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Rage Against the Legal System

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Case dismissed.

So you've been caught and punished for robbing a bank, assaulting someone, or driving slow in the fast lane. What do you do? Some quietly accept their punishment. Some actively work to rehabilitate themselves and make up for their wrongdoing during and after paying their debt to society.

Others decide to go on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge against the justice system for punishing them.

Usually, the criminal doesn't see whatever they did as being wrong; they see the police, the prosecution, the judge, and so on as being responsible for their predicament and thus need to be punished for this. The revenge usually includes (but is not limited to) the informers who ratted them out, the police who arrested them, the prosecutor who prosecuted them, the witnesses who testified against them, the jurors who convicted them, the prison guards who incarcerated them, and the judge who sentenced them. What's worse is that they may also go after the families of the above.

A frequent variation is when a criminal is acquitted or released from prison early to kill again and a relative or lover of the victim goes on a rampage against the judges, lawyers, police officers, etc. as well as the criminal.

This can be Truth in Television. It might potentially be considered justifiable in-universe if the authorities are corrupt or outright evil and have framed the protagonist for a crime he did not commit, especially if they serve a tyrannical and oppressive regime. However, invoking this trope is considered a Moral Event Horizon in the eyes of the law and society. Under almost any system of government, crimes against officers and officials of the legal system are punished harshly, and penalties can get worse if they were motivated by revenge. Even where the perpetrator is innocent or actually has an excuse for what he does, acting like this will typically result in viewers considering him an Anti-Hero at best.

Can overlap with Revenge by Proxy and Revenge Before Reason. Often overlaps with Cop Killer. See also Cop Hater for general hatred towards the law rather than directly attacking it. Can be a result of Miscarriage of Justice or Acquitted Too Late (if a loved one of one who was wrongly convicted does this).


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  • A DirecTV advertisement claims that having cable TV will eventually lead to your house blowing up. (In their bizarre Rube Goldberg-esque logic: you're a lawyer, not having good reception will cause you to go to work irritated, you'll lose your case, the guy that goes to prison will dwell on getting even with you when he gets out...)

    Comic Books 
  • Batman
    • In one early appearance, The Joker kills a police chief who had arrested him once in the past.
    • In a 1960s story, Batman's enemy the Mad Hatter commits crimes based on the occupations of the jurors who convicted him as a rather oblique form of revenge. The story was adapted into an episode of the live-action television series as well.
    • Minor villain Elmo Galvan (from Chuck Dixon's run on Detective Comics) has some interesting scruples about this trope. He's motivated by it, but personally declares most of the justice system (the police, the judge & jury, even Batman himself) to be off-limits, as they were just doing their job and he was the one clumsy enough to get caught. What really pisses him off are the five officials (among them Commissioner Gordon) who oversaw his botched execution, whom he believes came solely to gloat.
    • Multiple versions of obscure "Evil Batman" Wrath have been motivated by hatred of cops, though this is usually due to the law coming down on his parents rather than him.
  • In the final arc of Top 10, Joe Pi invokes this trope to subtly manipulate the Superman-analogue Atoman into committing suicide by telling him that when he's arrested, depowered, and jailed, he'll be at the mercy of the various supervillains he defeated and those who really don't like child molesters.
  • The Flash: The Weather Wizard, already a three-time convict when awesome weather powers dropped into his lap, spent his first appearance going after police officers who had arrested him.
  • The Trial of The Punisher features Frank turning himself in for murdering a District Attorney (as in, he shows up with the corpse in a duffel bag and gives his name to the desk sergeant). The trial happens over several days before he gives the judge and attorneys a tape that is to be watched in his presence to explain the act. It turns out the DA was corrupt and taking bribes, including getting a mob boss into the Witness Protection Program. Then Frank breaks free and escapes with a gun, and it turns out the whole thing was a complicated plan on Frank's part to get inside the courtroom where said mob boss was now a court judge and shoot him.
  • Lucky Luke and the Ballad of the Daltons has an unusual example: the Dalton Brothers are told by a lawyer that they are the inheritors of a fortune from their late (outlaw) uncle, but the will has one condition, and that is that the Daltons must kill the judge and jury who sentenced the uncle to hang. The uncle, unfortunately, also appoints Lucky Luke to be the witness to the Daltons' deed so he could declare it done, and that the inheritance would go to charity if the Daltons couldn't do it — so Lucky Luke manages to fake the deaths of all of the targets, show to the lawyer that the Daltons failed, and put them in jail while the inheritance became the seed money for a foundation to take care of orphans.

    Film — Animation 

    Film — Live-Action 
  • The original 1962 Cape Fear had this as Max Cady's motive for tormenting the protagonist, Sam Bowden (the latter was a witness to the former's rape). The 1991 remake changes this, by making Boden Cady's lawyer (who the latter thought didn't do a good enough job of defending him... and actually didn't do a good job, because he felt Cady so monstrous a man (by seeing what he had done to the woman he had raped) that he decided to risk his career and held back a piece of evidence (the woman's sexual history) which would have given Cady a lighter sentence, if not made him walk).
  • Law Abiding Citizen: After a plea deal sets one of his wife's killers free, a man targets the killers, their lawyers, and the judge and D.A. who approved the deal.
  • This is pretty much a stock Plot on Western movies (for example, High Noon): The Sheriff puts bad guy in jail, bad guy escapes or finishes his sentence, comes to town with a bunch of Mooks to kill sheriff (or whoever replaced said Sheriff).
  • Jimmy Conway's homicidal rampage against the police and inhabitants of the town of Red Hill for putting him in jail because he murdered his wife. Turns out that it was a Roaring Rampage of Revenge against Dirty Cops — who murdered his wife.
  • Wild Tales: The protagonist in the third story Bombita blows up the car park of a car-towing company after his car was unjustifiably towed away twice and his case was blocked by an Obstructive Bureaucrat from the tax office.
  • In the movie Let's Go to Prison, Dax Shepard's character, a petty criminal, holds a grudge on the judge that keeps giving him lengthy prison sentences and vows to get revenge. After the judge dies, he manages to frame the judge's preppy son for theft, and gets the son locked up in the same prison as him.
  • Scanner Cop: The villain's reason for unleashing a murder wave targeting the Los Angeles police force is revenge for being imprisoned for engaging in illegal experiments that killed his patients, crimes he was genuinely guilty of.

  • The Count of Monte Cristo is a classic example. Edmond Dantès is framed by his colleagues Danglars (who is jealous of his rapid rise to captain), Fernand (his fiancé's cousin and a rival for her affections), and the corrupt prosecutor Villefort (who thought Dantes could have known that Villefort's father was a staunch Bonapartist, which would ruin his son's career). After six years of being unjustly imprisoned in the Château d'If, he befriends the Abbé Faria ("The Mad Priest"), who gives him hope again, and over the course of eight more years, teaches the younger man an extensive education in language, culture, and science, along with the reasons why the three conspirators had reason to hate him. Before he dies of old age, Faria gives Dantès a map to a hidden hoard of treasure; Dantès is able to escape by taking the place of his body, finds the treasure, makes a new life for himself as the Count of Monte Cristo, and spends the second half of the book plotting revenge against the three conspirators, ultimately succeeding. He exposes horrific crimes committed by Fernand and Villefort, driving the former to suicide and the latter mad and committed to an asylum. Danglars is bankrupted and his reputation is ruined by Dantès' manipulation of the markets, and tries to embezzle from a hospital, but when he finally repents to Dantès and returns the money, he's forgiven but left with only 50,000 francs.
  • In Me and My Little Brain, a gang of outlaws whom John Fitzgerald's father helped put away tries to take revenge on the Fitzgeralds and the judge.
  • In Banco, this is what drove Papillon through fourteen years of suffering in a Penal Colony: the idea that one day he'd get his revenge on the French justice system. The novel details his adventures trying to bankroll his Roaring Rampage of Revenge against the prosecutor, judge, police, and jury who wrongly sent him to French Guiana, despite many temptations to stay honest and find happiness in South America.
  • The ending of White Fang has a criminal escape from prison to murder the judge who sent him there. His story is quite tragic: he was actually innocent of the crime he was sentenced for, but the judge had no idea it was a setup, and it ends with the criminal's throat torn out by a wolfdog and the corrupt wardens never being punished.
  • The vigilantes in Victoria reach this point when a corrupt federal judge cracks down on their hitherto successful efforts to smoke out the drug dealers and gangsters infesting their neighborhoods. Their revolution begins by tarring and feathering the malefactor.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Famous Jett Jackson episode "Something to Prove" has a bully named Robert tormenting Jett. Jett's father, the local sheriff, reveals that he had personally arrested Robert for assault and sent him to juvenile prison. This bully holds a grudge against both father and son for what happened to him, but targets Jett rather than the sheriff.
  • Averted with Judge Judy. That's surprising for someone who makes a career of publicly humiliating wrongdoers on national television. Judge Judy even verified in interviews that not once has she ever been threatened on TV with retaliation for her decisions (and the vicious words that go along with them).
  • On NCIS, the "meat puzzle" cases Ducky works on turn out to be someone's revenge upon the prosecutor, judge, and jury foreman who'd jointly put a sicko away. As Ducky was the M.E. whose evidence clinched the conviction, he suspects (correctly) that he's the last target on the vengeful killer's list.
  • In the Blue Bloods episode "Re-Do", a serial rapist whom Erin put away but then had his conviction thrown out on a technicality targets her in revenge. In hindsight, targeting a woman who isn't just an A.D.A. but has four current or former NYPD officers in her immediate family wasn't exactly bright of him.
  • The Closer: In the episode "Off the Hook", a woman kills a member of the California Parole board after she lets out a criminal who then robs and kills her son.
  • In an episode of The X-Files, "The List" a convict is executed, then returns as a spirit (or something) to take revenge on the witnesses/lawyers/judge/prison staff/executioner.
  • CSI: NY Season 8 Episode 8 "Crossroads". A judge is killed in a drive-by shooting and evidence first points towards a Russian mob hit, only to finally lead to a pair of young men which had been put in a hellhole juvenile detention center by the judge, who had an arrangement with the warden to be paid for every kid sentenced to serve time there. The murderer had been sent there because he stole a pack of gum.
  • Played with in the episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia "Dennis Looks Like a Registered Sex Offender", where Mac's father, after having been released from prison, goes to "take care of" several people that took part in sending him to prison in the first place. Mac and Charlie then freak out, thinking he's going to kill them too, until it turns out that he was just trying to make up with these people for causing trouble in the past.
  • The first episode of Zen had a man who was hunting down the judge, the attorney, and the police officer who got him convicted for a crime he did not commit. He agrees when Zen points out that he has killed lots of people and got away with it, but is angry they were not playing "the game" and they wouldn't have got him otherwise.
  • Law & Order:
    • Initially suspected in a Law & Order: Criminal Intent episode where the Body of the Week is a superior court judge's son. The judge had just sentenced a rapper for armed robbery and there was a prominent shot in The Teaser of the rapper's posse verbally threatening the judge. Turns out to be a Red Herring, though.
    • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, season 11, episode 3, 'Solitary': a guy (played by Stephen Rea) wants revenge on Stabler for spending years in solitary, especially because all of the time spent there had driven him borderline insane (and when the judge's sentence is to be sent back to solitary, he begs for death instead). A rare episode where Stabler develops sympathy for the crook, especially after taking some time in solitary as well. He ensures that the guy doesn't have to spend more time there in the finale.
    • This happened in another episode with Olivia. In this case, it was a slightly-more-justified version where the episode's villain was a man who was wrongfully convicted because Olivia railroaded the case and did the show's usual side-stepping of constitutional rights.
  • On Grimm, Oleg Stark was a Siegbarste (Ogre) who was sent to prison for murder after evidence that could have exonerated him was "misplaced" in police custody. After he escapes prison, he kills the prosecutor, judge, and jury foreman who helped convict him. It turns out that Hank was the one who destroyed the evidence, but only because Oleg really did commit the murders and then fabricated the exonerating evidence.
  • In one episode of The Red Green Show, Possum Lodge member and reformed criminal Mike Hamar is trying to hide from a fellow criminal, Big Al Finkelman, whom he had ratted out and got sent to prison, but who had just gotten released and is now coming for him. It so happens that the lodge is putting on a masquerade picnic and marathon, where people dress up in costumes, so Mike tries on various costumes, ultimately disguising himself as Red Green himself, but Big Al sees through the disguise. Big Al then runs into the real Red, thinking he's Mike. Red hastily feels around for his driver's license to prove his identity, but he can't find his wallet. Big Al accepts this as proof that he isn't Mike and leaves.
    Red: (addressing his wife at the end of the episode) Watch out for some guy dressed like me. He's an ex-con who's trying to sub in on my conjugal visits!

  • Implied in the "R.I.P." Remix by Young Jeezy (feat. YG, Kendrick Lamar & Chris Brown). Precisely YG's verse:
    R.I.P I wanna kill the judge
    Tryna lock the homie up, they don't feel the thug
  • The Beatles: After Maxwell Edison is arrested for bashing Joan's and his schoolteacher's heads in with a silver hammer, he appears in the courtroom, and smashes the judge on the head with his silver hammer as he's about to be sentenced.

  • In one of the Green Hornet radio episodes, the crook du jour was targeting Britt Reid because he blamed Reid for his conviction.

    Video Games 

    Visual Novels 
  • Ace Attorney:
    • Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney has Apollo growing increasingly frustrated with the justice system where he has to pull out every kind of evidence and make big leaps of logic just to get the system on his side for a few minutes while the prosecution and/or witness can make a simple rebuttal that are taken as a solid fact. He eventually wonders what is the point of a legal system if a blatantly obvious criminal gets to walk free. This is a similar thought process Phoenix Wright went through after he was set up to present forged evidence in court. Since he had to deal with the loopy court system for years before Apollo came along, he knew all too well at how bad it was. Phoenix spent the next 7 years of his life not only trying to find who set him up, but he also fought to add a jury system so that there would be less bias in trials. It was revenge against the person who cost him his job and a personal goal to get a more fair justice system for everyone. Sadly, it didn't stick since the jury system was abolished in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies (but at least he was still able to get back at said person).
    • In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies, the public in general invokes a downplayed, non-rampage-y version — referred to as "the dark age of the law" — in response to one Miscarriage of Justice too many. However, this culminates in an actually rampage-y example when Aura Blackquill snaps and takes hostages to force a retrial for her brother, Simon Blackquill, before his execution date.
    • In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice, the Kingdom of Khura'in faces an outright Civil War, courtesy of a La Résistance group that justifiably takes umbrage to the "Defense Culpability Act" — which, in the event of a guilty verdict, forces the defense attorney to share his/her client's fate... and has resulted in The Purge for over two decades. It turns out that the current Queen herself is responsible for said law — as an Evil Is Petty way of concealing her own Miscarriage of Justice against both the former Queen and her husband (a defense attorney, no less).

    Western Animation 
  • In Dynomutt, Dog Wonder, Ironface sought revenge against Blue Falcon and the city officials who sent the villain to prison.
  • The He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983) episode "It's Not My Fault" has an angry soldier named Raigo who looks to get back at a local chieftain for incarcerating him. Said soldier was punished for dereliction of duty, which happens to tie into the episode's moral about accepting responsibility for one's actions.
  • Sideshow Bob has tried to get revenge on Bart Simpson numerous times during the run of The Simpsons for sending him to prison.
  • The Family Guy episode "To Love and Die in Dixie" has a robber breaking out of prison, namely to target Chris Griffin whose testimony put the robber away. He didn't originally know Chris was the one who identified him, until Peter accidentally stumbled into the suspect lineup room looking for Chris, and ended up giving the robber a photo of Chris with his school schedule and a list of all of his fears written on the back.
    • In "One If By Clam, Two If By Sea", when Peter and friends end up in prison for a frameup, one of the inmates Joe arrested intends to kill all four of them. Luckily, Lois, Connie and Roberta manged to clear their names and catch the real culprit in time.
  • In the Justice League episode "Only a Dream", it's implied that Dr. Destiny wants revenge on the Leaguers for locking him up. (The thing is, not only was he guilty of the crime, the one he probably should have blamed was Lex Luthor for convincing him to do it.)
  • In The Legend of Korra, Korra does this when her father is found guilty of high treason. Her first reaction is to threaten the judge's life in the courthouse—and then, to kidnap him and threaten to feed him to Naga. (The judge is corrupt, and so kind of deserves it, but she doesn't know that, at least not at first. And it does not make her look very good to the courtroom audience any which way.)
  • In one episode of The Flintstones, "Disorder in the Court", Fred and Barney have jury duty, with Fred acting as jury foreman. They are tasked with trying someone known simply as "The Mangler", a vicious and enormous thief. When he is convicted, the Mangler swears to Fred's face that he'll get him for this. Fred can't help being afraid, especially when word gets out that the Mangler has escaped from custody and is on the hunt for Fred.


Video Example(s):


Rogercop's coup

Completely overhauls the Parisian police system with his own brand of justice in retaliation for being unjustly fired. The local cops just go along with it. Then again, if he could control their bodies, it was that, or be made to do it whether they liked it or not.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (7 votes)

Example of:

Main / RageAgainstTheLegalSystem

Media sources: