The cart comes rumbling up to the gates. The Evil Overlord's guards poke about, and find a jug under the seat. Fool peasant thought he could sneak some moonshine past them. They take it, and the cart rumbles on — with the rightful king hidden under its cargo.
Infraction Distraction is when a conspicious but minor infraction — possibly not even illegal but merely disreputable — is made up or committed for the purposes of distracting authorities from something much more serious. (Usually a crime, but not always; a character can pretend to be distilling moonshine to hide that he's training with his new superpowers, for instance.) Not unlike a Kansas City Shuffle, the guards in question know they're being tricked, but are wrong about what the trick is. If you actually confess, it's Confess to a Lesser Crime, but you can also manufacture evidence against yourself or otherwise plant clues to the infraction, down to simply committing it. One common method is to plant an Incredibly Obvious Tail — to distract from the skilled and subtle tail. Incredibly Obvious Bug can also be used, but is less common.
Overlaps with Embarrassing Cover-Up if the decoy secret is disreputable as well as prohibited (or if the character is so Lawful Good or such a Slave to PR that being caught breaking even minor rules is an embarrassment in and of itself). Overlap with We Need a Distraction is possible but rare, since it usually is not to enable further actions. If a character points out some other, unassociated character's wrongdoing, that's Go Look at the Distraction. If a suspect is surprisingly quick to confess their Big Secret, there's a good chance it's this. See also Hidden in Plain Sight. A Censor Decoy is this used in Real Life to get crap past the radar.
The opposite is Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot.
- In the first chapter of Bloody Monday, Fujimaru (a teenager) tells his younger sister he's going to check out his porn downloads, just so she doesn't enter his room to catch him hacking. It's suggested that he also used porn video games as a cover for hacking jobs, though it's never denied that he played them.
- This is one of the many tactics employed by Light in Death Note to hide his possession of the titular book. When he realizes that his room has been bugged, he lets them catch him reading porn, in order to make it appear that his security-precautions were put in place to prevent his parents or sibling from finding his Porn Stash. Made even more awkward by the fact that his father is one of the investigators watching the tapes.
- Similarly, Madarame from Genshiken had some porn DVDs in a drawer to serve as a decoy to prevent the other club members from discovering something else in that drawer: photos of Kasukabe cosplaying.
- Golgo 13. In the anime episode "Pretty Woman", a Mafia boss finds that his mistress has secretly met someone in a hotel room. She 'confesses' that she slept with his underling (untrue, as she loathed him) to hide that she was meeting Duke there to arrange the boss's assassination.
- In the Death Note fic All You Need Is Love, Naomi confronts Light while he's busy killing criminals from her living room:
Naomi: What are you working on anyway, we both know you're Kira.Light: I'm not working on anything.Naomi: Then why the laptop?Light: ... Porn...Naomi: Wow, that is the most boring pornography I have ever seen. This is porn for you?
- Bonus points for referring to Light being bored by pornography in canon.
- In The Darkness Series, Harry conceals his knowledge of Dark magic and Parselmagic by pretending that his snake form is his animagus form.
- In My Friend Tom when Harry is breaking into Snape's office to investigate he carries dungbombs in his pocket in case he's caught so that Snape won't know he's onto him and will just assume he's just setting up a stupid prank.
- At one point in the Infinite Loops, Naruto convinced his entire graduating class except Sasuke and Sakura to treat the academy like a deep cover mission and hide their skills. Shikamaru is somewhat lax in maintaining his cover because "If he's caught over something minor, people tend to stop looking."
- Speranza's Person of Interest fic Self Defense: Harold kills someone who's trying to strangle John, but despite the reasonable self-defense of the act, they can't afford to be taken by the cops who just showed up. As Harold's system is reeling, John pulls him into a gay bar, sloshes whiskey over them both (and gets Harold to down a couple shots as well), and retreats to a back room. By the time the cops barge in, they just see enough for the homophobic cop to get outraged — and the other cop just goes "C'mon, we're wasting time," so they leave. (And then of course, being a Rinch fic, John gets all angsty over what he did to save Harold.)
They heard him muttering darkly to the bartender, who barked out a laugh and said, "Hey. I just said they were in a rush," and Harold understood what Reese had evidently understood all along. They were guilty. So they had to be guilty; Reese had just made them guilty of something irrelevant.
- This trope occurs accidentally in Little Miss Sunshine. A cop stops the family's VW bus and Richard is horrifically nervous about the fact that Grandpa's dead body is hidden in the trunk. Due to his nervous demeanor, the cop quickly realizes that something is amiss and immediately opens the trunk to investigate... only for Grandpa's porn magazines to tip out and fall to the ground. The cop picks them up, chuckles, and tells Richard that he's not going to bust him, then takes off and leaves everyone in peace, having completely missed the sheet-wrapped corpse that the porno had been sitting on.
Sheryl: What happened?Richard: I'll tell you after I've regained consciousness.
- Inverted in the plots of the first and third Die Hard movies; thefts are disguised by terrorist attacks.
- Les Brigades du Tigre. The Russian princess who is working with a French anarchist (also her lover) to expose her husband's corruption tells the prince that she's having an affair with the protagonist, Commissaire Valentin. Unfortunately her jealous husband then decides to murder Valentin.
- You Only Live Twice. James Bond claims to be an industrial spy after being caught snooping around Osaka Chemicals.
- In The Dogs of War, Shannon plants a Playboy magazine and a bottle of whiskey in his luggage for the customs official to 'confiscate' so he doesn't look too closely at anything else he is bringing in.
- Escape from Alcatraz: Morris carries a wooden wedge coated with metal out of the carpentry workshop openly in his hand. He is naturally caught right away by the guard; his claims that it is meant to make it easier to take his hung clothes off the hook, otherwise why would he be carrying it openly, are not believed and the guard calls him an idiot. After it is confiscated, we see him return to his cell and take an identically equipped wedge from his shoe heel, to be used to carve out the concrete in the wall behind his bunk.note
- In Seven (the 1979 film), the Professor plants an inflatable sex doll in his luggage, which then inflates when customs opens his bag. Everyone is so embarrassed that they just wave him through without spotting the weapon components he had hidden in his luggage.
- In Blow, when George is going through customs, he willingly opens the suitcase with the hidden compartment full of drugs, causing the guards to demand the other bag, which turns out to be full of women's underwear.
- In The Lost Weekend, Don buys two bottles of whiskey for the weekend trip. He wants his brother to find the first one so he would give up searching for the second one.
- In Spiderman Homecoming, Ned is tracking the Vulture's cronies' van and giving directions to Peter from his laptop in school. Partway through a teacher comes in and, surprised, demands to know what he's doing. Ned's response is 'I was... looking... at porn'.
- In the film of Black Sunday, Lander and Dahlia's plan to hijack the Goodyear blimp goes awry when Lander is sacked from his job as pilot. So they murder the replacement pilot Farley, then Lander tells the blimp crew that he was called in by Farley because he had to be rushed to the hospital after an altercation with a girlfriend. The crew are eager to spare Farley any further embarrassment, so go along with Lander's suggestion that they pretend to Mission Control that Farley is still piloting the blimp.
- The Fourth Protocol. MI-5 agent John Preston breaks into the safe of a politician who is stealing secrets to get evidence. He also steals a diamond necklace in the safe, so it will look like an ordinary burglary. This is Adaptation Distillation from the novel, in which the burglary was genuine and the thief stole the briefcase with the secret files (hidden in a secret compartment) to hold the necklace.
- Face/Off. Castor has stolen the identity (and face) of Special Agent Sean Archer, but Mrs Archer is suspicious of her husband's altered behavior, so he 'confesses' to having read her diary, realised from it that he's a bad husband and is now trying to change to make her happy. She pretends to accept this, but secretly takes a blood sample from Castor during the night which confirms he's not Sean Archer.
- This joke (various local permutations exist):
Tuan comes up to the border between Vietnam and China on his bicycle. He has two large bags over his shoulders. The guard stops him and says, "What's in the bags?"
"Rice," answered Tuan.
The guard says, "We'll just see about that. Get off the bike." The guard takes the bags and rips them apart; he empties them out and finds nothing in them but rice. He detains Tuan overnight and has the rice analyzed, only to discover that there is nothing but pure rice in the bags. The guard releases Tuan, puts the rice into new bags, hefts them onto the man's shoulders, and lets him cross the border.
A week later, the same thing happens. The guard asks, "What have you got?"
"Rice," says Tuan.
The guard does his thorough examination and discovers that the bags contain nothing but rice. He gives the rice back to Tuan, and Tuan crosses the border on his bicycle. This sequence of events is repeated every day for three years. Finally, Tuan doesn't show up one day and the guard meets him in a noodles restaurant in Vietnam.
"Hey, Buddy," says the guard, "I know you are smuggling something. It's driving me crazy. It's all I think about..... I can't sleep. Just between you and me, what are you smuggling?"
Tuan sips his beer and says, "Bicycles."
- Robert A. Heinlein loved this trope, not only using it but making it a piece of wisdom for the Mentor to hand on.
- In Starman Jones, Matt hitchhikes with a truck driver, who has him sleep in the bed and explains that he will be the off-duty driver all the time, with the driver with him driving longer than regulations permit without sleep. When they hit a checkpoint, the driver is caught not having his asleep partner having signed off, and explains to Matt that it kept the guard from digging deeper.
- In "If This Goes On", Zeb covers up Johnny's obviously guilty reaction to receiving a note from the Resistance by replacing it with one about gambling, because they won't believe innocence but will believe this.
- In Podkayne of Mars, Podkayne's brother makes a crack about smuggling drugs onto the space ship, thereby preventing the guards from discoving the bomb he hid in her luggage.
- Vorkosigan Saga:
- Discussed in The Warrior's Apprentice when Miles and Co. are attempting to smuggle weapons to the Felicians past a blockade by the Oseran mercenaries. After Miles winds up capturing Captain Auson's own ship, Auson figures that Miles had to be smuggling something, particularly with the way that Miles was acting so cowed and meek in order to avoid suspicion. He wonders if Miles is smuggling the ship itself, then wonders who could possibly want such an old, outmoded transport.
- In Labyrinth, when caught trying to break into a genetic engineering facility, Ensign Murka quickly creates the story that he and his fellows were a bunch of horny soldier on leave who thought it was the brothel (the company is known for its bordellos). He was booted out with a warning and fine (i.e. the guards stole all his money), but no alarm was raised over a commando raid and Miles, overhearing the exchange, made a mental note to praise and reward the soldier for his quick thinking (In a following story, the same soldier returns as a now-promoted Lieutenant).
- In Mirror Dance, Miles tells a story about one of his Vorkosigan ancestors who used the "smuggling bicycles" version of the trope to smuggle horses into a besieged city. Though we do not see the mission itself, Miles was telling the story because they were about to do the same thing with warships.
- In Mary Steward's This Rough Magic, Godfrey admits to smuggling to distract from his actual attempts at destabilizing nations with counterfeit currency and attempted murder.
- In one G. K. Chesterton mystery, a murder is covered up as a death in a duel.
- In Codex Alera, Captain Demos lets a few port inspectors find some assorted contraband to keep them from searching too thoroughly for Varg.
- In A Deepness in the Sky, Pham Trinly pretends to secretly be an old slave-trader he knew once, letting the villain currently in charge 'discover' it and think he therefore has Pham squarely under his thumb. This "small lie to cover the big one" hides the fact that he is actually Pham Nuwen, the legendary trader, space navigator, and politician, and by far the most dangerous person in the fleet and easily the greatest threat to the villain's rule.
- In Terry Pratchett's Making Money, Moist uses Suspiciously Specific Denial to imply he's in bed with a woman, to cover up that he's the man who broke into the Post Office. What makes being in bed with a woman an example of this trope is the fact that his girlfriend was currently out of town.
- An interesting variation occurs in Pay Me, Bug!. As the Fool's Errand is about to be boarded and searched, Grif Vindh deliberately makes their cargo of fine whiskey easy to find. But, they aren't doing anything illegal besides smuggling whiskey, so there's no apparent reason for this. We find out later that they actually are smuggling something else: a supply of anagathics* that are way more valuable than the whiskey, and that nobody but Vindh knew about. Even later, we find out that the reason nobody on the crew knew about it is that the original plan was just to smuggle the whiskey, but the anagathics dropped into Vindh's lap during the pickup due to a freak traffic accident, so he ran with it.
- The Boy Who Knew Too Much by Roderic Jeffries. A youth breaks into an abandoned factory on a bet and finds himself pursued by masked thugs. He has trouble getting anyone to believe him, but a few days later the criminals steal the copper piping from the building, so the police think that's what it was all about. It's only when the boy remembers that he saw one of the men looking through a telescopic sight that the police realise the building overlooks a nearby prison, and the criminals are planning a jailbreak.
- This is part of the plot in The California Voodoo Game. Bishop tries to make everybody including his accomplice think he's trying to fix the Game, but in reality he's committing industrial espionage. Averted in that nobody believes for a second that's all Bishop is really up to, but subverted again in that, while they think he's trying to steal information, he's actually trying to find a way to circumvent the security system so that his handlers can steal anything they like in the future.
- There is a variation in Isaac Asimov's short story The Singing Bell, where a policeman mentions every crook tries to get caught and Probed for a pocket theft. Said Probe is a somewhat risky procedure, and no man can be subjected to it more than once. You do the math.
- In With One Stone, some Manticoran spies disposed of their espionage gear so that Havenite police wouldn't find it, then realized they now had some suspiciously empty suitcases to explain. They got away with it by packing the suitcases with valuables from their room, then pretended they had been caught Stealing from the Hotel.
- In Redemption Games, John Rain gleefully mocks Dox when he almost takes a Thai ladyboy back to his hotel. Rain realises almost too late that [s]he was separating them for a kidnapping team, the idea being that if the Properly Paranoid Rain suspected something was off-key, he'd just assume his Gut Feeling was reacting to her actually being a man.
- Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Bill Hayden has an affair with Smiley's wife, so if Smiley ever accused him of being The Mole, people would think Smiley was just acting out of personal dislike. Smiley too would distrust his own instincts for this reason.
- Subverted in Frasier. After finding out that his wife Daphne broke into his confidential files in order to learn more about a patient with a crush on him, Niles furiously reads her the riot act on the seriousness of breaches of doctor-patient confidentiality, and exclaims "This is the absolute worst thing you could have possibly done!" Daphne pauses for a moment, then says "You would think so", before reluctantly confessing that actually, she had then stalked the patient in question, used Roz to gain access to the patient's office, and ransacked the place looking for information.
- Another episode plays it straight, when the Cranes while on a road trip end up taking Daphne into Canada without realizing that her working visa doesn't permit her to cross the border. When they get pulled over by customs on re-entering the United States, everyone's guilty-trying-not-act-guilty appearances immediately convince the customs official that something's up, leading Martin to reluctantly reveal the truth... he doesn't have a permit for Eddie (the dog) to enter the country. On learning that Martin's an ex-cop, the customs official is satisfied with Martin's explanation and lets them pass without ever learning about Daphne.
- A variation in Sherlock, episode The Great Game: Sherlock immediately deduces that Molly's new boyfriend Jim is secretly gay. Jim plays that particular role so that Sherlock would ignore him due to the belief that the former's interest in him was a mere romantic infatuation, which covered up the fact that he was interested in Sherlock because he is Jim Moriarty, Diabolical Mastermind and the show's major villain.
- Dexter, working for the police department, tends to use his work computer to find information about criminals that he plans to track down and murder. When Sergeant Doakes once bursts in to find out what the hell Dexter is up to, our dear Villain Protagonist slash Anti-Hero tries to cover up his activities by quickly filling his screen with porn. Doakes is not amused, and makes it clear that he knows the porn is just a cover for something else.
- Dexter later manages an accidental example when Doakes catches him at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting, which he was only attending as part of lie for his girlfriend. It gets Doakes off his case, at least for a while.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In "Band Candy" Buffy tells her mother that she's training with Giles, then tells Giles that she needs to help her mother. She then goes off to care for Angel, who she hasn't told anyone is Back from the Dead. She goes home to find Joyce and Giles there comparing notes, so Buffy lets them think she's been neglecting school and Slayer duties by partying at the Bronze.
- Inverted in Community, where Starburns confesses to stealing lab equipment to build a meth lab to get out of being accused of destroying someone's school project. Fortunately, the people he's talking to aren't really cops.
- Used in Orphan Black to hide incriminating evidence. When Donnie realizes that his wife Alison is trying to open a locked box in the garage, he replaces the contents with porn videos in the hope that she will think that's what he was trying to hide and stop looking further.
- Used more than once in The A-Team. In one episode, Face creates forged papers that are already expired. Once the guards see the expiration they stop examining the rest, after which he produces a new document extending the expiration date - by which time the guards have already forgotten about examining the rest of the original paperwork and let them proceed.
- Firefly. In a Deleted Scene of "Our Mrs Reynolds" River Tam accurately accuses Saffron of being a thief. Saffron takes out some food she'd stolen from the kitchen.
- Burn Notice: Michael's go-to cover when caught breaking and entering is usually a disgruntled employee or a drunken vandal.
- In one op, Michael's mom steals data from a detective's computer while Michael distracts him. He can only stall for so long before the detective returns, to find a guilty looking Maddy. "You caught me!" she says, as Michael and the viewers' hearts stop. He caught her sneaking a cigarette, that is.
- Misfits: The kids need to make sure their latest social worker doesn't find the dead body in her trunk. Nathan's solution is throwing a piece of brick at her windshield.
Social Worker: What's wrong with you?! Are you mentally deficient?!Nathan: If I was mentally deficient, I would've missed!
- Farscape. John Crichton pretends to seduce a Battleaxe Nurse who's in charge of Aeryn Sun's interrogation. He then knocks out the nurse and tries to free Aeryn, but is captured. He then tells his captors that he thought Aeryn was Hotter and Sexier than the nurse, so decided to have sex with her instead.
- V (1983). Donovan's mother catches him breaking into her house to steal a security pass. He pretends he was there to steal a photo of his son, which fortunately he'd seen and pocketed on a whim.
- Wiseguy. One's provided by the villain when undercover federal agent Vinnie Terranova examines a vehicle for evidence that it was involved in the hit-and-run murder of his brother. The driver catches him, but thinks he's sniffing fumes instead.
- Paranoia: A few citizens have registered mutations they don't actually have, such as chronic runny nose (his real mutation was about to be reported, but citizens with multiple mutations are nearly unheard of) or temporary blindness (so he could take bribes from fellow traitors to look the other way).
- Done frequently in the Ace Attorney series - some villain or other will use a minor crime as a cover for a far larger one, in some manner or other.
- For example, in the third game, a villain arranges for himself to be caught on video committing theft, in order to give himself an alibi for a murder that took place at the same time.
- In Ace Attorney Investigations, another villain sets up a justified self-defense homicide to cover up a premeditated murder.
- Subverted in the first case of the first game, where the criminal committed murder, so they wouldn't go to jail for breaking and entering.
- Of course, killers always commit perjury on the stand, however apart from the three examples in which they confess to a smaller crime, these lies are intended to be that...lies, and so they expect people to not even know they committed a crime anyway.
- Impure Blood Pose as carnie "freaks", to hide the half blood with you.
- Stand Still, Stay Silent: After a battle that had quite dire consequences, Reynir uses Talking in Your Dreams to check on senior mage Onni, who helped long-distance during the battle, and is also the older brother to the person who got hit with the battle's consequences the hardest. For that very reason, everyone has agreed to let Onni's younger sister Tuuri tell him the news herself over the radio in the real world once Onni recovers from his Power-Strain Blackout, which basically left him in Convenient Coma. As one can expect, the first thing Onni asks Reynir is how his family members are doing and Hesitation Equals Dishonesty kicks in when Reynir tries to claim that everyone in the crew is fine. When Onni asks what Reynir is hiding from him, Reynir tells Onni that he's worried about the comparatively minor consequences the battle had for another member of the crew that is not related to Onni, about whom Onni only cares in terms of their capacity to protect Tuuri and Reynir.
- Cracked.com's Harry Potter Book Jacket Disguises for guys who don't want to get caught reading Harry Potter.
- In Ilona Andrews's One Fell Swoop, inverted. A police officer can read aliens the riot act in public without breaking The Masquerade because the patrol car makes all the humans concentrate on following the speed limit and otherwise not getting caught.
- Done twice in Bob's Burgers:
- In "Lobsterfest", the kids try to convince Bob that they are looking at porn when actually, they are studying a pamphlet for the lobster festival - Which is something Bob is against, since seafood festivals take away attention from his burger restaurant.
- In "Hamburger Dinner Theatre", Linda claims that she's going to a stag party at a strip club. Actually, she's going to a dinner theatre performance. Again, this is something Bob is against, because watching dinner theatre performances makes Linda hammy. He even says outright that he would have preferred it if she was going to a strip club.
- This is the principle behind "deniable encryption" systems, designed to address the situation where someone in possession of encrypted files is coerced (by physical force or plea bargaining, say) into handing over the decryption key. These systems allow data to be hidden on several different "layers", each requiring a separate key to access the data - for example, someone could store their porn collection at the first layer, squickier porn at the second layer, and military state secrets at the third. The trick is that it's mathematically impossible for the interrogator to know how many layers are in use (and it is also possible to have more than one volume at the same layer, for example having two second- or third-layer volumes), since anything they haven't decrypted yet is indistinguishable from random garbage - so at any point the subject can plausibly claim that they've handed over all the keys they have, and the interrogator has no way to be sure whether they're dealing with an actual spy or just a very paranoid pervert.
- After 9/11, TSA employees were rigorously trained to catch the various items newly banned from airplane carry-on baggage. A test of the system found that the security officers would often spot a lighter - and miss the bomb parts in the same bag.
- If one is being almost caught doing something (be it porn or a Guilty Pleasure or something else), it's always better to have something else to be "caught" with, thus explaining both being flustered and avoiding the Awkward Silence that occurs when you are found staring at your blank desktop all the time with. As one YouTube commenter put it:
Commenter: My mom walked in while I was watching MLP. Luckily I managed to alt-tab to my porn.
- "Limited hangout" is a technique of attempting to defuse a scandal by admitting to some misdeeds in the hope of convincing people that you've come clean and there is nothing more to be discovered.
- This trick was used by an escaping Allied POW in WWII. The POW was stuck in a train station, unable to leave because a group of Nazi soldiers were guarding the exits and checking papers. Knowing that trying to bluff his way past wasn't going to work, he snatched the suitcase from the nearest commuter and sprinted straight past the guards out of the exit. Not interested in a mere thief, the Nazis didn't chase him.
- This Cracked article talks about some of the methods drug smugglers use. One method of keeping the smugglers' cars from being noticed is to have a "heat" car go barreling down the highway at full speed and get pulled over for speeding. While the police are detaining that driver, the actual smuggler drives by undetected.