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Wrongful Accusation Insurance

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"In the course of proving Optimus innocent of breaking and entering, the criminal acts you commit include: resisting arrest, interfering with a crime scene, removing evidence from a crime scene, assaulting a police officer, destruction of police equipment, unauthorized access of a police computer system, vandalism, industrial espionage, breaking and entering. What lesson have we learned today, children?" on the Transformers: Animated booklet Prime Suspect

In detective stories and thrillers, sometimes a framed man fights to prove his innocence—usually of murder—and in doing so commits a series of crimes, yet does not pay for them at the end. Crimes that are often committed in the pursuit of the proof of innocence include resisting arrest, assaulting a police officer, grand theft auto, breaking and entering, reckless endangerment, assault, fraud, and shooting bad guys. The immunity to consequences for those acts is a specific form of Hero Insurance, perhaps granted because they are perceived as acting under compulsion, like a twisted version of a Boxed Crook. In many cases, the transgressions they commit are also comparatively minor (property damage against the bad guy, petty or returnable in same condition theft, perhaps an assault that doesn't result in lasting injury) when compared to the crime they have been wrongly accused of, and even killing can be justified story-wise by self-defense and Asshole Victims, thus allowing the audience to overlook them and maintain sympathy with the character; when the crime isn't, however, then good luck keeping them on the hero's side.

Note that Would Not Shoot a Good Guy is generally in play; most such characters do not actually murder people who honestly believe them to be crooks. All that said, there are many cases where the hero will actually commit things just as bad or worse than whatever they were originally accused of (a hero killing a lot of people after being falsely accused of murder is perhaps the most obvious example) and at this trope's worst it can turn into a rather absurd form of Protagonist-Centered Morality.

In some stories, this can be Hand Waved by how high the conspiracy to frame the hero goes; if the trial would embarrass the government, showing how easily the justice system can be fooled or how entrenched the corruption within agencies sworn to defend the law, the parties involved might prefer to sweep the mess under the rug over confronting the imperfections in the system. Alternately, the government may be sufficiently damaged over the course of the story that it no longer has the capability to prosecute the hero.

In reality, this isn't the case. Even if you're innocent, in many jurisdictions escaping from custody is still a crime and will net you an additional charge. One of the few times you can get away with escaping custody is if you can demonstrate you're in reasonable fear for your life if you remain in custody (more risk than is normal for being in custody) and return to custody when that danger has passed.

A subtrope of Saved by the Awesome. See also: "Get Out of Jail Free" Card; Hero Insurance; Boxed Crook.

If the hero is hated due to being accused of a particular crime, yet (in the course of the plot) commits several other incredibly heinous deeds without anyone batting an eyelid, that's Selective Condemnation.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Monster, Tenma breaks out of jail and shoots some people. However, since all of his actions are justified, and his name is cleared due to having a good attorney, a criminal psychologist, and a cop's thorough testimony on his side, the trope is averted.
  • Subverted in Outlaw Star. What's the first thing Gene does upon his return to Sentinel? Jail time. Turns out that meeting robot God doesn't excuse you from overdue parking tickets or leaving the planet without clearance. Even if he was fleeing intergalactic pirates out for blood, that just knocks it down from a criminal charge to an exorbitantly high fine. Fred paid that though, so it's alright (or, considering how much Gene already owes Fred, maybe not).

    Comic Books 
  • In Patrice Dard's L'Histoire de France de Marie-Marie, Producer Darryl E. Nuck really has Wrongful Accusation Insurance... more precisely, he is "insured against miscarriages of justice". In fact, he appears to be insured against EVERYTHING that could possibly go wrong.
  • Justified in Diabolik whenever Ginko has to Clear His Name by the simple fact he's the only one who can hold himself against the titular thief (also known as the King of Terror, the Invincible Criminal, the Murderer With a Thousand Faces, and many other scary names), so people are more than willing to overlook what he does in such occasions. It helps that he keeps his crimes very small and never harms anyone except the culprits.
  • In the Golden Age Crack Comics, the Spider is wrongfully arrested by the police. In proving his innocence, he breaks out of jail (via ram-raiding the building with a car) and attacks several police in the process. Then again, the Spider was firmly on the anti side of Anti-Hero to begin with...

    Fan Works 
  • Subverted in The Awakening of a Magus. After Fudge announces Sirius' innocence in public, he attempts to bring up the matter of Sirius escaping Azkaban... until Arthur reminds him that he announced Sirius would be free of all charges up to date. In front of reporters. Commonly played straight in every Harry Potter fanfic that uses this plot, actually. Probably justified by the fact that he was locked up in very irregular circumstances, to the point where any criminal investigation would be focused on the people who locked him up in the first place. In other fics, he's officially declared guilty of the relatively smaller crimes but, since the time he previously spent in Azkaban is more than the combined sentence one can get for them, he officially already served it (some also include a fine for being an unregistered animagus, but between being from a rich family and/or being paid off to not sue the Ministry to oblivion for being illegally imprisoned without trial in a supermax for a decade, such a fine is peanuts to him). And in an even smaller group, he's asked to perform community service for a time until the government feels he's paid his debt to society.

    Films — Animation 
  • The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad: In the process of escaping from jail after being wrongly accused of stealing a car, Toad steals a train right in front of the engineer and no one points out that even if he never stole the car, he still stole the train. The law doesn't recognize "just borrowing it" as valid -the item was still removed from its owners' possession and use for that period of time.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In A Murder of Crows, Russell is cleared of all murder charges at the end of the movie, including the charge of murdering Corvus, a murder he clearly did commit. It's not said how his attorney managed this.
  • The Interpreter has the main character break into a UN panic room and try to murder a head of state with a gun (though she desisted at the last minute). The last scene in the film shows her casually sitting in the UN garden and having a friendly chat with Sean Penn's DS character about leaving the country, with no indication that anything she did would ever have repercussions.
  • The Negotiator is built around this trope. Samuel Jackson's character takes over an office building and holds people hostage, but it's all right as long as he catches the bad guy in the end.
  • The protagonist of the French film Tell No One caused a massive pile-up on one of Paris's busiest roads, one that certainly caused a lot of property damage, if no actual injuries.
  • Jamie Foxx's character at the end of Collateral is forced to impersonate an assassin and ends up committing a few crimes over the course of the end of the movie trying to save the last victim of said assassin. Good thing the last victim on the list was a prosecutor because when this is over, he's going to need all the legal help he can get.
  • The protagonist and girlfriend in The '60s' monster mash Attack of the Eye Creatures were framed for a murder committed by the "creatures". Our heroes break out of jail and steal a police car. The girlfriend's influential father "takes care of everything" by having these charges dismissed.
  • In the early '90s film remake of The Fugitive with Harrison Ford, Dr. Kimble commits multiple burglaries (a clinic, a hospital, an apartment), thefts, auto theft (ambulance to be specific), unauthorized use of medical records, accessory after the fact in the murder of a transit cop (disposing of the gun, even though he didn't shoot the officer), and more in the course of proving that he didn't murder his wife. This is to say nothing of his original escape from custody, which is illegal whether or not you are innocent of the crime you are accused or convicted of (running away to avoid being hit by debris from a derailing train is justified, but continuing to run instead of turning himself in...). Notably, however, the film ends with him in the custody of the US Marshals who were pursuing him throughout the movie, and while he's cleared himself of the original murder, there's no indication that all the other stuff is just going to be let slide. This said, the rather shady circumstances around his original arrest and conviction (including a fairly hefty, albeit never directly confirmed, whiff of corruption on part of the authorities) heavily suggest that he's unlikely to face too hefty a punishment; the point is simply that he's not simply let go after everything.
  • An even more glaring example of this is seen in the sequel, U.S. Marshals, in which Mark Sheridan commits numerous felonies in the course of proving his innocence and attempting to flee the country-kidnapping, assault, and assault with a deadly weapon on a federal agent (when he shoots Gerard but deliberately aims for his bulletproof vest). His girlfriend counts as well, for aiding and abetting him. What's more, she might not yet be a US citizen and might even be in the country illegally, so her actions are enough to warrant her being deported. But at the end of the film, they're all seen walking out of a courthouse with a few throwaway lines about him being "cleared of all charges." However, it probably doesn't hurt his case that one of the people assigned to guard him, and later pursue him, was actually attempting to murder him to cover up his own crimes, making surrender something of a non-option. Given that Richard Kimble's crimes were so minor in comparison, one can Hand Wave that he received the same treatment.
  • Double Jeopardy has a variant where the protagonist is being chased for violating parole, having already been released for murdering her husband. She goes free after exposing her husband for faking his death earlier, in spite of breaking and entering, stealing Lehman's car, stealing his gun, assaulting him, transporting said gun across state lines without a permit, property damage, and let's not forget her unremitting plan to murder a man, thanks to this film's use of Hollywood Law.
  • Minority Report has John Anderton committing theft, assault, and resisting arrest while trying to prove he won't murder someone. In the movie, he admittedly goes out of his way to not harm the PreCrime cops sent to get him. In the Game of the Movie, you're free to slaughter them by the hundreds while trying to prove you wouldn't commit one murder. In the original short story, Anderton kills the guy anyway, and, due to the circumstances, gets off with a relative slap on the wrist in the form of exile to another planet.
  • About 1/4 of the way through It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, the police note that even though none of the treasure hunters have a criminal record, they now have resisted arrest, destroyed property, burglarized a hardware store, assaulted many people, etc. This is all met basically with a shrug (justified in that the cops are waiting for these people to lead them to the stolen money, and incidentally don't want to interfere with their Side Bet regarding who will get there first.) The main reason any of their charges would be dismissed: the judge is about to throw the book at Captain Culpeper, who has lost his pension, his wife is divorcing him, his mother-in-law is suing him for damages, and his daughter is filing to have her name changed.
  • In Police Academy, Cadet Leslie Barbara encounters some old acquaintances and thinks they're stealing furniture from a building. After they try to intimidate him, he knocks them down, only to learn that the furniture actually belonged to them. After Barbara apologizes to them for the mistake, he has a slight sense of satisfaction in getting a small bit of comeuppance against them.
  • In the ending of Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, the titular duo kill four Federal agents in the process of evading capture for a (grossly) wrongful accusation of terrorism. Presumably, that gets included in the full pardon they get at the end from President Bush. Although the deaths were due to the agents' incompetence rather than caused by H&K directly, it would be their word against the government since there were no surviving witnesses, and anyway it'd still count as felony murder.
  • Subverted in JCVD. JCVD is ultimately arrested, convicted, and thrown in jail for a seemingly minor crime that he committed while trying to resolve the hostage situation and clear his name.
  • Hackers: In the course of stopping the crimes for which they were framed and obtaining the evidence of the real villain's plans, the heroes wreck an incredibly expensive supercomputer, but the FBI apparently doesn't prosecute them for it, since we see the main character and his girlfriend living (more or less) happily ever after at the end. This is most likely because the truth (which was broadcast worldwide by other hackers) embarrassed the FBI to no end - the real villain manipulated the FBI into assisting him in environmental terrorism.
  • The 2010 The A-Team references this near the end, when the team gets arrested for escaping federal custody, and Hannibal points out that the fact that it was illegal imprisonment (kinda) is irrelevant. It's played straight at first when Agent Lynch promises their freedom in exchange for tracking down the man who framed them.
  • Beyond a Reasonable Doubt: Tom Garrett, an author and death-penalty opponent, agrees to a convoluted scheme to expose the death penalty as an injustice: he frames himself for a murder. The idea is for Tom to be convicted and sentenced to death, only for Tom to reveal the exculpatory evidence afterwards and expose the death penalty as a Miscarriage of Justice. Plot complications ensue and Tom nearly fries, but the exculpatory evidence is discovered Just in Time. The governor writes up a pardon that will set Tom free. Nobody suggests prosecuting Tom for the crimes he committed as part of his scheme, like falsifying evidence, obstructing justice, and interfering with a police investigation.
  • Averted in the Sin City film. Marv is both wrongfully accused and ends up having to commit several acts of violence... for revenge. He knows good and well what this will lead to (the comics make it even more obvious) and has little intention of trying to clear his name. In the end, he is not only tried for the killings he was accused of but also the ones he did commit. He is sentenced to death.
  • The protagonist in Shooter kills an awful lot of Mooks in order to avoid being caught for something he didn't do. Luckily, they're all deniable government assets - and he kills the ringleaders of the conspiracy in the final scene, so all the prosecutors are left with is a whole lot of carnage that no-one wants to acknowledge - and a One-Man Army who's made it clear that all he wants is to be left in peace.
  • The Mask: Stanley Ipkiss is not only not tried for the crimes he committed in order to take down the Big Bad (breaking out of custody, stealing a car, stealing a gun, holding a police officer hostage), he is also not tried for a bank robbery he committed much earlier under the influence of the titular mask, and which could probably be linked to him. Justified in that a large number of local dignitaries saw him take down the Big Bad, and are explicitly stated to be willing to look the other way. Also justified in that the Big Bad was also wearing the mask that influenced Ipkiss to do the above in the first place, in public in front of witnesses. Everyone just assumes that he was responsible for the above as well, and that Ipkiss was set up.
  • In the Sylvester Stallone version of Judge Dredd, Dredd is wrongfully convicted of murder. Despite knowing he's innocent, he strictly adheres to the law and allows himself to be stripped of his rank as a Judge and sent to Aspen maximum security prison to serve a life sentence... But when the transport is shot down en-route and he finds out the real killer's identity and what his plans are, he sneaks back into Mega City One, infiltrates the headquarters of the Judges, and directly or indirectly leads to the death of about a dozen of his former colleagues. And at the end of it all, he not only doesn't get called out on his tactics, he's offered the position of Chief Justice! This is likely justified by the fact that it's set in a Bad Future dictatorial city-state, and they could presumably let him off for it all. It helps that the Big Bad had handily killed pretty much everyone in any position to punish him.
  • Averted in Adopting Terror where the protagonists are arrested by the police because, well, there are four bodies involved, and the police have to follow procedure.
  • In Taken 3, Bryan Mills commits a massive number of crimes in the course of trying to clear his name and later rescue his daughter (again). Some probably couldn't be proven, and others the police might not pursue (such as those against Russian gangsters). Others, however, were against them-attacking the officers who tried to arrest him, breaking into the LAPD database, hijacking a police car and kidnapping the officer inside, etc. Yet the only one of these which is even mentioned is the breaking into the database (probably the most minor of them) and he's let off completely on all of them. It's very unlikely the police would let crimes against them slide so easily.
  • The main plot of Get Hard is not about proving James's innocence, but when he trespasses, kidnaps, carries a concealed weapon without a license and threatens the guilty persons with it at the end of the film, they go to prison while he... also goes to prison for six months, for the concealed weapon. That said, it is noted that James gets sentenced to a relatively minimal security prison as he accepts his sentence and exposed a higher level of corruption during his own activities while the people who framed him get sent to a more violent prison.
  • In The Mystery of the Hooded Horsemen, Tex suffers no consequences for breaking out of jail to prove his innocence. Of course, as he just rounded up all of the gang that has been terrorizing the entire county, it probably behooves The Sheriff to cut him some slack.
  • Paddington 2: Paddington is not charged with breaking out of prison and helping three other inmates escape.
  • In Lady in Cement, Tony Rome is framed for the murder of Danny Yale. When Lt. Santini tries to arrest him, Tony escapes to clear his name. In doing so, he commits the following crimes: resisting arrest; assaulting a police officer; stealing a police vehicle; dangerous driving; false imprisonment (when the binds and gags the pool boy; and theft of a boat. The end of the movie shows him free with Kit, so it seems it was charged with none of these.
  • Flodder: In the third movie, the police show up to evict the Flodders from their home, bringing a riot team just in case, but the Flodders recruit all of their criminal friends and an entire karate school to fight back. The massive brawl is resolved when it turns out that the house will be auctioned next week and the Flodders do not have to leave at once since Sjakie is going to put in a bid on their behalf. Fair enough, but the cops don't even bother with any of the people who just assaulted two dozen police officers.
  • Subverted for laughs in Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves. During the Cold Open, Edgin — having served two years in prison with his partner Holga — pleas his case for a pardon before a group of judges (sans one particular judge who's running late), explaining his backstory that led up to the two winding up where they are before giving a sincere apology and offering to right his wrongs. Just as the judges stamp their ruling, the final judge arrives and the duo immediately kick off their actual plan to escape out a window, much to the befuddled bewilderment of the judges who just approved their pardon. The two successfully escape, but this stunt immediately results in another warrant for their arrest.
  • At the end of The Manhunt, Ethan Wayne's character is apparently free to go after proving he actually owned the horses he was accused of stealing, despite having twice escaped from prison, threatened the lives of Robeson and his men, been an accomplice to the attempted murder of a police officer, and caused massive property damage during the Car Chases as the authorities attempted to recapture him.

  • Benjamin Weaver, the protagonist of David Liss' historical mysteries, finds himself framed for a crime in the second (and so far final) book in the series after being treated unfairly in court by a judge who was formerly his friend. After being helped to escape, he breaks into the judge's house and then slices off his ear to get him to explain his odd behavior. Mind you, this is done in a period where almost every crime is punishable by death and he really only escapes prosecution because the judge was involved in a political conspiracy (he was blackmailed into acting unfairly toward the protagonist) and forced to flee the country.
  • In Peter Lovesey's The Summons, a convicted killer escapes and kidnaps the Chief Constable's daughter, demanding that his case be reopened. When he is finally cleared, he is not charged with the kidnapping.
  • The Transformers: Animated Gamebook "Prime Suspect". As TFWiki summarizes it:
    "In the course of proving Optimus innocent of breaking and entering, the criminal acts you commit include: resisting arrest, interfering with a crime scene, removing evidence from a crime scene, assaulting a police officer, destruction of police equipment, unauthorised access of a police computer system, vandalism, industrial espionage, and breaking and entering. What lesson have we learned today, children?"
  • In The Outsiders, Ponyboy is on trial for running away from home. In a variation, he truly believes himself guilty of killing a Soc, but the Socs testifying say that Johnny did it. He resolves himself to set them straight, but to his surprise, the judge never gives him the chance (read: doesn't ask him about the killing) when questioning him. He gets off with a "Not Guilty" verdict.
  • At the beginning of the first novel of Michael Z. Williamson's Freehold series, protagonist Kendra Pacelli is framed by her superiors for their crime of selling weapons to terrorists. She flees to the titular Freehold of Grainne, a minarchist nation with no extradition treaties with Earth. Over the course of the novel, Earth invades Grainne to destroy its competing economy - by then she has enlisted in the Freehold armed forces and does an impressive amount of damage as a resistance fighter. After the Grainneans drive them off, they prevent a second invasion by hitting Earth with a massive WMD strike that reduces the superpower to a third-world nation - one that actually acknowledges that she was framed by her superiors, hoping to draw the hero of the resistance to rejoin Earth's military. She "respectfully" declines.
  • In Stieg Larsson's Millennium series, the protagonist commits a long series of crimes (theft, forgery, computer hacking, illegal border crossing, unlawful use of a weapon, assault, attempted murder and so on) to get rid of the bad guys and the Swedish authorities end up by bringing her to a trial. The trope gets subverted by the fact her friends uncover such a grand network of crimes and conspiracies involving a great deal of people that the prosecutor simply drops all charges to get himself out of the mess before the judge reaches a verdict.
  • In Last Sacrifice, whilst trying to clear her name of murder, Rose breaks out of prison, resists arrest, assaults fellow guardians, and steals cars. She faces no consequences.
  • Lampshaded in John Buchan's The Thirty-Nine Steps, in which Richard Hannay at one point reflects that while he's not the murderer everyone thinks he is, he has at that point among other things lied to almost everyone he's come across, impersonated a political candidate and a road-worker, and has hijacked at least two expensive cars.
  • Downplayed in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: Everyone expects Sirius will be a free man once he hands Peter Pettigrew, whom he allegedly killed, over to the authorities, regardless of his escape from Azkaban and other questionably legal actions like his attempt to enter Gryffindor tower to get at Pettigrew. However, events conspire to prevent the handover, so it's not clear whether he actually would have been free or not. He ultimately dies while still a fugitive, so the matter is never put to question. Though this is a slightly different case than most other examples, since Sirius is not fleeing arrest, but 12 years in prison. Presumably (depending on how wizarding law works), even if he were to be held accountable for these actions, the concept of "time served" would mean no further consequences for him.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In order to clear his name of various accusations, 24's Jack Bauer has done everything from resisting arrest to kidnapping the president, and typically spends no more than 2 hours in detainment before being set free to pursue the terrorists.
  • Burn Notice seems to be working towards this. Though the main character might just be good enough that he'll be allowed back into wherever he was burned from because they don't know...
    • In the third season premier, it's explicitly stated that he had it, to keep him out of jail, and cover him for all the things he did as a spy even before the show started. Emphasis on the "had."
      • Then he goes out and purchases some independently, by setting up a sting on an actual criminal... and also implicating that criminal in all of Westen's crimes.
    • Following season three, his regular insurance is back in effect.
    • Sometimes used when it comes to the clients. In the episode "Wanted Man", a wrongfully accused man hides out at Michael's while they try to Frame The Guilty Party. He's told that he'll be free by the end of the week, even though he's at least guilty of evading arrest at this point.
  • Happens every couple of episodes on The Dukes of Hazzard (and if Boss Hogg really wants to arrest them, why doesn't he just get them for the car chase in last week's episode?). There's also the fact that the average lifespan of a Hazzard County police car is measured in days...
  • Prison Break ends with something like this for some of the characters who survive to that point. Notably, only Lincoln Burrows was innocent of his crime; Michael Scofield robbed a bank to get into prison to free Lincoln and the other escapees were legitimate felons, but the MacGuffin was this for all of them (except T-Bag).
  • Things not working this way sets up the entire premise of one season of Red Dwarf. In proving themselves innocent, they committed crimes that added up to a sentence equal to the one they'd spent the three-parter trying to get out of.
  • One episode of Monk, "Mr. Monk Is on the Run," features the titular character escaping from jail to clear himself of a false murder. In the course of his time as a fugitive, Monk gets help from Natalie, who supplies him money and clothes, and Stottlemeyer, who helps him fake his death. Both of these people could have faced charges of aiding and abetting a state fugitive. Later on, when cornered by the corrupt sheriff who set Monk up at a Nevada car wash, Monk and Natalie attack him, with Natalie using a fire extinguisher on him, then escape by stealing his car, which could see them facing being charged with assault and auto theft. On the other hand, given that Monk averted an assassination attempt on the state governor in the end, he could have gotten a pardon and hence the trope could be averted.
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit:
    • Double Subversion in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. A man escapes from prison to clear his name after his son falsely accused him of molesting him. Olivia discovers the truth, and the governor sentences the time served for escaping, which essentially amounts to a release.
    • A straight example would be Olivia's brother Simon who jumped bail and took hostage the detective who framed him for a series of rapes. Justified, as both he and the detective were let off easy once they sorted out the whole mess rather than the police face the truth about how one of their own forged evidence.
  • Lois & Clark had this when Lois was accused of murder and Superman helped break her out. Justified, as the lawyer prosecuting her helped frame her and the DA's office wanted to put the whole mess behind them.
  • JAG featured a Double Subversion: the man who took Admiral Chegwidden hostage was sentenced to 8 years, then got time served for the time he spent in prison for treason (which he was innocent of, and broke out to prove).
  • Played with in Renegade.
    • A lot of the wrongfully accused people Sixkiller Ent. helped seemed to get off scot-free note .
    • There was the one time they had to hunt down a fugitive murderer since the 60s ("Top Ten with a Bullet"). Reno helped him prove that the person he "killed" never died in the first place, which surprises even him. He thought he did kill his friend, but accidentally. He's sentenced to community service for evading justice, which, from what we see, means singing to kids. He doesn't seem to mind.
    • We never get to see what would happen to Reno himself if his name were cleared, unfortunately.
  • Subverted, possibly twice, by the sixth season Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Suspicions". Dr. Crusher performs an autopsy on a scientist she believes was murdered, in direct violation of his people's law,note  resulting in Picard removing her from her post as ship's doctor and stripping her of her rank pending a court-martial. Although she eventually proves her case afterward, the end of the episode makes it clear that her career's hanging by a thread regardless... and yet she's right back on duty in the next episode like nothing ever happened. We can assume that the court-martial exonerated her off-screen, but since the affair is never mentioned again, there's really no way to be sure. It may have helped that she actually caught the killer, and proved the scientist's work is valid, ensuring the man's family can still sell the technology for the money they lost for what she did to his body, which of course is a very persuasive argument for the Ferengi.
  • In the mini-series For The Term Of His Natural Life, the wrongly convicted main character Rufus Dawes mentions that a pardon will not be enough; he didn't commit the original crime but he's committed plenty since then. He ends up receiving an unconditional pardon for any crimes he has committed.
  • Subverted and then played straight in Home and Away. Kane Phillips is arrested when he is caught with the proceeds of an armed robbery and a shotgun in his car. The robbery was committed by his father Gus, who tricked Kane into picking him up and then abandoned him. The man who forced Gus into the robbery then identifies Kane as the perp, and Gus himself arranges for Scott, Kane's imprisoned brother, to stitch up Kane at his trial. In the middle of the trial, during the jury's deliberations, Kane and his wife skip town and he is found guilty in absentia. Three years later Kane is captured and is charged with a number of robberies that he committed while on the run. To protect Kirsty and their son, Kane pleads guilty to these and accepts jail time. However, later in the year, Kane decides to appeal and is somehow released even though he was never exonerated for the original robbery, to say nothing of the ones he did commit.
  • Averted in NCIS episode "UnSealed". A Navy SEAL breaks out of prison to find the man that murdered his wife. At the end of the episode, though the actual murderer is arrested, the team arrests the SEAL as well.
  • Averted in Once Upon a Time. Mary Margaret has been framed for killing Katherine and is in holding. When someone slips her a key, she uses it to escape. Emma tracks her down and convinces her to return, pointing out that while they may be able to prove her innocence in Katherine's death, if anyone else learns that she escaped she will be guilty of that, and no one will be able to help her. It's eventually revealed that Regina slipped her the key, for that very reason.
  • Played with in Castle; at one point, Castle is framed for murder by an old enemy who informs him that he's arranged for Castle to be murdered as soon as he arrives at Central Processing. Castle proceeds to arrange for his escape from custody, at which point he and Beckett work together to prove that he was framed. Once the proof is discovered, Captain Gates points out that Castle will still need to surrender himself to the District Attorney and will face charges for escaping police custody, but notes that the unusual circumstances mean that he'll most likely only receive a slap-on-the-wrist fine and the time he's already served as punishment.
  • Subverted in one episode of Starsky & Hutch. When Hutch is wrongly charged with murdering his ex-wife, Starsky is ordered to bring Hutch in. However, in the middle of arresting him, Starsky instead handcuffs the accompanying officer to a table and effectively kidnaps Hutch to track down the real killer, probably exposing himself to more serious obstruction charges than Hutch.
  • In Luther the main character escapes without punishment after it's revealed he was being framed, even though in the process of proving himself innocent he definitely did hold two officers at gunpoint, smash up a police car, and steal evidence. Given how embarrassing the whole affair was it seems likely that it was swept under the rug as best they could. Ironically his partner was punished more severely (demoted back to uniform) for obstructing the investigation despite his interference saving Luther's life because while Luther naturally knew that he was innocent, his partner simply refused to believe he was guilty regardless of the evidence.
  • Happens over and over again in Hawaii Five-0, starting with the time Steve gets accused of murdering Governor Jameson in the first season finale. It's getting to the point where the cops should probably just assume that if a Five-0 officer is a suspect in a crime, they're being somehow framed or coerced because otherwise HPD will end up spending yet more taxpayer money on ridiculous car chases. Five-0 now has such a reputation for pulling out all the stops to fight wrongful accusations that a convicted murderer actually breaks out of federal custody just to get them to prove his innocence.
    Parrish: [after carjacking Steve and Danny] Why do you think I picked your car? Word is Five-0 are the only cops that'll give a guy like me a fair shake.
  • Averted in Luke Cage (2016). Luke Cage manages to clear his name of the various crimes that his half-brother Willis Stryker / Diamondback has framed him for, including the frame-ups that put him in Seagate Penitentiary. At the end of the first season, the United States Marshals Service takes Luke into custody and extradite him to Georgia. His staging of a prison break carries a sentence of its own separate from the charges that put him there in the first place.
  • Justified in Iron Fist (2017): Danny is framed for drug smuggling and gets cleared of all the charges when he proves his innocence. However, the crimes he committed as a fugitive like assaulting DEA officers thinking they were Madame Gao's men are cleared thanks to a generous contribution to the DEA Widows and Children's Fund by Rand Industries.
  • In The Defenders (2017), the heroes are also implicated in two murders (one was actually a Hand leader and the other was an ally killed by a Hand operative) and taken to a precinct to await charges. However, they don't have time to wait since New York is in danger and break out from prison, steal a bomb from an evidence locker and use it to blow up the Hand headquarters, which as far as the authorities are concerned is a legitimate business office, and that the Defenders just committed domestic terrorism. After all this is done, they are cleared of their charges because they were never technically arrested, the police operation that accompanied them was off-the-record and as such their crimes "never happened".
  • In the series finale of Revenge, Emily escapes jail, intent on actually killing Victoria, whose murder is why she was in jail. She's ultimately only stopped from killing Victoria when David does it first. The series then jumps months ahead, with no indication Emily has faced charges, or will, for her actions.
  • Black Saddle: In "Client: Tagger", Culhane suffers no consequences for breaking out of jail, and assaulting the marshal in the process, in order to prove his innocence of murder.
  • The Fugitive (2020): Mike commits multiple felonies while on the run, including resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer while stealing his gun (this gets him the "Kill on Sight" order). At the end there's no indication he will get prosecuted. Granted, it would probably look very bad to do that after nearly getting shot by the police and having to track down the real culprit himself, whom otherwise they might not have found until he murdered more people.

    Video Games 
  • In Déjà Vu (1985), you have to commit numerous crimes to prove you are innocent of kidnapping and murder. Throughout the game, you have to commit assault, breaking and entering, and burglary. The game doesn't imply those will ever have consequences. However, if you kill anyone with the syringe (which, unlike shooting them, won't get you arrested immediately), you will get arrested when you go to the police station at the end to try to prove your innocence.
  • Condemned
    • In Condemned: Criminal Origins, the protagonist is an FBI agent who is accused of murdering two cops. During the course of proving his innocence, he also kills a small army of hobos, drug addicts, and lunatics. To be fair, it was self-defense, but still...
    • In Condemned 2: Bloodshot Malcolm VanHorn, who presumably helped the charges disappear between games, gets killed, so how Ethan gets away with killing a new army of hobos, plus breaking and entering, possibly murdering some security guards and police officers, resisting arrest, interfering in another arrest is an interesting question. The fact that the last couple were conducted while fighting corrupt cops working for an Ancient Conspiracy might help.
  • Downplayed in Freedom Planet. In the cutscene between the Sky Battalion and the Jade Creek, Team Lilac attempts to convince the Royal Magister of the existence of Lord Brevon who stole the Kingdom Stone, but Neera Li doesn't believe them and accuses them of lying on Mayor Zao's behalf (who stole the stone earlier before Shuigang's forces, under Brevon's control, stole it from him), using the rationalization that Lilac and Carol were thieves and members of the Red Scarves, a criminal group that was behind the Kingdom Stone's theft, also on Zao's behalf. This got them imprisoned, while Torque and his evidence, a fragment of one of Brevon's machines, were quarantined, so Lilac decided to make a false confession to the Magister to get Torque released, and then busted out of the prison together with her friends, all while resisting arrest and assaulting Neera Li, a lead officer. Eventually, Lilac was re-arrested, but by that time, the scientists examined their evidence and discovered that Neera's initial accusations were false and Lilac and her friends were innocent. However, the Magister still had to send Lilac on an important and risky mission to investigate Pangu Lagoon for any clues behind Brevon's invasion before their names could be cleared.
  • In the case of Max Payne, Max getting away unpunished is explicitly due to him having an influential friend (Senator Alfred Woden). Also, he doesn't think he deserved to get off and is therefore even more of a psychological mess in the sequel. It helps that those he killed were criminals and gangsters, many of whom shot at him first, and he's DEA. It might get ridiculous how far you can stretch self-defense or some other case for him here, even though it's justified.
  • The character Preacher in Twisted Metal: Black fights in the tournament — committing no small number of homicides, with many of the victims being innocent bystanders, in the process — with the intention of clearing his name for a mass murder he committed under the influence of a powerful demon during an attempted exorcism. Subverted somewhat in that it turns out Preacher was, in fact, guilty of the crime for which he sought to clear his name — he was not possessed by a demon, merely criminally insane, and the event at which he committed the murders was a baptism, not an exorcism.
  • Subverted in the text-based adventure Corruption where, in order to escape a charge of insider dealing, you may have to escape from prison, break into your colleague's office to steal valuable evidence, and assault a police officer. At the end of the game, you are tried for all these crimes but are let off with a suspended sentence.
  • Played very straight in Heavy Rain. Ethan Mars is being chased by the entire police force, thinking him to be the Origami Killer (he's not). He (depending on the player's actions) may wind up evading arrest and assaulting police officers and damaging property and driving recklessly and, though not directly related to the evasion, deliberately kills a largely innocent man (although the police probably doesn't know he did it). If he doesn't get caught, once the police stop chasing him he's off scot-free. The fact that Lt. Blake—the cop supposed to stop him—is fucking psychotic probably plays in his favor too. There's also the whole time limit on his son's life and trials thing, so it could be argued that he was under duress at the time.
  • In Ghost Trick, Cabanela stops Jowd from escaping from prison because, even though Jowd can be proven innocent, escaping prison is still a crime and would make it that much harder to prove Jowd innocent the right way. Also at the end, Yomiel accepts prison time as the consequence of holding a child at gunpoint to escape police custody, even though he was found innocent of treason. This is the entire reason arresting people who are likely innocent is Cabanela's favorite tactic. He figures it's best to put them in jail so that he can legally get them off the hook, without worrying about them running off and getting themselves further in trouble by actually committing crimes. This is also why he arrests Lynne and put her in custody, even though he knows she isn't the murderer.
  • Sonic and Tails destroy a heck of a lot of military equipment in Sonic Adventure 2 due to the military coming after them thinking Sonic is Shadow, but never seem to come to any grief over it. Then again, they did save the world in the process.
    • And for that matter, there's no mention of the military being slapped with a lawsuit for wrongfully detaining and then subsequently trying very hard to kill Sonic simply because he happens to look (marginally) like a wanted fugitive.
  • Averted in Phantasy Star Portable. Yes, following Helga to rescue Viviene was the right decision and ended up saving the day...but you still broke a direct order, went into restricted space, nearly got in the way of the operation to destroy the Hive, and rescued an enemy operative. For your heroism, you are swiftly discharged. Though it's neatly swept under the rug for Portable 2.
  • One of the most common jokes made about Minority Report: Everybody Runs is that Anderton brutally kills a few hundred cops over the course of the game while trying to prove himself innocent of a single murder. It's obviously Gameplay and Story Segregation as the story treats it like he's taking out all his opponents non-lethally (even if that involves throwing them through plate glass windows or tossing them off hundred story buildings), but he's still resisting arrest and beating up hundreds of cops.
  • In The Legend of Kyrandia Book Three: Malcolm's Revenge, Malcolm repeatedly insists that he's innocent - of his initial crime, that is: killing the king. He is. He and everyone else politely ignore his other activities, both his villainy in the first game (turning the Mystics into stone, rampant destruction, taking over Kyrandia, etc.) or his Heroic Comedic Sociopath antics in this one.
  • In Gems of War's Whitehelm quest-line, it's averted. Sapphira's resistance to being "arrested" by the Whitehelm authorities is proven legitimate (since they were under demonic possession), but because she's not the type not to pull punches when hitting back, her resistance involved killing a lot of paladins and priestesses, plus burning down a temple just to piss them off. As such, she acknowledges that she's still going to be rather unpopular for a while, and she joins the player's army rather than stay in Whitehelm.

    Visual Novels 
  • Frequently averted in the Ace Attorney series. In the cases where your client is innocent of the murder they're accused of, but guilty of other crimes that relate to the murder (e.g Lana Skye from the first game or Iris from the third game) they still end up serving time for those.
    • Played straight in the second case of the third game, but justified. You prove your client, Ron DeLite, innocent of Mask ☆ DeMasque's theft during day 1 of the trial, only to find out it puts him at the scene of a murder. This was all the true killer's plan, but once they're caught, it turns out Ron really was Mask ☆ DeMasque, but can't be tried again due to double jeopardy.
    • Averting this trope is actually how the culprit is caught in case 3 of the fourth game. The defendant turns out to have been the killer's accomplice in smuggling illegal Borginian cocoons. Cocoon smuggling carries the death penalty in his home country, but not in Japan/The US, so as a last-ditch effort, Apollo convinces him to confess to the smuggling and sell out his accomplice in exchange for a lighter sentence. Cue the culprit's Villainous Breakdown.
  • Zigzagged with the protagonist of Daughter for Dessert. He commits a number of crimes in order to clear his name, but one the one hand, he technically did commit a crime, and on the other, he does things that are worse than what he did in order to exonerate himself.

    Web Animation 
  • In many GoAnimate "Grounded" videos, a person will get locked away in prison for inane reasons, such as littering, and upon realizing who put them there, they casually break out and punish the guilty party. They're never sent back for their escape.

    Web Comics 
  • The Order of the Stick has an interesting example. Belkar murders a guard escaping from prison and has the charge reduced from Murder 1 to Manslaughter after the circumstances of his arrest (namely, that he was imprisoned under false pretenses and was arrested by an agent acting outside the law who was in turn being misled by her superior) are brought to light. Not to mention that, once the dust settles from the impending battle, there's no place left to imprison him and nobody left to do the imprisoning, so... He is also out on what is basically work release, officially he still has jail time coming even after the sentence reduction for aiding in the battle.
  • In Schlock Mercenary, Tagon's Toughs end up on trial by the UNS so they can extradite them for, among other things, systematically destroying a syndicated news network. While it's obvious from the start that the Toughs are guilty (and, in fact, they end up implicating themselves in even more crimes during the trial), it also becomes clear that prosecuting them would also implicate the UNS in crimes that they committed in order to implicate the Toughs (namely sponsoring the organization that hired the Toughs to destroy the news network). Since the extradition process would be on public record, the UNS lets the Toughs go rather than letting the information go free.

    Western Animation 
  • An episode of The Fairly OddParents! has Timmy escaping from the police station to prove he wasn't shoplifting. He isn't punished for this. Though to be fair, he was only ten, they might be more forgiving at that age.
  • Subverted in an episode of The Powerpuff Girls when they were framed by people wearing very bad costumes of the girls and put in jail. They simply break out by flying through a hole they made in a wall and catch the real criminals. At the end of the episode, the Mayor says that they have to go back to jail for breaking out, and they all have a laugh before he says he was serious (this was never mentioned again).
  • Subverted in The Simpsons, where Mona Simpson is acquitted for the charges she went on the run for (destroying samples in Mr. Burn's biological warfare lab) but then gets put back in jail when Mr. Burns tricks her into admitting to a crime she frequently committed for the sake of avoiding arrest. Namely, giving false names to National Park registries.
  • Also subverted in an episode of Timon & Pumbaa. The duo is accused of committing a crime; they break out of jail and prove their innocence. They are then thrown right back in for breaking out of prison, because, as the police pointed out, "It's still a crime, even if you were innocent."
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Ahsoka is framed for bombing the Jedi Temple and, in order to set about proving her innocence, she escapes jail, resists arrest, assaults several guards, causes property damage, conspires with a known enemy of the Republic and rides a public transport without paying first. There's an interesting subversion in that while all charges are dropped when the truth comes to light, Ahsoka quits the Jedi Order anyway, upset that no one believed she was innocent to begin with and the Jedi court was as incompetent and borderline-corrupt as she was.

    Real Life 
  • While there isn't anywhere on Earth that plays this completely straight, there are some places where the law expressly forbids punishing someone for exercising their natural "desire for freedom". Sure, they'll still do their damnedest to get you back, as well as try you for any crimes committed during your escape, but not for the act itself (e.g. escaping from jail without breaking any laws vs. escaping from jail by murdering your guards). However, on the other side of the coin, some places punish escape attempts by doubling your sentence and then holding you to it even if you are later exonerated of the crime for which you were imprisoned in the first place. In some jurisdictions where escaping from prison isn't itself illegal, you might be still be charged with theft of government property if you fail to return your prison uniform.
  • Also, juries of your peers can make it less likely for anyone in this situation to be convicted (people are generally not inclined to throw innocent people back in jail for the crime of trying to escape an unjust punishment, particularly as, in several of the fictional examples, they were accused under fraudulent or false pretenses in the first place), though it won't stop them getting charged.
  • The trope may be played straight sometimes with two conditions: when The Hero's unlawful actions are comparatively minor and when the evidence they leave behind is too flimsy for the authorities to build a case against them. However, too many people tend to take the trope at face value and seek their justice in a manner a bit too rough to get free out of jail.
  • Defense attorneys are a non-violent and non-criminal variation of this trope. Lawyers can collect evidence to prove a person's innocence without the defendant having to do it themselves while on the run from the law.
  • Played straight with a little known and less used concept in American law called "jury nullification" where a jury may decide that either the circumstances surrounding the crime require the jury to ignore the law or in cases where the government's actions are so egregious that a jury simply refuses to convict. Related to this is the much more rare "outrageous government conduct" defense, in which the defendant seeks outright dismissal of charges because the actions of the police and/or prosecutors are so far beyond acceptable that it denies fundamental fairness. The requirements for this defense are so high that only three successful uses of it were documented in an 18-month period.
    • Important note: if you are ever selected for jury duty, do not let them know that you know what jury nullification is, as they'll assume you plan to use it and can't be trusted to be an impartial juror/give a conviction. A lawyer is also not permitted to openly ask for this from the jury.