In some cases (in fiction, and one would imagine in real life as well), a person will commit a crime, and then get caught. As they wait in fear to find out what their punishment is, the hero will reveal that no punishment could possibly be worse than simply being allowed to live with the consequences of the crime itself, so there will be no further punishment.
The villain may raise this issue himself, arguing that he's being punished enough already and should be spared anything further. Depending on the character and the circumstances, this may come off as genuine regret deserving of mercy, a cynical ploy to evade justice, or somewhere in between.
In particularly literal cases of the trope, the offense is punished by forcing the perpetrator to continue doing it long past the point where it is pleasurable or desirable, or by giving them the "curse" of immortality so that not even death can relieve them from their suffering. This is often the end result of a HeelFace Door-Slam that doesn't kill the villain, being Trapped in Villainy even when they wish to atone for their crimes.note
Sometimes overlaps with Radish Cure, where a person shows desire for something forbidden, and then has it forced on them. Also compare Be Careful What You Wish For, Ironic Hell, and Self-Inflicted Hell.
- In Code Geass, this occurs in the final second-season episode. However, it's a very odd example because Lelouch had been planning this for some time and Suzaku had willingly agreed to it.
Lelouch: The punishment for what you've done shall be this, then. You will live on, always wearing that mask serving as a knight for justice and truth. You will no longer live your life as Suzaku Kururugi. You shall sacrifice the ordinary pleasures of your life for the benefit of the world. For eternity...
Suzaku: This Geass, I do solemnly accept.
- In Touhou Bougetsushou, it's revealed that being impure is a crime in Lunarian society. What exactly does it mean to be impure? It means to be mortal. According to Shinto belief, impurity is the product and source of all evil and misfortune, and the greatest source and product of impurity is death. Ergo, Earthlings are only mortal because the Earth is permeated with death and impurity, and the Lunarians are only immortal because they migrated to the Moon, which has never been touched by death. So, if living and dying here on Earth is the crime of us Earthlings, what is the punishment? Naturally, our punishment is to spend our entire impure lives living here on this impure Earth until the day we finally die.
- Katejina Loos of Mobile Suit Victory Gundam steadily went off the deep end of villainy throughout the latter half of the series and was responsible for the deaths of more than a few reoccurring characters. While most of the other antagonists were killed, Katejina survives the series, albeit now as a blind homeless woman with amnesia and brain damage. And it's later implied that she does remember some of her crimes. The writers felt the only punishment fitting for Katejina's actions would be for her to live with the guilt of her atrocities, because apparently death would be too lenient.
- This is the fate of Lyta Hall in The Sandman: Her actions during the last two books — siccing The Kindly Ones on Morpheus and thus destroying the current aspect of Dream of the Endless — causes immense damage, but they also caused the "death" of her son Daniel who then became the new aspect of Dream, except merged with Morpheus at a conceptual level and therefore made it All for Nothing. In light of this, she is simply allowed to leave at the end.
- Phoebe and Her Unicorn: The Unicorn Court occasionally tries Phoebe in absentia for not being a unicorn, and sentences her to not being a unicorn.
- There was a Tom the Dancing Bug comic in which someone tried to get out of paying their taxes by offering to sleep with an IRS agent. Their punishment was to sleep with an IRS agent.
- Often used in fetish fiction: The punishment for a man trying on women's clothing is... being forced to wear women's clothing.
- For a more specific example, there's an Original Flavor Scooby-Doo fanfic What Lurks in the Labyrinth, where the main villain is unmasked and then forced to wear his costume at a cheesy tourist attraction.
- This is used as an actual punishment for two villains in The New Scooby-Doo Movies episode "The Haunted Horseman of Hagglethorn Hall" (The One with... Davy Jones).
- In Queen of Shadows, this is how Hiruzen chooses to punish Hishu for his role in Jade's escape attempt and subsequent near-death. Seeing how riddled with guilt he is, Hiruzen decides that that alone is fitting torment.
- In Sort the Dragon, Snape assures his students that should they ignore his warnings not to antagonize Harry Potter, he will not punish them, as Harry's response will be punishment enough.
- In American Psycho, Villain Protagonist Patrick Bateman attempts to confess to the hideous murders he has been committing, which he doesn't even enjoy anymore. It seems he is finally disgusted with himself, that he wants to be punished, or at least he wants something to change. He is not going get what he wants this time. The film ends with the ominous certainty that his confessions are meaningless and his hellish existence is inescapable.
- In Striptease, Shad wants to sue a dairy company by pretending he found a cockroach in his yogurt. His lawyer, Mordecai, keeps the evidence in his refrigerator, only to find after he's come back from meeting with the company and getting a settlement offer that his temporary secretary, Rachel, has eaten the yogurt. She worriedly asks if Mordecai is going to fire her, but Mordecai has something far worse in mind — "I'm going to tell you exactly what you ate."
- In A Song of Ice and Fire, two of the Lannister hostages try to escape from King's Landing by hiring on as oarsman. Tyrion Lannister suggests keeping them on the oars for a few years as punishment, but eventually decides against it as they can't afford to lose the hostages.
- In Theodore Sturgeon's short story "Vengeance Is", two men rape an academic's wife and he begs her to give in to them. He does so because he knows that she's the carrier for a venereal disease that will soon cause them a painful death.
- In A Christmas Carol, Scrooge's nephew Fred points out at his Christmas party that the person suffering most from his uncle's attitude to Christmas is Scrooge himself.
- In Codex Alera, Fidelias's eventual punishment for being a spy and pretending to be Valiar Marcus is to have to keep living as Valiar Marcus. An interesting case, in that this is as much a matter of pragmatism (making use of Fidelias's skills) and redemption (as Fidelias has grown during his time serving Octavian into a loyal and remorseful vassal) as punishment.
- At the end of Isaac Asimov's story The Dead Past, the government agents tracking down the protagonists for the crime of illegally building a time viewer arrive too late to stop them from spreading the secret. After explaining to the protagonists that they've just abolished privacy (since the viewer can be set to see any place at any time from a century ago to a split-second ago), the agents rescind the arrest and leave them all to live with the consequences.
- Played with in Discworld, where students who break the rules about using magic without due precautions will be expelled, if enough parts of them can be found to do so.
- In C. S. Lewis' The Great Divorce, Hell's residents are very directly to blame for the Grey Town being as miserable as it is. By itself, it's just kinda drab, but the residents' sins that they refuse to give up causes strife and makes everyone unhappy.
- This is also seen in The Screwtape Letters, where the Enemy (God) and the angels essentially tell the devils that if they ever understood love, the doors to heaven would be thrown wide open to them. Of course, the devils are so divorced from good that they don't get it and instead think of love as some sort of Weaksauce Weakness of God's, and so keep on suffering. Getting put in their 'Try to comprehend good' department is one of the worst jobs a devil could get.
- In the Carl Hiaasen novel Striptease, Shad wants to sue a dairy company by pretending he found a cockroach in his yogurt. His lawyer, Mordecai, keeps the evidence in his refrigerator, only to find after he's come back from meeting with the company and getting a settlement offer that his temporary secretary, Rachel, has eaten the yogurt. She worriedly asks if Mordecai is going to fire her, but Mordecai has something far worse in mind — "I'm going to tell you exactly what you ate."
- The Railway Series: In "The Sad Story of Henry", Henry stalls in a tunnel (thus temporarily stranding his passengers) because he doesn't want to risk rain water spoiling his paint. He is punished for this by being bricked up and made to stay in the tunnel. For bonus points, his stay actually causes his paint to be ruined far beyond what the rain would have done, thanks to soot and dirt from the tunnel roof.
- As the title suggests, this is one of the major themes of Crime and Punishment. Though Raskolnikov is eventually shipped off to Siberia in payment for the murders he commits, the book makes it clear that the worse punishment is the overwhelming mixture of paranoia and guilt he suffers as a result of his crimes.
- In Warrior Cats, Greystripe has a relationship with Silverstream, a cat from another clan. When Silverstream dies in childbirth, Thunderclan finds out about his secret relationship. Bluestar, the clan leader, decides that losing Silverstream is punishment enough, and doesn't give one of her own for breaking clan law.
- In an episode of 8 Simple Rules, Bridget tried to get her parents to agree with this when, after getting a job at a clothing store, she racked up a huge bill for clothes, then paid it off with the emergency credit card given to her by her parents. It didn't work — she was still made to do work around the house to pay off the debt.
- At the end of season 2 of Burn Notice, Michael has created enough trouble for the people who burned him that he finally gets a meeting with Management, where he demands that they stop interfering with his life. Management agrees - because at this point, the cops are looking for Michael and keeping him off of law enforcement's radar is expensive.
- In an episode of The Cosby Show, Vanessa gets involved in her first drinking game while at a party with friends, and wakes up the next morning with her first hangover. Clair says there will be no need to punish her, because what she's going through is bad enough...but they make her go to school that day, just the same.
- Doctor Who:
- In no less than three storylines, the punishment for people seeking immortality was to become immortal. "Human Nature"/"The Family of Blood" and "The Five Doctors" were both subversions of this trope, because extra punishments were added on, but in the other example, "Mawdryn Undead", the punishment for seeking immortality was nothing more than immortality itself.
- "Cold Blood": After Ambrose Northover tortures a captured enemy to death while trying to protect several of her relatives, the Doctor suggests that this is the case for her. She has to live with the fact that she tortured and killed someone for nothing and put the whole human race at risk because of her hatred. There's also the guilt of genocide; just ask the Doctor how that feels. Finally, there's the fact that her son, whom she did all this for, is disgusted by how low she sunk. That's a life sentence right there.
- "The Day of the Doctor": When the War Doctor is planning to use The Moment to destroy the Time Lords and Daleks, he tells her that he has no intention to survive. The Moment, realizing he has a conscience, then decrees that surviving and living with the guilt of genocide will be his punishment.
- The Twelfth Doctor decides to spare Missy/the Master for her crimes with the hope that being locked in isolation for a thousand years to think about what she has done will invoke this trope, allowing them to finally be on the same side and able to adventure together as they had promised each other as children. It works after only a century or so (with some hiccups), but the previous incarnation of the Master is so horrified and disgusted by the idea of ever becoming the Doctors ally that he kills her, supposedly even preventing her from regenerating. Tragically, the Doctor never even finds out that she ultimately sided with him because of it, believing she escaped having given up on redemption.
- In The Following, teenage Ryan Hardy hunted down the drug addict who gunned his dad down robbing a convenience store, and forced him at gunpoint to OD on the drugs he bought with the money.
- Hank Zipzer: In "Ballot Box Hunter", McKelty wins the election for school council by cheating. However, after Miss Adolph tells him that being on the council means attending half-day council meetings at the school on Saturday, and wearing full school uniform for the meetings, Hank is suddenly glad that he didn't win.
- On one episode of Married... with Children, a man told Al that Peg was running around with his husband. He responded "Well, he's got what he deserved!" When reminded that what he got was Al's wife, he said "Let the punishment fit the crime!"
- On Newhart, the town's church bell is damaged. George, whose grandfather built the bell, lobbies to be the one to repair it, only for someone else to sweet-talk his way into doing the job instead. George defiantly sneaks into the bell tower to perform the repairs in secret. The town councilmen catch him in the act and enact a punishment for defying a council order. The sentence is community service, but since the bell is the only thing in the community that requires service, he's allowed to proceed.
- In one episode of Red Dwarf, Rimmer is put on trial for causing the deaths of the original crew. Kryten, as his defence lawyer, sums up his argument as "He's only guilty of being Arnold J. Rimmer. That is his crime, it is also his punishment." (YouTube link)
- In one episode of Seinfeld, Elaine eats a slice of cake from her boss J. Peterman's minifridge. Turns out the cake was a piece of wedding cake from a British royal wedding in 1936 and that it cost $29,000. When he finds out, she's afraid he'll punish her somehow. His response:
Peterman: Elaine, I have a question for you. Is the item still... [pats his stomach] with you?
Elaine: Um, as far as I know.
Peterman: Do you know what happens to a butter-based frosting after six decades in a poorly ventilated English basement?
Elaine: Uh, I guess I hadn't—
Peterman: Well, I have a feeling that what you are about to go through is punishment enough. Dismissed.
- In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Survivors", the Enterprise crew encounter an alien entity posing as an elderly human man who committed genocide against a warlike species after they killed his human wife during an attempted conquest of the couple's colony. Picard decides the only thing they can do is to leave the immortal energy being alone. The Enterprise has no way to pass sentence on him, but he's already mad with grief over his wife's death and filled with remorse for his crime. His self-imposed isolation is its own sentence.
- In the Star Trek: The Original Series pilot "The Cage", the Talosians finally decide that humans are untameable and release their captives. When Captain Pike objects to their lack of remorse for their actions, one of them points out that the failed attempt has quashed their final glimmer of hope ("Your unsuitability has condemned the Talosian race to eventual death. Is this not sufficient?").
- In That '70s Show, Eric is preparing to go to Africa to become a teacher; at the same time, his parents finally find out about the regular marijuana use that he and his friends engage in. This leads to this comment from Red, "Well, this is the worst thing that you have ever done! Eric, I am gonna make you... I am going to... well, I can't think of anything worse than sending you to Africa. You're going to Africa!"
- Warehouse 13 After Artie kills Leena under the influence of the astrolabe, this is what the Regents decide, although it's only really Artie who wants to be punished; the others understand that it wasn't really his fault.
- In The Wire, a violent bully repeatedly accosts and robs Bubbles until finally Bubbles poisons a drug vial, figuring said bully will take it too and wind up dead. Instead a dear friend who is like a son to Bubbles gets ahold of it and dies from the poison. Bubbles immediately confesses to the police, and an Interrupted Suicide soon ensues where Bubbles tries to hang himself in the interview room. After saving Bubbles' life, Sergeant Landsman lets him off the hook, reasoning that the death was an accident and no punishment will be worse than having to live with the guilt. It's meant more as a benevolent decision by Landsman than as an actual punishment, however.
- Many branches of Christianity teach that God's main punishment of sin is the ENJOYMENT of the sin committed. So many of our sins are easier to stop on day 1. This extends to Hell — sinners are punished by giving them exactly what they want: separation from God, and everything that comes with it. Also part of a theological theory that unites the traditional Fire and Brimstone Hell with a Self-Inflicted Hell; if one can physically "burn" with hatred and lust and pride here in this life, what's to keep anyone from spiritually "burning" with all the same evils in the hereafter?
- Several Christian faiths believe this is the case. The only reason God gives commandments is because He knows those courses of action inevitably lead to misery and destruction whether the law's enforcers ever catch up with you or not, and these inevitable consequences of your actions are the punishment. This is the meaning behind the famous Bible quote "The wicked flee when no man pursueth." Old Testament law merely fast-tracked some of these consequences in an effort to deter people from proceeding further down this road to ruin.
- Some Christian apologists commonly believe that God doesn't send people to hell, people send themselves there because of their willingness to sin and their rejection of God's gift of salvation.
- The Fantastic Nuke, as Shadowdale put it:
Elminster: Spells of this sort are directly forbidden, although it is difficult to punish transgressors as they are usually dead before the spell reaches this stage!
- Changeling: The Lost: One Goblin Contract summons The Wild Hunt to the user's location — in a game where The Fair Folk are every Changeling's most dreaded enemy. Goblin Contracts usually demand some terrible cost of the user to function; in this case, the Contract's effect is the cost. On a Critical Failure, the Hunt knows precisely who called them.
"This dread Contract is its own price."
- A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: "Suicide's illegal! The penalty is death!"
- Likewise in The Mikado, Ko-Ko the Lord High Executioner explains why he refuses to be his own victim: "In the first place, self-decapitation is an extremely difficult, not to say dangerous, thing to attempt; and, in the second, it's suicide, and suicide is a capital offence."
- In the stage play version of Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, Junko anticipates extreme prejudice for all the stunts pulled as mastermind of the killing game, and even offers to self-execute. Naegi stops Junko before it can happen, deciding a more despairing punishment would be to keep her alive with the knowlege that her plan failed and the death she wanted is not going to happen on his and the other survivors' watch.
- In the backstory of Mortal Kombat, it's stated that the Elder Gods punished Shang Tsung for taking a soul with a curse which not only forces him to kill his enemies, but to take their souls as well. Only in this way would he hold off his grim fate: to age rapidly and die prematurely. Unfortunately, this kinda backfires on them when Shang Tsung absorbed Great Kung Lao's soul after the latter was defeated by Goro, he also gained knowledge of Shinnok's whereabouts and gave to them Quan Chi in exchange for resurrecting Sindel. Smooth move there, Elder Gods.
- Mortal Kombat 11 gives an Author's Saving Throw on the reasoning for this. It turns out this "punishment" was a gambit on Kronika's part to use the souls Shang Tsung absorbs to power her crown, which would give her the extra energy necessary to completely reset the timeline. Kronika's daughter, the Elder God Cetrion, is in on her mother's plan and was therefore in a position to influence Shang Tsung's sentence.
- In Mass Effect 2, after finding Jacob's father in his loyalty mission and learning that he's ran a colony of spacecraft wreck survivors as his own personal fiefdom that's now falling apart, you have the Paragon option of radioing in an Alliance vessel to arrest him and bring him to face justice or the Renegade option of Leave Behind a Pistol. A third option is to simply leave him where he is and let him deal with the mess he created.
- Invoked in the Ultima series with the Armageddon spell. Players are warned that this would destroy almost all living creatures, but stops just short of telling players it makes the game unwinnable. Subverted in Ultima IX, where Armageddon is used to destroy the Guardian.
- Until it was removed in 3.6.0, a long-standing joke in the NetHack community was that the DevTeam's "automatic and savage punishment" for pudding farming (exploiting an Asteroids Monster for Random Drops and corpses to sacrifice) is called "pudding farming" — pudding farming is incredibly tedious, and players who abuse it will frequently find that all the fun has been sucked out of the game.
- Etrian Odyssey Nexus features an Easier Than Easy difficulty, Picnic, which makes the game a severe pushover by applying damage and defense modifiers that are stacked heavily in the player's favor. The catch is that if you ever choose that difficulty, you cannot raise the difficulty back up for the rest of the playthrough, i.e. if you wish to forfeit one challenge, you will have to forfeit any and all future challenges on your file as well.
- In SEVEN's CODE, HARZiNA's idea of punishing people for their sins is to cast a Judgment "spell" of sorts onto the person, making them act on their sin to such an extreme degree that they become a danger to others; the only way to stop the person is to kill them.
- The VeggieTales episode "Larry-Boy and the Fib From Outer Space!" has a mild version. Junior's lies cause the Fib to grow giant. It grabs him and begins terrorizing the town. In the end, his parents decide the entire incident is punishment enough for lying.
- After Kim Possible and Shego are released from Dr. Drakken's mind control chips at the end of the episode "The Twin Factor", Kim decides not to bother capturing Drakken — he'll be punished "ten times worse" when Shego gets her hands on him.
- In an episode of The Buzz on Maggie, Maggie went to see a PG-13 movie her parents forbade her from seeing and it ended up scaring her so much she was left traumatised. After Maggie confessed to her parents they decided her trauma was more than enough punishment.
- Arthur tried this once as an excuse to get out of being punished. It didn't work - he was still grounded.
- Franklin had an interesting subversion — after Bear and Franklin got poison ivy rashes from taking an unapproved shortcut, they weren't punished, but they grounded themselves.
- In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, "Just for Sidekicks", Spike offers to petsit for the mane six — solely because he wants to be paid — and then neglects to actually look after the pets. This results in Spike getting put through the wringer and losing all the gems he was paid with. At the climax, as Angel tries to return to his owner, Spike apologizes for his neglect, prompting Angel to relent. Angel helps Spike evade the mane six and escape further punishment.
- Starlight Glimmer gets this invoked upon her when she pulls a HeelFace Turn in the Season Five finale. Twilight Sparkle and the rest of the Mane Six don't punish her for all the trouble she caused throughout the season; instead, they just give her another chance at being Twilight Sparkle's pupil so she can learn about Friendship. This ends up eating at Starlight Glimmer in many ways, as throughout the following season, she continually struggles with her guilt and being very haunted by her evil past.
- Ambrose Bierce's definition of bigamy in The Devil's Dictionary: "A mistake in taste, for which the wisdom of the future will adjudge a punishment called 'trigamy.'"
- An Internet message board administrator once joked about the change in moderation policy to a much more laissez-faire one consisting of only deleting obvious trolling and spam as "Under the old system if you posted something ridiculous and/or offensive, the punishment was we'd delete your post. Under the new system the punishment is we don't delete your post." and made the point that leaving such posts up would also bring ridicule and ostracization to those who posted them rather than allowing for cover with them being deleted.
- After Richard Nixon was forced to resign because of his corruption during the Watergate scandal everyone expected him to be put on trial. However, his successor, Gerald Ford, simply pardoned Nixon for "any crimes he may have committed during his presidency", because he felt that "he had been punished enough." It was a controversial decision, which effectively cost Ford his own re-election, but the line of thinking did make sense. At that point, Nixon had been on TV for two years trying to deny the undeniable, ruined his entire reputation and would always be followed by the shame of being the first US president to resign to avoid Congress impeaching him. A simple imprisonment wouldn't be that much worse as a punishment and it would have kept the Watergate affair in the news for years to come. This would have been worse for the USA and its reputation abroad than it would have been for Nixon, though others contend it set a bad precedent for leaving people unpunished who had committed major crimes.
- Emacs and Vi are text editors primarily used for programming, and the rivalry between them is Serious Business. It is said by the founder of the Church of Emacs that "Using a free version of Vi is not a sin but a penance," i.e., if you want to subject yourself to something so terrible, go right ahead.
- Many customer service businesses do what they can to avoid getting the dreaded bad reviews, as a bad reputation can drive customers away. However some opt for a "if you want to badmouth us on Yelp / Google Maps / etc that's your choice" approach, the idea being that if the customer is being an asshole, writing a "WORST PLACE EVER!" or "Fire this asshole, they didn't make my meal correctly" review isn't going to harm the business, all the customer did was make themselves look like an unreasonable, unpleasable jerk for the public to see. It might be a big life event for the customer, but for the staff, it's just how business is sometimes. For some business owners, this can be seen as a healthier approach, as "protect our reputation at all costs" may entail punishing (including docking subsequent hours or even firing) employees over a relatively minor mistake that may not even be their fault.