Used in adventure stories and stories that cover a wide range of territory and plot elements.
Basically, the hero has been captured by someone who isn't actually a villain. An angry native tribe, some powerful god-like being or, in some cases, the police in another country, have caught the hero doing something that is against their rules. The hero may not even be aware that he has done anything wrong at all, and certainly didn't intend to do it. Nonetheless, the hero is put on trial for having committed some crime.
This is an interesting trope, as it means that the hero's biggest threat at the moment isn't the Big Bad, any Mooks, or anything like that, but rather, someone who is ostensibly good but has mistaken the hero for being bad. Even more worryingly, they may have unquestionably broken the natives' laws by doing something perfectly ordinary, and be forced to defend humanity in general. This is even more dramatic if the hero is threatened with death by these non-bad guys. In fact, this trope essentially means that if the characters who run these trials are powerful enough, they could pose a legitimate threat to the hero's future activities, in a way that a Card-Carrying Villain never could.
May involve Self-Restraint by the heroes, due to their Good-aligned nature. Moral or legal support for the heroes is often A Friend in Need. When it's the villain doing this to the heroes, it's a Joker Jury. If the heroes are put on trial by the souls of the dead, it's a Jury of the Damned. See also Humanity on Trial, Kangaroo Court. One may ask; if the trial is based on an obscure premise, why Nobody Ever Complained Before.
- Superman was put on trial by the Quintessence after the Our Worlds at War storyline where he defeated Imperiex.
- The Time Variance Authority had been seen a few times before they arrested She-Hulk for attempting to alter the present (she slipped a past version of Hawkeye a note warning him about his death) but that would be the first time their courtroom legal proceedings were viewed. The trials are actually quite reasonable as far as fairness is concerned; they'll provide any necessary witnesses for the defense and go out of their way to provide a defense attorney who is knowledgeable enough, using their own Time Travel technology to find one if necessary. (In She-Hulk's case, they brought her friend Southpaw from an Alternate Universe where Southpaw was a defense attorney.) Sentences they hand down, however, can be harsh; they can sentence a convicted criminal to be erased from existence, literally.
- "Zoned Out" was Powerpuff Girls fan picture strip story heavy on influences from The Twilight Zone that opens with a trial against the girls. The Mayor is the judge and the jury is comprised of people they know and love—with the Professor as the foreman. It's a Dream Sequence, leading to the body of the story (who is causing mayhem in Townsville—or could it be the girls themselves?).
- In the film A Matter of Life and Death, this is the entire premise. A young English pilot who's just fallen in love is abruptly informed he was supposed to have been killed in what was originally a near-miss airplane crash, and has to face a jury of the dead in his plea to be allowed back into the world.
- In Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, when the Ewoks capture the protagonists.
- In The Devil and Daniel Webster, Jabez Stone is put on trial to determine whether he must forfeit his soul to the Devil. On the plus side, his attorney is the famous orator Daniel Webster. On the bad side, the judge and jury are all villains from American history.
- The Knave of Hearts' trial in Alice in Wonderland.
- Passepartout in Jules Verne's Around the World in 80 Days was put on trial in India for sacrilege, having entered a Hindu temple with shoes on. This was largely a ploy by the detective Mr. Fix, to delay Phileas Fogg long enough for his arrest warrant to arrive.
- In Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts novel His Last Command, after they escape summary execution, Gaunt and his team face Imperial forces that range from a commissiar who maintains that after their time on a Chaos-tainted planet, they should be presumed tainted despite the total lack of evidence, and mercifully shot, to a general who is delighted to see their return and pulls in many favors to get them off.
- William King's Warhammer 40,000 Space Wolf novel Wolfblade opens with an investigation of whether Ragnar, who had destroyed the Chapter's most prized relic in a fight with the forces of Chaos, had done so because he was Chaos-tainted.
- William F. Buckley Jr.'s Blackford Oakes spy novel The Story of Henri Tod has the hero put on trial by an anticommunist cell in East Germany, on suspicion of his having betrayed one of their group to the KGB. True to form, Oakes doesn't blame them, and in fact believes they are acting completely sincerely and legitimately.
- The corrupt eponymous hero of Sheridan LeFanu's Mr. Justice Harbottle is put on trial by a jury of those he has had wrongfully executed and a judge who is a parody of himself.
- The White Council plays a fairly major role in The Dresden Files and this trope crops up appropriately.
- In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "The Squire of Gothos", Captain Kirk is tried by the title character (and superbeing) Trelane.
- Captain Picard is similarly put on trial by Q in the the final episode of TNG. (The pilot had all of Humanity on Trial with Picard as their unwilling representative, but he wasn't the only or even main defendant then.)
- And then there was Wesley Crusher in "Justice", but that was more about the punishment than the crime. Too bad they failed to carry out the sentence...
- Power Rangers Mystic Force had a literal Mystical Jury called The Tribunal of Magic judge whether or not to reverse a magic wish which stripped the heroes' powers away. They decide that the begging and pleading from the heroes (as well as the fact that they're the planet's only hope) isn't good enough, and it's not until the near end of the episode (by which point the Sixth Ranger is down for the count and the heroes are literally backed up against a chainlink fence) that they turn their ruling around.
- With Teal'c's previous status as The Dragon, it's unsurprising that Stargate SG-1 used this early in its run with him being put on trial for murder by some villagers. Unusually, his Atoner feelings are so strong he is willing to allow himself to be found guilty and executed despite his teammates repeatedly urging him to escape.
- It's worse because this planet's version of a trial is clearly a Kangaroo Court - the Judge, Jury, and Executioner is the son of the victim! When Daniel points out that the judge should be impartial (he explains it as having no opinion on the matter), the man is confused, after all, everyone has an opinion. He also says that a third party would not be able to adequately judge a crime without having any relation to it. Additionally, unlike a modern Western court, this one doesn't care about the killer's state of mind (Teal'c was choosing the lesser of two evils), only the act itself.
- An episode of Red Dwarf involves the characters defending their right to exist against a self-appointed celestial eugenicist convinced that too many people were taking for granted their extremely unlikely chance at life.
- In another episode, Rimmer is found guilty by the AI of a prison station because he feels guilty about causing the deaths of the Red Dwarf's original crew. Kryten must then convince the AI that his feeling of guilt did not reflect an actual crime.
- In Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, the protagonist finds himself on Manaan, a planet that has declared itself neutral in the ongoing war between the Republic and the Sith, but trades freely with both of them. After being hired by the Republic to spy on the Sith on the planet, he is caught red-handed massacring the entire population of the Sith base and is put on trial for breaking the neutrality treaty. Later, under vaguely-related circumstances, the exact same thing happens. Interesting in that both times the hero is actually guilty of what he's being charged with, but having the unquestionable moral high ground (or being that damn evil) helps him talk his way out of it.
- In Neverwinter Nights 2 the main character is accused of having slaughtered the village of Ember (which you recently passed through) - and much of the second act of the game was spent trying to gather the evidence that would prove your innocence. It's an unusual instance, since the city of Neverwinter bent over backwards to give the PC the best possible outcome - such as making him a noble so that he would get a trial, instead of just being extradited immediately.
- The failed Genesis game Awesome Possum has a trial of various tropical animals demanding you to answer various ecological questions for points.
- Mass Effect 3 Start with Commander Shepard on trial, likely for the "crime" s/he committed in Arrival (which was essentially a Sadistic Choice). Since they are skeptical about the existence of the Reapers (delaying them was the reason for committing the "crime" in Arrival), the trial would seem to have a bad outcome for Shepard. Thankfully, the Reapers invade Earth during the trial. S/He doesn't have time to justify him/herself to you, s/he has a galaxy to save. Excuse him/her.
- In The Order of the Stick, the party is put on trial by Azure City and a being of pure Law or rather, Roy's father under an illusion spell; the whole thing is a ploy to deliver some exposition.
- Subverted in Nodwick, in which the "Council of Three-And-A-Half" is revealed to consist entirely of people Yeager bullied as a child. Overlaps with Joker Jury to a degree, but considering Yeager is really kind of a dick sometimes, may also be a subversion of that.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender:
- In the episode "Avatar Day", Aang is arrested by locals while visiting an Earth Nation town. The townspeople charge Aang with murder, since they believe one of his past incarnations, Avatar Kyoshi, killed their town's greatest general. The kicker is that Aang can easily escape, but chooses not to because he wants to prove his own innocence via the justice system.
- A third-season example shows up when Zuko and Aang go to find the meaning of Firebending, at a (supposedly) abandoned temple of a tribe called the Sun Warriors. They are captured, and blamed for the extinction of the Dragons. Aang tries to play the Avatar card, but is told that because of his disappearing for 100 years, the Fire Nation was able to destroy all of the remaining dragons, and of course Zuko is a direct descendant of Fire Lord Sozin, who started hunting them for sport. They are told they will be judged by the Masters Ran and Shaw, and destroyed if found lacking. In a twist, the Masters Ran and Shaw are the last surviving dragons. They pass, but it's really hairy for a moment.
- An episode of Captain Planet features the planeteers, representing humanity, being put on trial by 12 endangered/extincted animals. Humanity is found guilty and the planeteers admit humanity's mistakes.
- In the Looney Tunes cartoon "The Wearing of the Grin", Porky Pig is put on trial by leprechauns on a charge of trying to steal their pot of gold. Especially cruel for Porky as he'd merely shown up at their castle innocently looking for lodging.
- A bizarre example from an episode of The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh: Pooh is asked to take care of a balloon, loses it, and then has a dream where he is put on trial by a jury of horrific accusing balloons.
- The Simpsons:
- Homer dreams of being tried by a jury of donuts. He ends up taking a bite out of his Defense Attorney. It doesn't help his case.
- Bart has a similar dream sequence where he is called before the Bird Court and confesses that he killed the mama bird, orphaning her eggs. They had really just called him there to change their newspaper, it was filthy and covered in bird poop. After his confession though, they sentence him to death and try to peck out his eyes.
- In Justice League an alien court accuses Green Lantern of blowing up an entire planet. The Flash offers to be GL's lawyer.
- The Classic Disney Short Pluto's Judgement Day is apparently about Pluto having a nightmare about him being put on trial by a jury of demonic cats in Hell after Mickey Mouse scolds him one day for chasing a cat. Some of the cats that are testifying against Pluto include a cat that was flattened after Pluto chased him under a steamroller, and nine angels representing the lost lives of a dead cat named Uncle Tom, whom Pluto apparently murdered by chasing him into a river, causing him to drown. Pluto is then proven guilty by the cat jury, and is immediately sentenced to death by being dropped into a fire.
- The Smurfs
- Episode "Harmony Steals the Show" has Harmony on trial for his soul after he has a Deal with a Ghost Bar Owner giving him a music masterpiece in exchange of his servitude. The Judge is Death, the Jury is made of dead famous musicians and his defense lawyer is Papa Smurf.
- Episode "Heavenly Smurfs" has the Smurfs tricking Gargamel into thinking that he died and is facing a trial by Angels and Devils.