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Suspiciously Clean Criminal Record

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A character is looking into the background of another character. Upon looking into them, someone will say something along the lines of mentioning that they have a spotless record, not even a minor infraction like a speeding or parking ticket. It counts just as much as if they mention that the only thing on their record is a ticket; if that's the worst they have, then it's not that bad.

This has a couple uses. It can show how saintly a character is by essentially "praising them by faint damnation," or it can show that they seem to be an unlikely suspect, which means that in a Police Procedural show, well, that's another roadblock the Main Characters will have to come back from. In rarer cases, it can mean that they've changed their identity and their record is so clean because it didn't exist earlier.


Contrast and compare Orgy of Evidence, which looks suspicious because it's overwhelmingly incriminating.


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    Comic Books 
  • Judge Dredd: In one chapter, the Judges do a random sweep of citizens' apartments and become highly suspicious when one person turns out not only to have zero violations in his apartment, but has never broken any of Mega-City One's laws in the past. Note that the Meg is such an oppressive hellhole that it's practically impossible for someone to not break any. Powdered sugar and caffeine are illegal.

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Used in Miss Congeniality to establish that the villain was untouchable, which meant... well, they had to use the plot of Miss Congeniality.
  • Tomorrow Never Dies: Elliott Carver's hacker genius Gupta is able to quickly figure out that James Bond's not a banker but a government spy this way.
    Gupta: Bond's got a perfect employment record. Ten years, he's crossed every "t", dotted every "i".
    Elliot Carver: Which means?
    Gupta: Government agent. I call it "Gupta's Law of Creative Anomalies". If it sounds too good to be true, it always is.
  • When Sullivan is up for promotion in The Departed, Ellerby says to him, "You have an immaculate record. Some guys don't trust an immaculate record. I do. I have an immaculate record." The irony, of course, is that Sullivan is The Mole in the police force.

  • In the The Millennium Trilogy, Lisbeth investigates Michael on behalf of Mr Vanger, as Michael is indicted for libel. As his previous record proves to be clean, Vanger decides to hire him as a detective.
  • Good Omens: Aziraphale is an angel, and so scrupulously Lawful Good that he's been audited five times on the basis that anyone who turns in accurate tax forms on time has something to hide.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Dexter:
    • Very frequently used to describe Dexter's Victim of the Week, usually to handwave how the victim was Beneath Suspicion and thus slipped through the cracks.
    • Doakes cites something similar to this after looking into Dexter's background. He believes that no one's record is that clean unless they've done some scrubbing. He's right, although Dexter's late father/mentor Harry is more responsible for that than Dexter himself.
    • Quinn, being Doakes-lite, reaches the same conclusion.
    • When looking into the identity of the girl that Dexter found at the home of a victim, he mentions that she doesn't have so much as a speeding ticket.
  • In How I Met Your Mother, when Marshall looks into the background of Robin, he mentions that in addition to not being married, she's "not so good at parking legally."
  • In the Heat of the Night has an infamous episode, "Perversions of Justice," in which a young teacher is accused (falsely) of inappropriately touching a student's private parts. As a witch hunt ensues, the officers do a background check, and all they find is an indecent exposure charge... back when he was in college, said incident having been part of a drunken late-night romp. (Gillespie and his officers let it slide, as they recall their own drunken, dumb-and-stupid antics as young college-aged adults.) One other incident that comes up, however — a heretofore unexplained resignation from a previous job — wasn't even for criminal reasons: The teacher was grieving the deaths of his parents in a car accident and had a nervous breakdown in the classroom; the teacher’s former boss reveals this to an officer, Capt. Bubba Skinner. Unfortunately, neither the revelation of these facts nor the accuser later admitting the accusation was false will do anything to restore the teacher's reputation.
  • A late fourth-season episode of The Secret World of Alex Mack uses this to describe the man sent by the FDA to review GC-161, a drug that was designed to let people eat as much as they wanted without gaining excess weight, but instead induced Combo Platter Powers. Knowing there was no way the FDA would approve GC-161, Danielle Atron and Lars conspire to inconspicuously drug his coffee and put him in a situation that would publicly humiliate him and ruin his reputation, allowing GC-161 to be pushed onto the market.
  • In Red Dwarf, when Rimmer is convicted of mass murder by an automated justice system, he protests: "I've never so much as returned a library book late." (The novels clarify that while Rimmer is not an especially moral person, his absolute cowardice prevents him doing anything that could get him into trouble.)
  • Played for laughs on one episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent. A person of interest in the Case of the Week was so squeaky clean "he even does jury duty" (referencing the joke that juries are made up of people too dumb to get out of jury duty).
  • In Bones, after Dr. Vincent Nigel-Murray is killed, the cast reminisces about how he was apologizing for the worst things that he had done to them... and realized that none of them were very bad. This makes them realize if that's the worst he's capable of, then he was a really nice person.
  • Comes up frequently on Barney Miller: they check a perp for priors and he comes up clean, so Barney tries to talk the injured party into dropping the complaint.
  • Shows up often on Castle. One notable example is when investigating the torture and subsequent murder of a surgeon. Ryan and Esposito are discussing how unusual it is for that to happen, given that the surgeon had no criminal record and no connections to any mobs. Ryan goes so far as to observe, "The guy didn't even have any porn on his computer."
  • In one CSI episode, the two suspects in a killing are found with one having killed the other. Brass is surprised at this, as the suspect who killed the other has no criminal record. He emphasizes this during the interrogation by showing him a folder of his past crimes. It's empty.
  • Shows up on an episode of Person of Interest: the CIA agent who is the Victim Of The Week happens to not only be pretty pristine in terms of dirt, but the parking ticket that is on his record was fought most earnestly (with a 70-page report, even), which is clear evidence that he will try and find the reason why everybody on his listening post was massacred, no matter what.
  • In Revenge, Emily is noted by the Graysons to be "squeaky clean" without a single morally questionable thing on her record.
  • Double Subverted in CSI: Miami. When they check on a suspect, his record has a collection of normal, petty offenses and complaints, but the team notices that the other civilians involved with the complaints are all related to police officers. They explain that witness protection programs deliberately include minor criminal records with new identities to avoid this trope, and that pattern is enough for them to realize that the identity has been manufactured by the government.
  • Luke Cage (2016): During the first season, Misty Knight has some skepticism about whether Luke's superheroics in Harlem are helping or not, and they're not helped when her colleague Bailey does a background check on Luke and finds that Luke has an almost squeaky clean record to the point that the only place his name exists is on his New York driver's license, because his real name is Carl Lucas and he's an escaped fugitive.

    Web Comics 
  • In Nodwick, a pair of bureaucratic devils look up the history of the Lawful Good cleric Piffany and discover that the worst thing she's ever done is squash a bug. And she did a week's penance to make up for that!

    Western Animation 
  • In The Simpsons episode "Lisa's Rival", Lisa is jealous of the new girl in school and, in desperation, asks Bart to dig up some dirt on her. Bart reports that the girl is "clean as a bean."


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