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Possession Presumes Guilt

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This is when an innocent person holds an item that makes them look guilty.

One common way this manifests is when a character commits an offense with a certain piece of evidence, usually a weapon, so they will encounter some poor sap and place the object in his hands so that an authority figure will believe he is to blame and have him take the fall. Other times, a character might scold the felon while swiping the object from his hand, only for the authority figure to arrive at the wrong time and assume the hero is to blame.

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In some cases, the object isn't planted and the supposed guilty party just happens to pick it up.

Related to The Corpse Stops Here, Not What It Looks Like, Frame-Up, and He's Got a Weapon!.

Better Manhandle the Murder Weapon is a subtrope where an innocent person winds up getting the murder weapon in their possession. Compare Foreign Money Is Proof of Guilt, which is when the object making someone look guilty is foreign currency.


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Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Kirby: Right Back at Ya!: In "Watermelon Felon", King Dedede is so desperate to find something to accuse Kirby of that when he sees Kirby eating a watermelon during a watermelon shortage, he immediately blames Kirby for the shortage. Dedede is wrong.

    Comic Books 
  • In All-Ghouls School, Becca is given the answer sheet for an exam, which she considers using, but instead puts in her locker without reading. When her friends are busted, a search of her locker turns up the answer sheet and she is flunked as well, with the principal telling her "Possession implies intent".
  • In a Golden Age Batman story, a murderer frames Bruce Wayne by shooting a bullet through his own hat with the gun he had just used to commit murder, and then throwing the gun at Bruce who had come in when he heard the shot. Bruce instinctively catches the gun, and so is holding a smoking gun next to a dead body when the police burst in a few seconds later, with the murderer claiming Bruce had tried to kill him too, pointing at the bullet hole in his hat.

    Comic Strips 
  • The pointy-haired boss from Scott Adams' Dilbert for Sunday 22 December 2013 uses a hydrogen-filled drone to supervise his underlings. While looking at Ted, the boss notes Ted is wearing a wool sweater. Evidently, static charge ignited the hydrogen sac, creating a catastrophe. The boss then tells Dilbert to hold the drone's remote control.
  • The December 7, 1980 strip of Garfield has Garfield eating all of Jon's fern but the last leaf, which he puts in Odie's mouth. Jon subsequently yells at Odie instead.
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    Fan Works 
  • In The Loud House fanfiction Mystery of the Self-Loathing Loud, a note is found written in green pen that talks about how the writer is sick of living. Lisa and Leni are suspected since both have green pens with them and Leni is later seen actually dropping the note. As it turns out, though, the real writer was Lori.
  • In this Transformers: Prime fancomic, Arcee walks in on Starscream taking a cookie from the cookie jar and snatches it from him. She's in the middle of scolding him when Ratchet walks in - seeing Arcee with the cookie in her hand, he assumes that she is the thief.

    Films — Animation 
  • Alice in Wonderland: While chasing the Dormouse in the courtroom, The King of Hearts accidentally hits the Queen with a gavel. He panics and hands it to the March Hare, who hands it to the Mad Hatter, who hands it to Alice.
  • In Frankenweenie, the citizens think Sparky the zombie dog killed Elsa the mayor's niece because he was holding her wig.
  • Pinocchio: After Gideon hits Honest John on the head with a mallet while trying to squash Jiminy, he panics and places the mallet in Pinocchio's hands.
  • In Ratatouille, Remy the rat adds more ingredients to the soup, but then Linguini the garbage boy is seen holding a ladle. Skinner, his boss, presumes him to have added the ingredients and then fires him, but later when a critic likes the enhanced soup, gives him a new job as a chef.
  • Sheriff Woody from Pixar's Toy Story needs help from his fellow toys to make a bridge between Sid's room and Andy's house. Andy's toys are already distrustful of Woody, and Buzz Lightyear is too deep in self-pity to be useful. When Woody asks Buzz for a hand, Buzz merely lobs his detached right arm at Woody. Although Woody tries to play the scene as camaraderie, he inadvertently lets the other toys see that Buzz's arm is detached. They take this as proof that Woody is responsible for Buzz's demise, and abandon the bridge project, leaving Woody to Sid's tender mercies.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Bourne Supremacy: Jason Bourne remembers assassinating a Russian politician and his wife and making it look like a murder-suicide by placing the gun he used in one's hand.
  • In Darby O'Gill and the Little People Pony Sugrue has knocked out Michael McBride (the hero) and has planted him outside his (Michael's) house. Pony frames Michael by drizzling some booze around and putting the bottle in Michael's hand so everyone will think he got so drunk that he couldn't even make it all the way home.
  • Eraser: John Kruger saves mob snitch Johnny Casteleone from some thugs sent to silence him. Kruger plants his firearm in one dead thug's hand, then takes photos of Johnny C. and his wife posing as murder victims. This is done to make the mob boss think that Johnny has been silenced and that his thugs got into a lethal argument among themselves.
  • The Goat: The plot kicks off when Dead Shot Dan shoots at a cop and gives Buster Keaton's character the gun.
  • Nicky and his conspirators in The Great Muppet Caper plant his sister's stolen necklace (minus the diamonds) in Miss Piggy's coat pocket, which results in the latter being stuck in jail right when the final showdown is about to begin.
  • In The Invisible Man, Cecilia and Emily meet at a restaurant. The invisible figure slits Emily's throat and places the knife in Cecilia's hand, framing her for the crime.
  • In L.A. Confidential, Bud White kills one of the Nite Owl suspects, then puts a throw-down gun in the dead guy's hand and fires it into the wall to make it look like the dead guy shot first.
  • In The Pink Panther, the Gentleman Thief Sir Charles Lytton gets arrested while attempting to steal the Pink Panther diamond, but the case against him gets complicated when the diamond itself can't be found. Turns out one of his accomplices (who the police don't even suspect) has the diamond, and she plants it on Inspector Jacques Clouseau, the one who arrested Lytton in the first place, successfully framing him for the theft and getting Lytton off scot-free. It doesn't help that the fall guy accidentally reveals he has the diamond in the middle of the trial, as he's being cross-examined.
  • This is exploited by Cal in Titanic (1997), who plants the priceless Heart of the Ocean diamond on Jack, to frame him for stealing it in retaliation for having an affair with his fiance, Rose.

    Literature 
  • The Green Mile has Gentle Giant John Coffey brought to Cold Mountain Penitentiary, convicted of raping and killing two young girls. The damning evidence was being seen with the lifeless bodies in his arms. Coffey is not a killer; he was trying to use his Magical Negro powers to restore them to life.
  • In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Winky is found with a wand which had cast the Dark Mark. It was actually cast by Barty Crouch Jr, kept captive by his father, who stole Potter's wand before casting the Morsmordre Spell.
  • In Holes, Stanley Yelnats is sent to a juvenile detention camp when he is found with a stolen pair of sneakers that were supposed to sold at a charity auction. In truth, they literally landed in his lap when Zero, the real thief, threw it off a highway overpass trying to get rid of them.
  • Discussed in jPod; at one point, Ethan comes across a group of coworkers gathered around a giant knife on a table which had been used to cut an employee's birthday cake. When he asks what they're doing, they tell him that they're proving that there's no way anyone can hold and carry that knife without looking like a psycho.
  • In The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, "Indian Joe" kills a doctor, and a guy named Muff Potter is wrongly suspected because his knife was the murder weapon. Muff Potter almost gets hanged until his name is fortunately cleared.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In one Castle episode, Javier Esposito, a juvenile delinquent-turned-homicide detective, threatens to shoot and plant a gun on a criminal manipulating underprivileged youth into helping him commit crimes.
  • Full House: In "Just Say No Way", DJ is scolding a friend who is offering her beer and swipes his can, just as Jesse walks in and, seeing the can in her hand, furiously assumes that she was drinking.
  • House of Anubis:
    • In one episode, Fabian tries to change the hallway clock to find a clue behind it. When one of the hands breaks, he panics and hides. Alfie comes out seconds later, picks up the broken clock hand, and is caught by Victor, who assumes he broke the clock. Alfie ends up taking the fall for Fabian but later demands to know what's going on.
    • In one episode, Mick is about to leave for a sports tryout and is packing his bags. Jerome and Alfie decide to go and swap out his sports gear with Amber's clothes, only to get caught by Mara as they're leaving. She looks at the swapped clothes, picks some of it up, and is caught by Mick, who immediately assumes she was the one pranking him. Considering this comes after Mara actually was trying to seek revenge on him, Mick's angry assumption was understandable, though he did believe her when she told him about Jerome and Alfie and later apologized for jumping on her.
  • On M*A*S*H:
    • In the episode "I Hate A Mystery", a crime wave hits the 4077th, with many items getting stolen, leading to Col. Blake and Radar doing a tent-by-tent search. The stolen items were found in Hawkeye's footlocker.
    • In "Snap Judgment" and "Snappier Judgment", another rash of thefts includes Hawkeye's new Polaroid camera. Klinger finds the camera on the Black Market and buys it, intending to return it to him. Only he's stopped by two MPs on the way back to camp who decide since he has it he must be the thief.
  • Twice on NYPD Blue young perps who have shot someone force a schoolmate to hide the gun, with the intent that when it is found in their possession they'd take the fall. However, the cops realize this. In the first instance, the one with the gun is fully prepared to take the blame because "I don't rat." The second time the holder is beaten into compliance and is scared that he'll get another beating for telling on the perp, but the cops already have the one who did the shooting.
  • In the Welcome Back, Kotter episode, "Epstein's Madonna," after Epstein paints an outdoor nude mural (Julie Kotter's face on Dolores Delvecchio's body) as his "art week" project, Woodman (who considers it obscene) defaces it with spray paint, and leaves the can behind, just before Kotter and the Sweathogs are to have a meeting about it in the schoolyard. Kotter sees the damage and picks up the spray can just before the Sweathogs arrive. Fortunately, they realize that even though Kotter is not happy about his wife's face on the mural, defacing it would be completely out of character for him — but not for Woodman.

    Myths & Religion 
  • In a myth from Ancient Rome, a man sees a lioness with a bloodstained rag in her mouth and assumes she ate his girlfriend, so he commits suicide. As it turns out, the girlfriend had been bitten by the lioness, but she didn't die.
  • In an old myth about a dog named Gelert, a prince sees blood and assumes Gelert killed his (the prince's) baby son, so he kills Gelert, but then it turns out that the baby is still alive and the blood is from a wolf who was attacking him.

    Print Media 
  • In a MAD article from the 1970s about bad timing, one example was "You are walking past the recently vandalized ROTC building carrying your geology samples when the National Guard arrives." The accompanying illustrations showed a hapless college student carrying a handful of rocks being charged down by a squad of guardsmen.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • An integral part of Eddie Guerrero's "Lie, Cheat and Steal" gimmick. While the referee is distracted Eddie grabs a chair, then bangs it on the mat, tosses it to his opponent, and lies down. The ref turns back to see Eddie knocked out and his opponent holding a weapon so the ref disqualifies him.

    Puppet Shows 
  • Zigzagged in a Sesame Street sketch. Bert sees his piece of chocolate cake gone and presumes Ernie ate it since Ernie is holding a fork. Ernie claims a monster ate the cake and handed him the fork, but he is later proven to be lying. However, later, a monster does appear and does the exact same thing as the monster in Ernie's lie with a second piece of cake.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Stormbringer supplement Demon Magic: The Second Stormbringer Supplement, adventure "The Velvet Circle". While the Player Characters are in the Velvet Circle, a man who has just stolen the famous fighting cock Desert Spur runs into one of them. He clumsily drops the bag holding the rooster and runs away. A few seconds later, a group of angry thugs shows up looking for the thief. If one of the Player Characters has picked up the bag, the thugs assume he's the thief and attack him and anyone who helps him.

    Theatre 

    Video Games 
  • In Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, CJ once had to, under the orders of Officer Tenpenny, plant drugs in the car of a district attorney who wanted to put Tenpenny in trial.
  • Occurs in Kirby: Triple Deluxe, specifically, the cutscene where Taranza hits the sleeping Pyribbit with a rock. The rock bounces into Kirby's hands as Pyribbit wakes up and assumes Kirby did it before the battle begins.

    Web Comics 
  • In Selkie, Heather steals Selkie's shirt while she flushes out her gills and pulls it out to show her friends. Keisha grabs it and says she's gonna tell on her, but Mrs. Afkhami and Jess just so happen to walk in at that exact same time and see that she's holding it, leading them to think that she stole it despite her, Amanda, and even Heather herself confessing that the latter had stolen it. Keisha's only proven innocent when Georgie tells Jess that Heather really did steal Selkie's shirt.
  • Widdershins: Sidney Malik is followed by a spirit that steals odd objects for him, whether he wants it to or not. It's bad enough when people's purses end up in his hat, but then it acquires an artifact of Greed that marks its wearer as King of Thieves...
    Macavity: You're telling me that a man capable of stealing the Mark of Thieves did it by bleedin' accident?
    Sidney: I have a condition! I do keep telling people!
    Macavity: And this... condition allowed you to pilfer a bracelet that legendarily does not bleedin' move until the owner is dead?

    Western Animation 
  • In the Arthur episode "Cereal", D.W. thinks Arthur ate her cereal because he was seen eating cereal and the box was under his bed. It turns out, though, that he was eating a different cereal and Pal the dog was the one who stole D.W.'s cereal.
  • Dragons: Riders of Berk: In the episode "The Terrible Twos", Hiccup and his friends find out that the little dragon named Torch is a Typhoomerang's baby, and his mother is looking for him. When it dawns to Fishlegs that whoever gets between an angry mother and her baby will be fried on spot, he immediately passes Torch to Tuffnut, who passes to Ruffnut, who tosses to Snotlout, who passes to Hiccup.
  • Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends:
    • In "Where There's a Wilt, There's a Way", a thief robs a bank and passes by Wilt. The thief tosses the bag of money, and Wilt catches it, leading to Wilt being falsely arrested.
    • In "Everyone Knows It's Bendy", which is the sister episode to the aforementioned "Where There's a Wilt, There's a Way", every time Bendy does something bad, he frames one of the imaginary friends, getting them in trouble while he gets off scot-free. When he eats potato chips outside of the kitchen and leaves crumbs on the floor, he gives the empty bag to Eduardo. When he leaves muddy footprints in the halls with Wilt's shoes, he gives said shoes to Wilt. When he writes Bloo's name on the wall, he deliberately lets Bloo take his marker. When Bloo tries to catch him in the act by giving him a baseball and bat to destroy a glass window with, he escapes before Coco can take an incriminating picture of him (and she accidentally takes one of Bloo holding the ball and bat when he wonders how Bendy got away). When Bendy insults Frankie and Mr. Herriman over the intercom, he deliberately lets Bloo take it before Frankie and Mr. Herriman can get to him.
  • In the episode of Futurama "Insane in the Mainframe", the Ax-Crazy Roberto robs a bank and takes Fry as a hostage (while Bender casually chats with him, natch). He thanks them with a bag of money before leaving the scene. Bender and Fry are arrested, camera footage shows them being handed money by Roberto, and Roberto threatens Fry so he doesn't snitch, leading to the main plot where Fry and Bender are forced to plead insanity and go to a robot insane asylum.
  • In Tex Avery's The Cat That Hated People, a Bully Bulldog is beating the titular cat with the broad side of an axe. When the lady of the house shows up to see what's going on, the dog covers himself and the axe with ketchup and puts the axe in the cat's hands, making it look like the cat just killed him.
  • Ed, Edd n Eddy: In "If It Smells Like an Ed", Jimmy frames the Eds for ruining Friendship Day; he frames Edd by wiping off Plank's mouth with a rag and placing it in his back pocket.
  • Family Guy: Played for Laughs with a side order of Does This Remind You of Anything?) in "Stand Your Brown"; Peter is on trial for shooting Cleveland Jr., and his lawyer tries to get him out of it by producing a knife as evidence (even though no knife was involved in the incident).
    Lawyer: Mr. Brown, would you pick up this knife please?
    [Cleveland Jr. does so]
    Lawyer: Look out, he's got a knife!
    [everyone panics]
  • Little Princess:
    • In "But They're Mine", the Princess sees Puss the cat holding some of her clothes and presumes he stole them. Actually, they were taken to be given to her younger cousins, and Puss was trying to put them back after Scruff the dog stole some.
    • In "I Want to Be a Detective", Princess thinks Puss took her cookies because there was a crumb on his whisker, but really it was Scruff.
  • In the Looney Tunes short "Scaredy Cat", Sylvester catches an anvil aimed for a sleeping Porky Pig. When Porky wakes up, he sees Sylvester holding the anvil above him and assumes the cat is up to no good. Justified, as Porky previously saw Sylvester's previous attempts to warn him of the killer mice as causing trouble.
  • In Martha Speaks, the episode "Martha Takes the Cake" has Martha be wrongly accused of taking a bite out of Alice's birthday cake because there were cake crumbs on her face.
  • In the Muppet Babies (1984) episode, "Pigerella", the babies become impatient waiting for lunch, so Scooter and Skeeter sneak snacks from the kitchen against the wishes of both Nanny and Piggy. When Piggy tries to return the snacks, she accidentally makes a huge mess, which gets Nanny's attention. When Nanny sees the mess, she assumes Piggy was the one who snuck the snacks and makes her clean the kitchen by herself as punishment.
  • My Gym Partner's a Monkey: In "Taking Teddy", Windsor's puppet Teddy vandalizes Principal Pixiefrog's office door by crossing out his name with a marker and writing "Poopyfraud" in its place. When Adam and Teddy get into a fight, Pixiefrog comes out of his office and sees that the marker had made its way into Adam's hand, making him assume he did it.
  • In the Rosie And Ruff In Puppydog Tales episode "Vandals", Ruff gets Rosie to hold some of his spray paint cans while he touches up the graffiti he did on Sniff's wall. Sniff comes outside and, upon seeing Rosie with the cans in her hands, assumes that she painted his wall and makes her repaint it.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants
    • In "New Student Starfish", Patrick hands SpongeBob a crude, unflattering drawing of Mrs. Puff. She then takes the paper from SpongeBob out of curiosity and assumes he drew it.
    • In "Bummer Vacation", Mr. Krabs forces SpongeBob to take a vacation from working, and hires Patrick as a temporary replacement, something the work-obsessed sponge can't deal with. He goes to the Krusty Krab, telling Mr. Krabs that he's only there to eat, and goes to the kitchen to check on Patrick. He scolds him for using the spatula wrong and takes it from him, just as Mr. Krabs walks in and sees the spatula in his hand.
  • Total Drama: During the fifth season, Cameron ends up nearly being sent home after Mal switches the votes to make it seem like a unanimous vote off against him, only getting saved by Duncan's arrest. Mal plants some of the fake votes in Alejandro's loser cabin bed to make it seem like it was his doing. However, Alejandro sees this from the Spa Hotel and moves them to Mal's bed, causing Cameron to think it was him and drive him further into paranoia.
  • In the WordGirl episode "The Wrong Side of the Law", the Birthday Girl steals all but one of several priceless Pretty Princess figurines. When WordGirl finds the remaining figurine, keeps it as evidence, and shows it to the police, the police think she was the culprit of the crime and lock her in prison.

    Real Life 
  • This trope is the reason why you are advised against taking the luggage of another person in airplanes and prior to arriving at airports: the carrier is assumed to be responsible for the contents of the bags, including contraband, weapons, or drugs.
    • In Singapore, anyone found with keys to a container containing drugs is assumed, until evidence of the contrary, to own these drugs.
    • Most customs officers will ask you set questions if they are going to search your luggage, along the lines of "Did you pack this bag yourself?", "Did anyone ask you to carry anything with you?", and "Have you left your luggage unattended at any time?". Answering "Yes, No, and No" to those means you can be held responsible for anything illegal that they find, for at least long enough for local law enforcement to arrive and arrest you. Answering otherwise, even if you are being completely honest and accurate, will not help you in the short term, though if something is found it's just possible that a good lawyer might be able to use that in your defense.
  • Truth in Television in jurisdictions where strict liability exists. Possession of certain items restricted or banned by law (drugs, weapons, an open container of alcohol in a motor vehicle, etc) is enough grounds for arrest, prosecution and possibly even conviction.

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