they let him out to carry out missions for him, and if he succeeds (read as survives, the missions are pretty dangerous), his sentence is reduced. When he's not doing stuff for them, he sits around in prison doing very little.
  • In Negima! Magister Negi Magi, Kotaro has what amounts to a get out of jail free card after his second appearance. He helps Negi save the girls from Wilhelm, is granted his freedom, and proceeds to transfer to Mahora. Ironically, he had escaped from jail before he did this, so it was more of a Stay Out Of Jail Free Card.
  • The Chrono Crusade manga has Chrono, who — after flying into an Unstoppable Rage and charges after the Big Bad, tossing cable cars with people still inside at him, setting part of San Francisco ablaze and actually killing some people in the process — is held captive by the Order for some time and actually ordered to be executed. He just barely manages to escape punishment because (1) he needs to help Rosette find her long-lost brother, (2) he's obviously repentant and (3) he's able to prove to Father Remington that he's learned to control his temper. However, Father Remington goes against orders to help him escape, and official records state that he was actually executed.
  • Masao Kirishima, resident violent sociopath of Mars (1996), can't be locked up for attempted murder in the end because he's still legally a minor and because he doesn't seem to have any memory of his victim.
  • In the end of the second season of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex Gouda thinks that he has one. Unfortunately, Aramaki does not accept it. And has the Major shoot him with a volley of exploding bullets from an assault rifle in the middle of a hallway.
  • In Code Geass, Cornelia allows Villetta Nu to join the Black Knights since there are more important things to do than deal with her. It's never justified from the Black Knights' perspective, and seemingly the only reason she gets in is because she's hanging on Ohgi's arm.
  • Lampshaded in Soul Eater with Crona. Sid suggested they shouldn't be exempted from the usual punishments for crimes just because their mother told them to do it. Lord Death's reply is, in short, "Yeah, I don't know, let's just put it off and let the kid join the academy in the meantime."
  • The members of the Juppongatana who were captured during the Kyoto arc of Rurouni Kenshin were offered these in exchange for using their skills for the Meiji government. Most of them end up taking it.
  • Averted in Argento Soma, where Soma doesn't get off with just a slap of the wrist, and actually receives a pretty hefty sentence. Though he's not stripped out of his rank and actually is promoted while behind bars, continuing his career in the epilogue.
  • This happens a lot in the Queen's Blade franchise: Basically, any evil character who was defeated and manage to get this only gets a slap in the wrist. The three most notorious examples are Claudette after being defeated in Rebellion, since the card itself are the gods themselves. Werbellia, as the cards are her daughters, not to mention she was controlled against her will by the real Swamp Witch and Dogura in the Vanquished Queens OVAs, by Tomoe, despise all the crap he did, including destroying Hinomoto (Tomoe's homeland) and the only thing he got is being bitten in the ass by some wild squirrel at the end of the episode. The only exceptions to this rule are Delmore in the game book continuity and in the anime, Ramshel, Sushel and Weiss from the video games and everyone from the Cult of Arunikuf from the Queen's Gate novels, and that's because all of them are killed, albeit Ramshel and Sushel came back from the dead in the sequel.
  • The anime Psycho-Pass has this in the "service as a mandatory replacement to incarceration" variety. The Enforcers are latent criminals whose Psycho Pass exceeds the permitted levels; they can either serve as Enforcers and help fight crime (with their every move being supervised by the Inspectors, who have the option of disciplining them at will), or to be put into "therapy".
  • Naruto: While he does go through a Heel–Face Turn by the end of the series, Sasuke still did such things as abandon the Leaf to seek power from Orochimaru (a wanted criminal), try to kill his closest friend Naruto numerous times, attempt to kidnap a Shinobi of Kumogakure (and inadvertently providing ingredients to end the world via Infinite Tsukuyomi), attack the Kage summit and the Gokage, with it being noted in-universe that he's built up a rap sheet severe enough to land him in prison for life. He's ultimately pardoned of his crimes by Kakashi, the Sixth Hokage. However, in the anime, Sasuke does spend some time in prison before Naruto and Kakashi plead his case, and A makes it clear to him that while the rest of the Kage respected Kakashi's decision, he would still have to earn forgiveness the hard way.
  • In Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny's backstory, the remaining members of Team Zala suffer various amounts of this. Following the events of the Alliance-PLANT War, Athrun decided to resign from ZAFT after everything that happened. Dearka and Yzak were to be punished for their actions, including Yzak sinking a lifeboat holding ORB refugees. Instead, Gilbert Durandal pardoned them and chided those wanting to punish kids. Dearka lost his red coat status but Yzak was promoted.

    Comic Books 
  • Subverted in Thunderbolts, about villains becoming heroes. MACH-1, previously the Beetle, learns that for the Thunderbolts to be allowed to continue functioning, he must go to jail for a murder he committed. He does so willingly, and even sabotages a break-out attempt that would have included him. He's eventually given expedited parole for helping save the world multiple times.
  • Averted in the first run of Marvel Comics New Warriors. After Vance Astrovik, AKA Marvel Boy, is convicted of negligent homicide, he refuses to go along when his teammates try to break him out.
    Vance: I killed my father. Whether I meant it or not — and I didn't — I'm still responsible for the act. You can quibble about the law all you want, but I believe in the system, so I'm going to abide by it.
  • Sidewinder, the founder of the Serpent Society (a Weird Trade Union of Marvel's snake-themed villains), was a walking "Get Out Of Jail Free" Card for his team thanks to his teleportation ability. When King Cobra took over the Society, Sidewinder decided to retire, taking this card with him. Years later, another Sidewinder was created, with the teleporting power of the original, and joined the Society, effectively giving them that card back.
  • Gloriously used and subverted at the end of the Buck Godot Gallimaufry Cycle. Buck returns home and meets with someone to negotiate his 'tax duty', a type of community service (and, to make sure people are prompt, the longer you wait to check in, the exponentially worse the duty gets... and Buck's been gone a while.) Buck offers up a 'note', which turns out to be a message from the Prime Mover, the most powerful being in the galaxy. The note explains what Buck had been up to all this time — from finding a religious artifact to preventing multiple intergalactic jihads to stopping a civil war in the seat of galactic government to saving humanity itself from extinction, and would he please let Buck off the hook, thank you very much. Too bad it doesn't work.
  • In All Fall Down, Siphon gets one of these in the form of a Presidential Pardon.
  • In pre-Flashpoint Secret Six an actual "Get out of Hell Free" card played a key role in one storyline. Every member of the team and villains outside of the team wanted it because they knew they were damned. The trope is otherwise averted: the Six go back to being straight-up villains as the series draws to a close, when they realize that the good they've done as a team of Antiheroes/Antivillains can't save them from eternal damnation. It's noted how some who don't even believe in an afterlife still want the card "just in case."

    Fan Fic 
  • From The Little Pony Legend:
    • Despite the obvious issue of being a former terrorist with a laundry list of crimes under her belt, due to cooperating with the world leaders during the campaign end, P'li is let out on probation as a guest of the Air Acolytes. She does face severe distrust in the process though, and does work on earning her keep from then on.
    • Discussed again when Team Avatar and the Mane Six decide on what they should do with Starlight Glimmer. In the end, she's given one of two choices: either she goes to jail and serves her sentence, or get taken in under the care of the airbenders on Air Temple Island. By choosing to stay on Air Temple Island, she not only gets to redeem herself but also to make amends with her old friend Sunburst.

    Films — Animation 
  • The DC Comics "Get out of Hell Free" card (see "Comic Books" above) is also central to the DC Universe Animated Original Movies film Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay.
  • In Tangled, Flynn steals one of the kingdom's most valuable Cool Crowns, but then at the end brings back the long-lost princess, which is of course even more valuable to the king and queen. Needless to say, Flynn gets a full pardon and eventually gets to marry the princess.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The end of Serenity has The Operative taking Simon and River Tam off of the wanted list after fixing the Serenity, and letting the entire crew go after they had just committed everything from vandalism to treason, not to mention the fact that River was tortured and driven insane by the Alliance, who The Operative worked for, to be turned into a psychotic psychic assassin, which her brother had freed her from (getting them on the wanted list). So, less "GOFJF Card" and more Get Out Of Being Hunted card (as even The Operative couldn't kill River if she wanted him dead).
  • At the end of Shooter, Swagger is set free by the Attorney General after the charge he was framed for, the assassination of an African archbishop, is proven false by the fact that the murder weapon could not have been used, thus he could not have fired it. This seems perfectly logical, but no one, not even the incognito Big Bad who was sitting right next to the war council, seems to address the fact that Swagger killed a number of men and caused untold amounts of property damage between the beginning of the film and now in his quest for vengeance.
  • In Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, the TOS crew commits numerous crimes to help resurrect Spock, such as forcibly stealing the decommissioned USS Enterprise, sabotaging the USS Excelsior, and later destroying the Enterprise. To that, the whole idea of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is to create an opportunity so spectacular for the crew to save Earth that they could get off easy for the above charges. As it is, the only punishment is a token one of Admiral Kirk being demoted to Captain again for insubordination, even as the authorities understand full well he preferred that lower rank.
  • Clear and Present Danger: When Jack Ryan learns about Operation Reciprocity, an illegal war being fought in Colombia, he confronts Ritter with incriminating evidence. Ritter produces an "autographed get out of jail free card" in the form of written authorization from the President of the United States. The film treats this as applying to Ritter only, while the original novel states that this is for the CIA as a whole and anyone they recruited for said operation.
  • In Lord of War, it's revealed in the end that Yuri acts as a middleman for the US Government, selling arms to governments and groups that the US doesn't want to be publicly associated with. However, in his closing narration Yuri bleakly wonders when his benefactors will decide that he's no longer useful to them. and just because they find him useful out of jail for now, doesn't mean they won't just let him rot the next time.
  • Gothika. Halle Berry's character wakes up in a mental hospital, with memory gaps, accused of murdering her husband. When we later find out that her husband had over the years abducted, raped and killed several young women from the area, and she murdered him upon finding out, she is set free. Despite having y'know, actually murdered her husband.
  • Stripes: Even though John Winger and Russell Ziskey stole the EM-50 Urban Assault Vehicle on their own accord, they get heralded as heroes upon coming home since they demonstrated its effectiveness against the Soviets and rescued their comrades who went after them. In contrast, the officer who ordered said men to recover the stolen vehicle gets Reassigned to Antarctica for his trouble.
  • In Paddington (2014), Millicent spent half the movie trying to add the obviously sentient Paddington to her stuffed animal collection. In-story it might be possible to mount a legal defense on the grounds that Paddington was not human, but she also was willing to kill and stuff the entire Brown family. Her punishment? Community service in a petting zoo.
  • In 20,000 Years in Sing Sing, the warden agreed to furlough Connors from the prison for 24 hours to visit his dying girlfriend, on his honor that he'd come back to Sing Sing. While on the furlough, he is accused of killing his old partner Finnspoiler , and the warden is blasted by the newspapers and is about to resign when Connors returns to Sing Sing and willingly faces the chair for his alleged crime. The newspapers treat the Warden as completely vindicated by this, even though he's still responsible for letting a convicted armed robber out on furlough in the first place to shoot someone.
  • Top Gun opens with Maverick defying orders to land, helping his badly-shocked squadron leader Cougar get home. After making it back, Cougar resigns and their commanding officer Stinger admits he wants to discipline Maverick and Goose, however, he has to send the squadron's top aviator and RIO to the Top Gun school. Since Cougar's out, it means Maverick and Goose are going there, instead.

  • In Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan novels, John Clark manages to get an actual "Get out of Jail Free" Card when the president of the United States pardons him. The Teeth of the Tiger takes this to an extreme where before leaving office, Jack Ryan Sr. signs 100 blank Presidential Pardons for use by "The Campus".
  • In the Honor Harrington series, Kevin Usher, head of Haven's FBI-equivalent, asks for and receives a presidential pardon for any crimes one of his agents commits in running a "black" investigation of possible treason by the Secretary of State who manipulated diplomatic correspondence to engineer a crisis that would weaken the President as a rival, but instead accidentally sent his country back to war against Manticore. He refuses to take one for himself, saying that if the black operation is blown, he will be the cutout and take the fall.
  • In The Three Musketeers, Cardinal Richelieu gives one of these to Milady de Winter: "It is on my orders and for the good of France that the bearer of this letter has done what they have done." Athos promptly steals it, and when he, the other titular Musketeers, and D'Artagnan kill Milady de Winter, he gives it to D'Artagnan to use against Richelieu himself. Who decides to accept it and give him a promotion.
  • Directly referenced in-universe by Gene Wolfe's "Castle of the Otter", itself republished in "Castle of Days". It is used in one of the more amusing addenda to "Book of the New Sun" which were provided by the author in response to his son's comment that BOTNS needed more funny parts.
  • In The Merchant Princes Series, Angbard is at a point where he's about to find out that Roland and Miriam have been sleeping together, opening a whole can of honor-related worms that'll require Angbard to have them punished and possibly executed. However, since Miriam and Roland have just figured out that the duke's chief of security, who is also the one telling Angbard about all of this is The Starscream and is planning to take down the duke, Iris convinces Angbard to burn the messages unread, because pardoning anyone who isn't an active enemy is a good way to gather allies against the real threat.
  • In Worm, standard procedure for villains who become heroes is for them to serve a probationary sentence on a superhero team, generally under house arrest in the heroes headquarters when not on deployment. The logic seems to be that, if they're the sort of villain who can become a superhero, they'll probably be more secure surrounded by superheroes and Cape Busters than in a medium-security prison.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Anyone who tried to punish Xena: Warrior Princess of her past warlord crimes were such fanatical Inspector Javerts that their technically true accusations were eclipsed. Or she saved everyone who wanted to punish her and they let her off. For a literal example of this, one episode had her tried for murder and sent to prison...only for it to be revealed that the specific person she had been convicted of killing was alive and well and running the prison she was in. Naturally, she was set free after all this was revealed.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer has several examples:
    • Willow murdered two people, tried to kill several more (including Dawn, Buffy and Giles) and nearly destroyed the world. Her punishment essentially amounted to a summer vacation in England to learn to control her powers. The whole "magic addiction" thing and losing her girlfriend Tara in the most gut-wrenching way possible were probably considered to be "extenuating circumstances", though one wonders if she ever saw a psychologist throughout that summer, like, ever.
    • In the early part of the series, Faith committed crimes including murder...and eventually accepted the idea of going to jail, after trying to commit the Buffyverse equivalent of Suicide by Cop. At the end of the series, she escaped - which was admittedly justified since she had an attempt on her life made and had to join the team to save the world; there was no sign that she intended to go back to jail once the emergency was over, though and in the Season Eight comics she doesn't, and in fact her attempts to gain more permanent freedom outside the U.S. indicate she really did never plan to go back. This is partly justified, since she's still a Slayer, and therefore more useful to the world-saving forces of Good when on the outside, and owing to an ongoing redemption plot, but still...
    • Andrew murders Jonathan and is accepted as a member of the group with no punishment (aside from spending a few days tied to a chair and being initially shunned) and is never turned in to the authorities - even once it becomes clear to the group that he has no useful information to offer them. He ends up remaining as a (often hopelessly useless) member of the team in Season Eight, though his role there seems to largely be to create Plucky Comic Relief... which, come to think of it, makes it all the more disturbing in a way.
    • Spike after he was chipped counts as this. He couldn't physically hurt humans, but time and again he proved he was still dangerous. It got worse when he and Buffy got in a relationship, as stated above.
    • Everyone in Buffy gets a pass from all the others, because there is really no one to cast the first stone. They've all done it. This is pointed out in "First Date", when The First, as Jonathan, is trying to get Andrew to turn back against Buffy:
      The First: Really? Why? So you can earn a spot on her little pep squad? You think she'll ever let you in? You're a murderer.
      Andrew: Confidentially, a lot of her people are murderers. Uh, Anya and Willow and Spike....
  • Angel strikingly, and given the context of the series rather bravely, decisively rejects the idea that simply because someone turns good they should get a karmic reward. Faith of course literally does go to jail (for a while at least) and in a later season Angel and Spike admit to themselves they probably are still going to hell for their past misdeeds.
  • In The 4400, April Skouris, the sister of main character Diana Skouris, uses her abilities as a Living Lie Detector to blackmail people. True, she helps bring down a big criminal conspiracy... but only out of revenge for the murder of her partner/boyfriend and fear for her own safety. Not only is she not punished for her blackmail, she is awarded a plum government job. And she is smug about it too.
  • The Wire has a literal "get out of jail free card" given to stick-up man Omar Little in return for testifying against a murderer. He's warned, however, that the card has its limits. When Little is wrongly imprisoned, he uses his card and other contacts to help him beat the charge — but as the charge is a witness-testified murder of a civilian, he has a hard time convincing them that the card even applies, and it's only the point that the real murderer is still out there that swings it for him.
  • The entire backstory of Lost's Kate is that she's on the run for murdering her stepfather (who was actually her father.) Yet in the flashforward to her trial, she ends up getting off with probation and time served, mostly due to Courtroom Antics. To those who like Kate, this was justified because her stepfather abused her mother and leered at Kate, and because Kate has Aaron to look after. To Kate's detractors, it was a Karma Houdini.
  • Star Trek: Voyager: Tom Paris specifically was pardoned in exchange for going with Voyager and helping to search for the Maquis. Prior to that, he had already been convicted and sent to one of the Federation's (typically luxurious) prisons.
  • In Deep Space Nine: Averted in one episode, where Kassidy Yates (Sisko's lover) is revealed to be smuggling items (mostly organic materials, so food and medical supplies) to the Maquis, a terrorist group. When confronted by Sisko and the Defiant, she takes sole responsibility, leaving her crew with the Maquis and returning to the station alone, and she gets thrown in prison for nearly a season.
  • Played with in Stargate SG-1 episode "Cor-Ai", where Teal'c is put on trial by one of the worlds he helped to victimize as Apophis' First Prime. General Hammond balks at the idea of forcing the people of that world to release Teal'c because he really did commit the crimes he was accused of. Same with Vala later as she goes on trial for continuing planetary slave labour after her Goa'uld was removed.
  • For a series about a wrongly-accused man trying to clear his name, Renegade uses this pretty often. However, on one occasion, the lead helped a man accused of bombing a college lab, by finding the guy he supposedly killed. The end of the episode makes it clear that the falsely accused man has to do community service because he evaded arrest.
  • Sylar in Heroes is constantly backstabbing his allies, slaughtering innocents, and getting captured, but everyone is always ready to give him another chance, try to ally with him, or get into his pants.
  • 24
    • Jack Bauer commits so many felonies every season that his name became synonymous with the torture of terrorist suspects during the 2008 American presidential election. Bauer escapes from punishment with the occasional slap on the wrist; but given how many times he's saved the country it makes sense. This is ultimately subverted in 24: Redemption, where it's revealed Bauer is being hunted by the US government so he can tried for his use of torture. Season 7 begins with him on trial for it. He is of course released from this by the end of the season, but the Senator who was prosecuting him is dead, and the new President has also come to appreciate everything Jack has done.
    • Nina gets a "Get out of Jail Free" Card from the President in Season 2 for her past crimes. Then she asks for another one...for the future crime of murdering Jack Bauer. Jack tells the president to do it.
    • As does Mandy in Season 4.
  • Reaper: Sam is given a literal "Get Out of Hell Free" card by the Devil himself. Sam and his friends laugh it off as a stupid joke... but Sam is very careful to keep the card close. Considering he has been damned to Hell through no fault of his own, the value of the card is obvious. He eventually uses it to get an old enemy out of Hell instead. When the Devil asks why he didn't just use it for himself, Sam notes that the Devil would never let him get away that easily; there would have been some trick or trap to land Sam in Hell anyway.
  • Bartlet's final act as President in The West Wing was signing a pardon for Toby Ziegler.
  • Every Power Ranger that started out evil, got one of these after their Heel–Face Turn. Normally the reason was they were under mind control (of one sort or another) and wouldn't have done the actions otherwise. The only exceptions to this have been when the ranger was lied to and believed they had a reason to hold a grudge against the heroes.
  • A Law & Order episode has Lenny Briscoe bribe a reluctant informant with his business card - saying that he should show the cop that card the next time he gets pulled over for speeding.
  • In the Monk episode "Mr. Monk Takes the Stand," with Monk pitted up against a Chewbacca Defense lawyer, there is a brief clip where said lawyer appears on a talk show and the hostess describes his business card as being the equivalent of a Get Out of Jail Free Card, rendering him a "Mr. Monopoly".
  • Mentioned in the very first episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, when Benson and Stabler let the murderer go without any sentence at all.
    Cragen: You just used your "Get Out of Jail Free" card on this case, Olivia. There's only one in the pack.
  • Every villain in Once Upon a Time who does a Heel–Face Turn never really goes to jail. After the season 1 finale, they were gonna let Regina die, but Henry convinced them to lock her up instead. She stayed locked up for all of two episodes and never went back even after Emma and Snow came back, actually, this was the start of her heel-face turn. Rumplestilskin is way too powerful to lock up.
  • Lex Luthor from Smallville practically walks around with this plastered on his forehead, since everyone can tell that he's up to something yet they rarely make the effort to stop him.
  • In the Canadian crime series Intelligence (2006) no one would ever get arrested even when they fully expected to be. Usually, Vancouver's Organized Crime Unit would beat the police in identifying and locating serious criminals, all of who would typically ask, once cornered, to call their lawyers. "Well, that's one option," they would invariably be told. Of course, the other option was to activate the get-out-of-jail-free card by becoming a Confidential Informant. And not only would they escape jail, but they were also allowed to continue their criminal enterprise and even expand it.
  • In the CSI episode "Willows in the Wind", while Catherine and Ted are on the run (not from the law - some assassins hired by an arms manufacturer are after the former) they "pay" a hooker who helps them out with Ted's business card (which can presumably be used this way). Later on, her pimp provides them with a gun and disposable cell phones and also gets one for his trouble.
    Ted: This is a get-out-of-jail-free card. Don't abuse it.
  • The 1960 CBS game show Video Village had a Go To Jail space on its life-sized board game board with any player landing on it from their dice roll having to be placed in a small barred cubicle. To get out, the player had to have a seven or eleven on the dice roll.
  • On The 100:
    • All of the 100 teenage delinquents were promised a full pardon for their crimes if they survived on Earth and proved the planet was livable again. Bellamy was not supposed to be one of the people sent to Earth, and is only pardoned for his assassination attempt on the Chancellor by offering to tell the Chancellor who ordered the attempt on his life.
    • In the second season, we see that the 100's pardons extend even to crimes they committed after arriving on the ground, allowing Murphy to walk around free despite having murdered two people in Season 1, and Finn to get only a two day detention after massacring a village, at least until the Grounders arrive, demanding "blood must have blood". Possibly explained by the Ark survivors having very little space or resources to spend on jailing people, and them being squeamish about capital punishment now that only a few hundred of them are left alive.
  • In Jesse Porter's debut episode in Burn Notice, Team Westen's plan to deal with the Villain of the Week gunning for him is to set him up carrying illegal weapons and send him to jail. The plan works, but unfortunately said villain was The Mole for the US government on several criminal activities at one point and managed to have his lawyers convince the authorities to "return the favor" and let him go. Michael in-cover name-drops the trope in question, and since they got Jesse and with no time to repeat the old plan Team Westen has to take care of matters in another fashion.
  • The Pinkertons does this in two different episodes.
    • In "Lines of Betrayal", Kate befriends Charlotte, a murder witness who turns out to be a Classy Cat-Burglar. The thief steals and sells Kate's jewelry because she's trying to get money to flee Kansas City before the Corrupt Corporate Executive she's unwillingly working for can force her to frame an innocent man for murder. After the case is settled, Kate decides Charlotte is a basically decent woman who deserves a second chance and so lets her leave town without pressing charges.
    • In "Reunion", when Sheriff Logan learns that four ex-Civil War nurses let a General Ripper die to spare his men, he decides they've suffered enough and lets them go — except for the one who killed their blackmailer, and he asks for her to get a prison sentence instead of being hanged.
  • Lucifer: Dirty Cop Malcolm is killed but brought back to life after a minute. But to Malcolm, that was a near-eternity in Hell and is desperate to do anything not to go back. Realizing this, Amenadiel tries to get Malcolm to kill Lucifer (so Lucifer will return to Hell), but Lucifer buys him off by offering an ancient coin that will allow Malcolm passage out of Hell. When Malcolm is shot by Chloe, he gloats to Lucifer he has the coin... only for Lucifer to reveal he just used it to get out of Hell himself. He smugly flips it to the dying Malcolm, who reaches only to watch the coin dissolve into thin air in mid-flip.
    Lucifer: Sorry, pal. One use only.
  • Hell's Kitchen: Season 18 (Rookies Vs. Veterans) introduced the Punishment Pass. As the name implies, this allows the wielder to skip out on any punishment their team must do and join the winning team on the reward.
  • The Punisher (2017). Frank Castle gets his record wiped at the end of Season One because the authorities want to avoid a huge scandal. The trope is given by name when Frank gets arrested in Season 2 and tries to get Agent Madani of Homeland Security to get him out; she rejects the idea saying his "Get Out of Jail Free" Card was a one-off deal.
  • Similar to Kirk and his crew, in season 3 of Star Trek: Picard, Picard and his allies commandeer the Titan-A, breaking into the Daystrom Institute, steal a cloaking device from the Bird-of-Prey Kirk used and getting numerous officers killed. However, since the end result of this saw a Borg/Changeling conspiracy exposed and the original Borg Collective eradicated, saving Earth and the universe again, Starfleet isn’t too keen on punishing them at all. Hell, Seven of Nine is promoted to Captain and takes up the Titan-A, now rechristened the Enterprise-G!

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Subverted in the comic strip Broom-Hilda, when Broom-Hilda was put on trial for her latest crime spree and found guilty. Irwin Troll, acting as Broom-Hilda's lawyer, tries to get her off by handing the judge a Get Out of Jail Free card. The trope is subverted when Irwin's ploy fails. However in the next day's strip, Broom-Hilda is out of jail anyway.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The trope namer is Monopoly, which features two actual "Get Out Of Jail Free" cards. Oddly enough, this trope namer ends up being the Unbuilt Trope - Monopoly jail is a Cardboard Prison that only requires you to roll doubles, pay $50, or use said card to get out. Furthermore, since people in jail can still collect rent and trade properties without fear of paying rent to others, staying in jail as long as possible is a good late-game strategy. In fact, players are required to leave jail after three turns whether they want to or not, whether by rolling doubles, paying the $50 bail, or playing the card. (A Popular Game Variant is to disallow a player in jail collecting rent.)
  • Back in the 70's, the Harvard Lampoon put out an issue that dealt with cheating. Included in this issue was an article with materials for cheating at Monopoly including a fake Chance card that sent you to Jail for Life. If things got too bad in the game, you could palm this card and go to Jail; and since you still collected rents, you would eventually win, although it might take a long time.

  • Presumably because drowning would be awkward to show on stage, the stage adaptation of Disney's Aladdin has Aladdin use his second wish to get himself and his friends out of jail.

  • During BIONICLE's Mahri Nui story arc, it is revealed that Mantax had discovered one of these in the ruins of the Barraki's former prison, indicating that there was a traitor among them. The item is called a tablet of transit, which guarantees its holder can't be arrested by the Brotherhood of Makuta. The traitor never got to use it because they were imprisoned by the Order of Mata Nui instead. Later, when one of Barraki tries to present the tablet to Makuta Teridax, he simply smashes it. During the Karda Nui story arc, Makuta Krika offers to give Gali one of these in exchange for abandoning the quest to awaken Mata Nui.

    Video Games 
  • Max Payne goes on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge in the first game of his series in which he guns down hundreds of assorted mafiosi and drug pushers. Not only does he not spend a single day in jail for any of this, but he's still on the NYPD payroll in the second game. It's implied that Alfred Woden and his "Inner Circle" pulled strings to keep Max a free man. Since Woden stands for Odin in the game's Norse mythology theme, it's no surprise that he's got the power to pull off such a feat. In the second game, Max is actually haunted by the fact that he escaped punishment.
  • Subverted in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. When the player character becomes Sheogorath, prince of madness, it is impossible for him to be imprisoned within the Shivering Isles; the guards will instead escort you outside the city limits and leave you to go off adventuring until you can pay the fine (or not). This sometimes leads to the less than amusing glitch of having a fine considered by the game to be too large to be paid off ,with no option to serve your sentence (that is, your crimes being so heinous the only option is immediate attempted execution by the arresting guard or jail), making walking through most towns feel reminiscent of any given level from Splinter Cell.
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim allows you to become thane of all the holds in the region. This in turn allows you to commit a crime and demand to be let go because you are the thane, even if that crime is multiple murder. However, you can only use this one time in each hold, or at most twice if the ruler of a hold changes and you become thane to the new Jarl.
  • In the first Baldur's Gate, having Shar-Teel in your party guarantees you a "Get out of Jail Free" Card from her father Angelo Dosan. You may be innocent.
  • In Mass Effect 2, one method you can use to "solve" a hostage situation is killing the hostage yourself in plain view of the local law enforcement. They don't react at all. Granted, you're a (possibly former) Spectre, basically a covert agent reporting directly to the highest level of government, but you're out of favor with them, and you'd expect security to at least react. As for the person who attempted to assassinate the person and took him hostage when that went south, you can convince the security leader to put him to work helping homeless kids on the Citadel rather than pressing charges which would almost certainly lead to jail time.
  • In the Spyro the Dragon reboot trilogy, Cynder was the Big Bad that had inflicted massive amounts of pain and suffering on everyone and very nearly unleashed the villain. Once she turns good, she's not punished due to the justified reason she was Brainwashed and Crazy the entire time. However, its inverted because, while the dragons forgave her, most of the other types of creatures sharing the land don't and she even has a hard time forgiving herself.
  • Red Dead Redemption has pardon letters, which are a Get Out Of Paying A Buttload Of Money Card. There is even an achievement for racking up a $5000 bounty only to clear your bill with a pardon letter. It is quite amusing seeing how many law enforcement you have killed and get away scot-free because of this piece of paper.
  • You can get one of these in Grand Theft Auto 2 by scrapping a police car, which lets you keep your weapons the next time you get busted.
  • Fallout: New Vegas has this as a plot point.
    • Before you hit the main plot of the game, you can gleefully set about killing members of both primary factions (Legion and NCR), which will naturally make them want to kill you. As soon as you reach the Strip and talk to Benny, both factions immediately pardon you of any crimes because you're an asset they want on their side. This works only once. If you proceed to laugh in their faces and continue the slaughter then they'll quickly become your enemy again, this time for good and locking off their endings permanently.
    • There's also a perk for this called "Ain't Like That Now" that can only be taken if your karma is negative, i.e. you were a complete monster. Your karma is reset to neutral, making people ambivalent towards you again, and you get a slew of other bonuses like faster attack speed and immunity to crits.
  • Dark Seed has a very literal one, given to you by the local attorney. Its use is required to complete the game, as you need to put some items in the real world jail to access them in the Dark World jail, but can't waste a night in the cell without rendering the game Unwinnable.
  • Resident Evil 6: While she was forced into it and only did so to protect her sister, Helena Harper still aided Simmons in killing the President and the C-Virus outbreak in Tall Oaks, killing over 70,000 people. Nonetheless, at the end of the game, her superiors decide it unjust to hold her accountable and give her a clean slate.

    Visual Novels 
  • A justified example in Daughter for Dessert. Mortelli renders every piece of evidence against the protagonist inadmissible at his trial, leading to his acquittal for breaking and entering.

    Web Animation 
  • RWBY: Ilia attacks and severely wounds Sun and is fully aware of Adam's plot to attack Haven Academy. However, she has a long friendship with Blake, who isn't interested in punishing her: she just wants to help Ilia find a way back from the moral cliff edge she's currently jumping off. Ilia is also an accessory to the murder of Sienna, having known about it in advance, and also is required to set up Blake's kidnapping for Adam while the Albain brothers assassinate Blake's parents. During the fight inside the Belladonna household, Blake convinces Ilia to turn her back on Adam's vision for the White Fang. When Blake publicly announces that she's going to forgive Ilia and let her come with her to save Haven, Sabre Rodentia, the police chief, demands to know why Ilia's going to be forgiven instead of thrown into jail for all she's done. Ghira then gives Sabre a lecture in the strength of forgiveness while Sun's 'revenge' for being stabbed is to give Ilia's arm a quick pinch and call it even.

  • Averted in It's Walky!: at least two characters who could break out of any jail ever made with ease willingly submit to imprisonment for their anti-social actions.
  • In Sinfest, Slick is gifted by Monique a "Get out of Hell free card" just before the Devil decides to take him. It actually gets him out of Hell, despite him having sold his soul to the prince of lies somewhere like 2,600 strips earlier.
  • The Adventures of Dr. McNinja: Dr. McNinja made a deal with the state police because as a vigilante he has to do things prohibited by law. If he reaches his offices and declares "BASE!" he's immediately cleared of all charges.
  • After Galatea make a brief but quite sincere attempt to conquer the planet Butane, Princess Voluptua pardons her (partly for helping to capture Riboflavin, and partly because Bob vouches for her) with the understanding that Bob will keep her out of further trouble.
  • Referenced in this Order of the Stick strip.
  • When former-assassin Tanica in The Dragon Doctors is returned to human form from being stuck as a tree for years, she fully expects Inspector Blue to arrest her on the spot. Blue does show up almost immediately, but only queries Sarin about how Tanica once went after her with a knife; all other possible charges are dropped, as none of Tanica's previous assassination missions have any sustainable evidence or outside testimony linking her to them (the signature style of her cabal was to use invisibility suits and knives for maximum stealth).

    Western Animation 
  • Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender: Several cards are considered after his Heel–Face Turn when he applies for Sixth Ranger. Toph plays the Freudian Excuse Card ("Considering his messed-up family and how he was raised, he could have turned out a lot worse."), Zuko plays the Pet the Dog card ("I've done some good things. I could have stolen your bison in Ba Sing Se, but I set him free."), and Aang plays the Enemy Mine card from "The Blue Spirit". Katara, on the other hand, still doesn't trust him, because he has "struggled with doing the right thing in the past" and makes it clear that if he switches sides again, she'll put an end to his trips through the Face–Heel Revolving Door by putting an end to him. A few weeks after the Heel–Face Turn he takes the Fire Nation throne, so anyone outside the Gaang or the White Lotus that might have a grudge against him could do precious little about it.
  • Dumb And Dumber: Harry and Lloyd were about to be thrown at a volcano when Harry produced a "Get Out of Being Thrown At a Volcano Free" card. He was allowed to leave but Lloyd still needed rescuing.
  • In a Family Guy episode, Brian held Mayor Adam West hostage after he outlaws gay marriage, and forced him to make it legal again. He succeeds, and he isn't even arrested. However, the point of the episode was to show that gay marriages are right. Oddly enough, since he was dealing with Mayor West, he had to use a Get Out Of Jail Free...Key to a Volkswagen Scirocco. The alternative was letting Adam West get away with outlawing gay marriage in the first place just to distract the public from a budget scandal for which he was completely responsible. In fact, the reason West was so forgiving is precisely because Brian's actions provided a good distraction, rendering his initial one unnecessary.
  • The Powerpuff Girls (1998):
    • Averted in the episode "Mime for a Change" in which Rainbow the Clown is accidentally bleached and becomes a mime who steals all the color and sound from the world. When the girls restore Townsville and convert him back to his happy self with a combination of The Power of Rock and Rule of Cool, they still take him down violently and ship him to prison. The episode left a bad taste in the mouths of many fans. But this ending was dictated by Executive Meddling and was not what creator Craig McCracken intended initially.
    • Also averted in the episode "Powerpuff Bluff" where the Powerpuff Girls were arrested for crimes committed by crooks wearing Powerpuff Girls disguises. They break out of prison and beat up the criminals, then get congratulations from the Mayor — right before he says that they're going back to prison for breaking out of prison.
      Announcer: "So, once again, the day is saved - thanks to The Powerpuff Girls! See you on visiting day, girls!"
    • This even goes back to the second pilot, "Crime 101". The girls are so believable at showing the Amoeba Boys how to commit a bank robbery that they're arrested for it. The judge hearing the case thinks it's a lie until the girls actually plead guilty (Blossom silently and tearfully repeats it when the judge's jaw drops). Just as the judge is about to pass sentence, the Amoeba Boys appear with the bank money. The girls are cleared.
  • Wish Kid: Nick literally used that card to get out of jail. He used the card to reach a lock so he could open a door.
  • An episode of Danger Rangers had an aversion- a group of people spilling chemicals into the lake were told by Scottland Yard would not get one of these for what they had done, along with illegally dumping household chemicals into trash bins.
  • Subversion: A 1961 Huckleberry Hound cartoon had Huck as the warden of a prison where the prisoners don't want to leave because it has amusement park rides, baseball facilities, and such ("the honor system," as Huck tells). When a prisoner is about to be paroled and released, Huck has to go through white heat to get him out the gate.
  • Beetlejuice is framed for comedy theft by Scuzzo the Clown and is locked in jail. Lydia digs up enough evidence to have B.J. released and Scuzzo jailed in his stead.
  • Inch High, Private Eye and his boss Mr. Finkerton are locked in jail after criminal toymaker Spumoni's robot lookalikes of them steal a valuable jewel from the company vault. After some questions from Inch's niece Lori, Inch High breaks jail so he can solve the crime and clear himself and Finkerton.
  • Similar to the Dumb and Dumber example above, one episode of Ned's Newt had a "Get Out of Hypnosis Free" card, which was just what Newton needed to warn Ned about the invading trolls.
  • Danger Mouse: "There's A Penfold In My Suit" had DM and Penfold traveling to the country of Bratislovakia to obtain a powerful gem that had not only caused countries to switch borders but also the personalities of its populace. DM and Penfold have their personalities switch bodies, then Greenback and Stilleto (there to steal the gem) have theirs switch as well. After several confusing switches later, they figure out how to get back in their own bodies. DM lets Greenback and Stiletto off the hook as during this turns of events they had done nothing illegal.

    Real Life 
  • This is an explicit power held by most Heads of State/Government.
    • In the past, Kings and Emperors who held absolute powers (as opposed to the defanged constitutional monarchs of today) had as many "get out of jail free cards" as they wanted. Sort of Diplomatic Impunity in your own country. The general rules of various countries include:
    • Neither the Swedish monarch nor the Prime Minister has the explicit power to issue a pardon, but the Swedish Cabinet as a whole does.
    • In America, it is common for outgoing presidents to issue a hurricane of pardons to protect their various friends from whatever nefarious deeds they committed during the president's term. There is also mounting pressure for Presidents to use this power to alleviate the sentences of non-violent criminals who were the victims of Mandatory Minimum sentencing laws, which to some voters deem over-harsh.
  • Richard Nixon received a pardon from President Ford to protect him from prosecution after his resignation. There was some uproar afterwards (and it remains a controversial move), but in general the action was done to simply move on and stabilize the government.
  • Several staffers involved in the Iran-Contra affair got this treatment by George H.W. Bush upon his ascent to office, although they committed the crimes under Reagan. Reagan was implicated and then cleared, so either he wasn't in the mood for pardoning the people who almost screwed him over or he didn't want to look suspicious for being lenient, depending on how much he actually knew about the proceedings, which is still unclear. While nothing ever actually came of it, it was noted at the time that there was one person allegedly involved in Iran-Contra that George H.W. Bush didn't issue a pardon to: himself.
  • In fact, a Presidential pardon actually has a great deal of power; it is stated under Article II, Section 2 of the United States Constitution which states that the President "shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment", which means a U.S. President can pardon or reduce the sentences of almost anyone he wants.note  Of course, most don't abuse this right with regards to important cases, and many pardons are granted posthumously to symbolically address past miscarriages of justice. (One notable example was Jimmy Carter's unconditional pardon of all Americans who illegally evaded the draft during the Vietnam War.)
  • Apparently common in Ancient Greece. In the dialogue Crito, the title character points out that not only can he pay off the guard and let Socrates leave but that if he fails to do so people will consider him dishonorable for not rescuing his friend.
  • Indulgences were a method in medieval Catholicism of skipping penance for confessed sins. They can thus be seen as "get out of purgatory free" cards. Particularly corrupt priests would not only sell these indulgences in exchange for cash donations, they'd falsely advertise them to their usually-illiterate parishioners as not just allowing them to skip penance for their sins, but as providing preemptive forgiveness for future sins. In other words, they claimed to sell "get out of hell free" cards. While this misuse of indulgences was never condoned by the church hierarchy, it was widely ignored by them, which was a major part of how Protestant Christianity came into existence. Nowadays, you can just buy Get Out of Hell Free cards online. (They come in packs of 100.)
  • In the political discourse - particularly regarding the economic downturn after 2007 - the term "Too big to Jail" has made the rounds, referring to wealthy and powerful people and institutions the government is reluctant to prosecute because of risk of economic disruption.
  • In the Information Security industry, it is common practice for "White Hat" (ie. good) security professionals to obtain a letter indemnifying them from legal repercussions, before discovering security vulnerabilities at that organization. Such a letter, called a "Get Out of Jail Free card," is obtained from the executives and attorneys at the organization which they are evaluating. This is more important if the professional in question is not an employee of the target organization.