This trope covers when an innocent person goes through the justice system, but for whatever reason is found guilty. The reasons can often include corruption in the system, a Frame-Up, or misleading circumstantial evidence. In Real Life, it can include bad eyewitness evidence; in fiction, it's more likely to be a false witness or a lying eyewitness. In both, it is not uncommon to see overzealous prosecutors who may focus more on their record of getting successful convictions than guilt or innocence.
This can be the premise of a story, leading into Great Escape, Boxed Crook, Clear My Name, and many other plots, or it can be a Downer Ending if it overlaps with Acquitted Too Late. At the most extreme, it can explode into a Rage Against the Legal System.
The inverse — an Obviously Evil and guilty person going free — isn't this trope, but a Karma Houdini situation that falls under one of a number of tropes depending on how they escaped justice; Off on a Technicality is the most common, but sometimes it can be a result of Diplomatic Impunity, Screw the Rules, I Have Money!, Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!, an Insanity Defense, Not Proven, and so on.
- Astro City:
- This is behind the death of the Silver Agent, and why his death is memorialized with the caption "To Our Eternal Shame". He was framed for the murder of a supervillain, then was arrested and executed by the government to show a skeptical populace that they had some control over superheroes.
- In "Knock Wood", a lawyer helps his guilty client avoid conviction by invoking the numerous superhero tropes, like evil twins, doppelgangers, and mind control. He even invokes the Silver Agent's unjust death to push the jury into a decision.
- In the backstory of "Pastoral", a man was forcibly subjected to genetic engineering experiments at the hands of TransGene International; they were acquitted, and he was convicted of breaking and entering instead.
- Bunty: In "Botany Belle", the heroine is tricked into switching places with a pickpocket and is transported to Australia for a crime she didn't commit.
- Icon: Subverted with "Buck Wild," a parody of Luke Cage. As he says, "It all started when I wuz convicted of a crime I didn't commit. I plea bargained down from the crime I really did."
- Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics): Sonic is put under arrest for disobeying royal orders to not get roboticized, where he was turned into Mecha Sonic and wrecked Knothole. Antoine used the entire ordeal to try and ruin Sonic's name in the trial and despite Sonic showing evidence that Nack the Weasel had escaped his cell, backing up his claim that Nack ambushed him, he was still sentenced to exile, but Sonic is given a chance to find Nack and bring him back, clearing his name.
- In storyline Strangers at the Heart's Core, Shyla Kor-Onn and her lawyer use manipulated evidence to charge Supergirl with participating in a criminal conspiracy with Lex Luthor. Even though it makes absolutely no sense that Superman's cousin is in cahoots with his nemesis, Kara is found guilty and hurled into the Phantom Zone.
- In Death & the Family, Inspector Henderson tells Supergirl the story of a case that his old superior Captain Tanner was never able to solve: a young boy named Hiriam Zeiss was mysteriously murdered. There were no witnesses except for a teenage girl who claimed she watched a woman sucking the soul out of Hiriam's body. She was innocent, but Hiriam's grandparents were baying for blood, so they used their wealth to make sure that she was arrested, charged, put on trial, and found guilty.
- Disturbed has "3", a B-side off of the Asylum album, which is written about the real West Memphis Three, told from their perspective. Draiman had expressed a desire to donate it somehow on their behalf rather than release it conventionally, which the band did eventually over their website, asking for dollar donations to get the song. The proceeds go towards the defense fund of Damien Echols (he has since been released).
- Reba McEntire's (originally by Vicki Lawrence) "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia" has the singer's brother arrested, tried, convicted, and executed all in a single evening for a murder the singer committed.
That's the night that the lights went out in Georgia
That's the night that they hung an innocent man
Well, don't trust your soul to no backwoods Southern lawyer
'Cause the judge in the town's got bloodstains on his hands
- "Over the Hills and Far Away" by Gary Moore (also covered by Nightwish) has the protagonist spend ten years in prison for robbery when he could have alibied out because his alibi was that he was having sex with his best friend's wife at the time.
- "Go Down Ye Murderers/The Ballad of Tim Evans" by Ewan MacColl chronicles the tragic case of Timothy Evans. He was hanged in 1950 for murdering his wife and daughter, but it turned out that his neighbor John Christie (who'd testified against Evans and helped secure his conviction as the star witness) actually did it, in fact being a Serial Killer who'd killed at least eight people overall. The initial version directly condemned the courts for Evans' death (the "Ye Murderers" from one title), though another changed this. It was one of the cases that helped lead to capital punishment being ended in the UK. Evans was pardoned and exonerated years later.
- The Danganronpa-inspired Doubt Academy struggles with this, due to Monokuma's altered set of rules. Here, unlike the original games, convicting an innocent person doesn't lead to everyone but the murderer getting killed; only the scapegoat is executed, right after Monokuma confirms their innocence. Thus, you can have a double dose of the murderer going unpunished while somebody else dies for their crime.
- A stock phrase of Gorilla Monsoon, whenever a wrestler (always a heel) cheated to win. Amped up when the face wrestler was disqualified for using a weapon after the heel used the same weapon... and the referee saw only the face use it!
- Danny Davis' corrupt referee gimmick was based on creating these — allowing the heels to blatantly cheat and get away with everything, but the face immediately gets disqualified for using the same tactics or suffers defeat by the heel's cheating. Eventually, after an extremely egregious trick where he allowed the Hart Foundation to repeatedly double-team the British Bulldog in a tag-team match, Jack Tunney had seen enough and suspended him for life.
- This was a favorite tactic for Eddie Guerrero. If the referee was distracted or knocked out, he'd sometimes throw a chair at his opponent and then lie down on the mat just as the referee was about to turn around, making it look like his opponent had just hit him with the chair. It didn't always work, but Eddie gained more than a few DQ wins this way.
- The climax of A Man for All Seasons turns upon one of these; Richard Rich commits outright perjury against his former acquaintance, Sir Thomas More, in exchange for an appointment as Attorney-General for Wales.
- Chicago: Hunyak is the only one innocent of murder of all the inmates on Murderess Row, but because she only speaks Hungarian she can't testify her account of her husband's murder. Still, she holds faith in the American justice system. Right up to her execution, the only one to receive it while Roxie and Velma are acquitted.
- Dwarf Fortress has a legal system which can be broken such that a dwarf may be convicted for a crime committed against them. This even has a special reaction modifier for the offended party: "outraged at the bizarre conviction against all reason of the victim of a crime." And since every single case of it is a bad thought in and of itself that affects every last dwarf, abusing the system can lead to bad places; there was one reported incident where over a dozen incidents of vandalism were all blamed on a dead kakapo parrot, and the moment the player left the justice screen the entire fortress started a massive riot (due to unhappiness-induced tantrums), killing dozens and paralyzing the entire place for weeks.
- A mission in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. When you first enter Markarth, you will witness a murder on the streets (or prevent it if you are quick enough). The following quest causes you to continue on a CSI-esque Mission to figure out why one man attacked the woman. Once you've found out, the guards pick up on it and blame you for the murders in town, even if you didn't kill a single soul. From there, you have to make a big decision: Murder the gang leader who has been forced to plan these attacks, while letting the real mastermind, Markarth's crime lord, get away with it, or work with the gang leader to kill the crimelord, but lose control of the gang, which kills about a dozen innocents between the prison entrance and the hold's exit. You can also kill both factions, but then you've just massacred two entire factions for each others' crimes and weakened the region while the threat of the Thalmor still struts in the palace.
- Genshin Impact: Childe ends up on the receiving end of one by the end of Chapter IV Act II. Though proven innocent in the serial disappearances case, the Oratrice still issues a "Guilty" verdict. This shocks everyone present, as the Oratrice has never contradicted the Chief Justice before. At the end of Chapter IV Act V, while not completely certain, Neuvillette posits two possibilities: either he was liable for awakening the All-Devouring Narwhal or Focalors wanted him to fight the Narwhal to buy Fontainians some time to avert the prophecy.
- Octopath Traveler II: Osvald the scholar’s story begins with him preparing to escape from Frigit Isle 5 years after being sent there when framed by Harvey for the latter’s murder of Osvald’s wife and daughter.
- The Protagonist of Persona 5 was sentenced with a criminal record for assaulting a man. What really happened is that while he was walking home, he noticed a drunk man harassing a woman and stepped in to help her. The drunk guy slipped and fell, injuring his own face, after which he threatens the woman with imprisonment if she doesn't claim he was attacked. The police then show up, where the woman says Joker attacked the man, leading to his arrest. Furthermore, all but one of the bad endings have the Protagonist taking the fall for a crime or tragedy he wasn't responsible for. The most notable instance occurs late in the game, where playing your cards wrong can result in the main character being framed for a series of psychotic breakdown incidents by the real perpetrator, who then assassinates him inside an interrogation room in a staged murder-suicide.
- Several of the anecdotes that Max may tell in Poker Night at the Inventory about the run-ins that Artie Flopshark (the unseen 'Poker Guru' of Telltale Texas Hold'em) had with Flint Paper result in Artie getting pummelled to within an inch of his life by Flint due to misunderstandings on the latter's part. For instance, when Artie was collecting money for a 10K charity run, Flint jumped to the conclusion that he was shaking people down for ten thousand dollars, and broke both of his legs.
Max: This reminds me of the time Flint Paper beat the snot out of that poker instructor Artie Flopshark. He was a total scammer. See, Artie was squeezing our friend Jimmy Two-Teeth for money after teaching him to play some game that didn't really exist!
Tycho: What was the game called?
Max: Omaha? Maybe Topeka. Someplace horrible.
Tycho: Omaha's a real thing, Max.
Max: Well, don't tell that to Artie Flopshark! Flint socked him until he promised he'd never play or teach it ever again!
- This is the Executioner's end goal in Town of Salem: get a randomly selected town member falsely accused of being evil and getting him lynched. If the town member dies before he can be lynched, the Executioner turns into the Jester instead.
- Ace Attorney:
- The third case of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Trials and Tribulations begins with Maggey Byrde being convicted of murder. Not only was she framed, but the murderer actually disguised himself as Phoenix Wright so he could be her lawyer and make sure she lost. Fortunately, this means a mistrial is declared and the real Phoenix can uncover the truth in another trial.
- The fourth case of Trials and Tribulations revolves around Terry Fawles, who had already been falsely convicted of murder 5 years ago, and now has to be saved from getting convicted a second time after escaping from prison and allegedly murdering the cop who arrested him in the original case. Sadly, he's manipulated into committing suicide on the stand even as you reveal he's innocent. Your only satisfaction is that, as this is a flashback, you've already seen the conviction of the monster who drove him to it.
- The third case of Ace Attorney Investigations 2 (Gyakuten Kenji 2) is about a man who was found guilty as an accomplice to a murder 18 years prior. The defending attorney, Gregory Edgeworth, tried his hardest to get an acquittal, but the lack of a body didn't give him enough evidence to work with and eventually, due to overzealous pressure for a confession, the defendant eventually cracked and confessed to a crime he never committed. The best he was able to do was give the prosecution a black mark for their conduct during the interrogations (which itself leads to the infamous "DL-6 Incident" that was basically the ignition for the rest of the franchise). The conclusion uncovers the true culprit and proves the defendant innocent, however the culprit was only able to be convicted because the defendant's trial and conviction as an accomplice had extended the statute of limitations on the murder by one year when it would have otherwise run out four months ago. If the defendant were to have his conviction overturned and go free, then the extension would no longer apply and the culprit would go free as well. Ultimately, Edgeworth and co. choose to free the defendant, while planning to try and get the problems with the statute of limitations sorted out in the future so that the culprit can still face justice.
- Also in Investigations 2, this is the implied fate of everybody who has "disappeared" after pissing off Blaise Debeste. That list of people has his own wife on it, just in case you didn't think he was enough of an evil bastard already.
- The Great Ace Attorney has a rare example of a false acquital- Magnus McGilded, who was tried for the murder of Mason Milverton, is successfully defended by protagonist Ryunosuke Naruhodo, only for it to become clear by the end that he is guilty after all. But despite the pleading of Ryunosuke for the trial to continue, the jury goes with a not guilty verdict. Though he gets murdered by the son of Mason anyway.
- Chaos;Child: In the Common and True endings, protagonist Takuru Miyashiro himself is framed for the New New Gen Murders and arrested, and while he could use his Gigalomaniac powers to break himself out, he decides to live out his sentence as part of a bet with one of the true culprits.
- Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony: Kaede Akamatsu is initially thought to be the one who murdered Rantaro Amami via Death Trap in Chapter 1, but the final trial reveals that her trap actually failed. The mastermind, Tsumugi, stepped in to kill Rantaro and arrange the scene to make it look like the trap worked, in order to keep the reality show on-track.
- Oglaf: A man's grandfather is sentenced to die for a murder the man is accused of, but he protests his innocence. The time-traveling executioner disappears, then reappears having killed the grandfather so the crime cannot be committed, and then the defendant disappears in a Puff of Logic... but the victim is still dead.
- The Twitch chat of Skyblock, but Every 30 Seconds a Random Item Spawns believes this to be the case in Jim Jum being convicted of Barnaby's murder. They were right.
- Played With on The Weather; A caller is strung up to the electric chair, and the cast prepares to kill them, even sending him off with a prayer and asking for his last words... before asking if he was actually guilty of the crime. He casually states that he was innocent, and they decide they probably shouldn't actually kill him.
- The Boondocks: "The Passion of Reverend Ruckus" features a deliberately absurd example. Shabaz K. Milton-Berle is a Black Panther who was sentenced to death for killing a white police officer. The real killer was a man named Eli Gorbinsky who not only announced his name in front of witnesses but also left the murder weapon (with his fingerprints on it) at the scene and was caught on camera committing the act.
- Chozen. The main character Phil spent 10 years in prison after being framed by his deranged band member Phantasm, who knocked him out and left him in a hotel room full of drugs, weapons, and unconscious prostitutes when Phil walked in on Phantasm force-feeding kidnapped vegans deli meats and filming it (yes, seriously) and was about to call the police on him. The series begins when Phil, now calling himself Chozen, is released from prison and sets out to become a rap star, which Phantasm, who serves as the series' Big Bad, has already accomplished in the past decade.
- In the DuckTales (1987) episode "Duckman of Aquatraz", Scrooge McDuck is framed for theft by his rival Flintheart Glomgold and put into prison, where, conveniently, it turns out that his cellmate was also framed by Glomgold.
- In one episode of The Inspector, the Inspector gets arrested when a criminal who looks like him robs a bank and runs past him. The criminal is never captured and the Inspector spends the entire episode in prison (despite making numerous failed escape attempts), ending with him trying to chisel the Rock of Gibraltar in order to be paroled.
- In an episode of Rocko's Modern Life, Rocko is convicted (by a Joker Jury of insects) for injuring a fly, and sentenced to 30 days as a fly. Later, the fly that Rocko allegedly injured is seen perfectly fine, guzzling soup at a fancy restaurant. At the same restaurant is The Judge, who catches the fly red-handed and takes him to Rocko's home to make him apologize to him for faking his injury; then, he himself apologizes profusely and turns him back to normal.
- At the beginning of Scooby Doo Curse Of The13th Ghost, Mystery Inc ended up making a rare mistake with one of their cases and end up harassing an innocent man. As a result of this, the gang is forced to retire from mystery solving, much to Fred's disappointment, but to Shaggy and Scooby's delight.
- The Superman: The Animated Series episode "The Late Mr. Kent" deals with this. Clark finds evidence that would clear a man wrongly imprisoned for murder. As he's racing back, his car is destroyed by a car bomb. Clark survives (obviously) but now has to figure out how to save the man without blowing his identity to the world.
- Happens a number of times in Tiny Toon Adventures. One incident that really sticks out is in the TT version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, where the role of Goldilocks is played by animal abuser Elmyra. After breaking into the three bears' house, trashing everything, messing with their stuff, followed by causing great pain and abuse to the bears, upon being summoned by the bears' alarm, instead of arresting Elmyra, the police mistake the bears for wild creatures, capture them, and haul them to the zoo!
- Although Baby Bear, who wasn't that comfortable living in a modern home, didn't complain about the change.