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Ominous Legal Phrase Title

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Need an imposing title for your legal thriller or Law Procedural, but can't come up with a good Mad Libs Thriller Title? Try an Ominous Legal Phrase Title instead. Just browse through Black's Law Dictionary or the US Constitution and pick out a two-to-five word phrase you recognize from Courtroom Dramas or civics class. Ideally one of the words will be "guilt" or "malice" or "danger" or the like. The formal language imparts gravitas, the familiarity lets the reader or viewer recognize the genre at a glance, and the aforementioned negative-connotation words make the whole title seem properly ominous.

In short, the author must clearly have had scienter in using legal terms with malice aforethought, such that we know they are culpable in having done so beyond a reasonable doubt and perhaps even to a moral certainty. Otherwise if the term is being used in a manner not related to legal terms, then this trope is acquitted of being applicable to the work.

Though most commonly found in legal and political thrillers, the format can sometimes be used for a straight drama (e.g., Crimes and Misdemeanors). If the title is the name of a particular crime, then the work is probably a Criminal Procedural instead.

This title format seems to have been most popular from the late 80s through early 2000s, with Scott Turow, Richard North Patterson and Tom Clancy being among its most prominent users.

This trope is about titles with specific, technical meanings in the legal profession, not general-use expressions like Crime and Punishment or Law & Order (although Criminal Intent is a specific legal term).

A subtrope of Terminology Title. Compare Sci-Fi Name Buzzwords, Literary Allusion Title.


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    Fan Fiction 
  • Played with in the Motion Practice series, where the full-length works all have legal phrases titles, but most of them aren't all that ominous. This suits the fact that, although the stories revolve around a cast of lawyers, they tend to be as much about the characters' tangled private lives as about legal thriller stuff.

  • Absence of Malice: From U.S. libel law, post-Sullivan v. New York Times: A public figure suing must show that whoever said the bad and false thing about them did so with "actual malice", i.e., they either knew it wasn't true or were recklessly negligent in determining whether it was.
  • Advise & Consent: In the US, the Senate's constitutional role toward executive-branch nominees. In the UK, part of the formal enacting clause of all Acts of Parliament.
  • Beyond a Reasonable Doubt: the phrase used to describe what a jury must find to render a Guilty verdict. The weird thing in this instance is that the guy on trial for murder actually framed himself as part of a crackpot scheme to expose the evils of the death penalty.
  • Body of Evidence
  • Breaking and Entering (2006)
  • Clear and Present Danger, a doctrine adopted by the Supreme Court of the United States to determine under what circumstances limits can be placed on First Amendment freedoms of speech, press, or assembly.
  • Crimes and Misdemeanors: Part of the formal definition of an impeachable offense in US law; originating in UK law but obsolete there due to impeachments no longer being used.
  • Double Indemnity
  • Double Jeopardy: the principle that one can't be tried twice for the same offense.
  • Excessive Force, 1993 Cowboy Cop movie.
  • Hostile Witness, a 1968 British courtroom drama, based on a play.
  • Inherent Vice, a 2014 neo-noir film based on a book of the same title.
  • Intolerable Cruelty, a 2003 romantic comedy. The phrase is used in the law of divorce.
  • Irreconcilable Differences: one possible grounds for divorce.
  • Law Abiding Citizen: The dash is missing from "Law-Abiding" to show that it's the law abiding the citizen, not the other way around.
  • Nothing But The Truth, a 2008 fictionalization of the Valerie Plume case, with Kate Beckinsale and Matt Dillon. Released Direct to Video in the US. From the oath sworn by witnesses in court.
  • Presumed Innocent: From the legal maxim that everyone is presumed innocent until evidence is prevented otherwise; the burden of proof always falls on the prosecution.


    Live-Action TV 


    Video Games 
  • 25 to Life, named after indeterminate life sentence usually reserved for firearms-related homicide.
  • The Grand Theft Auto series, named after a term for carjacking - which you will be doing a whole lot of in these games.
  • The Simpsons Hit & Run, in keeping with the Grand Theft Auto parody.