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Justified Criminal

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"You don't understand! I have a daughter and she's sick! That makes it okay for me to break the law! ...I'm not a bad person..."

This is a trope for when a person becomes a criminal because of socio-economic reasons, or just plain horrible circumstances, and is portrayed sympathetically because of it. Basically someone is in dire straits and needs money immediately and starts robbing banks or dealing drugs out of necessity. This trope usually occurs in crime dramas (specifically urban dramas). Also may be considered Truth in Television. And more often than not it's overlapped with Plethora of Mistakes. Also can be a case where a hero has to choose to do what's right despite being illegal. This trope almost always falls on the Gray-and-Grey Morality side. Roguish Poacher often overlaps with this, particularly when peasants in medieval or otherwise feudal settings have to resort to stealing game from the nobility's or royalty's hunting grounds to put food on the table.

Some social analysts refer to this as "Survival Crimes".

This trope is to be expected in a Crapsack World. See also Karmic Thief, Caper Rationalization, and Just Like Robin Hood. Compare to: I Did What I Had to Do. See also Single Mom Stripper, in which necessity leads to degrading (but not necessarily criminal) work, Healthcare Motivation, in which the criminal wants money to pay a treatment or operation for a friend or sibling, Trapped by Gambling Debts for when the criminal is attempting to pay off debts, and The Commies Made Me Do It for people Forced into Evil by those holding their loved ones hostage.

May involve an Asshole Victim on the receiving end, particularly if the Justified Criminal is presented as sympathetic for committing assault or even murder in the defense of someone else. The most justified examples also steal for survival and non-violently.

See also Jaywalking Will Ruin Your Life, for when the crime that started it all was pathetic, but still more than enough to cast one out of civilized society.

Compare Sympathetic Murderer. See also Well-Intentioned Extremist and Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters for more politically-flavored sister-tropes.

If not intended by the author, this may fall under Strawman Has a Point.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Discussed in-universe in Daltanious: After an Alien Invasion leaves Earth a wasteland of its former self, Kento has to ravage and steal food to make sure him and the orphans don't go hungry. Sanae tells him off for stealing saying that he should work honestly instead, but she has no response when Kento replies that honesty won't fill their stomachs. Later in the series, when Kento pilots the titular Super Robot and defends Earth from regular alien attacks, the townspeople shower him with attention and gift him boxes and boxes of food to show their thanks, including the very food merchant he regularly stole from.
  • Light from Death Note believes that his murders are justified since he meant to make the world a better place. This is combined with I Did What I Had to Do with Light trying to convince Near and the SPK in the series finale that the world needs him to continue what he's been doing to no avail. He has fans in- and out-of-universe who also agree with him.
  • The first anime of Fullmetal Alchemist has an example where Ed and Al meet a thief who claims to rob so she can support the local hospital. The hospital still goes belly-up, revealing that the thief actually subverted this trope by keeping the riches for herself. She subsequently becomes a nun, so she can lie about supporting the local church, and then a teacher, so she can claim to help keep the school afloat.
  • The Wolkenritter from Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's assaulted mages and committed what was essentially Organ Theft to save the life of their beloved mistress Hayate. They also avoided permanently injuring anyone and were planning on turning themselves in once Hayate's life was out of danger. It's just too bad their plan would have resulted in The End of the World as We Know It had Nanoha and Fate not gotten involved.
  • Zabuza of the Hidden Mist from Naruto could be considered this. A rogue ninja is usually considered the worst of the worst by the villages, selfish traitors that betrayed their oaths. Zabuza's goal was to be able to mount a rebellion to take down the Mizukage. Typical power-hungry jerk, right? WRONG. When he was last a member of the Hidden Mist Village, the Village was still in its Bloody Mist phase, killing off useful bloodline families out of fear (or so it seemed at first), even if they had stopped forcing ninja students in the academy to kill one another in a survival of the fittest test that gave the Village its Bloody Mist moniker. Zabuza's own adopted son/partner Haku also had a powerful bloodline ability and was a very skilled ninja prodigy to boot, proof positive that the bloodline purges were a senseless waste that needed to be stopped, period. In other settings and stories, Zabuza could have been a rebel Anti-Hero protagonist!!
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Homura must steal guns, bombs, rocket launchers, and even a friggin' missile to arm herself in her endless struggle against Walpurgisnacht. First she robs the yakuza dry, then she hauls the armory of the JSDF.

    Comic Books 
  • Based on the most popular version of his origin (the Alan Moore version), The Joker qualified before he became the Joker. He was just an ordinary non-criminal who had to do one job to help support his pregnant wife...Then again, it's the Joker, so who knows how true that story is.
  • Fagin the Jew, Will Eisner's revision of Oliver Twist, portrays the eponymous character in this light.
  • In the super-comic miniseries The Pro, the eponymous character is a new superhero on the ersatz Justice League.... and a career prostitute with a kid. Spectacular levels of gag-a-maggot self-justification abound. A typical example of the writer's thoughtful social commentary includes gems like:
    Speedster hero: "We're the League! We battle world-destroying supervillains and cosmic perils! We've saved the world a dozen times over!"
    The Pro: "Too bad you couldn't save a world where I didn't have to (engage in oral sex) to feed my kid."

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animated 
  • In Aladdin, the only thing that the title character steals is food, and no one but the completely heartless would blindly condemn that. The merchants and guards don't see it that way.
    Aladdin: Gotta eat to live, gotta steal to eat. Otherwise we'd get along.
    Guards: Wrong!
    • Played with however, in that while he is only seen stealing food, his accomplice Abu does steal cash and valuables, of which it is easier to take a dimmer view.
  • Aladdin and the King of Thieves reveals Aladdin's father Cassim to have originally been one of these. When Aladdin was a young boy, Cassim left him and his mother behind in Agrabah, joining the Forty Thieves and pursuing the mythical Hand of Midas to ensure that his family could live in comfort. When Cassim returned several years later he discovered that his wife had died and Aladdin was nowhere to be found, leaving him with only his Kingship over a group of outlaws.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Armored: Tyler is left to raise his younger brother after the death of their parents and is about to lose the family house because of unpaid bills, which would force social services to place his brother with a foster family. This leaves him amenable to his godfather Mike's prodding that he partake in a multi-million dollar theft of their own armored truck. He turns against them when they resort to killing innocent bystanders who were in the wrong place at the wrong time and spends the rest of the film defending the truck from his colleagues.
  • Batman Begins:
    • Joe Chill, killer of Thomas and Martha Wayne, went from being a hitman in the comics to a desperate man trying to survive, though he still killed the Waynes unnecessarily. Realizing this, and being deprived of the chance to kill Chill himself drives Bruce Wayne to embark on his war on crime.
    • Bruce becomes one himself while Walking the Earth.
      Bruce: The first time I stole so that I wouldn't starve. I lost many assumptions about the simple nature of right and wrong.
  • By Hook or By Crook: The protagonist, Shy, is implied to have very few choices, as a recently orphaned trans person who recently lost his house to foreclosure and arrives in San Francisco homeless and broke. He makes money by scams and petty theft and plans to rob a bank.
  • In Catch Me If You Can, Frank Abagnale starts out his career of conning people and counterfeiting checks after running away from home and trying to support himself. He gets less sympathetic as his crimes and the amount of money he has stolen increase, but he remains likeable as a devilish rogue who outsmarts his enemies with sheer brains and bravado, and also scores points for tiring of his life as a criminal, becoming a consultant to the FBI helping catch other criminals (Abagnale now runs his own security firm for this purpose).
  • In the movie Catch That Kid, a bunch of kids robbed a high-security bank in order to pay for surgery for the father of one of the kids.
  • The film Dead Presidents follows a promising and popular inner-city high school graduate, Anthony Curtis (Larenz Tate), who decides to forego college and enter the Vietnam War as a member of the Marine Corps. Anthony survives a graphic and arduous three-plus-year stint in the jungle, but upon his homecoming, he realizes that the "real world" can be just as trying as war. His low-paying job provides little support for his new family and he becomes desperate to make ends meet. He enlists the help of his wife's sister who is a radical Black Panther member, some old friends, and war buddies, and plans a daring armored car heist which, if successful, could serve to amend his past and brighten his future... And of course EVERYTHING goes horribly wrong.
  • Deewaar: Ravi shoots an escaping young thief in the leg but takes this view of him after finding out all he stole was some bread and goes to the boy's family with groceries out of guilt. The boy's father, however, does not share this view:
    "Millions die of hunger in India. Should they all become thieves?"
  • Al Pacino's character in Dog Day Afternoon. He needed the money to pay for his girlfriend's sex-change operation.
  • In the remake of Fun with Dick and Jane they try to use every other option available to legally survive before they start their crime spree.
  • Gone in 60 Seconds (2000) has Nicholas Cage stealing cars to help his younger brother, who got in trouble promising too much to a crime lord. Of course, the detective investigating the thefts learns of this and lets him go in the end. That Cage had just saved the cop's life and given him the information he needed to recover the cars may have also had something to do with it.
  • In How to Beat the High Cost of Living the Ragtag Band of Misfits plan and carry out a robbery because, thanks to the recession (this was set in the late 1970s), all of them are in financial straits for various reasons.
  • Denzel Washington in John Q. holds up a hospital to ensure that his dying son gets the operation he needs.
  • Sergio Leone was apparently quite fond of this sort of character:
    • Tuco in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, while not the most pleasant of people, has a very emotional conversation with his brother where it is implied he grew up in poverty and had to become a bandit to survive.
    • Cheyenne from Once Upon a Time in the West actually helps the protagonists after being framed for a series of murders he didn't commit, even going as far as to allow himself to be turned in so that the reward money can be used to keep Jill McBain's farm.
    • Juan Miranda from Duck, You Sucker! is really just a poor man who loves his family and is trying to take care of them. He is genuinely heartbroken when they're killed by the Mexican armya
  • Law Abiding Citizen: Clyde went to war against a system that he considers unjust. His actions are essentially terrorist attacks, however, most of the victims did allow the killer of his wife and daughter to get off with a lesser punishment.
  • Maria Full of Grace: María and Blanca jump at the chance of making $5000 USD for going off as drug mules:
    • María just quit her awful job and doesn't have another lined up. She is pregnant and she has no intention of marrying her child's father (neither loves the other one). Her Struggling Single Mother sister lives at home, so she has a good picture of her future.
    • Blanca figures that with the exchange rate into Colombian currency the money will be enough to buy a house for her family.
  • Mirror Mirror (2012): The dwarfs became bandits only to survive, as the Queen banished them (along with all "uglies"). All of them had regular jobs earlier (though one used to steal from his customers). They quickly take the offer to only steal what the Queen took from the starving commoners and give it back, then return to honest work.
  • Monster Party: Casper, Iris, and Dodge are all lower-class thieves who the film presents as having good reasons for stealing (Casper needs to pay off his father's debts to a violent Loan Shark and Iris and Dodge want to provide for their baby).
  • Samuel L. Jackson in The Negotiator. When he is falsely accused of his best friend's murder, Jackson holds a government office hostage in order to clear his name and learn the truth.
  • The girls from the film Set It Off are committing bank robberies for various reasons, but most come down to a combination of not having enough money to get out of the projects and to get revenge on a banking system that has failed them.
  • Kang In-goo from The Show Must Go On 2007 is a high-ranking gangster, but he's trying to provide for his family, who live in less than ideal conditions.
  • Bo Wolffe, the protagonist of Sleight, is a street magician by day, but a drug dealer by night in order to support himself and his kid sister after the death of their mother left them orphaned. When his boss, Angelo, starts dragging him into increasingly violent situations including forcing Bo to hack off the hand of a rival dealer, he does everything he can think of to get out of the life.
  • Flint "Sandman" Marko from Spider-Man 3 was robbing banks just to help his sick daughter.
  • While Adrian "The Vulture" Toomes is the main villain of Spider-Man: Homecoming, it's shown that his main reason for becoming an illegal arms dealer was to provide for his family and employees after Stark Industries and the US government essentially destroyed his legitimate salvaging business.
  • Straight Out of Brooklyn is a gritty story about Dennis, an African-American teen living in a housing project with his sister, mother and abusive, alcoholic father. Fed up with his family's seemingly hopeless future, he plans with his friends to rob a drug dealer. Of course the consequences is like a domino effect which leads to a very bitterly cruel Everybody's Dead, Dave ending.
  • V in V for Vendetta is a terrorist and murderer, but his target is a totalitarian fascist government that advocates ethnic cleansing and legitimized itself by maintaining order after creating and unleashing a virus that has reached pandemic levels outside of Britain as a false flag operation to take power.

  • Among the Japanese folktales of Judge Ooka Tadasuke is "Ooka and the Honest Thief". A rice merchant comes to Ooka to complain about rice being stolen from his shop every night - a small amount each night, but over time it adds up. Ooka investigates, and finds that the thief is a poor working man who has no job and is stealing only to feed his family. He resolves the case in a way typical of the great judge's talent for justice mixed with whimsy.

  • The Afterward: Olsa stole originally to survive as a Street Urchin, and then didn't know anything else. She eventually gives it up after swallowing her pride, dodging death multiple times due to having powerful friends when she's arrested, and so accepts legitimate employment instead.
  • City of Bones (1995): Khat and Sagai are non-citizens and therefore strictly limited in the business they can legally do in Charisat. They keep aboveboard as much as possible in their relic trading but dip into the Black Market for information, contacts, and occasional sales.
  • A couple examples from the Dark Life series: The Seablite gang from book one and the Drift surfs from Rip Tide. They don't have any other options.
  • Hollow Places has Tyler. He only stole to feed his granddaughter, yet isn't bitter about the length of his sentence. Too bad it ends up being for nothing, as the granddaughter is eventually killed by the woman who got custody after Tyler's imprisonment.
  • In Maximum Ride, the main characters often steal in order to survive and to get to where they need to go including stealing a van and somebody's ATM card and PIN.
  • Lisbeth Salander in the Millennium Series steals hundreds of millions of dollars by very clever use of computer hacking and disguise and gets the reader's sympathy for her cleverness. Anyway, the original owner was a nasty villain who got the money in very nasty ways and who clearly "deserved it". Moreover, Salander had had a hard life and when she became a multi-millionaire, does not use the stolen money extravagantly — just enough to enjoy life a bit, in between very harsh and dangerous adventures.
  • Half the point of Les Misérables; justified because the messed-up justice system of the time is what the book is about. Making Valjean a Justified Criminal. The book also makes it clear that the poverty of the Thenardiers is no excuse, so perhaps it's the Heel–Face Turn that's important and Valjean is really The Atoner.
    • Valjean's original crime was stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister and her children, however he broke a window to steal that bread, making it burglary. By the time he gets out of prison, he can't get a job (because he's a convict). It should also be noted that most of what Valjean steals he might have been given, had he asked (the bread, and bishop's silver). Also, Valjean only stole from those who could afford it, whereas the Thenardiers' extortion forced Fantine into prostitution, which caused her death.
  • In On the Run, the main characters find themselves having to steal food, clothes, even cars in order to survive in their quest to prove their parents' innocence.
  • The protagonist of Paranoid Mage is a justified criminal because his vigilante justice against supernatural threats that hunt people for sport is a crime, even under mundane law, but if he were to be brought into court, he couldn't be punished because the so-called victims were killed in the act of hunting people for sport, or trying to hide the evidence and would be considered justified homicide if the courts were fair. To justify Callum's actions even more, the agency that's supposed to enforce the law and protect Earth from supernatural threats pointedly ignore their own laws when it suits them, turning a blind eye to the actions of the supernatural threats, if not actively helping them.
  • Subverted in Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm a Supervillain, with Bull. While looking like an inhuman monster didn't hurt his descent into villainy, it wasn't the root cause.
    Bull: I could give you kids a sad song and dance about how nobody wants to hire you when you look like a monster, but the truth is I didn't need much of an excuse to get into this life. I like to fight. I always have. A job as a supervillain let me trade punches with the toughest men and women on the planet.
  • The character of "Cricket" in Relativity can talk to insects, but no one will believe him. At first, he commands bugs to commit crimes just to prove he can do it. Later, however, he becomes homeless and jobless, and has the insects steal so he can feed himself.
  • Henry from The Time Traveler's Wife, because when you end up being dropped naked into unexpected situations, odds are you're going to have to steal clothes and beat up on anyone who decides to come after you when you're in a vulnerable state.
  • A lot of people and governments in World War Z do things that would put them in jail (or worse) if it wasn't for the crazy circumstances.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Accused: Willy steals out of desperation to pay for his daughter's wedding.
  • Angel: Before the show begins, Gunn has formulated a gang of homeless youths who swipe food and defend their ghetto from intruding vampires. Subverted in a later episode; after the running battle was won and Gunn left to join the main cast the gang devolved into murdering anything non-human, including several completely harmless "balance" demons, for fun. (Strictly speaking, this is not a crime in this setting, but it's still not nice.)
  • Deconstructed in Breaking Bad. Walter White, a chemistry teacher starts cooking meth to pay for cancer treatment and leave an inheritance for his wife and children. Through the series, his justification slowly falls apart, and it becomes clear that he's doing it out of pride in his own accomplishments for the most part. When Walter finds his supposedly-terminal cancer is in remission and he may survive after all, the effect this has on his worldview is devastating. In a later episode he admits that he's sorry his cancer didn't kill him fast enough.
  • Charité at War has both Anni and Martin stealing food, or things they can trade for food, to feed their hidden loved ones — it's Berlin in the last days of World War II, and the Nazis are still a lethal threat for Anni's disabled baby daughter and Martin's boyfriend, a deserter, so keeping them hidden is necessary, and since the city is falling to pieces around them, the supply situation has broken down entirely.
  • A subversion is an episode of Chuck wherein the Buy More is robbed by a bumbling, all-around likable guy. Who is actually a competent, ruthless agent of the Nebulous Evil Organization in the series and who did the robbery only to draw Chuck and his partners out.
  • Most of the teens from the HBO series The Corner (which is inspired by a true story)
  • CSI: NY:
    • The season 5 finale has a bank robber whose family was being held up until he robbed the bank subverted later when you discover his family doesn't exist, and he was lying all along. The episode ends on a cliffhanger since he took Mac hostage. The first episode of the following season reveals that he does have a family, they just weren't in any danger (since he was the mastermind behind it all).
    • Another episode has two young boys who were trying to get enough money to pay their mother's rent. They ended up being robbed by a much less sympathetic bank robber who was casing the bank they robbed and shot one of them to steal the money. He ends up being run over in his escape attempt when the CSIs catch up with him.
    • Another episode had the daughter of a bitterly estranged couple, desperate to escape the pain and torment of living in the middle of such a relationship, rob her parents so she could run away with her boyfriend (who helped her with the robbery). She never intended for her father to die, it was his wife who killed him, and even she comes off as sympathetic as the husband was willing to destroy his company, bankrupting her, their daughter, and his best friend/business partner, just to spite the wife.
  • The crew of Moya on Farscape is made up of a collection of escaped convicts on the run from the Peacekeepers over crimes they may or may not have committed, or which may or may not actually qualify as good things rather than crimes to a moral person, given that the Peacekeepers are an evil empire. Many of their less than legal actions over the course of the series are in the sole interests of their own survival and are perpetrated against those far, far worse than themselves (such as robbing a Shadow Depository—an underworld bank where pirates and other criminals store their ill-gotten goods—to finance the rescue of D'Argo's son from slavery).
  • Iljimae Il Ji-mae, Yong, Swe-Dol, and arguably the Castor Oil Gang.
  • Leverage: In the episode "The Bank Job", a father and son attempt to rob a bank in order to pay off some meth dealers who are holding the mother hostage. Luckily, the Leverage team was in the middle of conning a corrupt judge with a deposit box in the bank when this all went down.
  • In Orange Is the New Black, many of the inmates are depicted this way, resorting to crime due to a need to make money (Taystee), to keep from becoming a victim of organized crime (Red), or for an honest mistake (Yoga Jones), to point out a few.
  • Played with in Power Rangers Time Force, where Fantastic Racism against mutants drove them to crime; one called Notacon even says he only landed in jail because he stole food to survive. On the other hand, Notacon's the exception; all the others we see are all too happy to play Monster of the Week.
  • Prison Break: In order to save the life of his brother Lincoln Burrows, who has been sentenced to death for a murder he didn't commit, Michael Scofield robs a bank so he can be sent to the same prison and execute an elaborate Prison Escape. As things never go as planned, several more criminals are drawn into the scheme than originally planned, and several more crimes are committed along the way.
  • Quantum Leap:
    • Sam leaped into a masked bank robber, who with his two brothers were trying to steal exactly the amount their Pa needed to pay off the mortgage to the same bank.
    • Sam leaped into a man who, along with his friend, robbed a church in order to pay for his friend's daughter's treatment for fever (which his friend's wife had died of). The church refused to give them any money from the donations as "They said we would spend it all on rum."
  • Queen Sugar: Discussed. When a man named Henry Lee is hired by the Landrys to steal from the Bordelons, he's quickly caught by Ralph Angel. Lee claims he only agreed to the theft because he needs to take care of his family and Ralph Angel, having been in a similar position, sympathizes with him. Charley, on the other hand, wants him sent to jail so the Landrys will be exposed and scolds Ralph Angel for being too soft on him.
  • One of the last seasons of Stargate SG-1 had an episode where the team gated into a museum, were quickly considered terrorists and had to pretend to be taking hostages and acting the part before they could fix the gate and return to Earth.
  • Mike Ross in the premiere of Suits agrees to act as a one-time drug courier so he can afford his grandmother's medical care.
  • The brothers Winchester on Supernatural can't get legitimate work due to their monster-hunting activities, so they support themselves through credit card fraud, hustling, and the occasional act of burglary. Sam also has a habit of boosting cars when he's separated from Dean and Dean's Impala.
  • The Twilight Zone (1985): In "Street of Shadows", Steve Cranston has been unemployed for a long time, and his efforts to find work have been unsuccessful. The 8th Street homeless shelter where he lives with his wife Elaine and daughter Lisa will soon close because it can no longer pay its mortgage. As such, they are faced with the prospect of being thrown out on the street. Feeling as if he has no other choice, Steve breaks into the mansion of the multi-millionaire Frederick Perry and plans to rob the place. Perry discovers him almost immediately and shoots him. When Steve wakes up the next morning, he finds that he and Perry have swapped lives and identities.

  • A lot of socially conscious Gangsta Rap would explain this in bleak gritty detail, usually by rappers who would put it in proper context. Rappers like Ice-T, Ice Cube, and 2Pac are mostly known for their justified crime tales, like the two hip-hop quotes from above.
  • Probably about half of all folk songs ever. Woody Guthrie's "Pretty Boy Floyd" is one of the best examples.

  • King David entering the holy temple to eat the "showbread" - consecrated loaves that only priests are allowed to eat - along with his starving men. The priests allow him to do it, but it's still a violation of Mosaic law. Jesus recounts this incident as a Take That! to the "law-abiding" Pharisees.
  • Among the legendary stories of the wise Japanese judge Ooka Tadasuke is one where a man out of work sneaks into a rice warehouse and steals just enough rice to feed his family for the week. He intends to replace it when he gets a job.

    Role-Playing Games 
  • Montoya in Dino Attack RPG was a small-time criminal who was really only in it because he was trying to provide for his girlfriend (who is implied to be a waitress). After One Last Job goes wrong they run off and make a new life. In fact, really the biggest crimes he's shown to commit are driving potentially stolen vehicles and covering for his partners (which granted is still illegal but it seems pretty small when you consider said partners guilty of theft and cold-blooded murder). The one time he did attempt to kill someone, it was the assassin that he was rightfully angry at for the brutal murder of all but one of his partners and employer.

  • In Der Silbersee (The Silver Lake) by Kurt Weill, Severin is driven by starvation to rob a grocery store and is shot while trying to make off with a pineapple. Olim, the police officer who shot him, debates with himself whether to have mercy on the wounded criminal. He does, and they develop a friendship.
  • In The Girl of the Golden West, the Girl, after learning the truth that Dick Johnson, the gentleman whom she has just sheltered, is really the notorious road-agent Ramerrez, turns on him fiercely, accuses him of having come to rob her and orders him to Get Out!. He admits to everything except trying to rob her, and explains what drove him to the life of crime that, having kissed her, he now wants to abandon:
    "I am called Ramerrez—I have robbed—I am a vagabond—a vagabond by birth—a cheat and a swindler by profession. I'm all that—and my father was all that too. I was born, brought up, educated, thrived on thieves' money—but until six months ago, when he died, I didn't know it. I lived in Monterey—Monterey where we met. I lived decently. I wasn't the thing I am to-day. I only learned the truth when he died and left me with a rancho and a band of thieves—nothing else—nothing for us all—and I... I was my father's son—no excuse... it was in me—in the blood... I took to the road. I didn't mind much after—the first time. I only drew the line at killing. I wouldn't have that. And that's the man I am—the blackguard I am."

    Video Games 
  • Played with in Ace Attorney with Phantom Thief Mask☆DeMasque. Why does he steal? To support his wife's shopping habit. Since he is afraid she'll leave him if he's not as rich as he says he is, he hasn't considered just telling her to cut down on the spending sprees. When the wife does find out how her husband got the money and why he did the crimes, she basically tells him not to worry about spending so much money on her because she will love him no matter what.
    • In the fourth game, Drew Misham, a starving artist, decides to use his daughter's artistic talents to create forgeries in order to support them both.
    • In the first case of Spirit of Justice the victim, Paht Rohl, is revealed to be the thief...because he had a family to care for.
    • In the first case of The Great Ace Attorney: Adventures, one of the witnesses, a soldier, is revealed to be a thief, because his low pay isn't enough to provide for his family.
  • Daughter for Dessert:
    • The protagonist and Lainie technically committed a crime by tricking Lainie's family lawyer into giving them $250,000. However, it was the only way they could think of to climb just one rung on the economic ladder.
    • Lampshaded by Mortelli when the protagonist breaks into Cecilia's hotel room to get through to Amanda. It was perhaps the only way for him to get his daughter back without losing her forever.
  • Director Tidemann of Dead Space 2 is the man in charge of the Sprawl station, but he's also in charge of killing Isaac Clarke to prevent his knowledge of the Markers from leaving the station. He has no boundaries while doing so, quarantining the station to ensure that Isaac cannot escape even though it will lead to the deaths of many civilians. However, logs reveal that Tidemann actually disobeyed orders by breaking the quarantine early in the game to ensure that everyone who could possibly evacuate the station did. By the time he turned his attention to Isaac, the remaining survivors were likely doomed anyway.
  • Dragon Age brings us the casteless dwarves. Due to their ancestry, these dwarves are disallowed legitimate jobs and segregated from the main population. As such, they're usually forced into some form of criminality just to feed themselves. Towards the end of Origins, if you help Prince Bhelen become king he abolishes the caste system, freeing every dwarf including casteless to do what they want.
  • Fire Emblem: Three Houses has Ashe, one of the playable characters, who turned to thievery after his parents passed away and he was the only one left to provide for his younger siblings. He tells Byleth that he knew stealing was wrong, but still did it because it made his siblings happy.
  • One of the long-running mysteries in Freedom Planet is how a good girl like Sash Lilac found herself working with the Red Scarves. Given her general proclivity to helping those in need (why do you think Carol calls her "Miss Heropants"?), not to mention her refusal to work with Spade, why would she even have history with their like? The sequel gives us the answer - she was hatched into it. Spade and his boys raided Lilac's parents' home and took her egg as a pool decoration, and when it let her out, they raised her as one of their own, robbing her of a normal life before she could ever have it. To say she was furious at the reality would be putting it mildly.
  • The city-nation of Champa in Golden Sun: The Lost Age is driven to piracy when the world upheaval of the plot ruins their fishing waters, the only reliable resource they had (there's a master blacksmith and an ancient Magitek forge, but no workable ore). There's indicated to be some reprieve after Briggs finds an island cave full of treasures, but thirty years later they've returned to piracy.
  • Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas includes references to this, including one instance where Sweet outright says that he and Carl robbed people at gunpoint for the money for both their mother's lifesaving operation and to put their sister through college. In fact, the whole plot of San Andreas employs this trope, as CJ involves himself in many dangerous, morally questionable activities (stealing cars to fund a dealership, infiltrating Area 69, robbing a mob-owned casino) in order to rescue his brother from prison and his family/neighborhood from internal and external destruction.
  • Hidden City: Friedrich Diggs tries to invoke this in "The Perfect Crime" when Mr. Black manages to find evidence that he is involved in a robbery. His circus is running out of money after getting trapped in the Upper City due to the fog, and Avocado offers to give him the financial support to revive the circus if the performers agree to help him steal valuables from the Cabaret's patrons.
  • The Big Bad's Motive Rant at the end of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker has shades of this. Ganondorf claims that, originally, his motive for attempting to usurp the King of Hyrule, take the land for his own, and take the Triforce was because he was tired of watching the Gerudo people live in the dry, unforgiving desert as opposed to the lush plains and forests that the rest of Hyrule enjoyed.
    Ganondorf: I... coveted that wind, I suppose.
  • Mass Effect 2 features Commander Shepard teaming up with Cerberus, the terrorist organization they fought in the first game (and would fight again in the third) because something needed to be done about the Collectors, and none of the legitimate authorities were willing. It is rightly pointed out that what they are doing could potentially be called "treason" and result in their trial and execution. They do it anyway.
  • Wolf from PAYDAY: The Heist, in contrast to the other heisters in the crew. He was once just a software developer until his company went bankrupt from a combination of clients who wouldn't pay, and the 2008 economic recession. Completely broke, out of options, and driven to the edge of sanity, Wolf snapped and turned to crime. He took to it a bit too well, and hasn't looked back since.

    Web Comics 
  • Antihero for Hire The Vengeful Sisters consider themselves this.
  • Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal: One comic has Superman stop a mugger, who explains he has to turn to crime to make ends meet because his factory job doesn't pay enough. Superman goes to the foreman, who explains he wants to pay more but government regulations make it hard. Superman (now with a visible Eye Twitch) goes to the president, who explains that economists can't find a better system. After Superman goes to an economist and sees how complicated economic analysis is, he goes back and punches the mugger.
    Superman: That's for making me experience introspection!

    Web Original 
  • In Worm, most of the Undersiders are this, as a result of their social situation, the need to take care of family, their powers, or their upbringing.
  • The Meridell/Darigan war in Neopets starts out looking like the evil overlord Darigan and his people are coming for peaceful Meridell's magic orb and want it at any cost, just because they can. Except that as it turns out, the orb originally belonged to Darigan and was stolen from him by Meridell, and he wants his property returned. As it turned out, more than a few players agreed with him in the end.

    Western Animation 
  • Scott Lang from The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes helped Crossfire rob banks to pay for the medical treatment of Scott's daughter, Cassie. Some time after Cassie got cured of her disease, Crossfire kidnapped her to make Scott pay him a share of the stolen money. This prompted Scott to steal Hank Pym's Ant-Man suit so he could quickly pull off a solo bank heist.
  • In the Batman Beyond episode Armory, the title villain is a former weapons designer who was let go, and, desperate to maintain his family's high lifestyle, was pressured into crime by a Corrupt Corporate Executive.
  • A minor example in The Legend of Korra Mako and Bolin probably never committed anything more than petty crime, but they used to "run numbers and stuff" for the Triple Threat Triad because they were orphans living on the street. The actual villains of the story, the Equalists, are shown to have some legitimate grievances about discrimination, but ultimately not justified, since they are too extreme about how they try to address them.
  • Star vs. the Forces of Evil: By season 2, all Buff Frog wants to do is keep his kids fed. So he and other monsters attempt to steal some corn from the well of Royal Family whose ancestors stole all the good land.
  • A Thousand and One... Americas: Near the end of the fourteenth episode, it is revealed that the robbers who attempted to steal supplies from one of the buildings of the Pueblo Bonito (and knock out one of the good guys when they're exposed) come from a tribe that never learned how to harvest corn or wheat, and thus are in need of looking for supplies owned by other tribes when theirs begin to ebb. Some of the members of the rogue tribe do aim to trade other kinds of goods for food, so those have a noble heart; others, however, don't have anything good to use as trade and resort to stealing (or even feign that they're trading so they can steal food when they see the chance).
  • Perhaps Wacky Races villain Dick Dastardly never set out to be a villain as in "The Super Silly Swamp Sprint" he says the other racers forced him to be one. It doesn't stop him from pulling his dirty tricks with gusto.

  • The Heinz Dilemma, used in developmental psychology in the formulation of Kohlberg's stages of moral development. What's important is not what you say the man should do, but the reasoning you give, as it shows different ways of evaluating morality even when the same response is given.
    A man has a loved one dying from cancer. A pharmacist holds the cure but is charging ten times the cost of the drug. Try as he may, the man can only gather half the money the pharmacist demands. The pharmacist refuses to lower the price. Should the man steal the drug? Why (not)?
  • The famous analysis of a crack dealing gang by Sudhir Venkatesh of Columbia University leans into this trope. Basically, a crack gang is like pro sports; a few people living large at the top and lots at the bottom making very little cash. The dealers just didn't see another way out when faced with the poor economy, racial discrimination and lack of education. Most crack dealers were making less than an effective $5 an hour wage, and begged Sudhir for help getting a real job— they said they'd rather be a janitor than deal crack. The gang leaders Sudhir interviewed said that the biggest way they lost a good foot soldier was if he got a job. But none of the members seemed to think that dealing drugs is morally wrong; their gripes were just with the low pay. Venkatesh's work was popularized in the non-fiction book Freakonomics, but extends far past that book.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Money Is The Rool Of Evil, Sympathetic Criminal


Why Cousin Danica Robbed Banks

Play straight first and then subverted. Cousin Danica reveals she was a bank robber because she got fired from her job and her home was about to be foreclosed on. The second time she did it was because she was bored, and the third time was because she "caught the bug".

How well does it match the trope?

5 (1 votes)

Example of:

Main / JustifiedCriminal

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