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Hollywood Law refers to a legal scenario in fiction which in no way resembles the actual legal system in the place portrayed because it's been played up for dramatic purposes. This is because your average legal system is much less dramatic and tense in Real Life than anything your average viewer will want to sit still for.

It's considered one of the many Acceptable Breaks from Reality, but whether it's really acceptable is a matter of debate. Certainly, it's well within a writer's right to prioritise drama over legal accuracy, especially for works not directly related to law enforcement. It's also a useful tool to exaggerate something like a Courtroom Antic to allow the viewer to understand what an asshole the resident Amoral Attorney is being. But the controversy is that a lot of people sadly think these simplifications are Truth in Television, and it's highly important for people to be familiar with the actual workings of their legal system and understand their rights. TV is many viewers' only real exposure to the workings of the legal system, as most people try to avoid being thrust into it themselves. At its worst, it can cause mistrust in the effectiveness of the legal system itself; if your fictional works are showing violent criminals getting Off on a Technicality in so simple a way that a non-lawyer average viewer can see the loophole, and people think that fiction reflects reality, they're going to start asking for a better legal system.

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Broadly speaking, Hollywood Law causes the following issues:

  • Misunderstanding the role of a jury (in places that have them), leading to things like jury nullification and The CSI Effect. This causes issues when people are called to be jurors and affect real-life cases by assuming that what they see on TV is how it works in real life.
  • Misunderstanding a non-American legal system through Eagleland Osmosis. The United States has a long tradition of The Common Law and an old and unique constitution, so your rights in the U.S. are not necessarily the same as they would be even in very similar countries like Canada.
  • Misunderstanding one's rights and not invoking them. TV suspects are not going to invoke their right to be silent — they're going to talk because the audience needs to hear everything just as badly as the police do. Since many suspects are bad guys, it also perpetuates the stereotype that Only Bad Guys Call Their Lawyers. Especially in America, people who are arrested don't realise how much it helps their case if they just shut up. It won't (or at least shouldn't) work like on TV, where suspects are interrogated long after they've said they won't say anything without a lawyer.
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But Hollywood Law is a little narrower than "portraying non-standard legal machinations". All parties to the proceeding have to think that the dramatised version is normal; it's not the same if they know it's technically not allowed but are okay with it. If both sides agree to an unusual arrangement (e.g. a Surprise Witness, a Last-Minute Reprieve, calling the prosecution as a witness), it's not unrealistic for a judge to allow it, and it's not this trope. Or if one side knows what they're doing is illegal and has to keep it a secret from the other, that's similarly not this trope. Or if the setting is Like Reality Unless Noted and the machinations fall under "noted", such as the mechanics of a Super Registration Act in a superhero setting, that's also not this trope. This trope is for when fictional law people do totally unrealistic things and everyone else thinks, "yeah, that's normal".

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    Common examples: 
  • Victim of the System: An innocent character is arrested at the drop of a hat for a Felony Misdemeanor, or wrongfully sued, convicted, imprisoned, or executed. It happens much more often on TV than in real life, and it's much harder to do so in real life; while you do see this kind of thing happen, even in democratic systems (hence the existence of things like the Innocence Project), that takes some serious prosecutorial or police misconduct, unlike the things you see on TV.
  • The Strip Search: A person is subjected to humiliating police procedures, particularly strip searches or cavity searches. This is more of a Rule of Funny thing on TV, allowing some Cowboy Cop (or power-tripping airport security people) to probe a character on a whim. It's again rarer in real life and much more controversial, and they're usually limited to prison guards looking for drugs or Hidden Weapons in certain places.note 
  • The Cornered Stool Pigeon: A lawyer catches a witness lying and calls them on it, and the witness breaks down and confesses everything on the spot — while the opposing counsel looks on and says nothing. This often involves said lawyer badgering and bullying the witness into a confession. In real life, this rarely happens; the opposing counsel will object to such questioning, will prepare the witness for those questions, and let the witness know that he or she can simply refuse to answer any more questions (although that gives the lawyer an opportunity to compel them to answer or get any prior testimony thrown out).
  • The Ambush: A lawyer corners a witness or suspect by having them tell their story and then introducing hitherto unknown evidence — or even a Surprise Witness — which absolutely proves their case. In real life, lawyers can't do this; they have to make all evidence available to the other side before the trial. In a criminal trial it's even harder on the prosecution; while the defence doesn't have to share evidence that will incriminate the defendant, the prosecutor must share evidence that would exonerate the defendant. The same applies for witnesses; with rare exceptions, they must be approved by the court in order to be admitted to testify.
  • Off on a Technicality: A ruthless criminal, who's absolutely and definitively guilty of a heinous crime, still gets to go free because of a meaningless slip-up in a bureaucratic procedure. This serves either to show that they have a brilliant defence lawyer who knows the byzantine legal system better than anyone, or to show that the system is broken and leads to a Miscarriage of Justice. The problem is that while such procedural loopholes do exist, they tend to be very American in nature; many other jurisdictions will happily convict a defendant who's provably guilty, even if their procedural rights have technically been violated. Only America has the "Exclusionary Rule" (sometimes referred to on TV — and in real life — as the "fruit of the poisonous tree" doctrine), which states that if you violate someone's rights in obtaining that evidence — e.g. the cops just break into a suspect's house and steal it — you can't use that evidence in court. And even within the American scheme of things, these are not "technicalities" but serious policy considerations designed to prevent other miscarriages of justice and police cock-ups, and there are so many exceptions to the exclusionary rulenote  that this kind of scenario rarely happens in real life.
  • My Hands are Tied: Indifferent bureaucrats, such as police and judges, will refuse to help a victim, even in the face of an obvious injustice, because the law is against them and there's "nothing they can do". There might be a lack of tangible evidence, or there might not be a law against it, so the suspect's guilt is Not Proven. Interestingly, this happens more often in real life than in fiction, and the "Hollywood Law" aspect of it is the outrage it generates in fiction — both among the characters and in the audience — when the legal system has long been predicated on the idea that a suspect is innocent until proven guilty and cannot be convicted without identifying a law they've broken. Even more interestingly, if you want to provoke warranted outrage in the audience, part of the reason this happens more often in real life is that some suspects have enough money and/or important friends to make life very difficult for anyone trying to convict them.
  • The Chewbacca Defense: It is not permitted to offer an irrelevant or unusual defence without first offering proof. An attorney cannot call unrelated witnesses or just throw accusations out willy-nilly. Nor can an attorney (usually) get away with saying patent nonsense in court and then blame the government and the system for making him say it (which is what South Park showed in the Trope Namer scene). Interestingly, the rule doesn't apply to "closing statements"; the South Park bit was inspired by the antics of O. J. Simpson's lawyer Johnny Cochran, who in closing suddenly accused unidentified "Colombian drug lords" as being the real killers.
  • The Insanity Defense: It's not nearly as effective in real life as it is on TV. First of all, you need a credible psychiatric expert to confirm that the defendant really is insane and not making up hearing voices to get out of punishment. Second, the insanity defense doesn't get you out of punishment; it often leads to the suspect being locked up in a psychiatric institution for the rest of their life, and if your lawyer offers you a choice between life in prison and life in a Bedlam House, you're not going to like him very much. Third, in many places the insanity defense has been heavily Nerfed or outright abolished (so older works might actually be more accurate about it).note 
  • "Audience member, come on down!": An attorney cannot simply call an audience member to the witness stand. Witnesses cannot attend the trial or talk to other witnesses in the case before they testify. A witness may only attend the rest of the trial if it is certain that they will not be called back to the stand. The defense may call the prosecutor to the stand, but only if the judge allows it, and it's very rare for it to happen, although it was one of the many dramatic turns of the real-life Scopes Trial, which might explain its popularity in the States.note 
  • Jury Nullification: The idea that the defense can tell the jury that they should find the defendant not guilty not because he didn't do it, but because the law itself is wrong. It creates a whole host of problems:
    • First, it's only really a thing in the United States. Only there has it been consistently held that the jury's honest decision must stand, and they are not liable for making the "wrong" decision. In other countries (such as Britain) there's a broader prohibition on a judge or lawyer telling the jury how they should rule, but only in America is nullification so pervasive that people actually think it's a thing. Some states have introduced legislation to try and prevent this, in particular preventing the defense from telling the jury that nullification is an option. Courts in America have taken a dim view of activists passing out FIJA pamphlets trying to work around the prohibition, and judges and lawyers will toss out any potential juror who even hints at intent to nullify.
    • Second, if the jury really doesn't believe in the innocence of the defendant but returns a "not guilty" verdict anyway, that's perjury — a jury is sworn to tell the truth under penalty of law.
    • Third, it undermines separation of powers. A jury is not designed to change the law according to the people's will. In fact, neither the jury nor the judge nor any other judicial officer can say what the law should be, only what the law is. If the people want the law to be different, that's what their legislators are for. Many a legal opinion has been published in which a judge more or less says, "if you wanted a different result, you should talk to your Congressman." Juries are designed to be the ultimate objective viewpoint — if a judge has two competing sets of evidence and has to determine which is more likely to be true, he or she can rely on the proverbial "guy on the street" who has nothing to do with the case. Condorcet's Theorem is often cited in support of this — if you have twelve jurors who need unanimity, any bias that may exist in all twelve jurors can be said to be found in the general population and reflect what the "guy on the street" thinks.
    • The results on TV, though, are that lawyers can try to manipulate juries into resolving injustices in a roundabout way. Some shows (and activists) argue that if a jury couldn't use their "conscience" in this way, there's no need for a jury at all, and you could just feed the facts into a computer and have that rule on guilt or innocence. But this only works on TV; real-life cases tend to devolve into he-said-she-said and need a dispassionate jury to figure things out. Also, a computer can't read a witness's demeanour or emotional state, which is very useful in determining whether to believe that witness's testimony. Other shows try to combine jury nullification with a legally viable strategy — e.g. advising the jury that if they wanted to find the defendant innocent, the only way would be with the insanity defence (which has its own problems, as explained above, but whatever).
  • A Jury of My Peers: This is a very American phrase, often repeated in other countries where such a jury trial is not as commonplace. In America, a jury trial is guaranteed in the Constitution in certain situations (any criminal trial, and any civil trial with a dispute over a certain amount), and Americans are conditioned to think that juries with "ordinary people" are an integral part of the court setting, which has leaked into the works they export to other countries. In other countries, such as Britain, there is only a right to trial by jury for some major offenses (e.g. murder or rape), whereas in other cases the prosecution decides whether it's worth it to have a jury. Still other countries have no juries at all, but run on the civil law system, where the judge is responsible for all that; in some places you might have "lay judges", who are misunderstood by Americans to be jurors but really work alongside the judge. Even a few common law countries, like Singapore, have done away with jury trials entirely, finding them not worth it (perhaps for the reasons seen under the "jury nullification" bit). As an aside, the phrase "jury of one's peers" doesn't come from the U.S. Constitution at all, but from the Magna Carta, referring to the right of noblemen to only be judged by other noblemen rather than the King's judges.
  • The Attorney-Client Privilege: In the media, anything a criminal tells a lawyer is absolutely confidential and can't be used as evidence, even if the lawyer wants to. However, "attorney-client privilege" is a narrower rule which applies only to communication between a client and lawyer for the purpose of obtaining legal advice or representation from the lawyer. That means it only applies to the client talking about the facts of his case and the lawyer giving legal advice. Anything else the lawyer and client talk about is fair game. Furthermore, it does not apply if the attorney is assisting the client in committing a crime, as a communication in furtherance of a criminal conspiracy cannot be privileged. It can also be waived by the client — even in an implied way, if they start mouthing off in public about what their lawyer told them.
  • Spousal Privilege: On TV, it is impossible for a witness to testify against their spouse under any circumstance. This allows a character to marry someone else entirely to prevent them from testifying. Sometimes, a surprise marriage (or a long-forgotten one) will throw a wrench in a prosecutor's case. But the privilege is narrower and more complicated than that in real life:
    • First, there are two spousal privileges, with different extents of coverage. One privilege says that a private conversation between spouses cannot be introduced as evidence; this privilege lasts forever and can be used even if they divorce, but it doesn't cover any conversations that happen after they divorce. The other says that a witness cannot be compelled to testify against their spouse; that one doesn't survive divorce.
    • Second, courts are very privy to the concept of a sham marriage and will not accept a marriage which owes its entire existence to preventing one party or the other from testifying. In any event, getting married won't extend the privilege to conversations between the parties before they were married.
    • Third, there's nothing stopping a witness from testifying against their spouse if they want to; they can waive that privilege. This would then mean that the only thing they can't testify about is a private conversation (and it has to be private with the expectation that it will stay that way) with their spouse while they were married. Even then, the spouse may testify as to such private conversations if the other spouse allows it as well.
    • Fourth, there are a ton of exceptions to the privilege, including cases where one spouse is suing the other or charging them with a crime (otherwise the whole trial would fall apart), or if a private conversation was part of a criminal conspiracy.
  • Run for a Non-Extradition Country: TV often allows criminals to get away scot-free if they can abscond to some other country which doesn't have an extradition treaty with their home country — in America, that often means Brazilnote  or Venezuelanote . TV fails to take into account some of the limitations on extradition:
    • First, extradition treaties are very standardised, and almost every country has one with almost every other country. That's why you always see the same few pairings (e.g. U.S.-Venezuela, Australia-Costa Rica). One way to introduce a different pairing is to make the character a citizen of the other country, as extradition treaties generally allow a country to refuse to extradite one of their citizens. (That still won't stop Batman from kidnapping you, though.)
    • Second, a country can happily extradite you to another country even if the two don't actually have a treaty; treaties just make things easier and codified, and a government will extradite you anywhere if they feel it's in their interests to do so.
    • Third, countries will come to compromises to allow for extradition to happen if it can hit a snag somewhere. For instance, a defendant may object that the alleged crime carries the death sentence in his home country but not in the country to which he fled (e.g. drug offenses in places like Singapore or Thailand), but the home country may agree not to impose the death penalty, and the extradition may go ahead. One thing people don't realise about extradition is that it's not a judicial thing, but an executive thing — the negotiation is between the respective countries' foreign offices, and the courts are only there to ensure that the treaty is not violated and there's enough that the defendant can just stand trial in his or her home country.
  • Diplomatic Immunity: Some works will treat diplomatic immunity as iron-clad; something to be abused by foreign agents with bad intentions. The truth is, this is very bad form, and under some cases could be construed as an act of war. If a foreign official ever abused their privilege in this manner, bringing them to justice would be as simple as deporting them, revoking them of said privilege so they can face prosecution, either in the offended country via extradition, or possibly in their home country.
  • The Judge Takes Control: Kind of the opposite of jury nullification — a judge, if sufficiently convinced that the jury has reached a verdict that no reasonable jury could have reached, may issue a "directed verdict" that vacates and contradicts the jury's decision. It's less dramatic than the jury's verdict, but allows for some interesting things. But again, it's more complicated than that in real life:
    • First, this is again limited to the U.S. and other common law jurisdictions. Civil law jurisdictions don't have juries, and the judge (or panel of judges) is supposed to be the one in control, taking an "inquisitorial" role and probing for evidence by themselves. Sentences may also be appealed in those countries as too lenient, whereas they can't in the U.S.
    • Second, there are a number of different ways to reach judgment without a jury in a common law system that are not the same but often confused on TV. Many of them only apply in civil trials, but some apply in the criminal field as well, and most of them amount to telling the plaintiff (or prosecutor) that they've done absolutely nothing that could possibly lead to them winning. For instance:
      • A "motion to dismiss" (called a "demurrer" in some places, like Pennsylvania and California) allows the defence to end a civil case before it even starts by telling the judge that even if you take the complaint as true, there's nothing in the law that would allow the plaintiff any relief. Imagine if you've been accused of "just having one of those faces" — there's no law against that.
      • "Summary judgment" is something you might hear on TV if the lawyer is very confident that they're going to win. It basically means that both sides agree on the facts, so they don't need a jury. Remember how we said that a jury's main role is to resolve the whole he-said-she-said scenario? If he says exactly what she says, and the law is clear on who wins, there's no need to go to a jury; the judge can just end the case there in favour of whomever the law says.
      • The "directed verdict" or "judgment notwithstanding the verdict" is the same principle, but at the end of the case when everyone's presented all the evidence there is. In this case, the judge can say that the evidence can logically only favour one side or the other — the parties may not agree on what happened, but one side has Implausible Deniability. This can happen before the jury verdict, or it can happen afterward if the jury returns a patently implausible verdict.
    • Third, part of the reason for this mechanism is to prevent an unjust conviction — a judge can overturn a guilty verdict, but cannot convict a defendant where the jury returns an acquittal. This is to prevent double jeopardy, or being tried twice for the same crime — by a similar token, an acquittal by either the judge or the jury may not be appealed (except by the defense, if they really want a retrial for other reasons), and a judge cannot convict a defendant if the prosecution chooses to drop the charges.note 
  • Perp Sweating: 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, as this risks a good defence attorney having the results of said interrogation thrown out as evidence. With serious crimes (which is usually what you see on TV), interrogations can last hours or even days, and a lot of it is just boring question-and-answer sessions designed to wear down the suspect. Yes, cops sometimes do the stereotypical TV techniques like yelling, insults, and the Good Cop/Bad Cop routine, but only when it would be helpful (and they think they can get away with it), which happens much less often in real life than on TV. In real life, the "third degree" has been put under a heavy degree of scrutiny over the years as a form of Police Brutality, and communities really don't want to risk innocent people being tortured. Furthermore, while police are allows to lie to a suspect about certain things (like the nature of the evidence against them), they can't lie about the legal consequences of a confession.
  • Miranda Rights: Seen all the time on TV, and widely misunderstood:
    • First, the Miranda rights are based on the Miranda v. Arizona case, which (say it with us) is an American case regarding American constitutional rights. These rights are not the same outside the U.S., particularly in countries where your silence can be used against you. We even have an article on the British equivalent, which explicitly states that "it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something you later rely on in court." But in the U.S., it very much does not harm your defence to just shut up and call your lawyer, and the Miranda warning is designed to impart that.
    • It's only used upon interrogation — or more accurately a "custodial interrogation", meaning not only that the police are asking you questions, but that you can't just walk away from them. There's no Miranda warning if you're not under arrest and a cop is just asking questions. There's no Miranda warning if a cop is undercover and trying to get you to spill the beans by pretending to be a friend (come on, if he did give the warning, he'd blow his cover). There's no Miranda warning if the cop feels no need to interrogate you — if you get pulled over for DUI, fail the sobriety test, and smell like alcohol, the cop doesn't need any more than that (more than a few Americans have had a stoner friend claim such an arrest was invalid because "they didn't read me my rights, man!").
    • The Miranda warning is just that — a warning. If you choose to ignore the warning, your statements are admissible in court. It says so in the warning — "anything you say can and will be used against you." And that includes statements you make after you're arrested but before the cop has a chance to read you the Miranda rights — or if he just chooses not to, because usually, if a cop's chosen to arrest you, he probably doesn't need to ask you anything more.
    • The Miranda rights only cover your incriminatory statements, not the arrest itself. If the arrest itself is valid, it cannot be overturned because you didn't get the Miranda warning. This is something TV often gets wrong because it confuses the "custodial interrogation" bit with the actual arrest; yes, you have to be in police custody of some kind in order for the warning to apply, but the warning doesn't apply to the custody itself, but rather what you say in it. That said, you don't have to be formally arrested — you just have to be in a situation where the cop makes you think you can't just get up and leave, even if you have the right to do so.
    • The cops will make sure you hear the rights. Sometimes on TV you'll see the suspect just cut off the cop with "yeah, yeah, I know my rights." In real life, not only will the cop finish his spiel whether you like it or not, but he'll make you sign a waiver stating that you've heard and understood your Miranda rights. They also come in multiple languages, too. You can't ignore the warning and claim you didn't get it later.
    • There's a whole raft of Miranda rights, which TV sometimes doesn't untangle. Broadly speaking, there's a right not to incriminate oneself, there's a right to counsel, and there's a right to know about your rights. The right to refuse to incriminate oneself and the right to counsel come from different parts of the Constitution; the self-incrimination part comes from the Fifth Amendment (hence the phrase "to take the Fifth"), and the counsel part comes from the Sixth Amendment and doesn't follow exactly the same pattern.
  • The One Phone Call: A common misconception on TV is that by law, you're guaranteed one single phone call after you're arrested, to anyone at all, and if you blow it, too bad. The reality is that you're guaranteed access to legal counsel, and beyond that, any outside communication is a privilege that can be given or withheld at the whim of your jailer. The gist of it is that you have as many phone calls as you want, as long as it's to your lawyer. Part of the problem is that in real life, cops are all too happy to let you call people other than your lawyer — but those calls are recorded and can be used as evidence against you (and yes, they warn you about that).
  • Only Bad Guys Call Their Lawyers: An unfortunately common perception. It's seen often on TV mostly because the characters have to explain themselves to the audience, too, and if you want them to be sympathetic, that explanation has to happen as soon as possible. In real life, it's enough of a problem that there are campaigns out there telling you that no, if you're arrested, absolutely call your lawyer and do what he says. Even TV is starting to catch on (e.g. in Better Call Saul, although said lawyer is in desperate need of clients).
  • Freedom of Speech: Very often misinterpreted, sometimes to disastrous results. Chalk yet another one up to Eagleland Osmosis — the United States has some wide-ranging and unique protections for speech thanks to its First Amendment, but even then, it's not all-encompassing, and the way it's commonly used and misinterpreted in media has even led to some real-life social unrest inside and outside the United States. First of all:
    • It's important to distinguish between "freedom of speech" as a legal right and as a societal aspiration. The First Amendment only covers what the government can do — it has to do with whether you can be prosecuted for expressing your opinion. Whether or not a private entity can censor you is entirely up to them, and that includes websites like Facebook and Twitter that are basically as big as countries in their own right. Heck, we don't have total freedom of speech on This Very Wiki — we've banned people for hateful opinions because they violate The Troping Code. There are a few grey areas between public and private (e.g. public schools, airports), but that's what the morass of First Amendment jurisprudence has tried to untangle. It's also important to note that the societal aspiration to "free speech" is a very American thing, and it's weaker in other countries; many people, even the freest of thinkers, value social stability over the ability to say controversial things and view the American obsession with "free speech" as a way of "saying stupid things for the sake of saying them".
    • Even legally, there are limitations to "freedom of speech". The most commonly cited exception is "yelling 'Fire!' in a crowded theatre",note  which basically says that you can't cause panic or harm by your words, and which hasn't even really been the law in the U.S. since the 1960snote . Just because you're using words or expressions doesn't mean you're actually saying anything. There are things like child pornography that are not considered "speech" because it's designed only to titillate, not say anything artistic (and also it harms minors who cannot legally consent to performing sex acts on camera). One way to think about this is that if you're obviously saying something not because you believe it, but because you want to provoke a certain reaction (and you have nothing to say about that reaction), it can't really be called "speech".
    • Defamation is a tricky animal because again, it's different in America than elsewhere. The United States is famous for its "Sullivan standard",note  which states that if someone sues you for libel or slander, they have to prove that not only what you said was false, but that you either knew it was false or didn't care if it was true or false (the so-called "actual malice" standard), and truth is an absolute defence — you can always get off if what you said was true.note  People might not pick up that it works differently elsewhere, even in Canada and Britain — in those places, the plaintiff need only prove that their reputation was harmed, and the defendant bears the burden of proving that what they said was true and warranted. Some works might cleverly point out this distinction but also get a key point wrong — in America, the Sullivan standard only works if the defendant is a public figure, and if he's just some ordinary guy, it's almost the same as the British standard.
    • Finally, as xkcd pointed out, its use as a non-legal defense is very limited, because it amounts to your best argument in your favour being that it's not illegal to express it.
    • Of course, it should be noted that this argument can be flipped around. Just because a person or entity has the right to prevent or "deplatform" speech does not necessarily mean they are morally correct in doing so or that doing so will be beneficial for their society. In addition, while private persons and entities have the right to not tolerate or criticize speech they disapprove of, their criticism and intolerance can also be subject to criticism and intolerance from other private entities, creating a "turtles all the way down" situation very quickly.
  • Shoot the Dead Guy: On TV, if the culprit is busted for killing someone, even if he confesses, if it turns out that someone beat him to it and he only "killed" a corpse, he gets off scot-free (or at least with nothing worse than "desecration of a corpse"). In real life, this is still attempted murder in many jurisdictions, or else a different crime (that's more serious than "desecration of a corpse"). It wasn't always like this — many jurisdictions have a strict definition of "murder" that state that you actually have to kill someone, deriving from the common law rule that you cannot be liable for attempting an offence if it was impossible for you to commit it — but laws were changed to make it so that it's now attempted murder, as long as you genuinely wanted to kill them and honestly thought you were.
  • Only a Consultant: Some "consultant" who's not a sworn officer can do almost everything a cop can, and many things a cop can't, such as search a house without a warrant or coerce a suspect. Then they can brush off any challenge by saying they're not a police officer at all, just a private citizen. This kind of thing is a more recent development thanks to shows like Monk, The Mentalist, and Castle all involving "consultants" like this. Superheroes will also brush up against this, which is how Batman can get away with things the police can't.
  • Cops Love Guns: On TV, cops can just fire their guns whenever they want with no consequence. In real life, while police officers are frequently authorized to carry a firearm and if so may discharge it lawfully to perform his or her duties, actually shooting someone on duty usually leads to an inquiry, especially if the victim dies. After all, he may not be a criminal. Or the shooter might be a Dirty Cop who wanted the shootee dead for his own reasons. This again differs from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and has a lot to do with the local culture; in the United States, for decades there have been protests against police shooting unarmed civilians and particularly targeting racial minorities, whereas in a place like, say, Iceland, nobody was shot and killed by a cop until 2013. Part of the problem is that TV audiences like guns, and if the cop has to be sidelined for two weeks on administrative leave while Internal Affairs does a ballistic analysis every time he fires his weapon, the story's going to slow down really quickly (although it does sometimes lead to Cowboy Cop stories where the cop solves the case despite technically being suspended).
  • You Have 44 Minutes to Solve This Case: TV gives the impression that the Statute of Limitations expires the moment the credits run (maybe until the end of the season or Story Arc). If there's not enough evidence to arrest a suspect for a crime committed this week, then he can't be arrested, even if the cops discover all the evidence they need the next week. And if they do have the evidence and he evades capture this week, they can't just try again next week. In real life, the length of a statute of limitations varies, but it usually ranges from months to years, and for some crimes (such as murder), it never expires.
  • Dropping the charges: On TV, if a crime victim says they want to drop the charges against the perpetrator, that automatically absolves the perpetrator of any consequences. In real life, however, once the police have been called, it's mostly out of the victim's hands; the prosecutor makes the call now. The prosecutor may agree with the victim, but they don't have to, and if they're feeling very confident about their case, they may do it even without the victim having to testify. Sometimes you see this with parents trying to teach their misbehaving kid a lesson — i.e. they report them for stealing their car or credit card, thinking they'll just Scare 'Em Straight, only for an overzealous prosecutor to land the kid with a felony conviction.
  • "She said she was eighteen!": Statutory rape is handled pretty differently in real life than on TV:
    • On TV, if the underage partner doesn't want to press charges and swears that the sex was consensual, then statutory rape charges will not be pursued, or at least won't be successful in court. In real life, this is untrue in most jurisdictions. Statutory rape means "statutory" — if one party is over the age of consent and the other isn't, it doesn't matter what the underage party thinks, feels, or says, it's rape. A minor is considered unable to consent to any sexual relationship because they're not mentally and emotionally mature enough to make their own decisions when it comes to sex, so their opinions don't amount to anything here. In fact, if the minor says they were in a relationship, that pretty much seals the conviction. The only defence against statutory rape is to deny that sex ever took place to begin with.
    • On TV, if the minor swears they were of age, and the defendant had every reason to believe them, then that's considered a defence. In real life, it is not — again, "statutory" means statutory — and "mistake of fact" is not a defence. Some jurisdictions may have a "Romeo and Juliet exception" where one party is a minor and the other is not but less than a year older, but many do not, and a number even have such exceptions for heterosexual couples but not homosexuals. It's sex — people have hangups.
    • On TV, the age of consent is almost always eighteen. In real life, this differs from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and even from state to state — many states have an age of consent as low as 16. In most of the First World, it's anywhere between 16 and 21. In fact, one of the few U.S. states where it is 18 just happens to be California, which may be why that age leaked out to the rest of the TV world. A few places use 16 but say that if you're below 18, you have to be married and have your parents' permission to do so, and if not, it's still statutory rape.
    • For whatever reason, Japanese Media have given Westerners the impression that it's the Wild Wild East out there, with the age of consent as low as 13. It's technically true on a national level, but each prefecture is free to raise it, and all of them are higher, most of them at 18. Also, the age of majority in Japan is 20, and there are restrictions on sexual relationships below then, including the Teacher/Student Romance (despite the prevalence of the trope in Japanese Media) and indeed with anyone with a position of authority over the minor (e.g. clergyman, judge, coach, landlord) who can leverage that authority. This age of majority is also necessary to marry without parental approval (with parental approval, the marriage age is 18 for men and 16 for women).
  • Read the Fine Print: On TV, if you have signed a contract, then you have irrevocably agreed to anything in it, even giving away all your money, your possessions, and your soul, regardless of whether or not you saw it or understood it. In real life, this simply does not happen — you agree to whatever it is you've read and understood. There are many ways you don't have to abide by a contractual term:
    • If you sign it under duress;
    • If it compels you to do something illegal;
    • If it's "unconscionable", or extremely unjust or overwhelmingly one-sided, such that no sane person would accept it;note 
    • If it's incomprehensible, as you can't agree to something you don't understand;
    • If it means something other than what an ordinary person would understand it to mean (some people believe that "legalese" means that even if you do understand it, it doesn't mean what you think it means, but you can only be said to agree to what you understood the contract to mean);
    • If it's literally unreadable — many jurisdictions have banned the literal sense of "fine print", even specifying a minimum font size.
  • A few Will and Inheritance Tropes:
    • The Reading of the Will: Happens more often in fiction than in real life. It derives from a much older trope where a will's executor will read it out dramatically in front of the dead guy's family, which was necessary in an era when not everyone could read it for themselves. Nowadays, if you've been specifically left property in a will, you'll get a notice in writing (and the instructions on how to appear in court to contest it) and attorneys just assume that the beneficiaries are indeed literate.
      • As put by D. James Stone, "there's no requirement that the executor usher everyone into a room where the contents of the will will be revealed. In fact, lawyers would prefer not to do it this way since we aren't trained to break up fights like a bouncer at Scores. Lawyers prefer to fight with our words, not our fists, and wound you with a pen rather than the sword."
    • The Video Will: A kind of derivative of the old "dramatic reading" trope, this time by the dead guy himself, as a way to preserve the drama. The problem is that it doesn't work in many jurisdictions — since there's no signature, it cannot be probated. A few jurisdictions do allow it for people in inherently dangerous situations like soldiers or first responders, and even then only to distribute trivial stuff.
    • The Silly Will and Spiteful Will: These were more common in the past, but Society Marches On — the main purpose of a will nowadays is to distribute someone's estate by means of a legal document, and a person needs to be "of sound mind" to do this. A will that spends most of its time making pointless asides, bizarre conditions, and missives from beyond the grave cannot be said to be written by someone "of sound mind".
  • Immunity from Prosecution: On TV, prosecutors will frequently bargain with reluctant witnesses who are afraid of being on the hook themselves for some other crime by offering them immunity from prosecution. This immunity then covers any crime they may have committed, whether the prosecutor knew about it beforehand or not, whether or not the witness admits to it or not. In real life, there are two types of immunity. "Transactional immunity" actually does work like this, but it's very rarenote . The other kind is "use immunity" (or "limited immunity"), which is much more common and only says that the witness's statements may not be used against him in a future prosecution — they can still try and convict him for it with other evidence. The only other way you can get this is through a pardon by the President or governor. It's related to but distinct from plea bargaining — prosecutors will often exchange a reduced charge or sentence in exchange for testimony, but rarely full immunity.
  • "Shut up, client!": A lawyer and his client are meeting with the prosecutor/opposing counsel, and the client is a little too talkative and says something that harms his case. On TV, his lawyer will interrupt him and tell him to shut up. In real life, this does happen (to the bane of lawyers everywhere), but they cannot interrupt their client and tell them to shut up. They can advise their clients not to answer certain questions, but prosecutors love to make defendants feel like they're being listened to, and people do love to prattle on about themselves, so it's an uphill battle.
  • "Counselor, control your client!": On TV, a judge will often yell this at a lawyer whose client is acting out. In real life, a judge will just yell this at the client himself; after all, the judge is responsible for keeping order in the courtroom. That's part of why get that cool gavel.
  • "Doctor, drop what you're doing and come with me!" On TV, a cop can arrest a doctor in the middle of whatever they're doing, even if they're in the exam room or operating room. They can also interrogate or arrest a patient in the same vein. (Yes, someone might yell, "You can't go in there!", but no cop ever listens to that.) In real life, this would be a gross breach of a patient's privacy, and if it's the operating room would also compromise the procedure's sterility.
  • "Yes, but..." "The defense rests!": On TV, an Amoral Attorney will ask a very loaded question and insist on a "yes" or "no", and once it's answered will cut off any explanation the witness may have as to how it's Not What It Looks Like, while the other attorney will just give up as if there's nothing they can do. In real life, the other attorney absolutely can do something — they can just ask the judge for a redirect and then ask the witness to explain themselves. Furthermore, interrupting the witness like that is a very good way to piss off the judge and prompt them to demand that the witness be allowed to finish the statement. (The jury's not going to have a very high opinion of you either.)
  • Just Stand Wherever You Want: In movies and TV, lawyers will often enter the well — i.e. the area between the counsel table and the bench — to deliver their dramatic monologues. In real life, it is a serious breach of courtroom etiquette to enter the well or get right up to the witness or the jury box without permission from the judge. If you do, the bailiff will tackle you. On movies and TV, it really is an Acceptable Break from Reality, because it's just more dramatic that way and allows the questioner and witness to be in frame at the same time.
  • "Yeah, he doesn't need to know that": On TV, lawyers often have private conversations with the judge without opposing counsel being present. In real life, these are ex parte communications and a flagrant violation of the law.
  • "Conflicts of interest": In many cases, film and TV lawyers will be married to their opposing counsel or they're otherwise related (i.e. parent-child). Usually, this is not allowed, since it leads to an obvious suspicion that they would be biased for them and not zealously represent whoever their client may be at the time. It applies to judges' relatives appearing before them as well. Often this is taken so seriously that e.g. a prosecutor's relative who faced so much as a traffic violation may have their case be transferred to another jurisdiction for fear of strings being pulled in the case for them.

For Hollywood Law tropes on this wiki, see Artistic License – Law. Compare Fantastic Legal Weirdness.


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.
  • Wonder Woman Vol 1: When Paula goes to trial after her Heel–Face Turn it's somewhat unclear what she's even on trial for. The prosecutor brings up the murders she's been convicted of and Diana cuts him off with a mention of Double Jeopardy, but Paula should be in trouble for plotting to blow up a munitions factory (which she then did everything she could to prevent after her daughter was returned to her and the Nazis couldn't use her against Paula) and her escape from prison. While the jury is obviously sympathetic to her being forced to work for the Nazis under duress the woman still killed at least one guard (a murder she's never tried for) and escaped from prison without serving her full term. This is never brought up.

    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.
  • 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. "The human race" is not a recognizable, suable entity (a similar problem to how people in real life have tried to sue God, without any meaningful outcomes). Also, legally, bees are chattel, animals owned by humans who are legally permitted to reap their producenote .
    • A florist cannot help sue another party in court. Vanessa is engaged in the unauthorized practice of law. She also doesn't properly handle the letter that starts the lawsuit (you or a process server have to personally go down to the courthouse to file the suit, you can't just stick in the mail), and it's also addressed to the "Superior Court of New York," when the civil court in New York State is the Supreme Courtnote .
    • Barry Benson sues the five largest honey manufacturers on behalf of the bees they exploit. This is 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. (Barry's hive isn't a commercial one for honey harvesting, and thus Barry isn't typical of the bees affected)
      • 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:
      • The winners of a lawsuit are generally 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.note  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.
  • 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. And even if he was released, the police would likely ignore any later accusations from Bugs on that grounds that he was a known perjurer.
  • 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 done legally very often, it requires much longer processes than was depicted in the story. The local government could not legally tear down Arthur's house unless they owned it through eminent domain, 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 invade and proceed do the exact 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 (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.
  • Handle with Care: Picoult admitted to taking liberties with the way juries are selected in order to make that section of the novel more interesting.

    Radio 
  • Adventures in Odyssey: Justified in the cases tried in Whit's End court (i.e. "The Scales of Justice" and "Broken Window"), but played straight in Tom Riley's trial in which he is accused of blowing up the Novacom broadcasting tower in "Expect the Worst" and "Exactly As Planned":
    • To begin with, the trial is implied to take place relatively shortly after the actual incident, because Cal is still in the hospital from relatively minor injuries when it's over; even in small town court systems (and a town that has its own airport really isn't that small when you think about it), it can take months to prepare a trial. Attorneys have to interview witnesses and prepare statements, and there are simply other cases on the docket that have to be taken care of.
    • The prosecuting attorney repeatedly uses the phrase "beyond a shadow of a doubt". However, that is not the standard of proof, because nothing can really be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt (there's always going to be somebody who finds a hole or makes some crackpot theory). The standard instead is "beyond a reasonable doubt".
    • Leading off from that (though this is more of a hole in the dialogue itself), the defense attorney's case rests on exposing all of Novacom's misdeeds to the public to give Tom a motivation for the destruction of the tower under the Insanity Defense, then tells Tom that "the jury will never convict you". But the jury would be convicting him; that's the whole point of pleading guilty under insanity. They just might not give him a particularly harsh sentence under the circumstances. It's also not really a proper insanity plea; for one thing, there should have been reference to an actual psychiatrist on the witness stand. Simply showing the jury evidence indicating Novacom's culpability for circumstances leading up to the hypothetical situation that Tom really did blow up the tower won't be enough for an actual insanity defense. The proper defense here would be "extreme emotional disturbance".

    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. Even if he were in a small town jail, he still would not be allowed access to Subway sandwiches or aids.
  • In the Dick Tracy video game, Tracy can only arrest the culprit of each case. He cannot arrest the suspects he approaches, despite them sending out thugs to try and kill him when he goes to confront them. Needless to say, in real life, they would be arrested for attempted murder by proxy.
  • One Team Fortress 2 comic features an in-universe example, where the Demoman and his Eyelander are watching a trashy-as-hell show called Ghost D.A. while drunk on the couch. The titular character, John Phantom, has the apparent catchphrase "The defense rests... in peace!" The Eyelander angrily points out that if he's a district attorney, as the show's title suggests, that makes him part of the prosecution, not the defense, and indeed, he seems to have spent the episode prosecuting a criminal. (Also, he makes a silly sound when disappearing, which the Eyelander suggests means they didn't do their research on ghosts, either.)

    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.
  • Mr. Boop: Even the characters seem unclear about the exact nature of the laws regarding Betty Boop's father's copyrights over Betty.

    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 mop 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 selling 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 legal 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 wouldn't 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", about Mayor Quimby's nephew being tried for assault, illustrates (and lampshades) how crazy the legal process is in Springfield. Witnesses are bribed in open court, and no one cares. The judge reopens the case knowing that doing so is grossly unconstitutional, but she "just can't say no to kids". But even aside from that, the things that aren't jokes are quite inaccurate. First, the jury is made up entirely of major cast members, when by rule no juror can be personally connected to any other juror (or the defendant, plaintiff, or any witnesses) — that's a key part of keeping the jury impartial. Principal Skinner's presence on the jury illustrates the problem and serves as a plot point — potential witness Bart is afraid to admit that he saw what really happened, because in doing so he would admit to a school official that he was skipping school. His dad Homer is on the jury too, because The Main Characters Do Everything, and Apu is on the jury despite not yet being a U.S. citizen. Finally, the presence of new evidence which could have changed the original verdict usually does allow the case to be reopened.
    • "The Parent Rap" shows that Judge Snyder and Judge Harm are both incompetent, for opposite reasons. Snyder is way too lenient, willing to let Bart off with a scolding for an admitted felony (it is suggested he's the reason Bart tends to get away with everything). Harm, on the other hand, is way too strict, handing down sentences that would likely be considered torture (and later, commits a very serious legal taboo, presiding over a case dealing with a crime in she was the victim). The episode also shows Judge Harm presiding simultaneously over juvenile and regular criminal courts (which doesn't happen in real life for the same reason you don't see an Omnidisciplinary Lawyer), as well as Snyder replacing Harm in the middle of the hearing (which wouldn't happen without the first judge's agreement, and Harm very much did not agree).
    • Cruel and unusual punishment seems to be legal in the town, such as flogging, being catapulted out of the city, and torture for remembering that Skinner is not the real Skinner.
    • When Homer and Ned Flanders get married to a couple of hookers in Las Vegas, and the hookers return in "Brawl in the Family", Harm refuses to allow them to get the marriages annulled because bigamy is legal under Nevada law. But many real life Las Vegas marriages are usually annulled for reasons Homer and Ned can claim — they were extremely drunk and already married.
    • In "Bart The Fink", Krusty gets indicted over tax evasion, so the IRS has his salary heavily garnished until he pays his back taxes, which is expected to take the rest of his life. Inexplicably, they also take most of his show's budget, which is not legal (Krusty doesn't own the station) and is a stupid idea (the show can't make any money if they can't make anything for people to watch).
    • In "The Monkey Suit", Flanders and Lovejoy browbeat Skinner into teaching Creationism at school, and later the mayor approves a law that makes it illegal to teach the Theory of Evolution. McLean vs Arkansas Board of Education in 1981 established that teaching creationism in schools is against the Constitution, so it should have been easy for Lisa to force the issue, though you do hear about states like Kansas trying to replace evolution with creationism and considering how everyone in Springfield is backwards and anti-intellectual (they once tried to burn Principal Skinner at the stake because of his claims that the Earth revolves around the sun), the writers probably thought it would be best just to forget that piece of Supreme Court history.
    • In "Sweets and Sour Marge", Marge files a lawsuit against a major sugar manufacturer, and after hearing her case Judge Snyder passes a law banning sugar from Sprinfield. A judge is only supposed to interpret existing laws, preside over trials and pass judgement, NOT make up new ones at his whim. Lampshaded at the end when Snyder strikes down the ban after acknowledging that he had no authority to enact it.
    • "The Bob Next Door": Sideshow Bob intends to kill Bart at a fictional location called Five Corners where five states' borders meet, in such a way that the crime takes place in all five states (Bob stands in the first, fires the gun in the second, the bullet travels through the third, hits Bart in the forth, who falls dead in the fifth), thus making it impossible to prosecute. In actuality, crossing state lines like this would result in Bob being charged federally with first-degree murder, with a probable death sentence given the child victim and premeditation. Also, most of the land at the real-life Four Corners is part of Native American reservations, which are federal criminal jurisdiction by default. (The Four Corners Monument, which is located hundreds of feet from where the borders actually meet due to a surveying error, is administered by the Navajo Nation.)
    • In "Two Bad Neighbors" both Bush and Ford are shown with Secret Service agents, since per the Former Presidents Act of 1958, every ex-President is entitled to lifetime Secret Service protection (provided they weren't impeached). However, Bush, and Ford driving are inaccurate, since an ex-President would not ever be allowed to drive a car themselves in real life; also when Homer goes to confront Bush, Bush asks the agents to stand down, which would never happen in real life, when the Secret Service would keep Homer at an arm's length from Bush to guard him.

    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.
  • Video game studio Digital Homicide essentially brought themselves down with a Frivolous Lawsuit against Internet critic Jim Sterling, which a number of vloggers have noted was rife with Hollywood Law:
    • First, the Romine brothers represented themselves. Fair enough — except they filed the case as "Digital Homicide LLC", which is a business entity. Business entities (corporations, LLCs, etc.) cannot file pro se and must retain a qualified lawyer.
    • Digital Homicide's goal wasn't really to win the suit against Sterling so much as to make them waste a ton of time and money. And for the most part, they were successful, but not because they had a case — their filings were so incoherent that the judge couldn't decipher them, meaning he couldn't quickly throw them out. And it could have backfired on them — Sterling noted that their lawyers thought they had a very good case for a countersuit to recover their legal expenses, but they didn't do so because the Romine brothers had already run out of money by then.
    • Which brings us to how they lost all their money — not content with suing Sterling, the Digital Homicide attempted to sue 100 anonymous Steam users for criticizing their games. Not knowing their identities, Digital Homicide went to Valve and demanded that they divulge the users' identities. Valve not only stood by their users' right to criticize Digital Homicide's games, they also found the demands so outrageous that they removed all DH games from Steam — which was their only source of revenue. This drove them out of business quickly.


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