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Off on a Technicality

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"I punched some jerk in Tahoe; they gave me one-to-three,
My high-priced lawyer sprung me on a technicality,
I'm just visiting Springfield Prison; I get to sleep at home tonight."
Krusty the Clown, The Simpsons, parodying Johnny Cash

The criminal is caught, comes up for a trial — and then it turns out that he wasn't read his Miranda Warning, or the Cowboy Cop forgot to get a search warrant, or the confession was obtained via Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique. The judge is forced to throw the case out and the (alleged) crook walks free to offend again while their victims are left to suffer the ruling of a legal system more concerned about "procedure" than "justice".


In stories where a Vigilante Man or Cowboy Cop is the protagonist, the bleeding heart judiciary will accept any half-baked excuse for letting criminals go free. This is often a case of artistic license as in Real Life technicalities frequently don't apply the way they are depicted or may not even exist. If the accused person is the protagonist, then the "technicality" will actually be an albatross for them, because no-one will believe they're actually innocent until the end of the story/series when the actual criminal is found.

Most prevalent back in the 1960s and 1970s with the vigilante justice fad in fiction, after several court decisions seemed to tip the balance of the legal system far in favor of the accused. Since then, Real Life police and other law enforcement personnel have had these changes included into their training to avoid screwing up their cases, and the fictional versions have become rarer. It still happens, but unlike in fiction, it's more often the excuse for the acquittal, rather than the reason. Such as when a judge or jury doesn't feel the person is guilty in spite of the evidence or does, but feels their actions were justified, and exploits the technicality as a legal grounds to dismiss the case. Multiple technicalities certainly can be the reason for someone being acquitted, but it wouldn't be this trope, as this is when a single technicality results in a "not guilty" ruling.


The Downplayed versions, on the other hand, are absolutely Truth in Television. One example is where the technicality doesn't acquit someone outright, but goes in the defendant's favor. Most court cases are not made or broken on one thing, for either side. So a technicality can still reasonably be expected to influence the outcome of a case, but isn't likely to make or break it. Another example is the technicality resulting in a shaky case being dropped, or police falling just short of either reasonable suspicion or probable cause based on technicalities. If a case that's being built isn't particularly strong, it's not unheard of for prosecutors to either drop such cases or avoid putting too much energy into them if something, technicality or otherwise, gets in the way. So a technicality being just enough for an already iffy case not to end up in court is also Justified, as it happens in Real Life. If they get off completely when the case against them looked strong, it is almost always because the police or prosecution engaged in serious misconduct or completely dropped the ball on something extremely important. Even then, for them to get off completely instead of just getting a few charges thrown out, the judge has to really want to send a message, or the misconduct or bungling has to be so extreme that the entire conviction would have been overturned on appeal anyways.


In a Police Procedural, such as Law & Order, this will usually come in at the first quarter-hour mark, when the initial case falls through, and the DA tells the cops to find some non-tainted evidence or charges to rebuild a case from.

The Amoral Attorney with Rule Fu Stronger Than Yours loves taking advantage of this. The justice system may counteract it by Justice by Other Legal Means. The Insanity Defense is a version of this where the defendant (or their advocate) admits they did it but argues they aren't responsible for their actions because they were mentally incapable of determining right from wrong at the time.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Ah! My Goddess, when Belldandy has to face Hild in a race of flying brooms Urd and Peorth see that Hild's broom Gluhen Des Herzen looks more like a broom-shaped rocket than a broom, and demand she proves it's indeed a broom by cleaning the floor. Gluhen Des Herzen is a vacuum cleaner (or rather an electric broom, as Hild puts it), and as it can be used to clean a floor it passed Urd and Peorth's definition.
  • Don't try this in Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. If Section 9 can't find (or make up) a counter-technicality, they'll just ignore the law to get you.
    • The Magnificent Bastard Big Bad Gouda almost gets off with this in the second season by using his plan as a resume for taking a job with the American Empire and leave the country under diplomatic immunity. Luckily, the Prime Minister has a technicality of her own; a piece of legislation which allows her to give Section 9 a great deal of "discretion" in detaining Gouda on the grounds that he's an important asset to the country. Something of a Chekhov's Gun, since the same law was brought up in an earlier episode.
    • Another episode involves an Amoral Attorney who gets his client off for killing his girlfriend in front of Togusa by spinning Togusa's actions (repeatedly shooting the man's cyborg arms with his sidearm) into Police Brutality and Fantastic Racism against cyborgs. Then, for an encore, he tries to release Togusa's involvement with Section 9 (a public secret) as part of the proceedings. This last part backfires on him: Although his client is released, Aramaki responds by having the attorney and the client killed in a car accident.

    Comic Books 
  • Bob Ingersoll's column on law as (mis)portrayed in comics, The Law Is A Ass, included several discussions of comic-book villains getting off on technicalities, and why it wouldn't actually have happened; this and this are good examples.
  • A semi-regular occurrence in Batman comics, because it's Gotham.
    • Happened thrice during Jason Todd's short tenure as Robin, which may explain why the kid became tempted to take the law into his own hands.
    • The man who shot Commissioner Gordon during the Officer Down storyline walked free. His death isn't so much made to look like an accident as it is obvious that his old associates got the leak on his Witness Protection identity.
    • It has even been played, at times, that confinement to Arkham Asylum is less the result of an Insanity Defense on the part of villains, but a legal technicality directly resultant from the fact that they were arrested and investigated by Batman rather than an agent of the law, which presumably would make evidence inadmissible if the cases went before a jury. In reality, the opposite is true — any evidence collected by a private citizen is always admissible, without exception; the exclusionary rule only covers evidence collected by government action. However, Batman might qualify as an agent of the police, since he works so closely with them (and has even been deputized), in which case the rule would apply. In any case, you can't just commit anyone to an institution anymore without grounds to believe they're a danger to themselves or others (committals are also subject to regular reviews by a judge).
  • Batman Beyond: Ma Mayhem's sons were reported to have been "freed on technicalities from a 10-year sentence".
  • In Doom Patrol #90, the previously-captured Madame Rouge is on the loose again because "A crafty lawyer had her freed on a technicality!" Handwaved by not revealing what the technicality was—and Madame Rouge was promptly deported.
  • District Attorney Adrian Chase became The Vigilante, because he was tired of seeing "by the book" arrests being quashed on technicalities. As Bob Ingersoll pointed out, this strongly suggests he became a DA without actually knowing what "by the book" means.
  • Laff-A-Lympics: In the special story "The Man Who Stole Thursday", a criminal arrested by Dog Wonder had to be released because his trial would take place on Thursday.
  • Amoral Attorney Eli Gould cites a technicality as the means by which he was able to get child molester Theodore "Victor" Allen acquitted in the "Sloth" issue of the comic prequel/adaptation of Se7en.
  • Spider-Men II: The adult Miles Morales had at least three years of prison, but don Rigoleto was grateful towards him. He found a technicality, and he was released in a pair of weeks, as soon as the paperwork was completed.
  • Teen Titans Go!: In Issue #41, Killer Moth is free and says he paid his debt to society. Raven says he "got off on some pointless technicality".
  • In the Ultimate Spider-Man comics, being apprehended by the web-slinger (and possibly any costumed vigilante) is a violation of your civil rights and is the source of Joker Immunity for anyone he has a hand in bringing down, particularly the Shocker, who gets a "Get out of Jail Free" Card for breaking out of jail as well as for his original crimes which Spidey had nothing to do with. As of Ultimatum, the DA's office has done absolutely nothing about this loophole, instead blaming Spider-Man for their cases getting tossed. The Punisher is listening when this is brought up at Ryker's— a rapist says that he's free as a bird, because Daredevil beat the crap out of him as he was about to nail a thirteen-year old in a house he broke into and says that as soon as he's free he's going to finish what he started— aaand that's how the reader discovers that nesting the bowl of a spoon in your palm with the handle between your middle and ring fingers will enable you to slash open someone's throat. The Kingpin was cleared of murder charges after his lawyer got the video of the murder ruled inadmissible. Even though news station played the video for all to see, the citizens of New York treat this as the same thing as him as being completely innocent. Parker tries to bring it up during class, and the teacher gives him detention. The implication is that everybody knows he bought the cops off, and is therefore the de facto master of the city — and their lives are at risk if they bring it up.

    Comic Strips 
  • Dick Tracy had this trope played a lot in Chester Gould's later years with Tracy being frustrated with it, often in the most Anvilicious way possible. Gould's successor, Max Allen Collins, would eventually tone it down with Tracy deciding he can work within the changes to due process well enough.

    Fan Works 
  • In a Harry Potter fanfic titled "Growing Up Black", years after Sirius Black was sent to Azkaban, some of his relatives started having doubts about his guilt, decided to check the facts and found out he wasn't allowed to have a trial. They got him free by invoking a law stating that no pureblood can be forced to spend more than one month in Azkaban without a trial and that all charges against purebloods who are forced to stay more than that time there must be dropped. Sure, he's innocent, but since this is not what got him off, it can arguably be counted as a technicality.
    • Actually, while the law invoked to get him free was supposed to work regardless of Sirius being guilty or not, the relative who brought the case to the Wizengamot did point out reasons to doubt his guilt before invoking the law. However, people who don't believe Sirius Black's innocence usually say he got Off On A Technicality. It doesn't help that his family had to pull some strings just to have a chance to plead Sirius' case.
  • In another Harry Potter fanfic, "My Parents' Secret Keeper", Sirius Black did get a trial and was acquitted but, since the Wizarding World believed him to be guilty, he wasn't allowed to take Harry away from the Dursleys. In that fic, the Fidelius Charm leaves a magical trace on the Secret-Keeper and Sirius Black had no sign of that trace, which got him acquitted on the charge of being the one who betrayed the Potters to Voldemort, despite everyone being sure the only reason he had no sign was that, with James and Lily dead, the trace had vanished. And Sirius couldn't prove his innocence on the mass murder charge because there were no witnesses (the wizarding world believed the lack of witnesses to be the reason he wasn't convicted). Years later, after Harry's second year at Hogwarts, Sirius found a law that allowed him to take custody of Harry. Unfortunately, Harry was so convinced of Sirius Black's guilt he refused to listen to his Godfather's pleas of innocence until Peter Pettigrew showed up and almost killed Harry in an attempt to get Sirius finally convicted of something. Peter wouldn't feel safe living as somebody's pet rat with Sirius free to look for him.
  • In "These Grim Bones", yet another Harry Potter fic portraying Sirius Black as a Death Eater who got Off On A Technicality, Cornelius Fudge, wanting to conceal the fact that (in the fic) some of the Muggles allegedly killed by the explosion actually fell victims to blunders from Obliviators, convinced most of the Wizengamot members to pass a motion to have Sirius only answer questions regarding his guilt or innocence of the crimes he's been charged with. Fudge's official excuse was that, even under Veritaserum, Sirius could twist the truth to the point of getting himself acquitted if he ever got a chance to give elaborate answers. After Sirius claimed under Veritaserum that he didn't betray the Potters to Voldemort, didn't kill the Muggles and didn't kill Peter Pettigrew, Albus Dumbledore accused Sirius of being able to overcome Veritaserum and tried to have him convicted on the remaining evidence, but failed, because it was Dumbledore himself who said Veritaserum would be needed to settle any doubts. That and the fact the Wizengamot wouldn't go back on the ruling of having Sirius answer only the basic questions got him acquitted but still believed to be guilty.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Scorpio in Dirty Harry, who got off due to Harry Callahan illegally obtaining the evidence that would have convicted him and using the Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique to make him talk concerning where the girl Scorpio kidnapped was, since the DA said he "couldn't condone police torture." This would only invalidate the confession of that case (even without Scorpio's confession, there's more than enough hard evidence for a conviction), but certainly not Scorpio's attempted murder of Callahan, assault with a deadly weapon, possession of an illegal automatic weapon, and kidnapping him, which is enough for a life sentence by itself.
  • In the sequel, Magnum Force, the film opens with a known racketeer, his attorney, driver, and bodyguard being executed by a traffic cop after the former gets off on a technicality for the killing of a labor reformer and his family.
  • Two films later, in Sudden Impact, Harry's first scene is in a courtroom where a judge throws out a case on an arrest Harry made, saying that he didn't have valid grounds for the search that got him the evidence justifying the arrest. Of course, a while later the released suspect tries to murder Harry and is killed in self-defense, delivering karmic justice.
  • The Sally Field movie Eye for an Eye has this as its premise, as a woman who loses her daughter to a rapist tries to get him behind bars, but seeks her own kind of justice on him after he gets off on a technicality. The tagline of the movie is "What do you do when justice fails?" In Real Life, at the very least, the killer's constant making faces at Field would earn him a bunch of "contempt of court" charges.
  • Lethal Weapon 2. This is a running concept throughout the movie that the Big Bad and The Dragon are diplomats (from apartheid South Africa) who can't be arrested or prosecuted over any offence in the United States due to diplomatic immunity. In Real Life, most governments would at least expel diplomats who were proven to be heroin smugglers, and probably be prosecuted at home to keep the host country happy (especially as South Africa was a strong US ally). Of course, it doesn't turn out well for them in the end.
  • A Nightmare on Elm Street:
    • Child-killer Freddy Krueger was let off because, as expanded on in Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare, a drunken judge failed to sign the search warrant in the right place, so the parents of Elm Street banded together and burned him alive. A case of Hollywood Law, as these articles from the column "The Law Is a Ass" detail why that particular arrest was, in fact, valid and wouldn't have been tossed out.
    • The circumstances of Freddy's arrest are expanded on in a few books (including the Freddy vs. Jason novelization). Some Cowboy Cop suspicious of Freddy actually broke into the Krueger house and utterly trashed the place looking for him, stumbling across Freddy's hidden "trophy room" (where he kept scrapbooks containing newspaper clippings and such); afterward he rushed to the power plant, found Freddy there and brought him in.
    • Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash has a time displaced FBI agent (long story) try to prevent Freddy from ever becoming a dream demon by correctly signing the search warrant himself. Whether an FBI agent who probably wasn't even born yet has the authority to do so is another question.
    • The first episode of Freddy's Nightmares stated that Freddy got off simply because the arresting officer failed to read Freddy his Miranda rights (which is also not legitimate, since it only means any statements he made couldn't be used, but other evidence could be).
  • In The Star Chamber, having to free obviously guilty murderers on technicalities inspires Judge Stephen Hardin to join a secret court which "tries", convicts and sentences them to death, with a hitman carrying it out. Two specific examples from early in the movie:
    • The film opens with a pair of undercover cops chasing a suspect who pops his gun into the trash when he gets home. The cops are unable to legally search the trash because they don't have a warrant, so they attempt a bit of Loophole Abuse and search the garbage truck when they pick up the trash. In court, it comes out that the trash was still in the truck's hopper when it was searched, so it was still the suspect's trash. Judge Hardin reluctantly dismisses the case.
    • A pair of men are picked up for raping and murdering a child when one of the cops claims to smell marijuana in their van and they find the victim's shoe. The technicality this time is that the search was illegal because there was no marijuana present in the van to justify the search. The reasoning behind this one is what drives Hardin to join the secret court. The men are later revealed to be innocent as someone stole their van, let someone else use it to commit the rape/murder, and returned it without their knowledge.
  • Played for laughs in Liar Liar until the end, where Fletcher gets a My God, What Have I Done? moment.
  • In the thriller Someone To Watch Over Me, the villain is released after being arrested for murder because no one read him his rights, even though he was never interrogated and no statements made by him were used as evidence against him. Especially facepalm-worthy, since the movie actually (apparently unwittingly) provided a legitimate reason for why he might be released: he isn't represented by counsel during a lineup, even though he requests it, tainting the resulting identification (which is the prosecution's whole case).
  • In the movie Carlito's Way, five years after drug dealer Carlito Brigante is sent to prison for murder, his lawyer gets him out because of prosecutorial misconduct and illegal wiretaps that led to the evidence being tainted. The judge that ordered Carlito's release made it quite clear this was the only reason he released him and deeply regrets having to do this (especially since it was the same judge who presided over his trial and sentenced Brigante to prison the first time anyway. In fact, he'd been forced to since the appeals court reversed his ruling).
  • In Superman Returns, Lex Luthor had his conviction from the previous Superman movie overturned because Superman didn't show up to testify against him in the appeal. There is no testimony in appeal hearings; only the trial record is reviewed, making this a research flub, as Luthor clearly said he got off because Superman didn't show up to testify at the latest appeal. The reason for this was that Superman had left Earth to follow a false lead regarding the remains of Krypton. The false lead was somehow engineered by Luthor himself exactly for the purpose of getting off on that technicality.
  • There's Something About Mary: Mary's architect friend, who was actually a pizza delivery boy, claimed Pat was a murderer who stayed in prison for five years until a technicality got him off. The claim was false.
  • In A Murder of Crows, the man responsible for the death of the Serial Killer's family got off on a technicality, and triggered his Start of Darkness.
  • In Star Trek Into Darkness, Kirk and Spock are called out by Admiral Pike for violating the Prime Directive, having corrupted a pre-warp culture in the most dramatic way possible by letting them all see the Enterprise while rescuing Spock after his mission to prevent a volcano from wiping said culture out. Spock points out that technically, their plan was not in violation of the Directive, as the Enterprise would have stayed out of sight had Sulu's shuttle not gotten fouled by the volcanic gas. Naturally, his use of the trope gets called out by the enraged Admiral.
  • In one of the Compilation Movies with the Looney Tunes, Bugs Bunny attempts to arrest mobsters Rocky and Mugsy, but they keep getting away through loopholes. It's only when they kidnap Tweety Bird and is "rescued" by Sylvester the Cat do they finally go in.
  • In the third film of the Jack Slater film series, the Show Within a Show of Last Action Hero, Slater's nemesis the Ripper was only given ten years in prison rather than the death penalty because an illegal search by Slater rendered the murder weapon inadmissible in court.
  • Cruel and Unusual: Edgar is outraged when some of the other condemned suggest that, just because she died first, Maylon wasn't condemned for his murder while he was for killing her.
  • Free State of Jones: The Mississippi Supreme Court engineered this to save the state's miscegenation law from a constitutional challenge, overturning Davis Knight's conviction on technical grounds.
  • Wind River: The coroner's report on Natalie's body acknowledges that she was raped, but he legally has to list the cause of death as the extreme cold rather than as a homicide (even though it was only through the actions of her rapist that she was in a position to die of cold to begin with). This infuriates FBI Agent Jane Banner, as she knows her boss won't let her stay on the case unless it's declared a murder. She resolves the problem by simply not reporting in for as long as possible.
  • Inverted in The A-Team. The team successfully clears their name of the crime they were originally convicted of and send a gang of crooked CIA agents and Private Military Contractors to prison... and are promptly re-arrested on the technicality that "it's still illegal to break out of jail." Captain Sosa tells her superior to his face, "This is chickenshit, sir."
  • I Spit on Your Grave: The third film has Oscar tell Jennifer his daughter's rapist was released because the physical evidence against him went missing.
  • ...And Justice for All: Cruelly inverted with Jeff, whom Kirkland is unable to get off (although he's innocent) because of a technicality.
  • At the end of Ant-Man, the police "lose" some of the paperwork connected to Scott's latest arrest, tainting the case against him and making him once again a free man.
  • In John Doe: Vigilante, John Doe's targets are all unrepentant criminals who have escaped justice or been let off on a technicality.
  • Acts of Vengeance: It's mentioned Valera got an accused child murderer off due to a technicality. The man went on to kill Strode's daughter too, resulting in him later murdering Valera's wife and daughter for revenge.

  • Not uncommon in The Icelandic Sagas, given how often Medieval Icelandic legal procedure is highlighted in them. For instance, in The Saga of the Confederates Ospak gets away with murdering Odd's kinsman because Odd summoned a last-minute replacement for one of his panel from his home district rather than at the Althing.
  • Honor Harrington: In the first book of the series, Captain Lord Pavel Young attempted to set up Honor Harrington for public failure by withdrawing his own ship from their assigned station, leaving her to assume all responsibilities with her single vessel. When Honor subsequently discovers—and foils—a plot by the People's Republic of Haven to conquer the system through a staged native uprising, Captain Young is shamed by the rest of the navy, but is not actually demoted or court-martialed. In The Short Victorious War, Harrington learns that the reason Young was not removed from command after the events in “On Basilisk Station” was because he had covered his withdrawal with a barely justified return to the shipyard for repairs, a legal move, shielding him from retribution. Later he withdraws during a battle without orders and is court-martialed, but his family connections mean he's only dishonorably discharged rather than shot for desertion.
  • Harry Potter:
    • In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, it was revealed that, when Lord Voldemort murdered his muggle father and his father's parents, the Muggles believed Frank Bryce, the caretaker of the mansion where he lived, committed the murders. Bryce was not charged because the forensics experts failed to establish a cause of death - the Killing Curse doesn't leave signs that can be noticed without magic - but the villagers remained sure Bryce was guilty... somehow.
    • Following Harry's trial for a Crime of Self-Defense where he was proven innocent since he was saving his and Dudley's souls by casting a patronus in front of his muggle cousin (who already knows about magic anyway) in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix the Ministry spun the story to make it sound like he got Off on a Technicality. It then turns out that one of their particularly nasty members is secretly responsible for the attack in the first place, precisely to provoke him into using magic so they could prosecute him for it, and she gets away with it.
    • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince later reveals that Voldemort framed his maternal uncle, a wizard, for the murder of his father and grandparents with Fake Memories, covering him on the magical end too.
    • Throughout the series, numerous wealthy and well-connected Death Eaters (most prominently, Lucius Malfoy) evaded conviction after Voldemort's fall by claiming they'd been placed under the Imperius Curse. It's implied that because of their connections, no more than a token effort was made to verify their claims.
  • In the H. Beam Piper story "Lone Star Planet", set on New Texas, the new Solar League ambassador, Stephen Silk, has to arrange this for the three men who assassinated the last Ambassador. The logic was that on New Texas, politicians are defined as literal Acceptable Targets - you're only punished for killing a politician if the court's opinion is that said pollie didn't have it coming - and this specialized court was the venue for the assassination trial. However, defining ambassadors as practicing politicians would lead to some very awkward precedent, meaning that Silk has to first build a conclusive case around them, then remind everyone that it's the wrong court, and New Texan double jeopardy laws meant there couldn't be a retrial. Of course, since it's a cowboy planet, you can freely carry guns into court unless you're the defendant, and after the verdict of "technically not guilty and it's a damn shame" is handed down, Silk proves that there's no technicality that will get you off a bullet through the head by gunning down all three at once. Quoth the judge: "Court-is-hereby-adjourned-until-0900-tomorrow-hit-the-deck!"
  • The district attorney in the book version of Clear and Present Danger takes pride in the fact that he has never lost a case on technical grounds. This is not the same as never losing a case ever, but is still impressive.
  • In the same series, Ed Kealty's claim to the Presidency in Executive Orders is finally stamped out when he takes Jack Ryan to court over an emergency order and refers to Jack as the President, which is later used against him when the Acting Attorney General notes that, by refering to Jack as the President in federal court, it gave him the legitimacy needed to be Presidentnote .
  • One minor character in the Tim Dorsey novel Florida Roadkill got himself and his friends off on a technicality when they were arrested for drunk driving and possession of alcohol when they were in high school. He found an obscure law that proved that the officer who arrested them didn't have valid grounds to pull them over, and since all further evidence was taken from a technically illegal police stop, it was inadmissible in court. He wins the case and grows up to be a DA.
  • In Artemis Fowl Mulch Diggums is released from prison after the eponymous character has tampered with the police's records, making it look as if the first search of his home was carried out before it was ordered.
  • In The Curse of Chalion, death magic is essentially "pray to the right god, and if he grants your prayer, he sends a demon to kill both you and your target". Attempted death magic is treated as attempted murder and punished appropriately. Successful death magic is a miracle of justice, and cannot be treated as a crime, unless you're willing to try arresting the god who sent the demon. (Archdivine Mendenal admits that the distinction was clearer when it was all theoretical, that is, before Cazaril received a death miracle without dying himself.note )
  • Mickey Haller is a specialist at defending known criminals. One case in The Lincoln Lawyer unrelated to the novel's main plot had him defending a marijuana grower who had been detected by a DEA flyover. Haller notes that the flyover was at a low enough altitude to constitute an illegal search, and the case is thrown out.
  • Invoked in The Dresden Files: Dead Beat. Harry is well aware that the Laws of Magic say that you can't use necromancy on human corpses (the laws are about using Black Magic against other humans), and that the penalty for violating the Laws is beheading. But nobody ever said nuthin' about reanimating a fossil Tyrannosaurus rex.
  • In Alexis Carew: Mutineer Alexis briefly consults an attorney on challenging Dalthan agnatic primogeniture inheritance law, but is informed that she couldn't, yet, due to a problem of standing: as her grandfather is still alive, she has not yet been personally injured by the nationally unconstitutional law and therefore cannot challenge it. In HMS Nightingale it turns out to be even worse than that: Dalthan landholdings are organized as shares of a private corporation rather than as state-backed nobility or the equivalent, and such entities are permitted to set their inheritance law however they like. Ultimately the situation is resolved with a constitutional amendment at the start of Privateer that allows Dalthan holders to designate any child from their family as heir, rather than simply the eldest son or grandson.
  • The Cruel Twist Ending of Tana French's novel In the Woods. Main character homicide detective Robb and his partner Cassie have figured out who the killer is but don't have enough evidence to prove it. They set up a trap to get the killer to confess to Cassie. The trap works perfectly, Cassie plays her part brilliantly, even working the Irish equivalent of a Miranda Warning into the conversation, and they get a full confession of the entire plot on tape. Then the twist comes... the killer was the victim's teenage sister, and she's only 17, not 18 as the detectives had initially believed. This means everything she said outside the presence of her parents is inadmissible. She gets away with the murder, and the case destroys not only Robb and Cassie's careers, but their friendship as well. The book ends with Robb alone and miserable.
  • Joe Pickett: The plot of Free Fire centres around a lawyer deliberately committing a felony, knowing that he will get off on a technicality. Clay McCann murders four campers in remote stretch of Yellowstone National Park: knowing that a loophole in the laws makes it impossible to try anyone who commits a crime in the 50 acres of park that sits inside Idaho (known as the 'Yellowstone Zone of Death'. The mystery Joe has to investigate in why McCann committed this seemingly senseless crime, and why he stuck around the district afterward.note 
  • The Indictment by Barry Reed, defense lawyer Dan Sheridan (the protagonist) uses this when defending a man charged with drunk driving. It seems like a slam dunk for the prosecution, but he faces an inexperience assistant DA. Thus, after the prosecution rests (with the case based solely on the testimony from the state policeman who arrested the defendant) he immediately moves for a judgment of acquittal. Why? Since the prosecutor didn't have the officer confirm the defendant was on a public road, or the driver of the car. As a result, the judge grants his motion, and chides the prosecutor, telling him to let it be a lesson in not forgetting the basics. Some of the jurors complain of this trope as they're leaving the courtroom afterward.

    Live-Action TV 
  • An episode of Walker, Texas Ranger had three cops giving Vigilante Executions to criminals they feel didn't get the punishment they deserved. Their downfall begins when they kill a kid who was actually innocent; DNA evidence exonerated him, but the cops never checked.
  • Adam-12 and Dragnet: Both Jack Webb-produced series featured Courtroom Episodes where suspects had charges dropped on various technicalities – key witnesses fail to show, obtaining evidence without a search warrant... the list goes on. One such case from Adam-12 had Reed's accidental discovery of drug manufacturing equipment in a suspect's home when he went to check if the back door was locked (he and Malloy were arresting him on an unrelated traffic warrant) be ruled an illegal search.
  • Babylon 5: Legally gray/grey tactics are used for political and/or personal reasons.
    • In "Point of No Return", Sheridan uses a 'chain of command' irregularity (The orders had been sent out by the Political Office, which didn't have the legal authority to issue them. Ivanova points out that the President would likely issue a new set from his own office - which did have the authority to make said orders - within the week) to prevent Nightwatch taking over the station, as had been ordered by President Clark when he seized absolute power. They certainly consider Sheridan to be a criminal getting off on a technicality.
  • In an episode of All in the Family, Archie Bunker is on trial after a policeman Archie called to report a mugging found a can of tear gas in Archie's home despite the latter not having the necessary license. During the trial, Archie asks what happened to the criminal who originally mugged him and the judge replies he was released due to him having had his Miranda rights read to him in English despite him not being a native English speaker. Gloria is then shocked at the thought of the criminal being released and her innocent father being jailed... until the discussion brings to light the fact that the officer who found the tear gas didn't have a warrant, which causes the case to be dismissed. The judge then states the episode's Aesop that despite the justice system not being perfect and sometimes letting criminals go free, it ensures that everyone's rights are respected.
    • The first being classic Hollywood Law, while the second might be too, if the tear gas was in plain sight when the police officer saw it.note 
      • In this case, Archie told the cop that he had the tear gas sprayer and had gotten it "out of a magazine" (i.e. without getting a license for it), but the cop found it by searching the pockets of Archie's coat without permission (making it inadmissible as evidence).
  • Judge Nicholas Marshall, the protagonist of Dark Justice, became a vigilante when his wife and his daughter were murdered and their killer got off on a technicality.
  • Dexter often hunts down killers who got off on a technicality, along with killers released from jail and ones the police never tracked down.
  • The ABC series Hardcastle and McCormick featured a retired judge (Brian Keith) who set out to bring down criminals who were released on technicalities.
    • From the judge's own court—even though it is the judge himself who rules on such technicalities. While it could be argued that the judge was strictly following the letter of the law despite his personal misgivings, and/or the convictions were overturned on appeal, that's not what the show's Opening Narration implies.
  • In the final episode of Homicide: Life on the Street, Bayliss discovers that Luke Ryland, a child molester he'd arrested earlier in the series, had been released because court backlogs had delayed his trial so long that the case was thrown out (on the basis that you couldn't just detain someone indefinitely without trial). At the end of the episode, Bayliss quietly packs up his desk and leaves the department, just as two of the other detectives discover the body of Ryland.
  • A whole episode of the old cop show Hunter was based on this, when a group of kids spontaneously confessed to killing a girl at a party, before the cops even had a chance to read them their rights. This sparked a vigilante-kills-the-killers plot. In Real Life, the technicality wouldn't have applied in the case of a spontaneous confession, and the police could then investigate to find other evidence that would support this.
  • In an episode of The Practice, a man was found with his wife's body in the trunk of his car. However, because the female cop in question was unable to give a reason to search the car's trunk, the search was ruled inadmissible, and the body (and all the evidence on it) was ruled to be fruit of the poisonous tree. However, it turns out that the cop and the man had planned the improper search between them; they'd been having a relationship for some time. The "vigilante justice" aspect happens when the man's lawyer finds out about it, and "accidentally" lets it slip to the ADA, who happens to live in the same apartment as his partner. Since he gets the answering machine, and presumably knew his partner wasn't home and the ADA was...
    • In one episode, Lindsey uses a botched search to argue for the release of a nun-killer. She gets him off, but feels awful about it.
  • Mr. Chapel in Vengeance Unlimited often hunts down killers who got off on a technicality, along with killers released from jail and ones the police never tracked down, but his net is wider, he doesn't kill his target, and he only does it for a million... or a favor.
  • In an episode of Frasier, Martin tells Frasier about an incident where he was arresting a man with a long criminal record, and was attacked while reading him his rights, meaning that they weren't read in full. Martin says that when it came time to testify in court whether the man had his rights read in full, Martin lied that they were so he wouldn't get off on a technicality. He justifies it with the fact that the man had been arrested so many times that "he could have read me my rights" and that it was the right thing to do (since the man was a violent criminal). This misrepresents the nature of the Miranda warning: the man assaulted a police officer, and the officer (just like anybody else) is legally perfectly able to testify about a crime if he's the victim, whether the suspect was Mirandized or not. Plus, the arrestee interrupting his Miranda rights by assaulting the reader and attempting to escape makes it his fault if they weren't read correctly. On top of everything else, Martin says he "saw him shoot someone." Miranda Rights or not, he can testify and convict the guy, except maybe if there were a confession involved—only then if they weren't read before that would it be excluded.
  • In The Sopranos episode "Employee of the Month", after Dr. Melfi is raped, her rapist is immediately arrested and then set free on a technicality. In the end, the doctor chooses to allow him to remain a Karma Houdini rather than call in some Soprano Justice.
  • In the Angel episode "Conviction", the gang actually deliberately sought this once for an obviously guilty human trafficker, as he threatened to mystically release a virus that would wipe out California if convicted. They succeeded by giving Gunn a large brain zap of legal information, allowing him to discover a potential conflict of interest involving the judge on the case, forcing a mistrial.
  • One episode of The Rockford Files featured Jim getting out of jail on a contempt of court charge due to issues with the subpoena that was used to get him to testify in the case where the charges occurred. It listed the wrong middle initial.
  • Law & Order, as noted in the trope description, generally subverts this by the end of the episode or compensates with extreme prejudice. However, there are a few exceptions:
    • "Juvenile": A suspect cannot be tried as an adult because the murder took place before the law allowing minors to be tried as adults was passed and she's way too old to be tried in Family Court.
    • Just as frequently, L&O would invert the trope; getting damning evidence in under technicalities. One example would be a letter written by the psychiatrist of the defendant to the victim warning her of danger was ruled inadmissible due to Spousal Privilege (as the psychiatrist was counseling both as husband and wife). But since they were legally separated at the time, Jack McCoy was able to argue that spousal privilege was void, making the wife a third party to the sessions, thus voiding doctor-patient privilege, thus letting the letter back in and nailing the defendant.
      • In another episode, he's able to bring a priest up on sexual abuse charges for crimes that were technically well past the statute of limitations, by arguing that his attempt to bribe a cop (who was one of his former victims) to keep his mouth shut constituted a perpetuation of his crimes and therefore reset the statute. In fact, the major court arc in that episode is the arguments over whether the statute should apply or not; as soon as he realizes it's going to go through, the priest pleads out.
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has a few:
    • A sexsomniac mistook his fiancee's sister for his fiancee while "sleepwalking" and the DA can't charge him with rape because he wasn't conscious of what he was doing and he regularly had consensual sex with his fiancee in his unconscious state.
    • An alcoholic blacked out to find he'd killed the woman he had a one night stand with. The DA bungles the case, first by accidentally showing a reconstructed video of the crime with his face tacked on instead of the video with the faceless model, then by showing up drunk to the hearing to determine if the case should be thrown out on her misconduct. She has to suffer through having the drunk test performed on her in the courtroom and fails, which results in her dismissal and sanctions.
    • A murderous schizophrenic nutcase got his case thrown out after the overenthusiastic lab tech Dale Stuckey mis-labeled his DNA sample. The episode's plot leads into a whole other direction near the end before the audience finds out if the cops got him on holding his lawyer hostage. Stuckey later turns out to be a crazed killer himself.
      • The schizophrenic man did also try to kill two cops, both of whom can attest that it was him and that he indicated his intention to kill, so he's probably not walking away a free man. At best, he might get off on an Insanity Defense and be put in a hospital instead of prison, which would probably be a good thing for everyone involved.
    • One episode had Novak and a judge actually join forces with a defense attorney to pull off a version of this. Earlier in the episode, Novak and the defense attorney had negotiated a plea bargain for a teenager who killed his mother's murderer, only for the victim's relatives (backed by a lobbyist group) to sue in civil court to block the deal, which could set a very problematic precedent. So how do they solve it? When the opposing attorney in the case calls the criminal defendant as a witness, Novak and the judge persuade the defense attorney to let him testify in the civil case, knowing that in order to make his point, the plaintiff's lawyer will have to badger the boy into talking about the shooting. As soon as he does, the defense attorney appeals to the criminal judge for a mistrial, based on the fact that the defendant has just been compelled to incriminate himself in court, thus violating his Fifth Amendment rights. The criminal judge agrees and declares the case dismissed with prejudice (meaning he can't be re-tried on those charges). Casey immediately uses this as a basis to argue for the dismissal of the civil case, since there is no longer anything to fight over. The civil court judge agrees and dismisses the case.
    • A case of a Karma Houdini occurred when a character who committed an outstandingly heinous (even for this show!) double murder, during which he buried a baby alive, got off because before he confessed and led the detectives to the corpses while waiving his right to counsel, he mentioned that he had an upcoming burglary case. Because the mention of the burglary case was an offhanded comment in the middle of a conversation, and the suspect didn't draw any attention to it, the detectives didn't pay it any mind, and he later argued that having mentioned his lawyer, even in the offhand way he did, constituted asking for a lawyer, so any further questioning and the responses elicited would be inadmissible — and the judge agreed. Unlike the other examples from SVU, this was a deliberate plan by the suspect rather than a bit of good luck for the defendant or the detectives grasping the Idiot Ball.
  • On The Mentalist, there was an episode featuring a man who was accused of murdering his wife and only wasn't convicted because a videotape proving that he lied about not being at the crime scene when it happened was ruled inadmissible for not being presented on time. It was revealed later that the man was really innocent and that the real murderer doctored the tape to frame the victim's husband.
    • It is later revealed that a number of criminals caught by the team were later released because the evidence against them was deemed tainted due to Jane's antics during the investigations.
  • In the live-action Batman (1966) series, Batman was a deputy and sometimes even acted as a prosecutor. Despite this, no enemy of his ever tried to convince the judge to dismiss evidence that only came into light because of Batman breaking into places without a search warrant (that would be admissible if he wasn't a deputized police officer, ironically).
    • Or trying to get Batman disqualified as prosecutor. Is "Batman" licensed to practice law in whatever state Gotham is located?
  • On the The Closer episode "You Have the Right to Remain Jolly'", "Santa" starts confessing things before Flynn has the chance to Mirandize him, and they're afraid this might happen. Luckily, he's had a lot of egg-nog and ends up passing out and hitting his head on a table, so when he's sobered up a bit, they can read him his rights then and talk to him again. And also, he didn't do it.
  • In Lois & Clark: Lord Kal-El became the ruler of New Krypton to prevent Lord Nor from doing so. Lord Nor charged Kal-El with treason and a Kangaroo Court held under Kryptonian Law sentenced him to death. Right after Kal-El is led off, a Kryptonian bursts in and tells Nor that Metropolis refuses to surrender. Nor responds by vaporizing him with heat vision and ordering his men to destroy Metropolis. All of that is done in front of the chief prosecutor, leading him to a massive Heroic BSoD. Then, another person comes to the prosecutor and points out the technicality - Kal-El was never informed of the Trial by Combat law. Guess whose side the prosecutor takes...
  • Blue Bloods:
  • In the first episode of Tales from the Crypt, "The Man Who Was Death", one murderer gets off free because the arrest warrant was improperly signed, leading the protagonist to later hunt him down and electrocute him to make sure he doesn't escape punishment.
  • Wiseguy: This happens to a case Santana is prosecuting in his introductory episode, "Fruit of the Poisoned Tree", evidence gained from an illegal search is suppressed, and the case collapses.
  • The Escape Artist: Played straight but seriously - Foyle is released due to this trope, but not because of any nefarious, underhanded tactic by Will, but instead due to the Trial Judge's initial refusal to give Will's expert time to prepare his submissions. When this later becomes quite critical to the case, coupled with the leaking of details, the Judge accepts that Foyle cannot get a fair trial and is forced to stay the indictment. Maggie also does the same thing when Foyle is charged with murdering Kate.
  • The Cold Opening of an episode of Spooks has a radical Muslim cleric get acquitted of unspecified terrorism charges after the judge rules MI-5's wiretap evidence inadmissible. However, the cleric is then dramatically shot dead outside the courthouse by a Christian terrorist, leading into the episode's actual plot.
  • Murder in the First: Ivana confesses in full to her crimes, but it can't be used against her as she asked for a lawyer, who hasn't come yet.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: In "Dax", the crew foil a so-called extradition attempt by the Klaestrons against Jadzia Dax by pointing out that, despite being operated by the Federation, Deep Space 9 is legally Bajoran soil. The Klaestrons therefore must argue for extradition in a Bajoran court rather than relying on their extradition treaty with the Federation (which permits them to act unilaterally, raising questions about the competence of Federation diplomats), which buys Odo the time he needs to find evidence exonerating Dax's previous host Curzon.
    • In a sense, this also happens with the (initially very central) question of whether a Trill can be held responsible for the actions of a past host. Because Curzon was proved innocent, the question becomes irrelevant, so no ruling is given on the matter.
  • The Good Wife puts a twist on the concept because, as a realistic Law Procedural, technicalities are sought by the protagonists as often as by the villains. In a season 2 episode she stops the state from introducing the murder weapon as a new piece of evidence by immediately resting her case, then gets her client a plea deal for five years and convinces him to take it because if the jury deadlocks, a mistrial means the murder weapon is admissible and he probably goes down for murder one.
  • Played with in an episode of NCIS. A sailor is charged with the murder of a prostitute in Baltimore, but the case is thrown out due to an improperly-written warrant. Everyone the sailor knows — including his wife — is convinced he's guilty; so he approaches Gibbs about re-opening his case...saying he's even willing to stand court-martial in an effort to clear his name. While he wasn't as blameless as he claimed, the culprit turns out to be the District Attorney, who killed the hooker and then deliberately botched the warrant to keep the case from being examined too closely. In another episode, Gibbs deliberately botched an arrest with a lawyer standing in the next room so that he wouldn't be forced to prosecute his mother-in-law for murder.
  • Inverted in NCIS: Los Angeles, where a technicality is used to nail the perpetrator. In this case, the guilty party (a civilian) had murdered a marine on patrol at the Mexican border, having lured him over the border line so the crime wasn't committed on US soil and he can't be charged there. He admits to all this under interrogation, pointing out NCIS now have nothing to charge him with and no right to detain him. G thanks him for his cooperation and points out that since the perp knowingly attacked an on-duty marine, he's now an enemy combatant. Instead of the legal system with its rights and pre-hearings, he gets to be detained indefinitely as a POW in a military prison, and tried by a military court, and this interview is absolutely admissible as evidence. The perp panics and tried to backpedal, only for G to declare the interrogation complete and wish him luck.
  • Hill Street Blues had this come up regularly. On one occasion a murder trial nearly collapsed because the impound lot where a search of a seized car had lost its contract with the police department mere hours earlier, which meant that chain of evidence regs were technically violated for the murder weapon; fortunately the judge ruled it admissible despite this oversight. Another time a man on trial for rape had the charges dismissed because he claimed he didn't speak English and couldn't understand the officer giving out his Miranda Rights, and a sting operation had to be set up with an officer wearing a wire in order to prove he'd lied so that a retrial could go forward.
  • Community: Played for Laughs in "Basic Lupine Urology," when Troy and Abed complain that their best suspect for the murder of their yam is getting off on a technicality—the technicality in question being that they are not cops and have no ability to arrest him.
  • Invoked in an episode of Bull. A woman charged with possession staunchly defends her drug-dealer brother...but eventually comes to realize that he really IS a drug dealer, and is willing to let her take the fall for drugs he'd stored on her property. She's ready to testify against him, but would likely die before getting into Witness Protection; so Dr. Bull orchestrates a way out for her. With the cooperation of the prosecutor and the judge, the former submits his final piece of evidence — the lab report verifying the contraband — and rests his case. But then the defendant's attorney — who isn't in on the plan — finds what they want her to see: the final page of the report hadn't been notarized. And since the feds had already rested their case, the mistake couldn't be the report was inadmissible, the case collapsed, and her brother thinks she simply got lucky. But a few minutes later, they slap the cuffs on him — and it's safe for his sister to sing.
  • Major Crimes has a five-episode series, "Hindsight", revolving around the Rev. Daniel Price. He's nicknamed "Reverend Cop Killer" by the LAPD after, years ago, a murder case for killing an off-duty cop during an armed robbery was dismissed with prejudice because one of the investigating officers perjured himself on the stand. In the present day he paints himself as The Atoner but the police suspect his church is the center of a drug ring. Turns out his Heel–Face Turn is genuine: he became a pastor to deal with his guilt over the murder and keep other young black men out of gangs, but his younger brother was running drugs through his church without his knowledge.
  • Episode 35 of Tokusou Sentai Dekaranger features this as part of the backstory. The daughter of a Special Police detective was shot and killed several years ago. There were three suspects, but since they were unable to determine which of them fired the gun, the three were let go. This prompts the aforementioned detective to steal said gun from the evidence storage and use it to kill his daughter's murderers with his own hands.
  • In the Starsky & Hutch episode "Bust Amboy," the protagonists arrest the drug lord Amboy and seize thousands of dollars in drug money, only to find that their warrant was invalid because they crossed a county line in the preceding Car Chase.
  • In the Dark: After the trouble which Murphy goes to getting Dean's confession recorded on her phone, it can't be used because in Illinois recordings required both parties' consent. On top of all that, the police captain agrees to have the evidence destroyed rather than reveal it so he'd at least be fired and publicly excoriated, as he's still useful plus he would make the guy look bad as his superior.
  • Tales from the Crypt: In "The Man Who Was Death", Niles' first victim as a Vigilante Man is a murderous biker let off because of an improperly worded search warrant.

  • In Hank Williams Jr.'s song "I Got Rights", this happens at the trial of the man who murders the singer's wife and son.

    Tabletop Games 
  • GURPS has rules to account for when a PC is arrested. The cop making the arrest must (secretly) make a Law (Police) skill roll. On a failure, the PC (or his lawyer) can make a Law (Police) or Law (Criminal) skill roll to find what rule of procedure the cop broke and get the PC released on a technicality. If the cop makes a Critical Failure, the procedure breach is so blatant that the PC is released without trial. Of course, it would only apply in procedural societies or societies concerned with the human rights of their citizens, so don't hope to pull this off in a Control Rating 6 government where you will instead be subjected to a Kangaroo Court.

    Video Games 
  • Hitman: Contracts, where the Meat King got off on a technicality for murdering your client's daughter. The "technicality" is implied to be some form of bribery.
  • In the extended epilogue in Persona 4 Golden, this happens to Taro Namatame, the man who threw the people into the television. Since he lost his ability to enter the TV world, he can't reproduce his methods and the police don't have enough evidence to prosecute him despite his confession. None of your party members are too irritated by this, seeing as he genuinely meant well, nobody died because of him, and the true murderer is in jail.
  • The risk of this happening for the Big Bad in Persona 5 is what prompts the party to enter the final dungeon. Thanks to the party's actions the Big Bad confessed to many crimes, including multiple murders, on live television. The problem is The Conspiracy they led is still very much active, and its remaining members try to get him declared insane so his confession is disregarded. Once again the murder methods are supernatural, so the confession is the only hard evidence police have, and worse, the Big Bad was such a Villain with Good Publicity that the public refuses to believe he's guilty. The party is left with no other choice but to steal the Treasure of the entire Japanese public to prevent this trope from occurring.
  • In the second case of Aviary Attorney a witness turns out to be a blackmailed accessory to murder. The prosecutor claims that due to the highly irregular way this was discovered in the courtroom, nothing is admissible and she's free to go. Subverted as the defense attorney immediately knows that's a lie, but the prosecutor is more interested in justice and extenuating circumstances than throwing people in jail.
  • In the early Carmen Sandiego games, even if you caught up with the crook, if you didn't have a warrant, or had a warrant for the wrong crook, an arrest could not be made and the criminal would be allowed to go free.

    Visual Novels 
  • Ace Attorney:
    • Pretty much every case in the series eventually boils down to this. There'll be a point where it's incredibly obvious who the actual murderer is, but unless the character can account for some detail of how the murder went down, the entire claim is discredited and the murderer goes free.
    • Happens in the backstory for Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth, where Manny Coachen is cleared of murder because the prosecution suspiciously lacked the evidence they used to arrest him. And by suspiciously lacked we mean the smuggling ring stole it right before the trial.
    • In Gyakuten Kenji 2, one killer happily admits the deed... after the statute of limitations on the case has run out. Subverted when he gets arrested due to another technicality; because he fled the country, the statute of limitations got extended long enough to still be in effect.
    • An interesting variant happens in the case of poor Yanni Yogi in the first game. He really was innocent of murdering Gregory Edgeworth, but his defense attorney couldn't be bothered to make a solid case for it. Instead, he had Yogi plead insanity from oxygen deprivation (insanity from sleep deprivation in the movie) and only got him off on the technicality that Yogi wasn't in control of his actions at the time. This ends up completely ruining the life of Yanni (the movie goes into great detail over how everyone remained convinced that he did it and harassed him for being a murderer until his wife was Driven to Suicide) as well as the life of Misty Fey (who was somehow believed to be a fraud for naming the wrong person, even though by the case's verdict, Yogi did commit the crime). For his part, Phoenix refuses to resort to such tactics to get his clients found innocent.
    • The killer of the bonus fifth case in the first game, Police Chief Damon Gant, tries to invoke this by getting the evidence proving their guilt declared illegal by pointing out that Phoenix didn't present it the first time he was asked to. Phoenix is able to show it was legal by pointing out that the killer only linked the evidence to the case after the first time he was asked to present it.
    • The murderer involved in the final case of Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney was counting on this to happen. All the evidence and testimony amounts to the murderer very clearly being the murderer, and he gets called out on this. There's only one very big issue: He's been locked away in prison during the whole time from when the case started, so how could he have done it if he was never at the scene of the crime? How could he get his hands on the murder weapon? How could he have it delivered to the crime scene? He knew the legal system inside and out and had an airtight alibi. It finally took a hidden camera to deliver a personal confession of the crime for the newly instated jury system to deliver the final verdict.
    • This is pulled more straight in Trials and Tribulations where the defendant is found not guilty for a case of larceny. Much later on, it's made obvious that, while the defendant is indeed innocent for that case, he actually committed all four separate cases of larceny before it, but cannot be put on trial for them because of double jeopardy; he had already been found not guilty for the same crime.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Batman: The Animated Series:
    • Used by the weapons smugglers in the two-parter Two-Face, where Dent begins his slide into insanity. However, since this takes place in Gotham City, it is certainly a case of bribery and a corrupt judge.
    • Also appears in "Trial": new district attorney Janet van Doorn can't give Poison Ivy a life sentence since Batman brought her in and not law enforcement agents; the judge claims to only be able to throw her back into Arkham for the remainder of her rehabilitation sentence.
    • In the opening of I Am the Night, Batman reads in the newspaper that the Penguin avoided a guilty verdict through some unidentified technicality, and wonders if his crime-fighting makes any difference in the long run.
  • In the Danger Mouse episode "There's a Penfold In My Suit," Greenback seeks to steal the Swapping Stone of Bratislovakia, which causes a switch of bodies. He and henchman Stiletto fall victim to it as do DM and Penfold. After further confusion from additional body swapping, everyone (except Penfold, whose body would get swapped with the country's princess) gets their right bodies back. Greenback and Stiletto are set free as they had committed no crime.
  • South Park: To avoid being arrested for illegal hunting, Jimbo always claimed his game was about to attack him. When a new law made it impossible to use that excuse, Jimbo started claiming he was reducing the animal population to save the whole bunch from starving to death.
  • The Simpsons:
    • Inverted in an episode which has Homer's mother sent to prison on a "technicality" (having committed a petty crime on top of those she'd been convicted and pardoned of), and Homer exclaims "People should only get sent out of jail on technicalities!"
    • In "Stop or My Dog Will Shoot", Santa's Little Helper as a police dog catches Snake who then gets off on a technicality.
      Judge Snyder: I'm afraid because of this improperly filled out police report... [shows a report full of paw prints] ...I have no choice but to let you go. Case dismissed!
      Snake: [to Santa's Little Helper] Haha! Don't worry, dude. I'm going straight. Straight to my customers to sell more drugs!
      Santa's Little Helper: Grrr...
    • Sideshow Bob tries to pull this off when he kidnaps Bart with the intent to kill him at "five corners" (a fictional location where five states come together). His plan is to stand in one state, fire the gun in the second, the bullet travels through the third, hits Bart in the fourth and he falls and dies in the fifth. Bob thinks it would be impossible to convict him because no single act in any state would be illegal. This completely fails as he is arrested by the police of all five states. This is of course complete nonsense; he could be convicted of murder in any of those states or a federal court.
  • In Spider-Man: The Animated Series, the Prowler was a minor street thug whose lawyer got his case thrown out since Spider-Man apprehended him but wasn't present to testify as to his guilt. Why Mary Jane couldn't ID him as the man who robbed her is never asked.
  • Teamo Supremo once faced a criminal said to have used a technicality to get away with previous crimes.
  • In The Venture Bros., Captain Sunshine apprehends the Monarch, only for the villain to reappear in his lair soon afterwards. When Dr. Mrs. The Monarch asks her husband what Sunshine did to him, he explains (visibly annoyed) that Captain Sunshine is an idiot with no understanding of "due process": he flew the Monarch to the state prison, dumped him in front of the guards in the courtyard, then flew away (this is a jab at Superman's use of this tactic). The prison guards, however, simply let him go...given that he hadn't been formally given a trial of any kind, or even formally arrested in the first place.
  • Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated: Count Evallo, the perp of episode 33 ("The Gathering Gloom"), is let off the hook, claiming diplomatic immunity.

    Real Life 
  • One UK lawyer makes a very nice living getting the rich and famous off traffic tickets, speeding, drunk driving etc, exactly on this. The press started calling him "Mr. Loophole". He trademarked it.
  • A great many cases the judges don't want to decide (that is, political cases) are dismissed when the judges rule that the person bringing the case doesn't have standing to sue or that there was some sort of error in the procedure of the court or administrative agency below. This is especially true when the judges know that their decision would be hugely controversial (or alternatively, that they don't want to make the correct ruling because they like the status quo, even if it's wrong), but is especially common when, after reviewing the case and hearing oral arguments, the judges realize that they can't come to a majority decision on the merits, but that some technical ground exists that can avoid the embarrassment of a fractured or plurality decision.
    • A particularly famous case of this is Clay v. United States, the case about Muhammad Ali's refusal to submit to the draft.note 
    • That whole Supreme Court case about whether it violates the separation of church and state to have kids saying "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance at school ended very boringly when the Court ruled that since the father who filed the lawsuit didn't have custody of his kid, he couldn't claim to be protecting her First Amendment rights.
    • The Scopes "Monkey Trial", over the teaching of evolution in schools. Scopes's conviction was set aside on appeal: the Butler Act, forbidding the teaching of evolution, carried a mandatory fine of $100, which is what Scopes had been fined when convicted. However, Tennessee law of the time forbade judges from setting fines above $50, rendering the judgment invalid. It's been suggested that the judge knew this and did it intentionally, so the supreme court could overrule him on technical grounds, preserving the law from a constitutional challenge. Not to mention the entire trial was a fabrication to save the town of Dayton, Tennessee by putting it on the map, bringing tourist dollars in — Scopes hadn't even violated the law, only going along with it for this purpose.
    • This is what happened with Hollingsworth v. Perry, the case regarding California's Prop 8 (a ballot initiative prohibiting same-sex marriage). The Supreme Court kicked the case back to the lower court on the grounds that the plaintiff was not a party to the original case and therefore lacked the standing to appeal it (the original defendant, the state of California, had elected not to appeal after losing the initial case; a third party attempted to do so in its place), which meant that the original ruling would be upheld for the purposes of this specific case, but no precedent was set for the country at large.note 
    • Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission dealt with a bakery in Colorado refusing to design a custom wedding cake to a gay couple based on the owner's religious beliefs (although he was perfectly willing to sell them a cake off the shelf). The Colorado Civil Rights Commission originally found in favor of the couple, but the decision was later overturned by SCOTUS, who sidestepped the core Constitutional issue about whether a businessperson can refuse service to a group on religious grounds, in favor of ruling that the Commission had been unfairly biased against the baker. Failure to definitively settle the issue led to the baker being targeted and sued again by a transgender person asking for a gender-transition cake, which predictably kicked off a whole new series of suits and counter-suits.
    • The 2019 US Census Supreme Court lawsuit. The SCOTUS sidestepped the larger question of whether the US Census form can include a question about whether the taker is a citizen, ruling instead that the Commerce Secretary didn't go though the proper channels to include the citizenship question on the census form in this particular case.
    • In Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of the University of California, the SC ruled that the Trump administration couldn’t end the Obama-era DACA program (which allow people who were brought to the US as undocumented immigrants as children to stay pending renewal for two years at a time) because they hadn’t followed the proper guidelines under the Administrative Procedures Act in doing so. Essentially that the administration was "arbitrary and capricious" in making a rule that would up end 800,000 people’s lives. Although in the majority opinion, Jusitce Roberts wrote that they were not ruling on whether or not the program was unconstitutional in and of itself.
  • If the US government has spied on you illegally and they classified the spying as secret, you can't sue. Because the fact that they spied on you is classified, you can't prove they spied on you. If you could prove it, you could sue, but the evidence is secret, so you can't. Even if you can prove that the government illegally spied on you, the feds will try to have the entire case thrown out on "state secrecy" grounds. Even if some of the evidence you have isn't secret. In evidence involving government spying, they can legally conceal the "sources and methods." All thanks to the Espionage Act.
  • Very often, technicalities (for example, improperly collected evidence or confessions) will result in a retrial with said data excluded, not a defendant "getting off scot-free". Ernesto Miranda himself was convicted on retrial, and went to prison (though he was paroled in only three years).
  • Older Than Radio: The 1714 Riot Act (read out to persuade a group of 12 or more delinquents to disperse, and yes, this is the source of the expression "reading someone the riot act") featured precise wording in what needed to be said, and multiple cases were thrown out because of the omission of "God Save The King".
  • As an example of how people think this trope is Truth in Television, Anderson Cooper reported a story about a young woman who robbed a bank, and then bragged about it on YouTube. She even flashed the money she'd stolen in front of the camera. The police found out about the video, and compared it to footage from the robbery, and noticed that she was wearing the same clothes in both. They promptly went to her house and arrested her. A reporter filmed the arrest from a safe distance. As she was being put in the squad car, the robber looked right at the camera and said "They didn't read me my rights," with a smile on her face showing that she thought she was about to get off scot-free. She probably sobered up quickly when her lawyer explained the situation to her.note 
  • An Australian man discovered that his bank would allow him to overdraft his bank account without any limit. He used this to pay off his mortgage and then spent the next few years living it up. By the time the problem was discovered, he had over-drafted his account by more than a million dollars. He was convicted of fraud and sent to jail. He represented himself at his appeal and argued that while his actions were immoral they were not actually illegal under Australian law. If he got the money by exploiting a computer glitch, it would be illegal but all his requests for money were actually approved by human bank officials. Fraud requires an element of deception but he never lied to anyone at the bank. Legally, all he did was ask the bank for a loan and the bank gave it to him no-questions-asked. The appeal courts agreed and overturned his conviction on the grounds that no crime was actually committed. He still owed the bank a ton of money but that was a civil matter. The bank seized all his assets but forgave the rest of the debt in order to avoid further bad publicity.
  • In a non-criminal example, this is how supporters of 1912 US Olympic athlete Jim Thorpe got his medals from those Olympics reinstated after he was stripped of them for violating the rules at the time that required athletes to be amateurs. Rather than continue to argue the underlying violation, they pointed out another rule that required any protest of this type to be made within 30 days of the closing ceremony and provided evidence that the objections leading to Thorpe's disqualification had not been raised until after the 30-day window had already passed. It worked; Thorpe's medals were reinstated in 1983, 70 years after the initial disqualification.
  • In the US State of Maryland, a man was involved in a very bad traffic accident. The news did not report if the man had been drinking, but since the State Trooper wrote him a ticket for reckless driving - a driving offense punishable by a fairly serious fine and points on his license - drunk driving was probably involved. At some point, probably a while after the accident, one of the victims died. The driver went to see a lawyer. The lawyer essentially told him to run, not walk, to the courthouse and pay the ticket before someone realized what was going on and cancelled it. So he paid the ticket, which is the equivalent of pleading guilty. Shortly thereafter he was charged with manslaughter, (either vehicular or involuntary, it didn't say) and was convicted. On appeal, the Maryland Court of Appeals (the state's highest court) found his paying the ticket was a conviction for reckless driving, making his subsequent trial for manslaughter a violation of double jeopardy, and set aside his conviction. His paying a fine saved him from jail time and a criminal conviction. To this day, many years later, police in Maryland never write a ticket for serious auto accidents with bodily injury or death until a prosecutor has a chance to review the case.
  • As recounted in Ojibwa Warrior, Dennis Banks and others of the American Indian Movement were involved in a standoff with federal forces at Wounded Knee over an attempt to secede from the United States. Afterwards, at his trial, the judge dismissed the charges related to fighting the US Army because the military is not allowed to participate in civilian law enforcement.note 
  • Charles J. Guiteau, the man who shot US President James Garfield, attempted to do this in order to evade a murder charge, arguing that even though he shot Garfield, he wasn't responsible for Garfield's death because Garfield's death resulted from medical malpractice in the treatment of his injuries rather than as a direct result of being shot (which is technically true — many historians believe that Garfield would likely have survived with proper care — but does not negate the fact that Guiteau set the chain of events in motion). The argument failed to persuade, and Guiteau was found guilty of murder and executed.
  • Bill Cosby served three years of a three-to-ten year sentence for sexual assault before having the conviction vacated due to a procedural screw-up. In 2005, District Attorney Bruce Castor declared in a press conference that there wasn't enough evidence to bring criminal charges against Cosby and used this to compel him to self-incriminate on the stand during a civil trial against him. The testimony he gave in that trial was later used to convict him in his criminal trial; the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that the press release constituted a legally binding promise that had been used to screw Cosby out of due process and his 5th and 14th Amendment rights had been violated, and released him.

Alternative Title(s): The Loophole


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