Follow TV Tropes


Miscarriage of Justice

Go To

"It is more important that innocence be protected than it is that guilt be punished, for guilt and crimes are so frequent in this world that they cannot all be punished.
But if innocence itself is brought to the bar and condemned, perhaps to die, then the citizen will say, 'whether I do good or whether I do evil is immaterial, for innocence itself is no protection,' and if such an idea as that were to take hold in the mind of the citizen that would be the end of security whatsoever."

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. Also, has nothing to do with a pregnant woman having a miscarriage due to bad karma.


See also Guilty Until Someone Else Is Guilty and Kangaroo Court, which may relate to this.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • This trope is what starts the plot of Deadman Wonderland. A high-schooler is accused of murdering his entire class, when in fact he was deliberately left alive and framed as the only survivor.
  • A twist occurs in Fullmetal Alchemist, when Lt. Maria Ross is accused of murdering Lt. Col. Hughes. She's not allowed to present the evidence that proves her innocence because it involves the testimony of her parents, whom she was visiting at the time of the murder, and family members aren't allowed to testify. Her partner, Sgt. Brosh, is also not allowed to speak on her behalf. She's confident that justice will still carry the day, though...until she's informed that it's been reported in the newspaper that she was convicted while she's still awaiting trial.
  • In JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Jolyne Kujoh winds up in the Green Dolphin prison because of this. Her boyfriend commits a hit-and-run, which she agrees to keep quiet about; he then reports the car stolen and bribes Jolyne's lawyer to provide false information about the terms of her plea bargain (she thought she'd get less than five years after a grace period, and ended up with fifteen). She wasn't even aware that the victim was dead until her sentencing. It turns out to be part of a larger frame-up by the Big Bad to get at her father, although neither her boyfriend or the lawyer were directly involved with the ones behind it.
  • This happens a lot in One Piece; In order to have sympathetic pirate protagonists, there have to be not just evil pirates, but also corrupt law officials or nobility in order to justify the heroes' law-breaking.
    • In the backstory for the Skypiea Arc, historical explorer Montblanc Noland reportedly found a city of gold on one of his voyages. His king was very eager to see it for himself, and insisted Noland lead a second expedition consisting of the king's personal army. By the time they got there, the city, and the piece of island it was on, was gone. Rather than accept the rational explanation that there might have been a disaster that destroyed the city, the king held a Kangaroo Court and had Noland imprisoned for fraud. The result was that Noland became the figure of a Crying Wolf fable, and his descendants would be ridiculed through the ages. The city was actually blasted into Skypiea by a powerful geyser. Luffy proves its existence by ringing the city's ceremonial bell while defeating the Big Bad.
    • In Franky's backstory, Franky's teacher Tom was framed for a terrorist attack by espionage agents so they could interrogate him over the blueprints for an ancient superweapon he possessed. Tom had the last laugh, however- he saw the treachery coming and passed the blueprints on to his students, and they eventually destroyed them.

    Comic Books 
  • Astro City:
    • The death of the Silver Agent, "To Our Eternal Shame". He was framed for the murder of supervillain by that supervillain faking his own death, arrested, and executed by the government to show they had some control over the superhero population.
    • A lawyer gets one guilty client off by invoking the numerous superheroic instances of this trope — evil twins, doppelgangers, mind control — and cites the Silver Agent's death as probably the clinching factor.
    • In "Pastoral", in the Back Story, a man claimed to have been a victim of genetic engineering at the hands of Trans Gene International; they were acquitted, and he, convicted of breaking and entry. The main character notes during the story some evidence that he was telling the truth.
  • Rather hilariously subverted in Icon with the character "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."
  • 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.
  • In Superman 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 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.

    Fan Works 
  • In A Gem of a Day, Rarity and Applejack get arrested when they try to steal back the former's dress design from Suri Polomare. When asked how they can arrest them when Suri was the one real thief, the arresting officer replied it was because Suri didn't pull a breaking and entering.
  • Cheerilee's Garden: Between Twilight accidentally washing away all the evidence that proved her innocence and being caught in the act of revenge-killing Cheerilee, Twilight is blamed for all of Cheerilee's murders. When she realizes even Celestia thinks she did it, she throws herself off the roof to her death. Though in Twilight's final moments she realizes that Celestia realized she was innocent and dies happy. Celestia, however, crosses the Despair Event Horizon and vows to raze the land and form a Solar Empire to avenge the miscarriage of justice.
  • Here has Alya facing defamation charges for posting various false stories crafted by Lila on the LadyBlog. Lila successfully throws her under the bus by Playing the Victim Card, getting off scott free while Alya is found guilty on all charges.
  • In Laying Waste To Halloween, Sally Jackson was charged for attempted murder when it was self-defence against Gabe.
  • The Rise of Darth Vulcan: A group of handicapped pegasi endured a terrible one: a rogue tornado from the Everfree Forest was about to destroy the Earth pony town of Hilltop, so they flew into the storm and destroyed it. They did do some minor damage to the neighboring upper-class Pegasus town of Cirrus, but the town's officials, rather than thank them, threw charges at them to cover up for their own incompetence, gave them no legal representation or help from their families, and forced them into 5 years of community service in exchange for dropping the fallacious charges, when the maximum time should have been 1 year. Their supervisor was a Social Darwinist pegasus who constantly abused them and lorded over their lives, and any complaints against him were ignored. And after the sentence was fulfilled, the supervisor revealed their criminal charges at their graduation, blacklisting them from any decent career, and causing one of the pegasi to have their filly taken away by the courts. Fortunately, they get their revenge on the towns with help from Darth Vulcan.

  • An Innocent Man (1989) starring Tom Selleck. Selleck's character is framed by Dirty Cops and jailed.
  • In ...And Justice for All Jeff was arrested due to mistaken identity (he had the same name as a suspect), then framed by other inmates for a prison guard's stabbing. Kirkland can't get him out due to the evidence clearing him coming in too late. This leads Jeff to snap, taking hostages after being gang-raped by fellow prisoners and is then shot dead by a police sniper.
  • The Archer: All of the camp girls have been sent there regardless of their crimes due to the owner Bob bribing a judge into doing so.
  • Atonement, through Briony's mistake in believing Robbie raped someone as a result of what she'd seen briefly while it was dark.
  • A unique example in Beyond a Reasonable Doubt. A newspaper publisher decides to test the system by having himself framed for the murder of a woman. He intends to wait for the trial to nearly find him guilty before having a friend bring up the evidence to exonerate him. However, the friend is killed on his way to the courthouse and the evidence lost so the man is found guilty. His girlfriend is able to prove his innocence, only for his wife to discover that he did indeed murder the woman, who was his first wife, and his execution is set to go on.
    • The 2009 remake of Beyond a Reasonable Doubt plays it mostly the same, as reporter C.J. frames himself to prove a D.A. is corrupt and willing to put innocent people behind bars to pad his record. Again, the evidence is lost and C.J. is put in jail, but his girlfriend Crystal proves his innocence and the case is a mistrial. But then Crystal realizes the murder victim was going to give away she was the "drug addict" from C.J.'s award-winning documentary, proving his career was a fraud. Crystal tells C.J. it was a good plan, as he couldn't be tried again...except it was a mistrial, not an acquittal, which means the police can arrest him all over again.
  • This is the cause of the events of The Chase (1994). After a bank robber who wears a clown outfit robs evades capture a random guy gets accused of the crime and railroaded through the courts on no evidence other than that he owns a clown outfit. Physical evidence that would have exonerated him is improperly ruled inadmissible. No wonder he breaks out and makes a run for Mexico.
  • In Chicago, the one innocent inmate is the one who gets executed thanks to a Language Barrier. She can only speak Hungarian and no one bothers to get a translator.
  • Dial M for Murder, Margot is tried and found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. But the police are really after her husband, and let her go in the end.
  • In Double Jeopardy, Ashley Judd's character is wrongly convicted of murdering her husband and spends several years in prison.
  • The Fugitive has Dr. Richard Kimble wrongly convicted of his wife's murder, after which he escapes to track down the real murderer, a one-armed man. This was later parodied in Leslie Nielsen's Wrongfully Accused.
  • John Coffey in The Green Mile, who's wrongly convicted of raping and murdering two white girls. The main "evidence" was simply him being found holding their corpses crying. Because he was a very large black man however in the Deep South that was enough. It eventually turned out a fellow death row prisoner was the real culprit, but they couldn't prove this and Coffey didn't want to be saved, he's so distraught over the evils people do he'd rather die.
  • In The Hunt (2012), before going to authorities about the molestation accusations against the protagonist Lucas, the schoolteacher seeks the opinion of someone without a proper understanding of how to interrogate a child. Consequently, he leads little Klara's answers and produces false proof that is nonetheless taken for the truth. Had Klara been questioned by a qualified expert first, the wrongful Pædo Hunt might have been avoided. Luckily, holes in the accusations ultimately spare Lucas from the charges, but the damage is already done.
  • In the Name of the Father is based on the real story of the Guildford Four and Maguire Seven, who were accused of a pub bombing in London in the 1970's. The movie took some liberties with the story for dramatic purposes, but the facts are still the same: they were threatened and lied to in police custody to scare them into confessing, the trial was held in the same city as the bombing and ensured that the jury would be very willing to convict the Four (all were hippies and drug users), and the police specifically prevented two of the Four's alibi from being shown to ensure a conviction. They were all released about 15 years later, but none of the police officers were found guilty of any crimes and one of the Maguire Seven died in prison.
  • In Inception, Dom Cobb is on the run for apparently having murdered his wife Mal. It turns out that Mal was insane and convinced that after having spent fifty years in a dreamworld, she was still dreaming and needed to wake up — and the only way to "wake up" is to kill yourself. She tried to make Dom kill himself along with her by deliberately having herself declared sane by multiple psychiatrists, filing a letter stating she was afraid for her life with her attorney and setting up a hotel room to look like a violent struggle had taken place in it before luring Dom into the room and killing herself. Dom didn't follow through with it, and the setup was convincing enough that he was forced to flee the country.
  • Just Cause: Bobby Earl Ferguson was accused of rape, and only got out after he had been driven mad from the torture, scandal, and castration his fellow inmates inflicted upon him. He decided to rape and murder a random girl in a crazy plot to get himself arrested and later exonerated so when he got out and immediately murdered the prosecutor who pushed the first case, everyone involved would thus be guilty of letting a real criminal go free to commit more murders. He manages to utterly succeed at the first and second parts.
  • Just Mercy documents the real life case of death row inmate Walter McMillian, who was charged with the murder of a young white woman in The Deep South. The evidence against McMillian is scant at best, with numerous witnesses stating he was at home at the time (and that the truck he drove going to and from the murder was stripped down for the repairs at the time), but the struggle comes from the fact that the corrupt police want to keep McMillian where he is as a scapegoat for their own failure to find the real killer (not helping McMillian's case was that he was caught in an affair with a white woman prior to the murder, which put him on the police's radar).
  • In The Last Seduction: Bridget Gregory frames her lover for murdering her abusive husband, as well as raping her as part of a rape fantasy role-play. She destroys the last piece of evidence that could possibly get him acquitted, and his lawyer tells him that nothing seems to be in his favor.
  • The Life of Émile Zola actually isn't strictly about the life of Emile Zola, but rather about one of the most notorious Real Life examples of this trope — the Dreyfus Affair — and Emile Zola's campaign on behalf of the unjustly imprisoned Alfred Dreyfus.
  • 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. In the film version, when More figures out what has happened and why, we get this perfect example of Gallows Humour:
    More: Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world... But for Wales?
  • No God, No Master: The film closes on the wrongful convictions of Sacco and Vanzetti resulting from the anti-anarchist hysteria.
  • In the loosely-based film adaption of the book with the same name, The Running Man, this happens: it kicks the plot off when the police officer protagonist Ben Richards gets wrongly accused of having committed a massacre among innocent civilians, and as punishment for the crime, is selected as a combatant for the titular Blood Sport TV show. However, Richards tried to prevent the massacre and part of the plot is finding the evidence of this to give the real story to the public as well as bringing the corrupt officials behind it to justice.
  • The Shawshank Redemption: The driving force of the plot is that Andy Dufresne is wrongly convicted of the murder of his wife and her lover in the misleading circumstantial evidence variant. It then becomes much worse when exculpatory evidence emerges and is destroyed by corrupt officials because Andy has been acting as the warden's accountant during his prison time and now knows too much about his shady finances to be allowed to go free. They murder a witness willing to testify that someone else committed the crime. He eventually escapes to Mexico rather than be legally exonerated.
  • Sin City: Marv from "The Hard Goodbye" is put on death row and ultimately executed for murdering all the women Kevin and Cardinal Roark killed and ate. Though, to be fair, the list of victims also included all the people that Marv did kill, including the two villains in question. John Hartigan from "That Yellow Bastard" is wrongly imprisoned for eight years on false charges of raping Nancy Callahan, the 11-year-old girl who he saved from pedophile rapist and Serial Killer Junior Roark, whose father is a powerful and corrupt U.S. Senator. Both cases were due to extreme corruption, forged evidence, and confessions acquired by threats — Marv confessed after his mother's life was threatened, and Hartigan when he thought that Nancy's life was in danger, and he was able to get out on parole if he did. (Even if he'd had ironclad proof of his innocence, he could still have readily been charged with excessive force for shooting Junior in the genitals after disarming him.)
  • One of the most notorious Real Life examples in British history is dramatized in the film 10 Rillington Place. An unfortunate man named Timothy Evans was hanged in 1950 for the murders of his wife and baby daughter. Three years after his execution, his landlord, John Christie, was discovered to be a Serial Killer responsible for the deaths of the wife, the daughter, and at least six other people. He was also the star witness against Evans, whose testimony greatly helped in getting the conviction. The scandal helped prompt the UK to abolish capital punishment.
  • True Believer: Shu Kai Kim was convicted of a murder he didn't commit due to false evidence presented by the police and prosecutor.
  • True Crime: Frank Beechum was found guilty of murdering Amy Wilson, but he's innocent. All the evidence was mistaken and or/misinterpreted.
  • The Weight of Water portrays Louis Wagner as innocent but found guilty of two murders because the real murderer testified he did it. She recants before he's hanged, but the District Attorney refuses to reveal this and lets him die.
  • Subverted and Played for Laughs in The Wrong Guy. The main character stumbles upon the recently murdered body of his boss/father-in-law and, owing to an incredibly convoluted series of events coupled with his own stupidity, ends up apparently incriminating himself. Terrified that he's about to be subject to this trope, he goes on the run... except that the police already know who the real murderer is, have ample amounts of evidence against him, and subsequently aren't interested in the main character in the slightest.

  • Atonement: Robbie Turner is wrongly accused of rape and gets sent to prison and later the army for a crime he didn't commit. The rude letter he wrote Cecilia and Briony's testimony just implicates him even further, as does the fact that he's the gardener's son - and all other suspects are from the upper class. The actual rapist gets away with it.
  • In Kevin J. Anderson's Blindfold, a loading dock worker is falsely accused of murdering his boss. Subverted in that the accusation came not from a trial, but from a mind scan by a young Truthsayer, who is implicitly trusted to always be right. When the mistake is realized, the head Truthsayer realizes they can't admit it to the people, as their entire justice system will crumble. Interestingly, the guy who actually ordered the murder is just as shocked as anyone else by the verdict, even though his manipulations with the Veritas drug caused the mistake. In the end, the truth is revealed, causing the Truthsayers to be disbanded and the society to return to a more traditional justice system.
  • Caleb Williams is all about this trope. The titular hero is an innocent man everyone believes is guilty, while his employer is a guilty person everyone believes to be innocent.
  • The Confession has this be a conga-line of reasons for Donté Drumm getting convicted of Nicole's murder. He gets arrested based on an anonymous call that places him at her last seen location — a call placed by the girl's jealous boyfriend; gets bullied into confessing to the crime after being held for questioning for over 15 hours; his trial has him be sentenced to death based on no factual evidence beyond a video of the (forced) confession, by a judge who was sleeping with the trial's prosecutor. He eventually gets executed, despite clear evidence being presented on TV that Travis Boyette is the real murderer.
  • The Count of Monte Cristo — Edmond Dantes is framed for treason and sent to the Chateau d'If without a trial by the cousin of the woman he loved, Mercedes, who wanted her for himself, with the help of a corrupt prosecutor.
  • Liam in The Fey And The Fallen is sent to prison twice, despite being completely innocent. He is a young, Catholic Irishman during the The Troubles who was arrested as a rioter twice by British security sent to quash the rabble rousers. After the second time, he becomes radicalized and joins the IRA.
  • Harry Potter was quite fond of using this to demonstrate the incompetence or impotence of the Ministry of Magic:
    • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets — Cornelius Fudge, the Minister of Magic, even told Dumbledore and Hagrid that he was only sending Hagrid to Azkaban because people had to see him doing something in response to attacks on Hogwarts students.
    • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban — Sirius Black was imprisoned without trial in Azkaban, accused of murdering fellow wizard Peter Pettigrew and 12 Muggles. Minister Fudge ignored the witnesses that claimed Pettigrew was alive and had framed Sirius because he believed they were more loyal to Dumbledore than to the Ministry.
    • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire — Several Death Eaters or suspected Death Eaters were imprisoned after Voldemort's fall, regardless of whether they were truly guilty. It's implied that the head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, Barty Crouch, Sr., wanted quick and convincing trials (or sometimes no trial at all) because he was in line for the Minister's job. He even sent his own son to Azkaban, although in that case his son actually was a Death Eater (and in the film version made no attempt to deny it).
    • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix — The Ministry puts Harry on trial in order to keep from "inciting panic" over Harry's claim of Voldemort's return, and to weaken Dumbledore's popularity as Fudge sees him as a threat to his position. Dumbledore himself shows up to defend Harry, lampshades the ridiculousness of holding a full criminal proceeding for a simple matter of underage magic, and gets Harry acquitted in about two pages. Dolores Umbridge herself takes matters into her own hands by forcing Harry to cut his skin every time he decided to speak out against the Ministry or alert others of Voldemort's return.
    • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince:
      • The Ministry has finally admitted that Voldemort has indeed returned, but they immediately revert to how they acted during the first war, with many instances of unjustifiable arrests. This includes the arrest of Stan Shunpike, who gets sent straight to Azkaban.
      • Shunpike is an interesting case; in the following novel, he's revealed to be one of the Death Eaters attacking Harry above Little Whinging. His physical state indicates Imperius Curse enthrallment, though. Scrimgeour wasn't acting senselessly when he arrested Stan (though, disproportionately, yes). Who knows how long he had been cursed. Harry's main defense is that he knows Stan, but the Death Eaters have ways of making people act against their natural inclination (since, however, Stan was sent to Azkaban for boasting he knew Voldemort's secret plans in a pub — hardly behavior an Imperiused person would engage in — this may be a case of Had to Come to Prison to Be a Crook).
    • Continued in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, where Voldemort's supporters have seized control of the Ministry in a palace coup and turn the wheels of magical justice to their own support.
  • In Last Sacrifice, Rose is convicted of regicide and sentenced to death, based only on circumstantial evidence. She is innocent.
  • The Sisterhood Series by Fern Michaels: Isabelle Flanders and Alexis Thorne were victimized in this. Both of them were framed by very bad people. Isabelle had her reputation ruined, and she was lucky that she didn't end up in prison. Alexis ended up in prison, and when she got out, she could only apply for a job as a personal shopper. The book Sweet Revenge has Isabelle strike back against bitchy Rosemary Hershey, and the book Lethal Justice has Alexis strike back against conscienceless Arden Gillespie and weepy Roland Sullivan.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird sadly ends in this for Tom Robinson (thanks largely to blatant racism, as the guy pressing the charges was not very well-liked himself). Also crosses with Acquitted Too Late.
  • In Kim Newman's "Tomorrow Town", a murder has been committed in a 1970s futurist community. When the investigating detectives get there, they learn that the townspeople have already imprisoned a suspect, who they insist must be the killer, citing that he never really fit in to the community and that the murder weapon was found in his house. Later that night, one of the townspeople promoting this theory himself tries to kill the detectives, but accidentally manages to kill himself instead. One of the detectives then notes rather dryly that if one of the most enthusiastic proponents of "the first guy did it!" theory later tries to kill the investigating detectives, it's a fairly safe bet that there's an injustice going on.
  • The Trial by Franz Kafka. The opening line of the book describes the entire plot (quoted below). He then spends the entire story trying to find out what he's being accused of, but in keeping with the surreal nature of the rest of Kafka's work, is thwarted at every turn.
    "Someone must have been spreading lies about Josef K., for one morning, after having committed no real crime, he was arrested."
  • The Way The Crow Flies, by Canadian author Ann-Marie MacDonald, is a fictional version of the Stephen Truscott case. A teenage boy is convicted of the murder of a child, based on circumstantial evidence.
  • Being set in Roman times, Julian has a few. One Deacon dies for asking a shop owner when "the work" will be done during a time period where the shop owner had an imperial cloak.
  • Canary's trial in Worm has shades of this. Despite being normal aside from her Compelling Voice, she's fitted with a restraint system used for superpowered Brutes which no doubt hurts her impression to the jury. Speaking of the voice, she's literally gagged and denied the right to speak in her own defense. When convicted, the judge uses her to set a precedent by immediately sentencing her to the Birdcage despite having no prior convictions and explicitly stating that Canary's case fell under the a law that says he can't do that. (The Three Strikes Protection Act held that since the Birdcage was essentially life without hope of parole or even reduction of sentence on appeal, under normal circumstances Parahumans could only be sent there after being convicted of a severe felony on at least three separate occasions. A later chapter implies that it also protects people from being sentenced to death under the same circumstances. Canary was on trial for an accidental use of her powers... with, as presented, no actual evidence that her victim was affected by the power.).
  • In Alguien debe morer by José-Luis Martin Vigil, Alipio Zadona is sentenced to die for murdering Lucas Paz, who died while he was attempting to blackmail Judge José Reyes. On the day of his execution, although the Reyes is unable to confess, the niece of the true murderer confesses her aunt's guilt.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Happens just about all the damned time in daytime Soap Operas, where the continuous narrative structure lends itself to this sort of shenanigans. If an innocent is framed for a major crime (usually murder), you can bet your bottom dollar they will be found guilty, sent to jail and have a thoroughly rotten time for a few weeks before being found not guilty on appeal.
    • A spectacularly successful example was the wrongful imprisonment of Deidre Rachid in Coronation Street in 1997, with even the newly-elected British Prime Minister Tony Blair speaking up for the "Free Deidre" campaign.
    • Soap's first season ends with the innocent Jessica being convicted of Peter's murder and sent to jail. She was freed when Chester suddenly confessed to the murder in question.
  • Cold Case has several cases where people are wrongfully imprisoned and spend years in jail before the detectives uncover the truth. In quite a few of these cases, the guys got railroaded thanks to prejudice of some kind while the real murderer seemed perfectly respectable.
    • A guy is exonerated after the other inmates murder him.
    • The real killer in "Frank's Best" was the victim's son, who had anger issues; the apparent killer is an illegal immigrant.
    • In "Thrill Kill", it was the mentally disturbed father of one of the victims; the blame was placed on two punk/outcast teenagers who were thought to have done it, as the title suggests, as a thrill killing.
    • In "Death Penalty Final Appeal", it's one of the two movers who had moved the victim and her father into their new home; the other mover, who had a criminal record, was blamed and convicted and executed before his name could be cleared. Fortunately, they manage to catch the real killer and exonerate him posthumously and the corrupt DA who withheld the evidence is fired and disbarred..
    • One episode had someone confess to cover for someone else he cared about. The detectives knew this but didn't have enough evidence to prove it.
  • The Rockford Files. In the back story of the series, Jim Rockford was wrongly convicted of armed robbery and spent five years in prison before receiving a pardon.
  • The A-Team:
    • The A-Team were convicted of "A Crime They Didn't Commit" which was eventually revealed to be a bank robbery in Hanoi, Vietnam. In truth, they had been ordered to do it, but the man who gave them the order was killed and all evidence of his orders destroyed.
    • In the fifth season premiere, they were cleared of that crime when a former Vietnamese colonel testified in their court-martial that their commanding officer sent them to rob a bank in order for them to be captured by the North Vietnamese. Of course, by that time they were being tried for the murder of their commanding officer, and the series ended before that could be resolved.
  • Crops up occasionally on Law & Order. Usually the wrongly convicted is either wholly unsympathetic (a white supremacist convicted of child murders that were actually committed by a mentally-ill black man) or turned out be connected after all (a man convicted of killing his wife turned out to have hired someone else to do it — he was convicted of murdering that man to cover this up). At least once, however, prosecutors did accidentally convict an innocent man, and found that their attempts to exonerate him were frustrated by their own successful prosecution, which, lacking any intentional impropriety or error, couldn't simply be reversed because they weren't sure the right man was convicted. A judge on appeal even tells them in effect "12 people looked at your evidence and said he was guilty, who am I to disagree?"
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit:
    • In an episode aptly titled "Justice Denied", it is revealed that Olivia unintentionally helped to convict a man of a crime he did not commit. The man was the prime suspect in a brutal rape, and after hours of interrogation, Olivia caught him in an I Never Said It Was Poison statement. This and other circumstantial evidence is used to convict the man. Years later, she realizes (due to a paperwork error that was repeated in the man's confession) that the man was innocent and that she must have provided him with the incriminating information earlier during the interrogation and forgotten about it. The man is freed but lost years of his life, and the real rapist was free to rape many more women in the meantime.
    • It happened to Stabler's mentor. The suspected rapist had served his sentence and was released, so when similar rapes start happening, the immediate assumption is that the rapist is up to his old tricks. However, Stabler expresses skepticism that their suspect, a mentally disabled man, was capable of a crime of that complexity. His mentor is initially dismissive, but when he learns that the suspect has an alibi for the most recent crime, he realizes that Stabler was right; the suspect in question had been innocent all along. They then find that while the innocent man was in prison, the killer had committed similar crimes in other states, counting on the different jurisdictions to keep the police from putting it together.
    • In one episode, Stabler finds out that a man he put in prison for rape was innocent after a similar crime was committed while the accused rapist was in prison. He goes to visit the guy in prison to eat his crow, apologize, and tell him as soon as they can get the real rapist before a judge, he'd be released. But then the real rapist jumps (or possibly is pushed) out of a window, which means they can no longer prove the convicted man's innocence.
      • A similar case occurs later in the same season, though the Downer Ending is averted when the man's lawyer violates privilege to implicate her recently-deceased client in the crime, allowing the other man to be exonerated.
    • In season 15 episode "Dissonant Voices", a popular voice coach is framed as a pedophile by two of his ex-students for dropping them from his class. Despite his numerous protests that he wasn't a child molester, Benson refuses to believe him, even thinking that he was just trying to claim sympathy when he said he couldn't make bail. The Frame-Up is eventually exposed, but the damage has already been done: the coach's family has disowned him, his reputation has been destroyed, and he'll never have a job again. Even worse, the two students who framed him end up getting probation at most. The episode ends with the coach giving the SVU a vicious but well-deserved What the Hell, Hero? before storming away angrily, while Benson has one of her rare moments of being guilt-ridden over arresting an innocent man.
    • One case had a mother convicted of her infant daughter's death by a biased judge, despite the possibility of a medical explanation. After the same judge messes up an SVU case based on the same biases, Casey looks into his background and finds out about the mother's conviction, which she promptly fights to overturn.
  • An early episode of NUMB3RS deals with this trope. Don responds to a crime that turns out to be identical to a previous case in which the suspect had taken a plea bargain. When they reexamine the case, they realize the evidence was a lot weaker than they had previously thought, but because the case didn't go to trial, the veracity of the evidence was never called into question. The real killer is identified when a connection between the victims is found, and the original suspect is released. (Compared to many victims of this trope, he ends up being relatively fortunate; he only serves a year before being exonerated.)
  • Subverted in Porridge, lifer Blanco Webb was wrongly convicted in 1957 for killing his wife. Fletch manages to get him pardoned and he was released, but it turns out he is guilty of murder, just not the murder he was convicted of.
    Fletch: Listen, we all know that you didn't kill your old lady, see. Which means that some other bloke did. And you've paid the penance for it, right? But I don't want you going out there harbouring any thoughts of revenge, alright?
    Blanco: No. I know 'im wot did it. It were the wife's lover. But don't worry, I shan't go round searching for him, 'e died years ago.
    Fletch: Well, that's alright then...
    Blanco: That I do know. It were me that killed him!
  • The episode "Riding the Lightning" of Criminal Minds has the team suspect that a woman who was supposedly the accomplice of her serial killer husband and nearing execution is innocent of her son's murder (the only crime which she was actually charged with)...but she doesn't seem very enthusiastic about the possibility of being cleared. It turns out that she is indeed innocent, but she doesn't want to be acquitted, because the only way to achieve that would be revealing that her son is alive and has a new identity. She believes that if that happened, the boy's knowledge of what a monster his biological father was would taint his whole life. Therefore, she lets herself die as well.
  • The 2003 adaptation of Sad Cypress (it's an episode, part of a TV series). Only the adaptation, though. In the novel, the innocent person is found innocent, which is much less dramatic.
  • An innocent man spends 2 years and 8 months in prison in the Psych episode "True Grits".
  • JAG:
    • The episode "Secrets" revolves around an escaped prisoner trying to prove his innocence.
    • In "Retrial", a sailor had unbeknownst to him hired a transsexual prostitute. When finding out, the sailor changed his mind and the prostitute threatens him with a knife. The sailor defends himself and accidentally stabs the prostitute and runs away in fear and shame. Not long thereafter, another man comes and viciously stabs the prostitute to death. The sailor is convicted for the murder, but only because the military prosecutor, presumably on purpose, didn't follow up on a lead from the local DA in order to further his own political ambitions as being "tough on crime".
  • A subplot in the Person of Interest episode "Identity Crisis" involved an innocent man sent to prison.
  • Tony sent an innocent man to prison as revealed in the NCIS episode "Bounce".
  • The main theme in the Awake episode "Guilty".
  • One episode of Womens Murder Club featured a man who, seven years after being convicted for murder, would be executed for this. The case had a turn of events when the key witness is killed after sending an email admitting to have lied. It turns out the prosecutor was secretly dating the victim and was so sure the defendant was guilty he blackmailed someone to give false testimony. In the end, the innocent was cleared, the murderer was caught and the prosecutor was arrested for tampering with the case. That case also featured Fridge Brilliance. When a DNA test confirmed the witness was killed by the same person who killed the original victim, nobody used that alone to stop the execution. The killer had to be caught first.
  • Smallville: Several years ago, back when Jonathan Kent's mother was pregnant with him, a man was wrongfully convicted for the murder of Lana Lang's Grandaunt. It was eventually revealed Sheriff Billy Tate, who later became Mayor William Tate, had asked Lachlan Luthor to kill a "drifter" (Jor-El) who was Tate's rival for her affections, but Luthor missed and killed her instead. Since Jor-El left no traces of his presence in Smallville, Tate needed another patsy. Clark dressed in clothes Jor-El left behind to pose as the drifter's ghost and scare a confession from Tate.
  • The Practice:
    • Five years before DNA tests became available, Bobby Donnell defended an accused murderer who was forced by Kenneth Walsh to confess. Because Bobby believed his client to be guilty, the client had to wait ten years after DNA tests became available until an innocence program has the case reopened and the real culprit was revealed to be someone who had previously confessed out of remorse for seeing an innocent man being blamed but neither Bobby nor Walsh did anything about it. Out of remorse for not requesting the DNA test as soon as it became available then, Bobby agreed to help his client sue the State.
    • In a later episode, police pick up two men in the wrong place at the wrong time for a cop shooting. They torture one into blaming the other, after which it's used to get the latter flipping on the first. In the end though the prosecutor drops the murder charge and pleads it simply to a misdemeanor "illegal discharge of a firearm" as they realized it wouldn't hold up (still a miscarriage, but much less).
  • Boston Legal: Alan Shore went to Texas to prevent the execution of a mentally-retarded individual who was convinced he was guilty and needed to confess to avoid going to hell. Alan failed but got a Moral Victory as the man said he didn't remember doing the killing.
  • Bones:
    • In his first appearance, convicted murderer Howard Epps convinced the Jeffersonian he was innocent and they tried to find proof of it in time to stop his execution. They found proof he was guilty not only of the murder he was convicted for but also the murder of other people. The execution had to be delayed to investigate the other murders.
    • "The Nail in the Coffin" revealed The Ghost Killer's first murder resulted in this trope, and the wrongly convicted man in question eventually snapped and went on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge against both her and the corrupt judge who convicted him.
  • In Bangkok Hilton, Kat is arrested in Bangkok on drug trafficking charges, and despite the efforts of her father to track down her ex-boyfriend and expose him as a smuggler, she is found guilty and sentenced to death by machine gun. Thankfully, she manages to escape the prison before her execution.
  • The show In Justice revolved around clearing wrongfully convicted people. In episode 8, they fail to save a mentally disabled man from being executed because the judge feels that they don't yet have enough proof. It's sort of up in the air, since the episode ended with the detective confronting the real murderer (as well as the fact that the rest of the team knows who the killer actually is and persuaded the guy's wife to retract her alibi, meaning that they could have gathered enough evidence to nail him to a wall offscreen).
  • Legend of the Seeker: In "Confession", fake memories are used to frame a man for murder into confessing to Kahlan, and he gets hanged for it. Another miscarriage is averted later when Richard and Kahlan figure out who really did it.
  • The Family: Hank was wrongly convicted of murdering Adam because he was a registered sex offender who lived near him, and Willa planted one of Adam's ships in a bottle in his house.
  • This was the premise of one episode of the 2002 revival of The Twilight Zone; a famous songwriter's life is revealed to be a fantasy created in response to him being accused of killing a cop, and being brutally interrogated while his numerous claims that he was innocent were ignored. In the end, he's beaten to the point that he's comatose, while the cop who did the beating claimed I Did What I Had to Do, only for another officer to come in saying that the actual shooter had just been picked up.
  • The Frankenstein Chronicles: John is wrongly convicted of Flora's murder at the end of the first season and sentenced to death. His lawyer doesn't help much, trying to have the charge dismissed on humane grounds rather than trying the insanity defense despite John suffering from neurosyphilis, making his guilt questionable even if he had done it. He's hanged, but it doesn't stick for long.
  • Proven Innocent: The show centers around this, as main character Madeline Scott suffered being wrongly convicted for murdering her friend (along with her brother) and did ten years in prison. She now helps other people who have also been wrongly convicted to get exonerated as their lawyer.
  • When They See Us: One of the most infamous American ones in recent years. Five innocent young men spent a decade in jail for something they didn't do, and because the real rapist didn't confess until the statute of limitations had expired, Tricia Meili (the jogger) never got proper justice on her behalf.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959): In "You Drive", Pete Radcliff is arrested for killing Timmy Danbers in the hit-and-run accident caused by his co-worker Oliver Pope as a witness named Muriel Hastings misidentified him. His alibi is that he was at home with his wife and children at the time of the accident. Pope is initially delighted both because he thinks that he has gotten away with it and because he dislikes Pete but his car eventually forces him to confess to his crime.
  • In Unbelievable, protagonist Marie Adler is the victim of an attack by a Serial Rapist, but due to lack of evidence and the local police department perceiving Marie as unreliable, they suspect her of making a False Rape Accusation. This results in the police not only basically bullying her into recanting her report of the rape, they even charge her with filing a false report — something her public defender even notes is highly unusual for cases like this. Though said public defender is able to negotiate a (under the circumstances) favorable plea bargain with the prosecution — that means Marie faces probation, a fine, and an expungement of her record if she does not re-offend, instead of jail time and a permanent mark on her record — it still means that she is required to admit guilt and face official sanctions for a crime she didn't commit, while the grave one that she was actually a victim of is ignored. It is first when the rapist is caught for another crime and undeniable evidence that Marie did tell the truth all along is discovered that she receives some redress. Even worse is that it is all Based on a True Story.
  • The Twilight Zone (1985): In "The Convict's Piano", Ricky Frost was wrongfully convicted of the murder of his ex-girlfriend because her body was found in a car that had been stolen from him.
  • Surprisingly, one episode of Perry Masonnote  entitled "The Case of the Drowning Duck" involved this. Years ago, the father of Perry's client was tried and executed for supposedly murdering his partner, and his family's name shunned. When another murder was committed, the town automatically thought it was the son. In the end, Perry managed to not only prove his client's innocence, but posthumously clear his father's name by proving that both murders were committed by the first victim's wife.
  • The I-Land: Chase was wrongly convicted of murdering her mother. Her husband is really who did it (not even intentionally). She's exonerated in the end and set free.
  • The Fugitive revolved around Dr. Richard Kimble, who had been wrongfully blamed for the murder of his wife and imprisoned until he managed to escape and go on the run to search for the real killer, often helping the people he met before having to leave to avoid the cops hot on his tail.
    • The 2000 remake had the same premise. However, the 2020 remake instead revolved around an ex-con named Mike Ferro who was blamed for a terrorist attack because he had coincidentally sent a text message right when the attack began, and both the police and the media latched on to this as proof of his culpability and exposed this to the public, which meant that everyone except his family blamed him as well.
  • For Life: Aaron was wrongly convicted of being a drug kingpin due to circumstantial evidence and false witness testimony. He also helps other people who were victims of legal injustices.
  • Batwoman (2019): Ryan was wrongfully convicted of drug-dealing, since the drugs she was carrying belonged to Angelique. Ryan took them in an attempt to get Angelique to clean up.
  • Innocent UK is all about this trope. Two series so far have had their protagonists having their convictions for murder quashed after new evidence comes to light, and the police having to reopen the original investigation to find the real killer, whilst the person wrongly convicted tries to rebuild their life.

  • Disturbed has "3", a B-side off of the Asylum album, which is written about the West Memphis Three, as seen below in the Real Life section, 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 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.
  • "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.

    Play by Post Games 
  • 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.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • 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 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 to 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.


    Video Games 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Visual Novels 
  • 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 guilt 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.

    Web Original 
  • 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.

    Western Animation 
  • 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 then comes to Rocko's home to turn him back into a wallaby, apologizing profusely.
  • 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.

    Real Life 
  • For film documentary accounts:
    • The Thin Blue Line where director Errol Morris made such a convincing case of Randal Adams being framed for murder by the police and the District Attorney that he was exonerated and released.
    • Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, where three non-conformist boys, The West Memphis Three, were indicted for a horrific triple murder and convicted even though it's obvious that at best there is not enough evidence, or at worst they are innocent boys screwed by community prejudice and hysteria. Here, activists worked on getting them exonerated with the help of the producers following up with Paradise Lost 2 and soon, Paradise Lost 3, which drop the ambiguity of the first film and firmly support the three's innocence. They have since been released.
    • A Murder In the Park has a disturbing twist on this. Anthony Porter was released in 1999 after a team of university students claimed to have found exculpatory evidence, including the confession of the real murderer. However, the film says, not only was Porter almost certainly guilty, but the man who confessed did so under coercion and manipulation from their private investigator. The man who confessed, Alstory Simon, was pressured to plead guilty by his lawyer to avoid a life sentence. His lawyer just so happened to be a friend of the same investigator who procured his confession. Simon got 37 years, though he was freed in 2014. So, if the film is correct, we have a killer wrongly set free and another man wrongly sent to prison later in his place, then himself exonerated. What is most damning is that per its allegations, the investigators seeking to exonerate Porter used many of the same tactics found in miscarriages of justice by the government: getting witnesses to change their stories with bribery or threats, coercing a false confession, and ignoring evidence implicating him in a double murder. Not only that but since Porter has been pardoned and the statute of limitations has run out on the investigators' crimes, no one can be prosecuted. However, Simon sued them and the university, receiving an undisclosed settlement in 2018.
  • Wikipedia has this page, which details cases of this.
  • On their Showtime series Bullshit, Penn and Teller did an episode focusing on the causes and results of such miscarriages of justice.
  • The "Central Park Jogger" case. On April 19, 1989, investment banker Tricia Meili was savagely attacked in New York City's Central Park — beaten, raped, and left for dead. Within days, five young men — known as the Central Park 5 — who had been terrorizing people in the park were arrested. Despite no DNA evidence, no identification by Meili (she survived, but could not remember the attack), and a time frame that showed that the boys could NOT have assaulted the woman — ironically because they were attacking someone else at the time — all were convicted and sent to prison. A decade later, a man serving time for another crime came forward and confessed that he, and he alone, was the real perpetrator. There was nothing the DA's office could do but overturn the convictions of the others — who had all served their undeserved time. Meanwhile, the statute of limitations had run out, meaning that the man could not be prosecuted for the attack. So, 5 innocent (relatively speaking) young men spent a decade in prison for something they didn't do, a guilty man remained — and STILL remains — unpunished for something he did, and Meili will never see proper justice done. A thoroughly gross miscarriage of justice all around. A partial subversion took place on June 20, 2014: the Central Park 5 will receive $40 million dollars due to wrongful conviction compensation laws. The actual rapist too is serving life without parole for raping and murdering another woman, so he's at least in prison forever.
  • In 1983, Henry McCollum and Leon Brown (two mentally handicapped half-brothers) were accused of raping and murdering an 11-year-old girl. There was no physical evidence, the confessions were inconsistent, and what little did match up was already known by the police. They were sentenced to death (though Leon later had his sentence commuted to life in prison) in 1984. It wasn't until 2014, when DNA implicated a sex predator named Roscoe Artis (who lived 100 feet from where the little girl's body had been found, had been implicated in a similar murder a county over, and was convicted of murdering another young girl a month after the Brothers had been arrested in the same neighborhood) that the two were released. By this time, their mother had died just a year before. Both were ultimately pardoned in June 2015.
  • Canadian David Milgaard was wrongly accused and convicted of murder. He served 22 years before he was released. He was made famous by The Tragically Hip and their song Wheat Kings, which brought national attention to his case and the fact that, despite possessing evidence he was not guilty of the crime, the government refused to release him for almost a decade, preferring to let him languish in prison rather than admitting a mistake. He sued on release. The settlement was ten million.
  • In 1944 George Stinney, a 14-year-old South Carolinian black boy was falsely convicted of murdering a pair of white girls and was executed only about 86 days or so after the girls' bodies were discovered. He had actually been coerced into confessing when the police officers offered him ice cream if he confessed to the crime. Eventually, new evidence surfaced and Judge Carmen Mullen finally vacated Stinney's conviction posthumously in 2014.
  • In one of the gravest public blunders of the Italian judiciary system, Enzo Tortora was wrongfully sentenced to ten years in prison after accusations of being a member of the Camorra involved in drug trafficking, based on paper-thin evidence and the claims of a mentally unstable pentito. What's notable is the fact the guy was a beloved TV host; when his ordeal ended and was allowed back to the scenes, now physically worn out and struggling with cancer, he famously started off the show by simply saying "Well then, where did we leave off?".
  • Perhaps the most infamous case in French history is Captain Alfred Dreyfus, who in 1894 was accused of spying for Germany. Being Jewish in a still anti-Semitic, fiercely conservative army, he was the scapegoat while the army acquitted the actual culprit, and was sent to the Penal Colony of Devil's Island in French Guiana for life. His brother and his wife fought to obtain proof of the miscarriage. Eventually, some first-rate intellectuals (including Émile Zola and his J Accuse) took up the defense of Dreyfus in the press and obtained a new trial. The affair was unusual in that it really divided France into two clear sides: the dreyfusards (Dreyfus' defenders, mostly left-wing republicans) and the anti-dreyfusards (right-wing, traditionally religious conservatives). Dreyfus was pardoned in 1899 after five years of hell and officially exonerated in 1906. Dreyfus went on to serve during World War 1, rising to the rank of lieutenant-colonel, but the years his career had lost were never taken into account and he never could make it to general, as he could have before the affair.
  • The first season of the podcast Serial takes an in-depth look at the case of Adnan Syed, a Muslim man convicted of murder at the age of 18 in the death of his friend Hae Min Lee. In the course of reporting, the evidence is examined, and the conclusion is eventually drawn by reporter Sarah Koenig that the case against Adnan was based on either fundamentally flawed evidence (timelines that didn't match, evidence that ultimately was demonstrably incorrect), or Blatant Lies (witness testimony that changed with each telling, or that was left out entirely because it didn't fit the prosecution's case). She ultimately states that she doesn't know if Adnan is actually the killer, but there's no way he should be found guilty based on the evidence provided. The fact that Adnan has constantly pled his innocence for 15 years despite it hurting his case and his chances at parole implies that this trope is in effect.
  • As discussed above under "Film", 10 Rillington Place is based on the true story of John Christie, one of Britain's most prolific and notorious Serial Killers, who was the star witness at the trial which managed to see Timothy Evans, the husband and father of two of his victims, convicted and executed for the murders that Christie himself committed. When Christie's own crimes were exposed, the public outcry over this miscarriage was one of the key factors in the public movement which eventually resulted in Britain abolishing the death penalty for murder (it was retained for other crimes until 1998).
  • Making A Murderer, featuring Steven Avery. He was exonerated for rape and then convicted of murder. The documentary raises the possibility that the murder was another false conviction and that he and his nephew are innocent. Notably, even people who believe that Avery is guilty have come to concede that a lot of the evidence against him was probably planted, or at the very least that Branden (the nephew) is innocent.
  • Roger Keith Coleman once seemed like the poster child for this trope. On March 10, 1981, Wanda McCoy was found raped, stabbed, and nearly beheaded in her own home, for which Coleman was convicted. The only real evidence that there was to go on were spots of blood on Coleman's pants and two male pubic hairs found on McCoy's body that were consistent with his own. Several witness accounts also placed Coleman as being other places at the time the crime occurred (also, the next-door neighbor was a serial rapist). While on death row, Coleman maintained that he was innocent and managed to gain numerous supporters, including Pope John Paul II. Shortly before his execution in 1992, he stated that "an innocent man is going to be murdered tonight." His supporters and anti-death penalty activists petitioned and lobbied for many years to have the evidence from the crime tested. Finally, in 2006, DNA testing finally confirmed that Coleman really was responsible for the crime.
  • The very first man exonerated by DNA testing in the US, Kirk Bloodsworth, was found guilty of rape and murder due to being mistakenly identified by eyewitnesses as the man they had noticed around the area (he resembled the real culprit). He was freed after eight years while having unknowingly been in a cell above the actual rapist and murderer (who was serving his sentence for another rape). The man wished him luck on his release (no, you can't make this stuff up) and was later convicted of the crimes himself after they finally ran the DNA from the original case against the national database.
  • Kevin Cooper is an unusual case in that DNA seems to condemn him, but there are compelling arguments that the DNA tests were sabotaged (a criminalist who had been caught lying on the stand had checked out an envelope containing one of the tested pieces of evidence and opened it three years before the testing was done, the cigarettes had changed size shape and color from the last time, and when a prosecution lab found results that seemed to confirm that blood had been planted on the shirt, they withdrew it on grounds of contamination but refused to submit the lab notes that could allow that claim to be verified). Whether he's this or not is up in the air, but there is still strong proof that some funny business was going on (notably when Cooper applied for an en banc hearing the results were a very narrow rejection that took 17 months to decide and which resulted in one of the judges writing a 100 page dissent accusing the judge of deliberately sabotaging Cooper's hearing, as well as the police of forging evidence.)
  • Schapelle Corby, possibly. She was convicted of smuggling marijuana to Indonesia but there were a lot of questionable things about the case, such as there being no camera footage available from the airport, the Judge presiding over her case apparently never having acquitted one person in over FIVE HUNDRED cases, destruction of evidence and more. She was sentenced to 20 years in a Hellhole Prison and many feared she wouldn't survive. Fortunately, she got her sentenced reduced eventually, was allowed out on probation (but still had to stay in Indonesia for five years) and, on May 17, 2017, was finally allowed to return home to Australia.
  • In 2006, Bavarian man Gustl Mollath was accused by his wife of battering her, and was subsequently declared a criminally insane paranoiac in court. Only after seven years of asylum hospitalisation did it emerge that the allegations were completely baseless: his wife was a banker who was involved in handling clandestine Swiss bank accounts. When Mollath threatened to go public with it, she denounced him to a psychologist, prompting said psychologist to file a report that portrayed him as a violent lunatic. This report would be regurgitated by a half dozen other independent experts, who would then proceed to cite each other as further evidence of Mollath's madness. Lastly, the judge who issued the ruling turned out to be an acquaintance of a colleague (and future husband) of Mrs. Mollath.
  • In 2014, a couple in Russia was involved in a car accident, which resulted in the wife's death. The driver of the other car was drunk and was clearly the guilty party (his car crossed to the opposite lane). The drunk driver was arrested and found guilty of DUI and reckless driving and put in jail, also being ordered to pay compensation to the other driver (which he never did). Then the drunk driver's passenger (who had also been drinking before the driving) sued both drivers for compensation. The case was dismissed initially, as the court took into account the fact that the other driver was not at fault and himself never received compensation from the drunk driver. She filed for an appeal in a different area, and the second court ruled in her favor, so the innocent driver had to shell out a sizable sum to pay for someone who was partly responsible for his wife's death. How's that for justice?
  • The case of Charles B. McVay III, the only captain in the entire history of the U.S. Navy to receive a court-martial for the loss of his ship, the heavy cruiser Indianapolis. After delivering components for the atomic bombs to the Mariana Islands, Indianapolis made for the Philippines before being torpedoed and sunk by the Japanese submarine I-58 en-route. McVay and the majority of his crew spent five days lost at sea before being discovered, with only three hundred and sixteen out of nearly 1,100 surviving (the rest dying to injuries, exposure, lack of supplies, and near constant shark attack). McVay was charged with not calling for abandon ship in a timely manner, and failure to zigzag in event of a submarine attack. Despite scant evidence note , expert testimony note , and personal intersession from Naval Commander in Chief Nimitz, McVay was found guilty of failure to zigzag and his career was for all intents and purposes finishednote . Survivors of the Indianapolis labored for years to try and overturn the court-martial, and eventually McVay was exonerated by President Clinton in October 2000.
  • The arrest of Robert Seacat. A violent repeat offender, potentially under the influence of drugs takes refuge in the house of the innocent and uninvolved Lech family. The police manage to arrest Seacat, the offender in question, without any loss of life, not even the Lech family's two dogs who were in the back yard. However, the force used in the arrest had rendered the house uninhabitable, to the point where it had to be torn down and rebuilt. Once the arrest was done, the police had told the family that they could come and pick up their things, since there had been "some damage" to the house. The police offered 5 000 to cover the family's living expenses for a few weeks, but deny any fault in having destroyed the house. The Lechs tried to sue under the Takings clause of the constitution, which requires the government to pay for any property taken from citizens for whatever reason. The court ruled that the police had not officially taken the property before destroying it, and the Lechs only got around half the amount required to rebuild the house, and nothing to cover legal fees.
  • The death of Helen Wilson in Beatrice, Nebraska in 1985, ruined the lives of six people due to a number of problems. A lab technician in Oklahoma City ended up eliminating the true suspect, Bruce Allen Smithnote . An overzealous former investigator from the Beatrice PD sought to pin the blame on a group of informants he used to work with along with a few others. The six chosen ultimately confessed and were sentenced to various jail sentence lengths. In 2007, various appeals lead to the case being reexamined with Bruce Allen Smith being fingered as the culprit but he had passed away in 1992. The six arrested were ultimately released from prison and pardoned from the crimes in 2009.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: