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Hollywood Law refers to a fictitious legal situation which in no way resembles the actual legal system in the place portrayed, but rather is played up for dramatic purposes. Since the ins and outs of the legal system in Real Life are far less dramatic and tense than anything the average viewer would want to sit still for, it's considered one of the many Acceptable Breaks from Reality for Hollywood to prioritize drama over factual accuracy about the legal system, especially when it comes to shows not directly related to law enforcement. Even in works that focus on the legal system, Hollywood will over-dramatize it to the point of trotting out things that would be disallowed in real life, or misuse a valid aspect of the law without regard to any actual procedural constraints that would prevent it being misused so blatantly.

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At the extreme, many a Broken Aesop occurs when Hollywood Law is used to debate the effectiveness of the legal system itself. For (an admittedly extreme) instance, depicting violent criminals getting Off on a Technicality via some oversimplified nuance (such as forgetting to dot the 'i' on the arrest warrant) to suggest that we should just use a simpler and common sense-based legal system that looks more lightly on police or prosecutorial misconduct or trust in the Vigilante Man to clean up after the government's failings.

Unfortunately, the media exerts a pervasive influence in people's perceptions by being the average viewer's most easily-accessible window into the justice system; after all, most people's only direct contact with the real legal system are traffic offenses, jury duty, and divorce. Some of the most common misrepresentations widely used in dramatic fiction can fuel misconceptions in the audience if they believe these depictions accurately reflect the justice system in real life, and can influence how they vote in elections or result in The CSI Effect when they sit on a jury, with disastrous results.

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Note that it only falls into Hollywood Law if someone (like the opposing counsel) is aware of the improper conduct/law and fails to object or call anyone on it without good reason. If both sides agree to an unusual arrangement (surprise witnesses, last-minute evidence, even calling the prosecution as a witness), it's not unrealistic for a judge to allow it. Or if a judge and a lawyer have an ex parte meeting without opposing counsel present but they agree to keep it a secret (it would be illegal, but such things happen). Also, a setting that is Like Reality Unless Noted might have fictional aspects of the law under "noted", that explain things you might see as Hollywood Law, such as a Super Registration Act in a superhero setting that lets superheroes testify without revealing their Secret Identity.

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For a steady supply of examples, see the blog at lawandthemultiverse.com, and its outgrowth book THE LAW OF SUPERHEROES.

    Common examples: 
  • Victim of the System: An innocent character is arrested at the drop of a hat for some legitimate but otherwise minor offense that does not carry such a harsh punishment in the real world or wrongfully convicted/sued/imprisoned/executed. While innocent people do get wrongfully convicted in real life (indeed, this is why The Innocence Project exists), fiction will exaggerate how often or how easy it is for the legal system to railroad an innocent person.
  • The Strip-Search: A person is subjected to humiliating police procedures (strip searches, cavity searches, etc). Typically, such procedures are reserved for persons for which there is a reasonable suspicion that they are smuggling either drugs or weapons, and they are limited to suchnote ; however, Hollywood extends the right of police or airport security to do a deep cavity search on anyone, mostly due to Rule of Funny in commercials (e.g. the Sierra Mist "Airport scene" sketch) or in movies (e.g. Wayne's World).
  • The Cornered Stool Pigeon: This trope involves a lawyer who "corners" a lying witness, catching him or her in a lie and calling them on it; instead of invoking their 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination or just staying silent, the witness breaks down and confesses everything on the spot—while the opposing counsel looks on and says nothing. This often involves a lawyer badgering and bullying the witness into a confession. In real life, a witness will typically stick to their story even when caught in a lie, or the opposing counsel will intervene at the very least to confer with them and prepare for their questioning. However, if a witness on the stand declines to answer a question, the attorney can have them compelled or get any prior testimony thrown out.
  • The Ambush: Similar to The Cornered Stool Pigeon, this involves the "hero" lawyer "ambushing" a testifying suspect by suddenly introducing hitherto unknown evidence, which absolutely proves the suspect to be guilty. In a real-life criminal court, both sides have to make available all evidence they intend to use before the trial; the prosecution in particular has to produce for the defense any exculpatory evidence in the government's possession that might exonerate the defendant (while the defense is actively barred from sharing any evidence that might incriminate their client). This goes for "surprise witnesses" as well; with rare exceptions, witnesses must be approved by the court in order to be admitted to testify. In a civil suit, however, the plaintiff and defendant both must turn over any evidence properly requested, without exception.
  • Off on a Technicality: A ruthless criminal—typically a killer—is released on a "technicality" (i.e. a meaningless legal slip-up in bureaucratic procedure) despite being proven absolutely guilty of the heinous crime in question. This trope serves to spark cheap outrage at an obvious miscarriage of justice — as well as outrage and disrespect at the legal system in general. The most common use is the "Fruit of the Poisonous Tree" loophole, whereby an error in one aspect of the government's case suddenly precludes the whole batch of validly-obtained evidence that came as a result of it, regardless of the nature of the initial error. In reality, such "loopholes" are not the result of mere obscure legal games, but rather are due to serious policy concerns such as sloppy police work or vague legal definitions, or serious rights violations by police or prosecutors (i.e. reversible errors) and the remedy of inadmissibility is generally intended to deter police from treading on the rights of citizens (guilty or innocent) and punish those who do; meanwhile actual "technicalities" are typically overruled as harmless errors. Hollywood will not only exaggerate just how common these technicalities occur, but will also ignore valid exceptions such as good faith (if the police had reason to believe it was permitted when they obtained some evidence, then it's admissible, even when it turns out they didn't have legal permission—say, an unnoticed typographical error in the address on a search warrant), independent source (the police discovered the same evidence through another legal means) or inevitable discovery (they would have found the evidence legally anyway, so it's let in) to push through the defendant's release.
  • "My Hands are Tied": Indifferent bureaucrats such as police, judges or other persons in government, refuse to help a legal victim, claiming that "there's nothing they can do" against an obvious injustice, or grant a warrant against a suspect due to lack of tangible evidence or There Should Be a Law but isn't, resulting in the suspect's guilt being Not Proven. While these types of situations can exist (as with domestic violence), it's typically exaggerated solely to spark outrage in the audience.note 
  • Colombian Drug Lords, aka the Chewbacca Defense: It is not permitted for the defense to offer unusual defenses without first showing proof. Attempting to call seemingly unrelated witnesses or enter such things as evidence will not be allowed. Your claim of a big conspiracy or that someone else committed the crime will not be permitted unless you have some solid proof before they allow you to call someone as a witness. The Insanity Defense applies as well; you need a credible psychiatric expert to confirm your client isn't just making up his story about hearing voices to sway the jury. This rule doesn't apply to a lawyer's "closing statements" though, hence the accusation from Johnny Cochran at the end of the OJ Simpson trial that unidentified "Colombian drug lords" were responsible, the Trope Namer here (and the parody from South Park providing the actual Trope Namer).
  • One very common mistake is when someone in the courtroom audience is called to the witness stand. Witnesses are not permitted to attend the trial or talk to other witnesses about the case before they testify. If a witness is finished with their testimony and it is agreed they will not be called back, then they can attend the rest of the trial. Calling the prosecutor to the stand is possible if The Judge allows it, but almost never done, although it happened once in the famous Scopes "monkey" trial when defense attorney Clarence Darrow requested that prosecuting attorney William Jennings Bryan take the witness stand.note 
  • Jury Nullification: When the defense argues "Yes, my client did exactly what the government says he did. But the law sucks/is unfair, so you should find him not guilty anyway." Technically the jury can also do the inverse, i.e. declaring an innocent man guilty, but judges are empowered to strike down guilty verdicts to prevent this from happening. Jury nullification is technically perjury, the jurors having been sworn against it. It also undermines separation of powers: judges and juries are supposed to reach a verdict according to existing laws, not to judge the laws themselves—that's the legislature's job. Even though it's been upheld time and time again (in the US) that the jurors aren't liable and their decisions hold, it certainly can't be suggested by the defense. On the other hand, the prosecution can't argue against it because some courts (and state constitutions) have held it to be a right of the jury that the defense is simply forbidden from instructing them about. For this reason, Hollywood defense lawyers sandwich the "nullification" argument within another legally viable one, such as in an episode of L.A. Law in which a rapist, a diplomat from a sexist country, was released on Diplomatic Immunity and his victim killed him in revenge. In her trial, her attorney told the jury to use the "temporary insanity" defense (notwithstanding that there is no legal concept of "temporary insanity," although there is a somewhat related concept of "automatism", though it would not apply here), saying that this is the only way that they could acquit her, but really it was the only way for the defense to legally ask the jury to acquit her.
    • Also, this is an ongoing controversial issue; people have been harassed for various "unrelated" reasons (they can't be arrested for the act itself; how do you keep a jury from being informed about jury nullification if informing juries is the crime for which they are being tried?) for passing out FIJA pamphlets outside courthouses. During the jury selection process, lawyers and judges usually would ask a few roundabout questions (generally something to the tune of "do you have any beliefs that would prevent your from making a decision based strictly on the law?") to gauge if a potential juror is likely to nullify, people who say "yes" would probably be disqualified on short order.
    • Some hold that nullification is a de facto power of juries; if the idea was for the law to be applied blindly, the facts could be fed into a computer program, or they could be given to the jury independent of any human quality, e.g. giving them a transcript of a witness's testimony rather than letting them see and hear the witness's emotional state. Actual jurisprudence departs from this theory; juries are specifically instructed to observe witnesses' appearance, demeanor, and the general "feel" of the witness' testimony to figure out whether or not they are lying or being economical with the truth. (We're not kidding. See, e.g. N.J. Model Criminal Jury Charges, Criminal Final Charge, Parts 1 & 2—scroll to the last page.) Biases and blind spots are supposed to be mitigated, if not wiped out, by the requirement (in criminal cases) of 12 jurors agreeing on a unanimous verdict—more than enough for Condorcet's Theorem to apply (any biases remaining would be essentially unavoidable prevailing cultural/social biases rather than peculiar to the jury). In other words, it is precisely the humanness of juries that qualifies them to assess the facts of the case when they are uncertain.
    • A similar such law applies in British jurisdictions, commonly known as "the Rule in Stonehouse." Effectively the rule is that a judge cannot direct a jury to find a person guilty of a crime (although he can direct the jury to find them not guilty). Lawyers can't resort to that in appeals to juries, though, because it's a breach of their ethics: they cannot ask a jury to ignore the law they are sworn to uphold. But accused people representing ''themselves'' in politically charged cases have been known to resort to this defense and be successful with it.
  • Spousal Privilege: In TV shows, spousal privilege is treated as if it is impossible for a witness to testify against their spouse under any circumstance. Sometimes, a surprise marriage during trial will throw a wrench in an prosecutor's case. In reality, exceptions to this exist:
    • The information had to be spoken in confidence (i.e. not in public or in company, and with an express expectation of privacy)
    • The parties had to be married at the time any information was exchanged. Anything before is free game.
    • Spousal privilege doesn't preclude someone from testifying of their own free will. It only prevents a spouse from being compelled to testify by the state. A spouse still isn't allowed to testify (at least not without the other spouse's consent) about confidential conversations, but this also has an exception: if the conversation was part of a criminal conspiracy, privilege does not apply.
    • It doesn't apply to cases when one spouse is charging the other with a crime, or suing them. In those cases, the whole concept of spousal privilege goes out the window.
  • Non-Extradition Countries: Very often, TV shows and films will have a character run away to a South American country (usual examples being Brazil or Venezuela) under the pretense that the US has no extradition with them. In fact, the US has extradition treaties with every country in the western hemisphere (though there were periods where some South American countries did not have extradition treaties with the US—for example, Brazil's only came into effect in the mid-sixties, meaning it would make sense in stories written or taking place before that time period, such as The Producers, which is set in 1958). And even if there is no extradition treaty, that doesn't mean that the country you're living in can't turn you over to the nation you committed a crime in if the host country decides it is in their best interests to do so, it just means that there is no standard process for the nation seeking your arrest to request it, and little they can do to your host country if they don't feel like honoring that request.
    • Even with a treaty in place, however, the host country can refuse for several reasons, most notably if the fugitive is a citizen of that country.
    • Brazil is often cited as a haven for fugitives from justice due to a few notable cases. Most famously, the case of Ronnie Biggs, a participant in The Great Train Robbery in the UK. Newspapers had discovered him hiding out there only to discover he could not be extradited. This was not due to this trope, but rather a Brazilian law that forbade the extradition of parents of Brazilian citizens (he had fathered a child with his then girlfriend). Not only does Brazil actually have extradition treaties with most nations now, but the law in question is no longer in effect and fugitives have been since extradited to face justice. Brazilian citizens themselves however are still theoretically immune to extradition, though as mentioned, if they really wanted to a way would probably be found.
    • Some countries that have banned the death penalty will refuse to extradite a suspect if that person would be sentenced to death if found guilty. This normally results in an agreement between the two countries (country of refuge and country that wants to put the suspect on trial) that the suspect will not be given the death sentence, immediately followed by extradition.
  • The Judge Takes Control: A judge, if sufficiently convinced that no reasonable jury could reach the verdict they have reached, may issue what is called a Directed Verdict or Judgement of Acquittal before the jury decides, or issue this after they already have, thus vacating the jury's decision. Since in the U.S. the Fifth Amendment prohibits an acquittal from being overturned, the judge can only do this in the defendant's favor. Thus, if the jury finds him guilty, the judge can still acquit him.note  But if a jury acquits them, even the worst Judge Hangemall cannot overrule them to find the defendant guilty. A judge's decision to set aside a verdict of guilty is appealable, and the original decision can be reinstated. However, if they acquit a defendant on their own before the jury has, this cannot be appealed, just like acquittal by jury verdict. Likewise, a judge does not have the power to issue a guilty verdict if the prosecution drops the charges.
    • None of this fancy business applies in civil trials, however; the judge can render final (if appealable) judgment at six discrete points (in the US at any rate):
      1. After the plaintiff files his/her complaint: Motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim (in jurisdictions copying off the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure); demurrer in jurisdictions (like Pennsylvania and California) deriving their rules from the old Field Code. May only be filed by the defense. Amounts to "Your Honor, even if you buy what she says, that's not a thing. It may look like a thing, but it's not a thing."e.g. 
      2. After the defendant files his/her answer: Judgment on the pleadings. May be filed by either side. When filed by defense, basically the same as a motion to dismiss/demurrer. Amounts to "Look, Your Honor, even if what they say is true, we still win."e.g. 
      3. During or after discovery: Summary judgment. May be filed by either side. Amounts to "Your Honor, anything they say at trial won't change a jury's verdict in our favor." e.g. 
      4. After the plaintiff finishes making his/her case: judgment as a matter of law—JMOL for short—or directed verdict, depending (again) largely on whether the jurisdiction is FRCP-based or Code-based (though there are some exceptions). Only the defense can move at this point. Amounts to "Your Honor, now you've heard everything they have to say, no jury could find against us."e.g. 
      5. After the defense finishes making its case: JMOL/directed verdict again. Both sides may move. Amounts to "Your Honor, you've seen all the evidence and clearly the other guys have absolutely no case." e.g. 
      6. And after the jury reaches a verdict: JMOL yet again or judgment non obstante veredicto ("JNOV")—"notwithstanding the verdict". Amounts to, "Your Honor, the jury was clearly unreasonable."e.g. )
    • In all these cases, the judge may find for the defense or for the plaintiff if either side has met the applicable burden (which changes; for instance, at summary judgment the moving party must show that there is no "genuine issue of material fact", while at pleadings the moving party must show that the opposing party's plea is "implausible on its face").
    • Of course, there are many countries (Germany and the Netherlands, for example) where there is no such thing as a "jury" and the judge (or judges; many countries try cases using panels of three) is in control all the time. In many of those countries the prosecution can also appeal an acquittal, or a lenient sentence.
  • Hollywood/TV interrogations: Real interrogations are rarely as exciting, or quick, as portrayed in media. Police are very careful during interrogations not to lead, badger, or abuse a suspect, and risk a good defense attorney having the testimony be suppressed as evidence. Particularly in major felony crimes (the focus of most TV crime shows), interrogations can last hours or even days, and are mostly boring question-and-answer sessions designed to wear a suspect down over time. Stereotypical techniques like yelling, insulting, "good cop/bad cop", and other aggressive interrogation techniques are used whenever police think they are useful, and they can get away with them. Those situations just aren't as common as Hollywood would have you believe, largely because serious civil-rights actions in the mid-to-late 20th century exposed their rampant use of "third degree" police tactics including torture, psychological manipulation, and various other atrocious interrogation methods—which often were excused by both police and the US Supreme Court. Furthermore, while police are allowed to lie to suspects about certain things like the evidence against them, they are definitely not allowed to lie about the legal consequences of a confession (for instance, getting a guy to confess to attempted murder by giving him the 'Shoot the Dead Guy' spiel down below).
  • Miranda Rights: They must be read to every accused criminal upon arrest, and if Miranda rights are not read, the charges must be dismissed and the prisoner released... or so the misconception would have it. Miranda rights have to be read to a suspect before police ask questions about the crime, if he is in their custody at the time. If the police do not ask any questions, or if the person is not in their custody, then Miranda rights do not apply. Anything a suspect says at the time of arrest is voluntary, so police rarely give Miranda warnings then for that very reason (moreover, if you're being arrested, the police probably don't have too many pressing questions to ask you). Furthermore, the remedy for failure to advise the accused of Miranda rights, when the officer is required to do so, is to exclude the arrestee's statement and any evidence discovered as a result of that statement from being used against him at trial. It does not invalidate the arrest, so long as the arrest is based upon other evidence.
    • This one is a very common misunderstanding in real life (and the bane of anyone familiar with the US legal system who gets a 3AM call from a friend wondering if their arrest for intoxication was valid because the cop didn't read them their rights, man). The critical aspects of Miranda Rights are in the right to counsel and the right to refuse questioning—but these rights only apply once a suspect is no longer free to exit interrogation. Law & Order often gets this one right (while falling into Hollywood Law in other places): in one case, a detective who spent a considerable amount of time with a witness had her retrace her steps on the day someone abducted her child; when the woman asked if this was necessary and to stop, he forced her to keep on, leading to incriminating statements and new evidence. Because the witness-turned-suspect was not able to leave police custody and end questioning, this became an issue for the prosecution, as it constituted a Miranda violation. This is the biggest stumbling block in most portrayals of Miranda rights: they have nothing to do with arrest, but questioning. If you are in a situation in which you cannot end questioning (e.g., you're in a police station and told not to leave, as the police are contemplating arresting you), you have the right to counsel, the right to silence (i.e., to not make self-incriminating statements), and, most crucially, the right to know you have the right to counsel. In order to make sure everyone is clear on this (and there are no legal issues later), after a suspect is informed of their rights, they then sign a waiver confirming that they understand each right and, knowing their rights, that they still wish to continue talking to the police (there are certain requirements officers must fulfill in order for the waiver to be valid, but this is rarely a part of Hollywood Law).
  • The One Phone Call: A very common misconception is that you're guaranteed by law one single phone call after you're arrested, to anyone at all, and if you blow it, too bad. The reality is that you are guaranteed access to legal counsel; beyond that, any outside communication is a privilege that can be given or withheld at the whim of the detaining institution. Nevertheless, most police officers allow you to have as many phone calls as you want, because unless you're talking to your lawyer or doctor, anything you say can be recorded as evidence.
  • Only Bad Guys Call Their Lawyers: The perception that a person must be either guilty or a sleazeball for requesting access to legal counsel rather than waive this right, because "it will make me look guilty". If you are arrested by the police on suspicion of having committed a crime, it is always advised to have your lawyer present, guilty or not. Simply put: the police can't have you charged because you "looked guilty", but they can and will use evidence against you that a lawyer would have prevented them from obtaining. If you've been arrested, the police's job is to collect evidence that proves you are guilty—they are not on your side.
    • In Better Call Saul, Jimmy McGill tells the Kettlemans explicitly that asking for a lawyer doesn't make you look guilty. Because innocent people get arrested all the time, it's the act of getting arrested that makes you look guilty.
  • Freedom of Speech: This is often misinterpreted to mean you can say whatever you want wherever. However, it only means that the government cannot prosecute you for things you say (with a few exceptions like inciting riot, death threats, or hate speech depending on country and jurisdiction) or force you to say anything (except if, say, you're called as a witness). In particular, you can't be arrested merely for criticizing the government or stating your opinion. Private entities and employers (including the government if you work for them) have an equally-strong right to protect their interests. Statements that induce violence, bigotry, obscenity, slander, or are simply in poor taste can still result in firing, expulsion, loss of advertisers, a lawsuit, or any other appropriate consequence.
    • Put this way: the prohibition is on the government, and what it prohibits is limiting the freedom of speech. Private entities can still limit your speech rights via contract (e.g. through an employee or student code of conduct), and both private and public entities can pursue you for cases where your freedom of speech interferes with someone else's rights: private entities can pursue you for defamation (as reputation is a liberty interest with a strong impact on property interests—e.g. if someone says the butcher's shop is unsanitary when it isn't, people will stop buying meat from him, even though the meat is fine) and the government can pursue you (as noted) for incitement (since if you actually did start the riot, your speech interfered with other people's rights to life—if anyone was killed or injured—and property—for property destruction).
    • General rule of thumb is: "Freedom of speech" means you can say whatever you want whenever but it does not protect you from the consequences of your speech, unless those consequences enact a denial of your rights.
  • Shoot the Dead Guy: Appears infrequently in detective shows. The culprit is busted for killing someone, and often confesses, but it transpires that somebody had beaten them to it, and they had actually only "killed" a corpse. Shooting a dead person is attempted murder at the least, if the aim was to kill the person, but they will be let off on the grounds that "shooting a dead man isn't a crime" (very often, someone actually says something like this or claims it's merely desecration of a corpse).
    • Averted on Law & Order, when Ben Stone relates the legal theory of the "Shoot the Dead Guy" story to prove his point about a con artist who framed a man for her miscarriage as part of a scam; not knowing how far along a fetus had to be before it reached "personhood" to be considered a legal "victim" of a crime was the basis for charging her with attempted murder of the unborn baby.
    • Also averted in an episode of Murder, She Wrote. A woman confessed to stabbing a man to death while he was sleeping on a bus. Jessica explained that the woman is only guilty of attempted murder (rather than being guilty of nothing at all) because the man was (unknown to the confessor) already dead at the time.
    • As a matter of English law, stabbing a 'sleeping' man, who it turned out was already dead, would not have been attempted murder prior to 27 August 1981. At common law if an offense was impossible to commit there could be no liability for attempting the offense. In the case of the 'sleeping' man, it would have been impossible to commit murder, since the definition of murder requires killing, and you can't kill someone who is already dead. The law was changed by the Criminal Attempts Act 1981, s.1(2) of which provides: "A person may be guilty of attempting to commit an offense to which this section applies even though the facts are such that the commission of the offense is impossible".
    • The pre-1981 English approach is technically still applied in some other jurisdictions, including some US states, and was historically applied more generally. Michigan and Maryland, historically bastions of the old, English-style common law of crimes,note  have a rich case law on the subject.
  • Only a Consultant: This one is a recent development in Western pop culture, due to the profusion of TV shows featuring a main character who works for the police, but as a "consultant" rather than a sworn officer (e.g., Monk, The Mentalist, Castle, etc.). Often, the consultant will do things that the regular police wouldn't be allowed to, like searching somebody's house without a warrant or using some sort of coercion to get a confession, then brush off questions of legality by claiming that he or she is a private citizen, and therefore not bound by the same rules as the police. In real life, an individual employed by a police department is considered an agent of law enforcement for exactly that reason. If they were not, the cops could just hire private detectives to solve all their cases and never have to worry about warrants or Miranda rights again.
    • For an extended discussion of this, see THE LAW OF SUPERHEROES. ("Is Batman a state actor?")
  • While any police officer who is authorized to carry a gun is of course legally permitted to use it in the performance of his duties, actually shooting somebody in the line of duty will often result in an inquiry into whether or not the use of their gun was justified (especially if the person who gets shot dies). A great many movie cops would find themselves on administrative leave pending the results of the inquiry (with their gun taken for ballistics tests by Internal Affairs) within twenty minutes of the opening credits, seriously restricting their ability to investigate whatever case the film is about. This is because most police forces are more willing than others to admit that there is such a thing as a Dirty Cop (even if they're reluctant to admit that there are any in their jurisdiction at any given time), and that it is quite possible that a Dirty Cop would be willing to commit murder and claim the victim was resisting arrest, assaulting them, or trying to escape.
  • Many shows give the impression that the statute of limitations expires the moment the credits run (unless it's a multi-part episode or the crime is a part of a major story arc): if there's not enough evidence to arrest a man for a crime committed this week, then he can't be arrested, even if the cops have more than enough evidence to bust him for the crimes he committed in last week's episode, when he simply managed to avoid capture. In real life, the length of the statute of limitations for a crime ranges from months to years, and for some crimes (such as murder), it never expires.
  • Attorney–client privilege is another one that crime shows often get wrong. In the media, it's treated as though anything a criminal says to a lawyer is absolutely confidential and can't be used as evidence, even if the lawyer wanted to. In reality, attorney-client privilege only applies to communications between client and lawyer for the purpose of obtaining legal advice or representation from the lawyer. That means that facts the client communicates to the lawyer for the purpose of explaining the situation he needs legal advice or counsel about are privileged, as is the legal advice that the lawyer gives in response. If, however, the lawyer is being asked for or is giving business, personal, or other advice, as lawyers are often asked for and often give, that is not legal advice and is not privileged. Contrary to what was previously written on this page, the privilege applies to legal advice about criminal and civil matters. That being said, the privilege can be waived if the client did not take reasonable steps to keep the communication private and confidential.
    • Attorney-client privilege absolutely does not apply if your attorney is assisting you in committing your crimes; a communication in furtherance of a criminal conspiracy can never be privileged.
  • Dropping the charges. In various works, most egregiously in National Lampoon's Vacation and National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, the victim of a crime saying that they want to drop the charges against the perpetrator of a crime automatically absolves the perpetrator from any consequences. In Real Life, however, once the police have been called, such a decision may very well be out of the victim's hands, since it is now the prosecutor who makes that call. There are a number of parents who find this out the hard way. Their children take their cars or credit cards, and the parents report a theft to teach the kids a lesson. When the kids are arrested, the parents state that they won't press charges, only to find out that their children may now face felony convictions (and significant prison time), regardless. This is, of course, a matter of prosecutorial discretion, and a prosecutor may decline to pursue a case where a victim doesn't want to press charges. On the other hand, if the prosecutor feels that the case is worth it, he may be able to go forward without requiring the victim to testify, or may pressure the victim into testifying with a subpoena and the threat of contempt charges. Thus, while a victim's disinclination to press charges may resolve the matter, it is not the automatic "Get out of Jail Free" Card various media would suggest.
    • In a similar vein, on various cop show episodes involving underage sexual relationships, there's sometimes the mistaken belief that statutory rape charges can't be pressed, or at the very least, won't be successful in court, if the underage participant in question was willing and the sex was consensual. In most nations, this is never the case—indeed, that is the entire purpose of statutory rape laws.note  In fact, if the minor says that they were in a relationship, this pretty much seals the deal as far as the court's concerned, as the only defence against a statutory rape charge is denying that the sex ever took place to begin with. Minors are not considered mentally and emotionally mature enough to make their own decisions when it comes to sex, and for very good reasons, so their opinions on the case have no real bearing on anything.
      • Another key point is that lack of awareness of/deception about your partner's age is not a defense in most jurisdictions, called "mistake of fact".
      • On this subject, there's also the SoCalization concept that 18 is the universal age of consent. It is in California, but in most of the First World, it can vary anywhere from 16 to 21, and the age can also be different for opposite-sex and same-sex relationships (e.g. a state in the US where the "Romeo and Juliet" close in age exemption applies to a heterosexual 18-year-old and 17-year-old couple, but doesn't apply to a gay or lesbian couple). That said, within the US itself, most that go lower than 18 require that a legal marriage with the permission of the minor's parents exists (e.g. if you're 20 and marry your 16-year-old girlfriend with her parents' permission to do so, the relationship is legally not statutory rape regardless of whatever moral standards people may apply—but if you aren't legally married with said permission, it is most definitely so and you can and possibly will be arrested for it).
  • Read the Fine Print: In fiction, if you have signed a contract, then that means you have irrevocably agreed to whatever nasty thing was hidden away in it, up to and including actual slavery, or the contract holder being allowed to torture you to death if you fail to do what he wants. In real life, of course, this simply does not happen. You cannot be forced to sign a contract:
    • Under duress (well, you can, but it will never be valid in a court of law), whether that duress comes about as a result of someone putting a gun to your head or a more insidious means like someone threatening you financially.
    • If it contains illegal acts—you can't agree to a gag order over your boss murdering his secretary, nor can you sign a contract saying you will help your boss murder his secretary.
    • If the contract is "unconscionable," i.e. extremely unjust or overwhelmingly one-sided note  that no sane person would accept.
    • If it was written in such strange and confusing jargon that you had no idea what you were getting into (this also falls under unconscionability).
    • Many jurisdictions consider print fine enough that the average person cannot read it unaided to also be unconscionable, and have passed laws requiring a minimum font size on legally binding contracts.
  • The Reading of a Will. Happens more often in fiction than in real life. Although there are a few lawyers and executors that actually do this, it's not a legal requirement. In reality, if there's anything in the estate and you either are a legal heir under the intestacy laws or you have been specifically left property in the will, you will receive a notice from the court with an option to appear at a hearing to contest the will if you so choose. Should you waive that right, you will simply wait until your inheritance (if any) is delivered to you.
    • Closely related to this is the Video Will, where the testator records a video of himself orally disposing of his estate, to be played after his death. Hollywood likes this for the same reason it likes the reading of the will: it is dramatic. In real life, however, a will must be in writing. There are a few jurisdictions that allow nuncupative (i.e., oral) wills, but only under very limited circumstances—usually people in very dangerous circumstances (like soldiers on the battlefield or first responders in an active situation) and only for a very limited amount of assets (e.g. a soldier saying "If I don't make it out of this battle alive, Julius gets my special backpack" or a firefighter saying "OK, I'm going in. If I die in there, Tommy gets my cooking set.") A video will cannot be probated, and will not be an effective disposition of an estate.
  • The "Shouting Fire In A Crowded Theater" tactic, aka inciting panic through certain kinds of speech, the favored form of attack by lawyers when the First Amendment gets involved, was indeed a part of real law and might be a credible argument...provided the show takes place in, oh, the 1960s or earlier. The ruling, Schenck vs. US, came into place to help censor anti-draft/anti-war activists during World War Onenote  and was overturned by Brandenburg vs. Ohio in 1969.note  These days, your speech must be clearly advocating immediate criminal action to get you into trouble. Shouting "There's a fire!" is not a crime (under this particular case, anyway—the false alarm people might like to have a word with you) but shouting "There's a fire—everybody riot!" is.note 
  • Immunity from prosecution. In some legal shows, the prosecutors will be dealing with a criminal whom they want to testify in a case regarding an even bigger criminal. Unfortunately, in order to testify, the witness-to-be would have to implicate himself in crimes he himself has committed. Since the prosecutor cannot force the prospective witness to testify due to the protection against self-incrimination, there is one solution: immunity from prosecution. This means two different things under Hollywood Law versus Real Life. Under Hollywood Law, it means that the witness can testify to anything (murder, treason, child porn, terrorism, rape, child molestation) but can never be prosecuted for any of the crimes he admits during his testimony. However, in Real Life, there are two types of immunity: Transactional Immunity (also called Full Immunity) and Use Immunity (also called Limited Immunity). Transactional Immunity is actually similar to Hollywood Law, but it is rarely granted (its most recent use in the US was for Monica Lewinsky and her parents in the late 1990s, and they were the first to receive it in decades). The far more common type is Use Immunity, which simply means that the witness's testimony cannot be used against him in subsequent proceedings—he can still be prosecuted for these things if the authorities can make a case against him without said testimony. The kind of immunity shown in Hollywood Law normally only exists in the form of a pardon, which can be granted only by the governor of a state or the President (depending on whose law was violated).note 
  • "Client, shut up!": A lawyer and his client are meeting with the prosecutor (or opposing counsel if this is a civil case. Turns out that the client is a little too talkative and says things that hurt his case. In a lot of works, his lawyer will interrupt him and tell him to shut up. Unfortunately for lawyers, while an overly-talkative client can be Truth in Television, the rules do not allow lawyers simply to tell clients to shut up. (Although lawyers can and should advise their clients that they do not have to answer specific questions).
  • "Counselor, control your client!": Said many a time by judges in courtroom dramas. In Real Life, however, it is the judge who is responsible for keeping order in the courtroom.
  • Jury Trial: Any series set in Britain where someone "claims" the right of trial by jury. Not so fast. In the UK, trial by jury is mandatory for some major offenses (murder, rape, etc.), but for many others, the prosecution will decide whether to prosecute in summary or solemn proceedings. The caveat to summary proceedings, where the role of finder-of-fact is performed by a judge, is that the court's sentencing powers are severely limited (hence why serious crime is tried in solemn proceedings). Similarly, anytime someone in the US talks about "trial by a jury of (my) peers". The phrase is not found in the Constitution or the amendments, it's actually from the Magna Carta, and refers to the right of noblemen to be judged only by other noblemen ("peers of the realm" as they were called) not commoners or the king's judges acting alone. Lastly, people from countries that use jury trial may be confused seeing media set in countries that don't. Many countries try cases using a judge or judges, without juries. In some cases lay judges are called, which can be confused with juries. However they try cases in conjunction with a professional judge or judges, not separately as with the jury. For instance, when Japan introduced lay judges to its court system it was widely described by US media as introducing jury trial (Japan actually did have juries in the early 20th century before abolishing them).
  • As works made and/or set in Japan become increasingly popular in the West, so do some Japanese variations of Hollywood Law. For instance:
    • The age of consent being 13. In fiction, this is treated as an absolute, so sex with, or between, thirteen-year-olds is treated the same as sex between consenting adults. In reality, according to The Other Wiki, thirteen is the minimum national age of consent in Japan, with individual prefectures free to set higher ages. (To put it in perspective for Americans, the U.S. has no national minimum age of consent.) In most of Japan, the age of consent is set at 18, with two qualifications: First, if the partners are in a sincere romantic relationship, determined by parental approval, sexual activity is legally permitted. Second, a person of influence, such as a teacher, clergyman, judge, coach, landlord, or other authority figure (in other words, adults who would most likely be in a position to exploit a minor) is forbidden from having sex with anyone who is under the age of twenty.
    • Carrying a sword in public. In modern times, unless you are a member of the self-defense force or the police, forget it. Japan has very strict weapons control policies, and swords are treated the same as guns.
    • Arranged Marriage: In fiction, even in modern times, this is an absolutely binding arrangement, which your parents can force on you completely without regard to your wishes. Avoiding such a prospect requires drastic action, including suicide or elopement. In reality, however, at least, in modern times, the Japanese practice of Miai or Omiai simply involves your parents setting you up with someone in the hope that marriage would result. There is no obligation to marry that person; at most, you may be obliged to go out on a date with him or her, but it's perfectly fine if it doesn't go any further.
      • On a related note, underage marriages. In Real Life, the age of marriage without the need for parental consent is twenty, the age of majority in Japan. With parental consent, the age of marriage is eighteen for men and sixteen for women. note  Any work featuring marriages below these ages (in modern times), whether it be an Old Man Marrying a Child or two kids marrying, is an example of Hollywood Law.
    • Teacher/Student Romance and Not Blood Siblings: In fiction, these tropes are more acceptable to Japanese audiences than they are in American fiction. However, in Real Life Japan, a teacher, being a person of influence as discussed above, is forbidden by law from having sex with a student under the age of twenty; additionally, in modern times, relationships between step— or adopted siblings are just as illegal in Japan as in the U.S.
  • Police Brutality: Truth in Television, but some of the more absurd and blatant examples in fiction (such as blowing up entire city blocks to get one crook) directly fall under this trope, doubly so if they are done in locations like the United States.
  • Just about every cop show has shown the cops in question barging into a doctor's office/exam room/ operating room to arrest the doctor in question or their patient. This is grossly inappropriate behavior that would never happen in Real Life (possibly even lampshaded by the fact that there's always someone present yelling, "You can't go in there!"). These actions would not only violate patient privacy (very often, they are present when the cops walk in), they would compromise the sterility of the OR and cause a huge swath of problems for the hospital/clinic staff.
  • "Yes, but..." "The defense rests!": It's normal in court dramas to have an attorney (usually whichever is supposed to be the most amoral one within the scene) to interrogate a witness with a very loaded question, insist on it being answered "yes or no" (or some other apparently unambiguous fashion), and once it's answered to shut up the witness while they are trying to provide some information that will give further perspective on how it's Not What It Looks Like and walk away while the other attorney silently seethes like there is nothing he can do. Not only would it be possible in Real Life to ask the judge for a redirect and then tell the witness to please finish their statement, but it's pretty obvious that the judge would demand that the witness finish his statement in the face of such a major case of blatant Jerkassery (and that this will paint a pretty bad picture of the attorney and probably the accused in the eyes of the jury is pretty much a given).
  • In forensic type shows the CSIs, profilers etc are often seen fighting and arresting the criminals just like the cops. In reality such people are technically civilians and never do any fighting, but that wouldn't make a very interesting show.
  • How often do you see the lawyers enter the well without permission (the area between counsel table and the bench)? Arguably, this is done to allow for more intimate interactions between a lawyer and whoever's on the witness stand, but still...
  • Lawyers having private conversations with the judge without opposing counsel being present, which are ex parte communications, a flagrant violation of the law.

For Hollywood Law tropes on this wiki, see Artistic License – Law.


Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • During the Fairy Dance arc of Sword Art Online, Asuna's family tries to schedule a wedding between her and her father's protege, at the protege's insistence (mainly because her family owns the company he works for and he needs the marriage to the CEO's daughter to get more control over the company—he’s the arc’s Big Bad). Asuna was seventeen, so the marriage would be legal with parental consent, which it obviously had. But the problem was that Asuna was in a coma for almost the entire arc (for reasons that were the groom-to-be's fault, not that Asuna's family knew that). In a case like this, parental consent was irrelevant because Asuna was incapable of giving her consent (which she wouldn't have, as she despised him). A wedding is not legal if one party is not able to speak their vows and/or sign the license, and parental consent is not the same thing as speaking someone's vows by proxy. This is only an issue in the Anime however, as the original Light Novel version of the scene addresses these exact issues and instead has their "wedding" planned as nothing more than a symbolic gesture before Asuna's father simply adopts her would-be-groom instead.

    Comic Books 
  • In Manhunter, Kate Spencer's prosecution of Shadow Thief for the murder of Ron Raymond, aka Firestorm, is ludicrous. It's hard to know where to begin, but consider the fact that Spencer calls a bunch of superheroes to testify without giving their real names without first showing that they or their families would have been in danger. Under United States v. Ramos-Cruz, _ F.3d _ (4th Cir. Jan. 18, 2012); United States v. Zelaya, 336 F. App’x 355 (4th Cir. 2009); and United States v. Gutierrez de Lopez, a witness may testify anonymously only if the prosecution can show that the witnesses or their families would be in danger otherwise; (but see the note below), although the issue would be whether an anonymous witness violates either the confrontation clause or due process, and a statute cannot override a constitutional provision. Secondly, most of the witnesses weren't even legitimate witnesses in the first place: they didn't actually see the crime committed, and she just asked them questions about what a hero Firestorm was, and what a great guy he was. None of that would be relevant at trial, although some of it might be allowed at a sentencing hearing, if Shadow Thief were convicted. The bizarre part is that there were other superheroes who were present at the crime and saw it happen, at least one of whom, Vixen, has a public identity and could have been called as a witness; needless to say, she wasn't.
    • Trial law in the DCU has been modified to allow superheroes to testify without revealing their identities. note  The other points absolutely stand, though.
  • In one issue of Daredevil, a judge appointed under Norman Osborn overruled a "not guilty" verdict in a criminal trial and sent the innocent defendants to prison, ignoring 1000 years of legal precedent and the US constitution. To be fair, though, the Marvel Universe during Dark Reign seemed to be a fascist dictatorship under Osborn, so the law probably changed to allow this verdict (otherwise completely illegal and unconstitutional in our world).
    • Osborn getting that job he had in the first place, long after being exposed and jailed for being a superhuman homicidal maniac, whose standard M.O. was flying around a city throwing bombs and who once planned to murder all life on Earth, is however a pretty straight example.
      • Yes, in that you become ineligible for most and/or all political offices, especially at higher levels, if you've committed a felony, and Osborn was never pardoned.
      • Oddly enough, you do not become ineligible for the US Presidency. Numerous felons (mostly political activists like Eugene Debs or Leonard Peltier) have run for President while in prison for a felony conviction (Peltier is even serving two life sentences for murder, but if elected he could pardon himself, so no worries there).
  • Green Arrow
    • #32 features jury nullification with a slight difference: they find him not guilty, but the Judge still rules that he is exiled from the city for life, giving him 24 hours to leave and stating that he will be imprisoned if he returns.
    • In addition to that rather dubious ruling, the judge openly states that he could have Ollie thrown in jail anyway, despite the jury acquittal. This is utterly impossible under US law (while you can still end up being found guilty and sentenced for the separate crime of "contempt of court" — if you actually committed some — while being acquitted on the original charge, you cannot be sentenced for the original charge while simultaneously being acquitted of the original charge!) and going on the record with it would probably earn a judge official reprimands at the very least.
    • The trial isn't even in the correct venue. Exactly what jurisdiction does a California state court (Star City is in California) have over an alleged murder committed in another dimension, especially when the victim is of unknown nationality? (Prometheus' secret ID has never been cracked.) Even if jurisdiction is being asserted on the grounds of 'well, Oliver Queen is a US citizen and nobody else has any jurisdiction over this entire mess as it happened in territory claimed by no sovereign nation', that should still have landed him in US District Court.
    • The crowner of this entire mess is that the trial should not be happening at all. Prometheus died during the course of a lawful arrest by a deputized peacekeeping agent, while on his feet, armed, and facing his killer. How does this qualify as murder? Sure, Oliver Queen went there with the intent of killing Prometheus even if he didn't resist arrest, but you can't be placed on trial for what you would have done, only what you actually did do. And since Prometheus wasn't surrendering and was a highly dangerous felon who has already killed entire squads of cops who've tried to arrest him before, shooting him the instant he makes a sudden move is justifiable homicide. Sure, Ollie's confession as to his intent should have gotten him dismissed from the JLA for going way outside of policy, if not asked to go see a psychiatrist, but it doesn't sustain a charge of murder one. If Ollie had sniped Promethus unawares, then yeah, that's murder — except he didn't.
      • While it is true that there was only one living witness to the confrontation — Ollie himself — given that the arrow hole is in the front and Prometheus was clearly standing when he died and wearing his full battle harness, forensic evidence would entirely support the justifiable homicide interpretation. And while it's possible Ollie confessed to killing the guy cold (even if he didn't) out of some guilt complex, even then the scene would still contain a plot hole... specifically, that if Ollie had pled guilty then there shouldn't have been a jury trial in the first place.
      • A confession is not the same as a guilty plea, though, so if he'd confessed but didn't then plead guilty to a murder charge there would have to be a trial.
  • In X-Men, Josh Foley, aka Elixir, is told by Danielle Moonstar that his parents have signed total legal guardianship over to her, without Josh ever having been notified or called before a judge or any indication that either party set foot in a court of law. He's 16 at the time, so how did such important legal proceedings take place without him even knowing about them?
  • Marvel writers have repeatedly had a character charged with "treason" over acts which have nothing to do with the deliberately narrow definition of treason expressly spelled out in the U.S. Constitution (levying war against the United States or, in adhering to its enemies, giving them aid and comfort). It does not mean "acting against a government agency" or "insubordination". It's also really hard to convict someone of it—treason is the only crime specifically defined in the US Constitution (to prevent abusive prosecutions under looser definitions as went on under the British Crown) requiring two or more witnesses testifying to the same act, or a confession in open court, which is the only crime in US federal or state law with this high a standard to obtain a conviction. Thus, people who have committed treason are generally just charged with other, easier-to-prove offenses.
  • A Punisher story made hash of the Insanity Defense by having a judge not remand the Punisher for psychiatric examination, but simply decreeing that he was "insane" on the basis of counsel's rhetoric (and over his vehement objection).
  • It's a major plot point of Greg Rucka's Gotham Central that any case coming from the Internal Affairs Division of the Gotham PD against corrupt Crime Scene Unit technician Jimmy Corrigan would be tainted because Major Crimes Unit Det. Renee Montoya beat certain key information out of Corrigannote  in a fight outside a bar in order to clear her partner, Crispus Allen, in a shooting after being tacitly encouraged to do so by a detective from IAD. Supposedly this means that neither IAD nor MCU can ever touch Corrigan legally. Shockingly, losing a bar brawl to an off-duty cop does not actually give you legal immunity to anything. It is true that none of the information that Montoya beat out of Corrigan would be admissible, but any evidence gathered independently of that would be perfectly admissible. At worst, if Montoya herself were a key witness against Corrigan, his attorney could try to use the fight to call her credibility into question. Of course, it would be very risky for Corrigan's attorney to bring up the fight at all, because it might open the door for the prosecutor to ask what the fight was about, which would probably hurt Corrigan more than the prosecution.
  • This was very common in Dan Slott's run on She-Hulk, which is hardly surprising since it was a legal comedy written by a non-lawyer. Many of these were justified by Rule of Funny:
    • The most obvious is that the law firm Jennifer works for, Goodman, Lieber, Kurtzberg, and Holliway, has, in their law library, at least for their super-human law division, nothing but boxes and boxes of Marvel comics. It is explained that, within the Marvel Universe, Marvel comics are all true, and are licensed by the superheroes who star in them, and, prior to 2002, were certified by The Comics Code Authority, a government agency, and are therefore admissible in any courtroom in the United States. It's hard to know where to start with this one. First of all, the Comics Code Authority was never a government agency; it has always been a private ratings agency created by the comics industry itself. Secondly, even if it were a government agency, merely having a document certified by a government agency does not make it admissible, any more than does being licensed by the persons who star in the comics. Thirdly, and most importantly, even if there were no questions about the admissibility of Marvel comics into evidence, the comics are not a source of law; they may be a source of facts, but not law. A mere record of facts is only admissible if the facts are directly relevant to the case at hand. Also, facts recorded in a comic book would almost always be inadmissible as hearsay. The lawyers would have to provide some other source for the same facts to get them into evidence. This one, of course, is justified by Rule of Funny and as a source of Continuity Nods.
    • Then there's Jennifer's first case: Dan Jermain wants to sue the Roxxon corporation, for which he worked as a safety inspector, because he got knocked into a vat of radioactive material, transforming him into the larger, stronger, more powerful Danger Man, wrecking his life in the process. The problem is that, because it was a workplace accident, Jermain can only get workman's compensation; he is barred by statute from suing Roxxon in tort! Also, he can only recover his medical bills and lost wages for a limited time from workman's comp. Plus, as an example of the absurdity of using Marvel comics as a source of law, Jennifer's strategy for winning the case is based on the return of Jean Grey story arc, in which it was revealed that Jean was never the Phoenix, but rather that the Phoenix took her place; based on that, Jennifer decides to argue that Dan Jermain died in the accident and that Danger Man is a totally new entity. That might be true, but the Phoenix/Jean Grey story has nothing to do with it. Jennifer would have to actually prove, with evidence from the case, that Dan Jermain is dead, which is going to be hard since it's obviously not true: Danger Man obviously is Dan Jermain.
    • Then, in a subsequent case, Jennifer and fellow associate Augustus Pugliese sue J. Jonah Jameson for libel on behalf of Spider-Man. They are winning the case when Pugliese decides he wants to add Peter Parker as a defendantnote , which, shockingly enough, prompts Spider-Man to insist on settling the lawsuit. This is absurd on multiple levels. First, the plaintiff can't add a defendant when the trial is already underway. Second, the plaintiff's lawyer can't add a defendant without his client's permission. Third, no one is going to bother suing Peter Parker, for the simple reason that he's judgment—proof; that is, he doesn't have enough money to pay any judgment you might get against him. Again, this one was pretty much just Rule of Funny.
    • When another of Jennifer's associates, Mallory Book, defends Samuel Sterns, the Leader, on criminal charges, the trial is in New York, even though many of the crimes Sterns is charged with, including nuking a town in Arizona, happened in other states. Under Article III, Section 2 of the US Constitution, and under the Sixth Amendment thereto, the trial of all federal crimes must be in the state and district in which the crimes were committed, meaning the government can only try the Leader in Arizona for crimes committed in Arizona. Plus, Book's defense of Sterns is that, as a gamma-altered individual, he is of diminished capacity. That would be fine, if and only if gamma alteration meant that Sterns either did not know right from wrong, or that he was under an irresistible impulse to commit his crimes. The problem is that two of Book's key witnesses, Jennifer Walters and Dr. Leonard Samson, are also gamma-altered, and both are moral, law-abiding citizens; Walters, obviously, is a lawyer and superhero, and Samson is a psychiatrist (and also occasional superhero). That doesn't mean Sterns isn't insane, but Book certainly hasn't proved it. Plus which, even if Book had succeeded, that would just mean that the Leader would just end up in an asylum for the criminally insane instead of in prison; the story was published in 2007, the same year New York abolished the death penalty.
    • Around the same time Book was defending the Leader, Jennifer was suing Tony Stark for injecting her with power-inhibiting nanites that made it impossible for her to transform into She-Hulk. The problem is that, while she could theoretically sue for tortious battery, Stark would have an unbeatable self-defense defense: Jennifer, in her She-Hulk form, was beating him up at the time he injected her. At the very least, Stark would almost certainly have qualified immunity, since he was acting in his capacity as director of S.H.I.E.L.D. at the time. Stark would almost certainly win on dismissal or summary judgment, but the comic presents Jennifer as having a real chance of winning a big judgment.
    • The more recent She-Hulk series, written by Charles Soule, is generally more accurate, since Soule is a lawyer, but not always. For example, in issue 9, She-Hulk defends Captain America against a wrongful death action based on alleged negligence by Steve Rogers in 1940, before he became Captain America. The problem is that section 335.1 of the California Code of Civil Procedure establishes a two-year statute of limitations on actions for wrongful death in negligence, as in this case. The other problem is that even if the plaintiffs could still bring the suit, they would have to do so under the law as it was in 1940, and back then, California, like most states, still had a contributory negligence standard, not a comparative fault standard. In this case, the decedent's brother admitted that he was also partially responsible; since contributory negligence is a complete defense, it means that Rogers cannot be held liable at all.
      • To make matters worse, the brother's story, which seems to be pretty much the entirety of the plaintiff's case, is not testified to by the brother himself, because he's dead. Rather, a police officer who was with the brother when he died testified as to the brother's dying declaration, which he revealed what had happened back in 1940. The comic claims that this is acceptable because dying declarations are an exception to the hearsay rule. That is true, if and only if the dying declaration concerns the circumstances of the death. If a dying man says that so-and-so is the one who killed him, that is admissible under the dying declaration exception. If a dying man says that seventy-four years ago, his brother died partly through the negligence of Steve Rogers, that is not admissible.
  • Copperhead follows a frontier sheriff who may or may not be operating under American jurisprudence. Nonetheless: early in the second arc sheriff Bronson chases down a fleeing suspect to recapture his stolen goods. She's disappointed when the original owner says he's not pressing charges and the suspect will go free. At minimum the suspect refused to pull over for law enforcement, physically resisted arrest, and injured the arresting officer. Even if the owner doesn't press charges for the theft, Bronson is also an offended party and the crimes against her should qualify for separate prosecution.
  • Watchmen: Rorschach was sent to Sing Sing before even being tried for his crimes, while in reality he would be held at Riker's Island until trial. He also would likely be kept isolated from other inmates as a notorious vigilante crime fighter, which is not only for his protection but to avoid just such an incident like in the cafeteria.

    Fan Fic 
  • Harry Potter and the Natural 20: The Witchcraft Act of 1735 didn't prohibit witchcraft, though the name is confusing. Rather, it had outlawed accusing someone of witchcraft, or claiming to have supernatural abilities. Plus, the police caution given in 1992 is wrong. For that, see You Do Not Have to Say Anything.
  • In the Motion Practice series, which recasts various Marvel superheroes as lawyers, every story with a significant amount of legal action in it has a disclaimer noting that the legal processes depicted may have been altered for the sake of drama, and should not be relied on as having any resemblance to real life. Some individual chapters have notes pointing out specific instances (such as the investigation in Harmless Error being tweaked to give the main characters more to do than sit back and wait for the results).

    Films — Animated 
  • In Pixar's Up, Carl is involuntarily committed to a retirement home after he whacks a guy over the head with a cane. The guy, at the time, had been struggling with Carl over his mailbox, despite Carl's repeated demands for him to let it go. While he may have had to pay some damages as a result, a single incident borne of an obvious misunderstanding wouldn't lead to commitment, though the Corrupt Corporate Executive who wanted Carl's house might have pulled strings. After all, tampering with the mail is a federal crime. He could be prosecuted for assault (unlikely) or sued by the man, but the involuntary commitment to a retirement home is only something next-of-kin with power of attorney can do.
  • The Incredibles: In actuality, 'Good Samaritan' laws have been passed which specifically protect people from prosecution or lawsuits for damages or injuries that occur when responding to a crime or disaster. In cases like those which open the film, the judge will dismiss the case on the pleadings for failure to state a claim (that is, telling the guy "This isn't something you can sue about") before a jury is even selected.
    • However, Good Samaritan laws did not exist at the time of the film. The film's first scene is set in 1947, one year after the Federal Tort Claims Act came into effect (which is the law that allowed citizens to sue the US government for money damages due to the actions of government agents, which in the film included superheroes), but long before the Good Samaritan laws were passed (New Mexico passed the first Good Samaritan law in 2001). So The Incredibles is actually set in a time frame where the lawsuits against the supers were theoretically possible.
    • It's also noted in Incredibles 2 that politicians had been gunning for supers for years because they couldn't comprehend a selfless desire to help people, which was almost certainly a factor.
  • La Ballade des Dalton has numerous errors:
    • The plot of the story is that the Daltons have been informed that they will inherit a fortune from their recently executed uncle if they kill the judge and jury who ordered his hanging. Conditional wills cannot require the heirs to commit a crime in order to inherit.
    • There are eight jurors. Capital crimes tend to have a jury of twelve men in the US (This was probably done to keep the movie from running too long, as having four more characters for them to confront would have added at least another half an hour to the story).
    • Once they believe they have succeeded, the Daltons report their success to the executor, who takes them to a side room, which turns out to be a courthouse where the still living judge and jurors find them guilty of attempted murder and have them sent back to jail. As the would-be victims of the attempted crimes, said judge and jury could not legally participate in such a trial as anything other than witnesses.
  • Bee Movie: Barry B. Benson's case against the honey industry has so many issues that LegalEagle did a video on it. The whole "sue humanity because they're stealing honey from bees" just doesn't work.
    • Right out of the gate, Barry's trying to sue the entire human race. Which is impossible. To sue a party in court, they have to be a recognizable entity that can be sued, an individual, a corporation. The court would realistically just dismiss the case out of hand because there's no way to properly notify the human race because the human race doesn't have a fixed address to accept service of lawsuit, or let the case go into default, and the propounding party (the bees) win because the other party didn't respond. But there's no way to recover winnings from the human race, so it's just a Pyrrhic Victory at best.
    • Not just that but they're going after "all of humanity" - THE REST OF THE WORLD. Countries like China, the United Kingdom, any nation in Africa, and North Korea (the lattermost being completely hostile to the United States) are not going to stop honey production because ONE court case in the United States, and not even the Supreme Court, ruled in favor of bees.
    • A florist cannot help sue another party in court. Vanessa is engaged in the unauthorized practice of law.
    • By the start of trial, the bees have rolled back the lawsuit to just suing five honey manufacturers. Still, the lawsuit should be tossed out by this point for other reasons. Now Barry Benson is trying to do a class action lawsuit, where a few representative plaintiffs claim that they are representative of a larger class of people, and as a result, they claim that they should be able to prosecute the lawsuit on behalf of all of those people who are similarly affected. Going with the federal definition of a class action lawsuit, there are some requirements you have to meet before you're able to proceed further per Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which requires:
      • 1) An adequate class definition. (They've defined the class as all bees. Not all of whom have had their honey taken)
      • 2) That the class be ascertainable. (There are billions, if not trillions of bees out there, and there is no way to identify the individually affected bees)
      • 3) That there must be numerosity, in other words, a lot of people. (This is met, but...)
      • 4) There must be commonality amongst all of the class members. (different bees are treated differently)
      • 5) There must be typicality between the representative plaintiffs and the class members. (there is no reason to assume that Barry Benson is typical of all of the other class members)
      • 6) adequacy of counsel. (Barry's not even a lawyer, so he can't even proceed with this proceeding, let alone adequately represent the actual class members that he's trying to move forward with.)
      • 7) Some other requirements (that are also not met for the above reasons)
    • This lawsuit goes straight to trial rather quickly, completely ignoring the years of pretrial discovery and motion practice that would have to happen first.
    • When the defense presents their opening statements and case before the plaintiff does (when the plaintiff outlines what the matters in contention are), there's an obvious logical, let alone legal, problem:
      • Montgomery goes straight from counsel table directly into the well of the court, and then goes straight at the jury. Judges and juries really hate it when lawyers invade the personal space of the jury, and if you are aggressive about it, the bailiff will tackle you. His opening statement is also completely improper argument that should be stricken from the record.
      • Same goes for Barry. Sorry, Barry, you don't get to fly straight from counsel table directly to the ledge in front of the jury and then give your opening statement. You're invading the personal space of the jury.
    • During the direct examination of Mr. Klauss Vanderhayden of Honey Farms, the plaintiffs' defense should be objecting for relevance repeatedly.
    • To demonstrate how the bear as the shape of a honey jar is offensive ("BEARS KILL BEES"), Barry has a muzzled grizzly bear brought into the courtroom. In addition to being completely irrelevant to the court proceedings, it goes without saying that a demonstrative cannot be a lethal animal, or probably any animal at all except for service dogs.
    • During Montgomery's effort to grill Barry about his relation with Vanessa, people and bees should be making objections of relevance.
    • Important to note that one of the reasons we have a legal system in the first place is so that we don't have to rely on violence to solve our problems. Yet, Adam, as bee co-counsel, gives in to his aggression and attacks the opposing party with his venomous stinger. He should be disbarred for that. And there is absolutely no way that he would be allowed to sit at counsel table anymore. The judge would probably have to declare a mistrial because of the outburst that occurred, because it's not fair to either party to have to proceed with a tainted jury as a result of Adam's bad conduct in assaulting the opposing counsel.
    • The court case is done in a courtroom in New York City, rather than the Supreme Court of the United States which is in the district of Columbia, which borders Virginia and Maryland, not the state of New York. Ergo, any patent rights the bees are granted wouldn't be applied to the rest of the United States, let alone the other nations in North America, Canada and Mexico.
    • The way the judge up and decided the case was also a major stretch. The judge cannot decide in the middle of the court case to just grant the verdict in favor of the plaintiffs. This would be overturned on appeal immediately because the defendants have been denied their due process.
    • The settlement demands are unrealistic:
      • When you win a lawsuit, generally you are entitled to monetary compensation. You can sometimes get back the actual physical property that you feel you are entitled to, per specific performance. But that's primarily seen in real estate cases. If it's possible to give financial compensation, the court almost always will give financial compensation. And there's no reason that the bees couldn't be given financial compensation instead of a return of all of the honey. On top of that, all of the things that they are getting in this potential settlement would never be given by the court.
      • "We will no longer tolerate derogatory bee-negative nicknames" probably violates the First Amendment right to free speech.
      • We see federal agents seizing honey from a woman on the street using it as a tea sweetener. There's no reason why an injunction would be granted to prevent people from using honey that's already in the stream of commerce.

    Literature 
  • Alex Cross novel Alex Cross's Trial by James Patterson. The book is about a white attorney, Ben Corbett, coming to his hometown of Eudora, Mississippi, at the command of President Teddy Roosevelt to investigate lynchings and the Klan, putting the book's date range between September 14, 1901 and March 4, 1909. The book fairly drips with examples of this trope. Here are a few:
    • In a town dominated by the Klan (which had been officially disbanded since around 1877 and which didn't exist in its modern form until 1915, but that's another issue) and in which the sheriff is a sincere member of the Klan, two "White Raiders" who have come to lynch an old black man and his granddaughter die—one by falling off the roof and the other by being stabbed in the back by the granddaughter. The granddaughter is not only not convicted of murder or manslaughter—she never even gets ARRESTED. It seems that Patterson forgot that self-defense is a plea the defendant makes in court, not an excuse for the cops not to arrest someone, and racist, Klan member cops would be especially unlikely not to.
    • Ben Corbett's father is appointed judge in the trial of the three surviving Raiders (yes, they were arrested by the sheriff who's a Klansman and who believes in what they're doing). This makes no sense, as Judge Corbett seems pretty low on the judicial hierarchy. Corbett tries traffic cases and small claims cases between neighbors. This is a case of attempted murder. Newsflash, Patterson: Corbett is a judge of a small-town civil court, not the judge of a county or state criminal court. Corbett's court doesn't have jurisdiction.
    • The sheriff tells another cop to read the surviving Raiders their rights. The concept of the Miranda rights didn't come into existence until the Supreme Court decision in the case of Miranda v. Arizona (1966). It's somewhere between 1901 and 1909. Miranda rights don't EXIST yet; Ernesto Miranda himself wouldn't even be born until the 1940s.
    • Ben, mid-trial, gets an idea: he and one of his friends will break into the photography offices of Scooter Williams, who takes pictures of every single lynching, and steal the photos and the negatives. Then he will bring the stolen pictures into court as evidence. This ignores several facts:
      • 1. Stolen pictures may be inadmissible. This may or may not be a handicap: most states didn't have a rule against this before Mapp v. Ohio, and even now it only applies to police or people acting as their agents. So they would be liable for burglary and theft, but the pictures could still be admitted.
      • 2. Even if they weren't stolen, the grisly pictures are horrible, yes, and they are certainly proof that lynching exists, which is what Roosevelt wanted Ben to find... but they aren't evidence of anything in this case. They DO prove that the men who went to the Crosses' house had attended lynchings. But they don't prove that these men went to the Crosses' to commit a lynching OR that they attacked the Crosses with intent to commit murder, and any first-year law student would argue as much...
      • 3. ...If the pictures weren't considered prejudicial to the jury and thrown out of the evidence list during preparations for the trial.
      • 4. And since the evidence lists are prepared before trial and are seen by attorneys for both sides, it's unlikely that the judge would accept new evidence mid-trial that the other side hadn't seen—even if the evidence was obtained legally AND proved that the defendants were guilty.note 
    • Moody Cross (the aforementioned granddaughter and Alex Cross's ancestor) is called to the stand and perjures herself by saying that yes, the Raiders had a search warrant and she agreed to let them in, and my goodness, she doesn't know WHY they attacked after that. Ben thinks that this changes everything because now the official story isn't that the Crosses fought men who were performing their legal duty, but that the Crosses acted like good citizens and admitted the representatives of the law, who then attacked them. He seems unaware that:
      • a) the stories the Crosses told and that the Raiders told would have been recorded in the briefs both sides filed with the court, so changing the story now would raise all kinds of questions about "Why are you changing your story? Were you lying then or are you lying now?"; and
      • b) there is STILL no physical evidence that proves that the Raiders attacked the Crosses and not the Crosses the Raiders.
    • When it's time for closing arguments, Jonah Curtis (the prosecutor) tells Ben to make the closing speech. Never mind that Ben isn't listed as an attorney for the prosecution, but as a prosecution witness, and therefore has no right to make the speech.
  • In the Gordon Korman young adult novel Son of Interflux, toward the end of the book, one of Simon's crazy teachers shows up at a speech and, removing her coat, reveals what look like sticks of dynamite strapped to her body. When she detonates the "bomb", tinny music plays and a flag that reads "BOOM" pops out. When Simon's father indignantly demands that the police arrest the woman, they reply that there is no law against impersonating a deadly weapon. Except that there absolutely is such a law, in as many words—there are laws explicitly prohibiting making threats with fake bombs or other weapons.
  • The bizarre tragicomic ending of Mark Twain's "From the London Times of 1904," where it's determined that even though the defendant has been shown not to have committed the crime he's been convicted of, the conviction cannot be overturned, but since the crime wasn't committed, he can't be pardoned. The former is based on a French legal precedent, but the latter is implied to be preexisting law, even though even in the nineteenth century, actual innocence was a common reason for a pardon, to get around the more tedious process of having a court decision annulled, although such petitions for clemency were sometimes not accepted. The "precedent" cited was Alfred Dreyfus' conviction, which is unfortunately not fictional, however he was finally pardoned after the time this story was written.
  • One case handled by Lord Darcy has a man attempt to commit murder with black magic but fail because the intended victim was already dead at the time (Shot in self-defense by a woman the victim was attempting to rape). Darcy actually states that while the man obviously wasn't the murderer, it was possible to charge him for attempted murder since he had indisputably tried to do it, as per "Shoot The Dead Guy" above.
  • Eight Million Gods: The main character's mother keeps trying to have cops track her down and throw her in an insane asylum. The character's mental condition is OCD. Specifically, a compulsive need to write horror fiction. This is clearly not a condition that puts herself or anyone else in danger. In fact, it's arguably beneficial, since she's been making a living off of the royalties of the books her compulsion creates. It's implied that her mother gets away with this because she's a wealthy politician with lots of influence.
  • In Regina's Song, the Seattle Slasher is placed in protective custody but not actually arrested when the police find out who she is. This is because they are obliged to read suspects their rights on arresting them, and make sure that the suspect understands those rights, and since their suspect was completely incoherent at the time, they couldn't be certain she understood her rights. While the police are obliged to make certain that suspects understand their rights when they read them, police only need to do this if they intend to use any statements made by the suspect as evidence, and they didn't need to in this case. They had more than enough physical evidence to convict (the murder weapon with the killer's prints and the latest victim's blood all over it in her purse). In any case testimony that is lisped in a self-invented language nobody else speaks would not be admissible evidence in court, for the simple reason that nobody in the court would be able to understand a word the defendant was saying.
  • In virtually every Encyclopedia Brown book, Bugs Meany tries to frame Encyclopedia for something, only for the other boy to prove that the accusations are bogus. Knowingly filing a fraudulent criminal complaint is a crime in and of itself in 99% of police jurisdictions, so Bugs' attempts to get the police chief's son arrested for crimes that never happened should have gotten him arrested and thrown into a juvenile detention facility by the end of the third book.
  • In The Fountainhead Howard Roark is allowed to argue that his blowing up of a building (because his design for it had been changed) was justified and for the jury to acquit him (they do). No judge would permit him to argue for this, which is called jury nullification (ignoring the law even when the defendant is plainly guilty of violating it).
  • In Anita Blake the various vampires and werewolves and other supernatural creatures (except for demons) are all supposed to be taxpaying US citizens. Okay, fair enough. But then Jean-Claude regularly has people summoned to his presence by the expedience of sending a heavily armed thug (Anita) or a powerful vampire (Asher) to retrieve them, often against their will. That's kidnapping. But no one ever thinks to call the cops afterward.
    • Likewise, the entire idea that a vampire or werewolf has to get "permission" from the local vampire lord or werewolf pack leader before moving into a new territory is also a violation of civil rights. One can imagine a vampire or werewolf who is new to the Saint Louis area, and who has been harassed and/or threatened because they didn't get approval first suing Jean-Claude or Richard Zeeman for their entire net worth because of civil rights violations.
    • In this case, however, no one ever actually questions that what Jean-Claude does is technically illegal. Within the story, vampires were only recently granted legal rights by a Supreme Court decision, and had been accustomed for centuries to governing their own affairs by their own laws and customs, while human society treated them as outlaws, that is, totally outside the protection of the laws. They are, in effect, still operating as self-governing ongoing criminal conspiracies, but since the people whose rights under American law are being violated are generally themselves believers in this underground vampiric society, few even think to complain. To put it simply, one of the major themes of the novels is that the US government and the government of Missouri (the series is set in St. Louis) have enormous difficulty making their respective writs run in supernatural society.
  • The Da Vinci Code: Dan Brown seems to be under the impression that all it takes to extradite a British national from their own country is for a foreign law enforcement agent to make a call to a local police officer. Also, he seems to think that said local police will simply detain the suspects until the foreign police arrive to make the arrests themselves. Also, he says the French police judiciare is the equivalent of the FBI. It's not-this refers simply to detectives. The closest France has to the FBI is the National Police.
  • Looking for JJ and its sequel Finding Jennifer Jones by Anne Cassidy are based around an English teenage girl being released from jail with a new identity, having served time for the murder of her friend. A large part of the story is based around her attempts to keep her new identity from being made public; but she is eventually exposed by a journalist anyway. In the real world UK, the courts should prevent any details of her identity or whereabouts from being made public — as evident in a real-life case around the time of the book's publication, where the press were forbidden to give details of the new name or home of a released prisoner involved in a highly publicised murder.
  • In Debt of Honor, the price Jack Ryan sets for becoming Vice President is a presidential pardon for CIA agent John Kelly (now known as John Clark) for being the serial killer known as the Invisible Man, who wiped out half the drug dealers in Baltimore in the seventies in the novel Without Remorse. Since said killings were all violations of state law, not federal law, the president wouldn't have the power to pardon said crimes. That would have to be done by the Governor of Maryland.
  • In Teeth Of The Tiger, it's mentioned that former President Ryan had provided his new black counterterrorist organization with a stack of signed pardons before leaving office, all saying that <fill in name> is hereby pardoned of any crimes he committed from <fill in date> to <fill in date>. The legality of a preemptive pardon — especially one signed by a President who left office before the crime in question happened — would be questionable at best, and even if it wasn't, the fact that a presidential pardon can only cover violations of federal law means the documents don't provide as much legal protection as the organization thinks. And even if the pardons were valid, many of the illegal actions taken by agents of The Campus were performed in foreign countries, where a pardon from the President of the United States has zero weight — a head of state cannot pardon crimes committed against someone else's country.
  • Mind Scan by Robert J. Sawyer has two examples. The probate case in the book is tried by a jury, something judges alone rule on. It's also mentioned that the case which led to Roe vs. Wade being overturned, in which a man sued to get his girlfriend enjoined from having an abortion, was also decided by a jury. This would be done by a judge on their own, as it's a matter of law, not fact.
  • Santa Olivia: Zigzagged. Loup needs to keep her existence secret because, it's explicitly stated, she's not technically a human being, and so doesn't have any rights under the constitution. This would all be completely incorrectnote  in the modern-day States, but it's later revealed that an amendment was passed to specifically change that. Which is later challenged and overturned by Congress.
  • The Superdictionary: In the entry for "judge", the judge pronounces the Penguin guilty. Juries pronounce people guilty, and judges only give the sentence (except if they have a bench trial, where the defendant waives their right to a jury, which rarely happens).
  • In The Last Mile, a court is said to have "pardoned" someone when another person confesses to the murders that he was convicted of. Courts don't pardon anyone, however, only the executive does. A court would instead set aside the verdict and exonerate them. Later, the pardon is said to be revoked when it's been found that the confession was false. This is legally impossible. Decker also claims he can search a suspect's house without a warrant as he's not an FBI agent. That isn't true—he's working with them, so he would be considered one then for search warrant purposes even so. Anything he found would be inadmissible as evidence. In this case, though, he may be just trying to intimidate the suspect into giving up information (although that's also legally questionable).
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy opens with Arthur Dent's house about to be demolished so that the government can build a road through the land. While such things can and have been done legally in the past and likely will again in the future, it requires more process than was depicted in the story. The local government could not legally tear down Arthur's house unless they owned it, which meant purchasing the property from either him or whatever bank held the mortgage. And once that was done, they would have to issue an eviction notice to Arthur giving him a reasonable amount of time to find a new home and move his possessions there. Which could not be done unless Arthur was being informed of what was going on. Instead, he is somehow completely ignorant of what is going on until one day before the scheduled demolition, when a member of the demolition crew shows up to say that they're going to level the house. And when he goes to the local hall to protest, it turns out that the division in charge of such projects is so (deliberately) out of the way, loaded with bureaucracy and works at such odd hours that it is pretty much impossible to protest. And the crew then shows up the next morning and proceeds to destroy his home and all his belongings without granting him any sort of compensation for his loss the moment Ford takes him far enough away that Arthur can no longer raise a fuss. Then the Vogons show up and do the same thing to the entire planet, but that's pure Rule of Funny.
  • The Zombie Survival Guide: Brooks says "Obviously, any civilian group will not have access to a real tank or APC". In practice, a civilian can acquire a tank having enough money to spend, as civilian collections/museums do, just that legally all weapons have to be deactivated by welding the breechblock. But it still has treads and armor and can reduce the enemy to a bloody pulp.
    • Plus, ever since the War on Terror began, police departments have been getting APCs with functioning turrets.
  • One plot point in the Agatha Christie novel Crooked House is that the deceased's will was missing from the family attorney's files (where the family was told it was stored) and the family safety deposit box at the bank (where the attorney was told it was stored), only to turn up later in the man's personal safe without having been signed or witnessed by anyone, despite the old man reading out the will to his entire family before having it signed by himself and two witnesses. Later on, a second will, that is signed and witnessed - on the date that everyone saw the original will get signed on - turns up. Given the fact that 1: The new will was written by the deceased - who had no legal training - himself, rather than an attorney, leaving the possibility of gaps in the legalese (mitigated somewhat by the fact that the new will left everything to one person, making it simpler), and 2: the entire family could stand witness to (and a letter included with the will confirmed) that the witness signatures only got on that document as a result of a trick, with the witnesses believing that they were signing the will that had been read out to the family, and that they had not agreed to witness the document that their signatures actually ended up on, the people who were cut out of the second will could have grounds to challenge it.

    Theater 
  • The Merchant of Venice:
    • The main plot is that Shylock the Jew has obtained the right to a pound of Antonio's flesh if he does not repay his loan. This is upheld in a court of law, despite the fact that in Elizabethan times, and to this day, you cannot make a contract that gives you the right to commit murder. This is possibly justified in that the trial takes place not in England but in Shakespeare's idealistic rendition of Venice, whose primary function is to serve as an exotic setting rather than a factual depiction of the city and its people.
    • Also, Shylock handwaves this, by saying that he has no intention to kill Antonio, merely to take his flesh. If Antonio expires in the course of Shylock's doing so, Shylock argues this he is not liable as both parties entered into the agreement willingly and presumably aware of the possible consequences.
    • Portia (in disguise) turns this around on him by saying yes, he can take his pound of flesh, but can't shed Antonio's blood in doing so, thus nullifying the contract. Shylock is also convicted of attempted murder for seeking it to begin with, has his property confiscated, and must convert to Christianity to avoid capital punishment.
  • Trial by Jury disregards the rule of law in favor of the Rule of Funny. Every single character is in violation of the law or ethics at some point—including the judge, who during his introductory song freely admits that he's guilty of the very crime the defendant is accused of. Even the court usher tries to defame the defendant.
  • No one would argue that Ayn Rand had a solid knowledge of American courtroom procedure, and her play The Night of January 16th proves that when it is announced that the bodies of the victims have been found ... and the judge lets the trial continue.
  • Inherit the Wind: There are so, so many instances of this (however much of it's actually Truth in Television—the entire trial was staged).
    • Also, Brady badgering Rachel (though that may have been allowed because the town adores him).
    • This is a minor one, but in the play, Rachel goes up to the stand from the audience. A major no-no.
    • One example is actually removed from the play. The judge intentionally and cynically screwed up the sentencing procedure to get the result thrown out on a technicality (the jury were the ones supposed to decide the amount of fine, not him) thus allowing the Tennessee Supreme Court to avoid the constitutional issue entirely and thus prevent the overturn of the law.
  • King Charles III: When Charles refuses to grant assent to the Media Regulation Bill, the Prime Minister retaliates by proposing a bill to strip the Crown of its power to grant assent to any bill, which in normal constitutional circumstances can't make much progress in Parliament without King's Consent since it affects the Royal prerogative.

    Video Games 
  • L.A. Noire:
    • In the final case on the Patrol desk, Captain Donnelly asks Cole to interrogate the suspect in hopes of obtaining a confession...even though Cole has had zero training in doing so.
    • During the Arson Desk, Biggs tries to get Cole to drop his Always Murder suspicions by explaining that the overwhelming majority of arson cases are just insurance scams. Suffice to say, in reality the motivations for arson are more varied, from murder to revenge to hate crimes.
  • Subverted in Batman: Arkham Knight where it is revealed that all the inmates from Arkham City managed to successfully sue for their release citing the prison conditions and the city council's approval of and eventual use of plan to kill everyone inside it which are blatant human rights violations that would never fly in real life and could only happen in Gotham City.
  • The entire Ace Attorney series has a grand time zigzagging through this trope, going off of how much fun/difficult it makes the current trial. Usually the characters have no problem at all rummaging through people's stuff, but there's at least one instance where Phoenix won't let Maya read a letter in someone's apartment (never mind that they've poked through plenty of books, letters, and notes in other investigations). It's also unclear exactly whether or not the defense is allowed to poke around crime scenes. The characters usually make themselves right at home, but in Rise from the Ashes, Phoenix tries to keep Ema from attracting the attention of the detective on duty. In the trials themselves, the defense and the aide can get held in contempt of court for asking a witness to make absolutely sure she got details right in her testimony (a reasonable thing to wonder, given that she had misled the court earlier, and as it turns out, she was still lying), but the prosecution never seems to get in trouble for harassing, screaming at, threatening, whipping, or throwing things at the defense or the judge. Perhaps most infamously, the witnesses constantly change their stories and blatantly lie multiple times, but somehow never get in trouble for perjury. Some of this is justified in that the games were loosely based off of (and a satire of) the Japanese legal system, which is somewhat different than the American one (no jury for starters) and the American version tries to further handwave it by setting it a decade ahead of the release date, but it's still pretty goofy.
  • In the Carmen Sandiego games, despite the perp always having the stolen property on his/her person, a warrant is needed to make the arrest (which requires identifying said perp first) or he/she gets off scot-free (and should you have a warrant for the wrong perp, you could get in hot water with Da Chief over the possibility of false arrest). This is done for sake of gameplay, of course, but still legally inaccurate. In reality, if you caught someone with stolen property on them, they could be arrested at once.
  • South Park: The Fractured but Whole: There is no reason for Jared Fogle to be in a small town jail rather than a federal penitentiary like in real life.

    Webcomics 
  • In Ctrl+Alt+Del, based on Lilah's word, they were going to cavity search Christian after she indicates him as a terrorist in an airport. They don't seem particularly concerned about the implications of filing a false police report, nor pissing off someone who has demonstrated a willingness to spend lots of money to satiate his own petty whims.
  • In xkcd the Black Hat Guy is being vetted for the position of Secretary of the Internet. Congress sentences him to death. Guess they brought back the ol' bill of attainder.
  • Something*Positive Plays with a variant of the Shooting a Corpse example—Kharisma spends months trying to murder Avogadro (with his consent, as part of a bet), only for him to die of natural causes. She winds up being found guilty of his murder anyway, since she has left copious evidence from her various attempts and admitted to trying to kill him. That being said, even as the comic covers her trial and appeal the fact that she is guilty of multiple counts of attempted murder seems rather understated.
    • In fact she was guilty of attempt to commit assisted suicide...
      • Which in Massachusetts, under Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 274, Section 7, is Conspiracy to Commit Murder. It doesn't matter if she were successful or if the conspiracy was with the victim himself. Minimum 2.5 year sentence, maximum 20 year sentence. Honestly, the only real question is whether Kharisma committed this crime once, by joining into the conspiracy with Avogadro, or once every time she made a horribly botched attempt to carry it out. (Though since then, we've learned — for example — that she's a prize-winning shot who managed to miss Avagadro multiple times at close range... which could be construed as 'cooperating' with Avogadro's plan just enough to keep him from committing suicide by some other means. Or, you know, not.)
  • When Good Girl gets sued (a Frivolous Lawsuit that would probably get thrown out in RL if the circumstances behind it were possible, if for no other reason than the fact that existing copyright law specifically states that God cannot own trademarks) in League of Super Redundant Heroes, the judge (Who is shown to be rather blatantly prejudiced against her before the trial even begins) is willing to consider life imprisonment as part of the punishment if she's found guilty. When her lawyer points out that punishments of that nature aren't legal in civil suits, the judge's reply boils down to "I'm the judge, I can do whatever I want to. The defense is found in contempt of court for daring to question me.". Then proceeds to pass sentence without even hearing or caring what the jury's verdict is. The artist responsible for this arc of the comic openly admitted that he knows nothing of law and is running on Rule of Funny.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law breaks just about every legal rule there is, but it's not exactly meant to be taken seriously by anyone. This was called attention to at one point; Birdman's passionate use of the insanity defense in the Devlin case actually moves the jury to tears and seems to ensure a win, but Der Spusmacher then tells Birdman that he can't use an insanity defense because it isn't a criminal trial.
  • In a Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius episode, the titular character (who is ten) is thrown in an adult jail and forced to work on a chain gang after being accused of a crime, before a trial. Even more ridiculous, his friends are arrested and thrown on the chain gang simply for realizing (out loud) that Jimmy wanted them to smuggle him escape tools, despite not acting on this or even having an opportunity to.
  • In The Powerpuff Girls, the titular characters and Princess Morbucks have both spent time in a jail for adult males despite them being little girls.
  • Dexter's Laboratory: This is most relevant in the end of Season 2, Episode 32, Part 3: "Dexter Detention."
  • DuckTales (1987): In "Hero for Hire", at the end of the episode, Launchpad thanks Scrooge for not pressing charges over his (ignorant) thievery, which is presumably intended to explain why the pilot wasn't punished. In real life, one of the involved parties pressing charges or not may be irrelevant as to whether the lawbreaker gets penalized.
  • Transformers Animated: Porter C. Powell was able to use his money and power to free Henry Masterson. Despite Masterson going on national television, declaring that he would blow up the Solar Power Plant, wiping out the state of Michigan, which would have killed at least several million people. Powell also talked Masterson's way out of punishment for his crimes in that episode. Regardless of the validity of his argument about a robot's rights, Masterson lied to the police about a Decepticon attack and nobody said anything about arresting him for that. Masterson remained on Sumdac Enterprises' payroll until Isaac Sumdac returned and fired him at which point he tries murder Isaac and Sari fails and is finally arrested.
    • Additionally Powell claimed the incident happen "international waters" when in reality it was just one of the great lakes (given the show's setting either Lake Erie or Lake St. Clair) however this still means that which country it took place is still in question.
  • Spongebob Squarepants had an entire Courtroom Episode where Plankton tried to sue Mr. Krabs for everything he had (including the Krabby Patty Secret Formula) after slipping in a puddle due to the lack of a wet floor sign. While most of the examples can fall under Rule of Funny, (such as Spongebob defending Mr. Krabs despite having no training note  and later nobody objecting to Spongebob placing a mob on the witness stand), a case of this with no good excuse occurs at the end. The jury gives a not guilty verdict to Mr. Krabs without deliberating to review the evidence and despite the fact he likely would have lost the case in real life. Sure, Plankton was exaggerating what injuries he may or may not have had, but the risk of injury is enough to have be found liable for negligence. Also, guilty and not guilty verdicts are only handed out in criminal trials; in civil trials (which would include a lawsuit) the defendant is instead found to be liable or not liable. Plus the jury consists of 10 people when it should be 12.
    • Another episode has Mr. Krabs being sued again, this time for knowingly seeing rotten patties at the Krusty Krab (He was capitalizing on Spongebob's popularity following a review from a famous food critic and rotten patties happened to yellow with spots). The problem is that the jury are all visibly ill due to the rotten patties (and include the above-mentioned food critic), which throws the idea of a fair trial out the window. Given the popularity of the Krusty Krab, either a venue change or possibly having the case handed by a higher court (if one exists) would be needed. And like in the first example, the guilty/not guilty verdict is used despite it being a civil case.
    • There is also the episode where Plankton accidentally steals a modern art piece (don't ask). First, the Police chase Plankton well out of their jurisdiction, even up to the International Space Station, which is mainly Rule of Funny. But that excuse can't be given for what happens next. Plankton tries to evade the authorities by breaking into Spongebob's house and claims he would be arrested too since he is harboring a criminal. Except he wouldn't, as Plankton broke in and proceeded to use this threat to get him to cooperate, which is the exact opposite.
    • Yet another episode had a group of Moral Guardians ban Krabby Patties for being "fun and delicious" (the episode was a parody on prohibition). You don't need to go to law school to know that is not possible even if your husband is the chief of police. This is not only because it's not illegal but the police don't have the power to ban anything. Their job is to the enforce the laws, not make them.
    • Littering is shown to be Serious Business in the show more than once, with penalties ranging from community service to prison time. Of course they all live under where pollution is a much bigger problem.
  • Family Guy has never made any claims to realism, but the episode "Peterotica" deserves special mention. Put briefly, Lois's father Carter Pewterschmitt lends Peter $5.00 (that he kept at the bottom of a jar filled with salt and razor wire) to publish Peter's erotic writings. Peter uses the $5 to make photocopies that he sells and credits Carter as publisher. One reader gets into a car accident when he decides to take his shirt off while driving and listening to a book on tape version, then sues Carter and sends his lawyer to his house to seize all of his assets because Carter is liable as publisher. In actuality, in the eyes of the law, it's the driver's own damn fault, and he can't sue anyone for his accident. Even if he could, moreover (and assuming they got past the skillful lawyers that a rich man like Carter no doubt could hire), you can't just seize people's assets in a civil case without lengthy legal processes.
  • In Batman: The Animated Series Poison Ivy was once disallowed from going to jail simply because she was apprehended by Batman, not a cop. Even if that were to apply in that particular case in that particular universe, there's all the other times she's escaped prison for all the other crimes she's committed (and she's not always caught after she commits a crime, even though gathered evidence implicates her.) Incidentally, in some older stories, Batman has the same legal standing as a police officer, albeit one in tights and a cape. He could also have made a citizen's arrest in any case. Ironically, if he's not an agent of the police, it'd be the opposite: requirements like Miranda Rights and warrants only apply to law enforcement. Of course, he'd also have more potential liability than a police officer for misconduct. Justified by the later revelation that Task Force X exists in the DCAU, so villains are released in exchange for top-secret work, and then they have to lie about it to the public.
  • In one episode of Dudley Do-Right, Dudley finally catches Snidely Whiplash, only for Nell to insist on defending him in court. The episode has numerous absurdly obvious legal errors (this being a comedy program, it was likely that at least some of these were intentional).
    • First, even though Nell apparently had a first-rate legal mind (from reading all the law books in the Mounty Post from lack of anything else to do), she had never taken the bar exam, and thus could not serve as a barrister. There is also no evidence that the prosecutor had ever taken the bar exam either. Or the judge for that matter.
    • Second, Dudley was the judge. Even if a serving police officer could act as a judge, there is no way the arresting police officer would be assigned to said case. And this wasn't the only potential conflict of interest in the participants in the court. The prosecutor was Inspector Fenwick, who was directly involved in the arrest, and was also the judge's immediate superior and the defense attorney's father. The judge had been openly courting the defense attorney for years. And the defense attorney was one of the regular victims of her client's crimes. Basically you have sufficient conflict of interest to draw the validity of the verdict into question by allowing any two of them to participate in the same trial.
    • Third, Dudley overruled all of Nell's objections just so that the prosecution could win the case, without even considering whether or not he had grounds to — at the express instruction of his commanding officer the prosecutor. This would get a real judge censured, and any conviction overturned. It might also get him and/or Inspector Fenwick disbarred for conspiring to rig a trial (Though as mentioned above, there's no evidence that either of them had ever passed the bar in the first place).
    • And finally, Nell ultimately gets Snidely off through a ridiculous Society Is to Blame speech in her closing statement (basically claiming that if there had been some sort of program to help people who have a compulsive need to tie stuff together back when Snidely was a child, his habit would never have escalated to the point where he started tying women to railroad tracks).
      • Mounties actually did preside over trials in the remote parts of a few Canadian provinces, but not where they were also the arresting officers. Judges have always been unable to hear cases in which they are also witnesses, as that would be an obvious conflict.
  • The Simpsons
    • "The Boy Who Knew Too Much" centered around Mayor Quimby's nephew being tried on an assault charge. The entire jury was made up of major cast members such as Homer, Apu (who at the time was not yet a US citizen), and Principal Skinner (whose presence is a plot point, because it means that Bart can't admit that he witnessed what really happened without admitting that he was skipping school to a school official). Part of the process to ensure jury impartiality is to ensure that none of the jurors are personally connected to the defendant, the plaintiff, any witnesses, or each other. No sane judge would impanel a jury where everybody knows everyone else. Plus witnesses are bribed right there in open court, and no one cares. (Lampshaded on one point. The judge acknowledges that re-opening the case when she does is grossly unconstitutional, but she 'just can't say no to kids'. And it still might be an example, since re-opening the case due to new evidence which could have changed the original verdict is usually permitted.)
    • "The Parent Rap" shows that Judge Snyder and Judge Harm are both incompetent, for opposite reasons. Snyder is way too lenient, willing to let Bart off with a scolding for an admitted felony (it is suggested he's the reason Bart tends to get away with everything). Harm, on the other hand, is way too strict, handing down sentences that would likely be considered torture (and later, commits a very serious legal taboo, presiding over a case dealing with a crime she was the victim of). Other examples that occur in this episode include changing the judge in the middle of a hearing (this would not happen in any real court unless the original agreed, as she clearly had not here) and Judge Harm presiding over juvenile and regular criminal courts simultaneously (never done, for the same reason the Omnidisciplinary Lawyer is unrealistic).
    • In "Sweets and Sour Marge", Snyder bans all sugar products in town. At the end he removed the ban and noted that he shouldn't even be able to do that.
    • Cruel and unusual punishment seems to be legal in the town, such as flogging, being catapulted out of the city and torture for remembering Skinner is not the real Skinner.
    • When Homer and Ned Flanders get married to a couple of hookers in Las Vegas, and the hookers return in "Brawl in the Family", Harm refuses to allow for them to get the marriages annulled because he wanted Vegas weddings to be taken seriously, when in actuality, the fact that both Homer and Ned were extremely drunk at the time, not to mention already married, would be more than reasonable grounds for an annulment. It's common for marriages in Las Vegas to be annulled over just this.

    Real Life 
  • When the controversial Making a Murderer Netflix documentary came out, several petitions were filed asking for President Obama to pardon Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey. The White House responded to the petition on their website by pointing out that the President can pardon only those who have committed federal crimes, and cannot pardon state prisoners.
  • Digital Homicide invoked this in a Frivolous Lawsuit. A number of vloggers have noted multiple instances of Hollywood Law in their suit, no doubt the result of the fact that the Romine Brothers do not have a lawyer and are representing themselves in all of these lawsuits. However, as their main objective was to waste the time and money of Jim Sterling, the target of their suit, it ended up working in their favor; their filings were so incoherent that it dragged out the proceedings before the judge could throw it out.


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