Follow TV Tropes


Precrime Arrest

Go To

"Mr. Marks, by mandate of the District of Columbia Precrime Division, I'm placing you under arrest for the future murder of Sarah Marks and Donald Dubin that was to take place today, April 22 at 0800 hours and four minutes."

One of the implications of Seers (and Time Travel) is that we can predict crimes, and so we can prevent the crimes from happening. This trope is about taking evidence from the future, and preventing the criminal from doing something they haven't done yet.

Without knowing the future, crime can only be minimized by punishing people for crimes after the fact. Precrime Arrest is when a character who is known to be going to have committed a crime is punished in advance, in order to prevent their supposed future actions. If the offender is caught early enough, they may suffer from Bewildering Punishment because they haven't even thought of committing the crime yet.

Attempts to arrest/execute Hitler are popular enough to form their own trope: Hitler's Time-Travel Exemption Act. Examples of Time Travel being used for Hitler specifically belong there.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Psycho-Pass takes place in the year 2112. Japan is governed by the Sibyl System, which measures many psychological factors. One of the things determined by scanning people is the "Psycho Pass", or the mental stability of a citizen. The colour of a Psycho-Pass is then used to measure the "Crime Coefficient," the probability and severity of the crimes a person might commit. Those who have a high enough "Psycho Pass" are sent to psychiatric therapy or completely euthanized by Dominators, a type of gun used by the police. People who have a high "Psycho Pass", but haven't committed any crimes, are called "latent criminals". They generally have two choices: Rehabilitation, or become an Enforcer for the police.
  • Dragon Ball Super plays with this. Beerus executes Zamasu partly for his various crimes, the bulk of which he has yet to commit, while avoiding the legal problems outlined above due to knowing with certainty that he is going to do it.

    Comic Books 
  • In Swordquest, the Big Bad Tyrannus orders the infants Torr and Tarra to be killed simply because his Evil Sorcerer prophesied his death at the hands of blonde-haired twins.
  • Civil War II: Captain Marvel wants to use a new character's powers to stop crimes and attacks from happening. She faces opposition in the form of Iron Man and his allies who refuse to punish people before the crime.
  • Judge Dredd:
    • Judge Death and his fellow Dark Judges have a rather psychotic take on this: since all crimes are committed by living people, the only way to get rid of crime is by killing everyone in existence. They believe that life itself is a crime punishable by death.
    • Justice Department runs a trial program where Psi-Division predicts crimes and the perp is sentenced before the crime occurs. Unfortunately, the one guy they do arrest for a murder yet to happen ends up committing the crime anyway as a direct result of his arrest. Dredd notes that there's a flaw in the idea somewhere.
  • The Angel comic has an interesting case; in the first arc, Los Angeles is dragged into Hell; and at the end of the arc, the Reset Button is pushed, returning all Angelinos to Earth alive and well as if no time had passed. However, the following arc deals with a group of apparent real angels killing what seems to be random people. Angel tracks them down, and discovers the killings aren't random at all; the victims had been up to seriously nasty shit while LA was in Hell, and even if those actions were undone, the angels don't really see any reason to forgive them. Angel, desperate to come up with a utilitarian argument against precrime execution, persuades them it's possible that these people might end up doing so much good in their subsequent efforts to atone to outweigh the evil they did in Hell. This was supposed to be explored further over the next few arcs — A repeated theme of the TV series is that attempting to "balance the scales" is doomed to failure because future good deeds can never really make up for evil acts, so one must do good in spite of them, not for some vague "redemption"; meaning that there are a lot of people in LA who have to accept their capacity for evil and decide what to do next — but as soon as a new writer took over, the "angels" were retconned as having been evil demons from the beginning anyway, rendering the whole arc moot.
  • An issue of Savage Dragon deconstructs this when an alien (that had landed on Earth some years before and was raised by some kind farmers) starts attacking people seemingly at random and kill them. The characters theorize that the alien has a capacity to see the future and the alien's "father" believes that the people who were killed would have become violent criminals in the time to come, and thus the alien was taking them out pre-emptively to avoid mass murders. The deconstruction is that, as Dragon points out, there is no real evidence of this being true (the alien is pretty inscrutable, for one)... and the fact that people have died before they would ever commit any kind of crime means that there never will be. Which means that the alien is (in the eyes of the law that Dragon has swore to enforce) nothing more than a homicidal maniac that needs be stopped now.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Minority Report, the Trope Namer, three psychics are used by the state in order to apprehend and subdue people before they commit murder, keeping said latent criminals into a vegetative state. There is talk of expanding it into lesser crimes, as well, although the As You Know conversation at the beginning explains that only murder is strong enough to trigger a psychic vision. During the "Precrime experiment", the captured criminals are detained in a comatose state with electronic files on their future crime. When the movie ends with the protagonist proving that people don't have to commit the crime they are predicted to commit, the criminals are released because he proved their innocence (or, rather, introduced reasonable doubt).
  • In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, SHIELD's Project: Insight is based around having three all-new Helicarriers designed to police the world, taking out potential threats before they do any actual threatening. In truth, the project is under the control of HYDRA, and the Insight Helicarriers are driven by an algorithm designed by Arnim Zola to calculate any and all potential threats to HYDRA's World Domination, and terminate them all.
    Col. Nick Fury: We're gonna neutralize a lot of threats before they even happen.
    Cpt. America: I thought the punishment usually came after the crime.
  • In Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, by the end, Dastan is propelled back to when he first caught the Dagger of Time. Already knowing his Evil Uncle's plot, he tries to prevent it from happening. And is successful.
  • Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Sarah Connor learns from the Terminator (who time traveled back in time to her present day) that the person most directly responsible for the creation of Skynet is a Cyberdyne Systems engineer named Miles Dyson. She tries to assassinate Dyson to prevent Skynet from ever existing.
  • The 1996 B-Movie "Past Perfect" involved a justice program from 20 Minutes into the Future that sentenced criminals and then sent hunter teams back in time to kill them just when they were starting their careers. While most of them are irredeemable jackasses, one of them (who was the gang's rookie and had not yet crossed the Moral Event Horizon) ends up declaring that he wishes to repent and his criminal record changes because of the Butterfly of Doom—still, this is not enough for the team's psychotic leader and he continues trying to kill the kid. The film's epilogue shows that the cop that was the protagonist, now a judge, started the program in the future... but the events of the film had him change it to send people back who could teach criminals how to take a better path before they became irredeemable.

  • In the short story "All the Troubles of the World" by Isaac Asimov, the Multivac supercomputer is used to churn through data about the population and predict crimes before they occur, allowing authorities to stop them. A variant, because people aren't punished for uncommitted crimes, the police merely warn, intervene and temporarily detain only in rare circumstances. The plot kicks off when the subject of one such prediction has no idea what he's being detained for, and Multivac subsequently reports that the predicted crime has increased in probability since the police intervened.
  • The Minority Report by Philip K. Dick is the Trope Codifier, featuring "Precrime" as the name of a criminal justice agency, whose task is to identify and eliminate persons who will commit crimes in the future. The film Minority Report is based on this story.
  • In Through the Looking-Glass, the White Queen tells Alice that the King's Messenger (the Hatter, or 'Hatta', by the illustrations) is in prison for a crime he has not yet committed, or been tried for. (This is Looking-Glass Land, which is in some ways time-reversed.)

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who: "Let's Kill Hitler" features the obvious Hitler's Time-Travel Exemption Act, from Melody Pond and from new character/crew Justice Department Vehicle #6018. The Justice vehicle is sent to painfully kill time's greatest criminals just before their death (and after their crimes). They realize they've arrived too soon in Hitler's personal timeline, and find a bigger fish: The woman who killed the Doctor. Except that she hadn't done that yet, either.
  • One episode of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys had Iolaus given a chance by Dahak to save the life of a man who was hanging precariously from a rope bridge. However, Dahak also showed Iolaus that if the man survived, he would soon go on to rob and kill an innocent family. Iolaus chose not to save him and let the guy fall to his death. Dahak then gleefully pointed out that since the guy had not actually committed a crime yet, Iolaus technically murdered an innocent man.
  • Minority Report (2015): It has been eleven years since the end of the Pre-Crime experiment, where people were arrested because the precogs saw them commit murder in the future. Now, Peter van Eyck wants to develop a new system of crime arrest based on computers and data analysis rather than "genetic freaks" in order to accomplish the same thing. The precog Dash joins with Detective Lara to prevent the murders Dash predicts.
  • The Outer Limits (1995): In "A Stitch in Time", a professor invented a time travel machine after previously having been raped when she was younger. She tried to correct the past by going back in time and killing convicted serial killers before they could claim any victims - but since all her victims hadn't killed anyone yet, they are seen as completely innocent victims of another serial killer with a career spanning decades. She eventually undoes her own motivation to do this by saving her younger self, but one of her victims went on to kill the partner of an FBI agent - a murder reversed by time travel, then re-done by the penultimate timeline change - so the agent goes back to save her partner by killing the killer. It's implied that the agent will go on a similar time-travelling killing spree to the one she began the episode investigating.
  • Person of Interest centers around preventing premeditated violent crimes before they happen through the predictions of a sentient supercomputer. Since the predictions are generally made some time between the end of the planning phase and the beginning of the execution phase of the future crime, there's generally enough evidence to turn them over to the police for attempted murder.
  • The Player centers around the people who created the system deliberately abusing the hell out of it; back in The Gilded Age, the world's first millionaires were looking for a game of chance so dangerous and high-stakes none of their lessers could ever even dream of playing it - they chose the nascent phenomenon of organized crime. Thomas Edison then used the lost journals of Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage to develop a system to calculate the odds of crimes - and ended up with one capable of predicting all of them hours or days in advance. The Gamblers used it to place bets on which criminals would get away, but quickly discovered just about all of them did. So they started funding a Vigilante Man dubbed "The Player" and betting on whether or not he would succeed or fail in stopping criminals... or just be killed by them. They go through them quickly.
  • Power Rangers Ninja Storm: In a three-part episode, Cam goes to the past to seek a power that'll make him the Sixth Ranger. Upon finding out his soon-to-be-exiled Evil Uncle is Lothor's past self, he tries to persuade the other ninjas to kill him instead. Unfortunately, they refuse to deliver punishment for future actions.
  • Seven Days occasionally had Frank preventing a crime as the episode's plot. Every episode, Frank is sent back in time seven days to prevent whatever disaster has happened. Sometimes he's able to do it by preventing the perpetrator from attempting the crime. Most episodes, however, this trope is subverted, and Frank has to stop the crime/disaster as it happens instead of preventing it from being attempted.
  • During episode "Obsession" of Sliders, the main characters travel to a world where ten percent of the population have Psychic Powers. Amoung the various powers, is precognition.
    • A bit of research into the history of this world reveals that psychics became popular when one warned Abraham Lincoln about his impending assassination, allowing Booth to be captured before the attempt.
    • The Police Oracle identifies Arturo and Rembrandt as people who will kill Wade Wells, so the police make a Preventative Arrest. A Bewildering Punishment to all four at first. Basically, they're taken to the station, booked, and then released. If someone were to actually commit the crime, the police would have to chase them down, but otherwise the two are free to do whatever they want. This is all a Batman Gambit by the old Prime Oracle to make sure his successor is a compassionate man in addition to already being a powerful one.
  • Star Trek: Voyager had an episode named "Relativity", where the 29th century timeship Relativity is attempting to stop a time-paradox sabotage attempt on the 24th century spaceship Voyager. After the culprit responsible for the mess is found, two earlier versions of the culprit are arrested. The Captain assures Captain Janeway that the three would be "integrated" into one person before his trial.
  • Discussed but eventually averted on Crime Traveller: because of the way the rules of time travel work on the series, it is impossible to stop a crime before it happens (when it's tried, "You Already Changed the Past" instead ensues), so all that can be done is witness the event and circumstances before and immediately after and obtain clues that were not immediately apparent on the "present".

    Video Games 
  • Legacy of Kain has an example of how spectacularly bad attempting this trope can go. Throughout the first game, the land of Nosgoth is suffering under the iron hand of the Evil Overlord known only as “The Nemesis”. Near the end of the game, Kain finds himself decades in the past, with the Nemesis at his mercy… and he kills the tyrant before his tyranny can begin. When he returns to the future, he discovers that history has recorded the murder of “King William the Just” at the hands of a vampire, and embarked on a campaign of genocide - a successful one, as he arrives just as the second-to-last vampire is executed, leaving Kain the last of his kind.
  • This is how The Legend of Zelda's "Child Timeline" comes about. In The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Link is sent back in time and warns Zelda and the rest of the court about what Ganondorf is up to (specifically, trying to complete the Triforce and take over Hyrule). This results in the passage to the Sacred Realm never being opened, and Ganondorf is sealed in the Twilight Realm instead.

    Western Animation 
  • Futurama parodied Minority Report in an episode where Fry joined the police's Future Crimes division.
  • The Simpsons: In the "Revenge of the Geeks" segment of "Revenge Is a Dish Best Served Three Times", Milhouse goes on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge against students who wronged him in the past. When he's about to humiliate a kid, who says today is their first day at the school, Milhouse says the kid will do something bad to him in the future, so he's still going to need revenge. ("It's called pre-venge!")
  • Codename: Kids Next Door: One episode features a pre-delinquency unit that gives Gallagher Elementary School students detentions for future rule-breaking. Their seer turns out to be a hoax who just wants to be sure the school cafeteria won't run out of pizza before his turn to be served. His plan failed because he executed it during lima bean day.

    Real Life 

Alternative Title(s): Precrime Punishment