Hanging Judge

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

"There is no such thing as a plea of innocence in my court. A plea of innocence is guilty of wasting my time. Guilty!"

A Hanging Judge is a ruthless judge who rules his courtroom with an iron fist as his own personal fiefdom. He will hand out brutal sentences for the most minor infractions. He may be corrupt and using the law for his own ends, a Corrupt Hick using his power to dominate the local community, a Knight Templar who believes his punishments are justified, or just a bully who gets off on abusing his power, but any hero who ends up in front of him can expect no mercy and precious little justice. You better have an Amoral Attorney at your side when you confront the Hanging Judge in the courtroom, or it's guaranteed that you won't walk out as a free bird after the trial.

Typically presides over a Kangaroo Court.

Examples of Hanging Judge include:

Anime and Manga

Comic Books

  • Judge Gallows from The Sandman spin-off The Dreaming (and the earlier horror anthology Unexpected).
  • Judge Dredd is a protagonist example. He's not corrupt, the laws are just that ruthless. Anyone who willingly gives up, though, receives a (relatively light) prison sentence.
    • The Dark Judges, however, are this. Judge Death's Catch Phrase is "The crime is life, the sentence is death!" after all.
    • This trope is lampshaded when Dredd meets an actual Hanging Judge (or feed-to-flying-rats-judge) in Cursed Land.
  • Real Life Wild West lawman Roy Bean is portrayed like this in Don Rosa's The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck: The Prisoner of White Agony Creek (you know, the one where Scrooge has hatesex...). He apparently regards kidnapping, assault, making a man waste good liquor, and pretty much all crimes as hanging offenses.
  • Roy Bean also shows up in the Lucky Luke album The Judge. He charges Lucky Luke with theft in order to confiscate the cattle herd Luke was in charge of, assigns a deaf-mute as the defense attorney, and packs the jury with cronies (including the town's undertaker and his own pet black bear). In the end he is revealed to be more of a Corrupt Hick Jerk with a Heart of Gold who's mostly concerned with lining his own pockets and giving the townspeople a good show: No-one gets worse than fines and confiscation of property because there would be no point in killing his own customers.
  • Weird Pete when he is presiding over 'Gamer's Court' in Knights of the Dinner Table. Quite frankly, any kind of power seems to go to Pete's head.

Films -- Animated


Doc Hudson: All right, I wanna know who's responsible for wrecking my town, Sheriff. I want his hood on a platter! I'm gonna put him in jail till he rots. No, check that... I'm gonna put him in jail till the jail rots on top of him, then I'm gonna move him to a new jail and let that jail rot. I'm --...

And that's before he recognizes Lightning as being a race car.

Quintesson Prosecutor: Before the magistrate renders a verdict, would you like to beg for your lives? It sometimes helps...but not often.


Films -- Live-Action

  • In Used Cars, Judge H. H. Harrison is portrayed as a hanging judge, complete with model guillotine and hangman's noose on his bench. The film's villains take a chance on using Harrison, an honest judge, simply because he's guaranteed to give the harshest sentence should he find the heroes guilty.
  • Judge Alvin 'J.P' Valkenheiser in the movie Nothing but Trouble.
  • Judge Doom in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. What makes him even more sinister than the other judges is the fact that Toontown is undisputedly under his power, and he certainly has enough influence around LA to say that he pretty much IS the law-enforcement of the city. The good police forces are nothing more than pawns just doing their work.
  • Judge Hangin' Harry Shoat in Primal Fear actively embraces this trope, even noting that if hanging were legal, he'd be the first one to pull the lever.
  • The first Judge from John Grisham's The Rainmaker.
  • The Judge in Ghostbusters 2, who would've had the Ghostbusters burned at the stake if he could... until the ghosts of the Scoleri brothers, whom he had sent to the chair in the past, vengefully attacked the courtroom, proving the Ghostbusters weren't a fraud.
  • Eden Fletcher of The Proposition, although he's more of a Whipping You To Death Judge.
  • The corrupt sheriff in the 1943 movie Border Patrol also doubles as the town's hanging judge.
  • Judge E. Clarence 'Necktie' Jones from the 1932 John Wayne movie Ride Him, Cowboy.
  • Played for laughs in Caddyshack:

Judge Smails: I've sentenced boys younger than you to the gas chamber. Didn't want to do it. I felt I owed it to them.

  • Judge Chamberlain Haller, of My Cousin Vinny, is a notable aversion of this trope. He does allow his dislike for Vinny to color his judgment once and make a bad decision, but on the whole, he's a stickler for proper courtroom procedure and brooks absolutely no nonsense from Vinny or anybody else but is also very fair and ends up praising Vinny's skills as a litigator after he wins the case.
  • Judge Turpin from Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. In probably his only courtroom scene, he sentences a 8-year old boy to death.


  • Charles Harness novel The Venetian Court. Judge Spyder abuses his authority in order to execute criminals. He's assisted by the fact that trademark infringement has been made a death penalty offence.
  • The Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland (even though it's supposed to be her husband who is acting as a judge).
    • Worth noting that in the book no one is actually beheaded. The Queen is just an overreactive battleaxe, and the King is mostly going through with the trial to humor her.
  • The book Nuklear Age, by the author of the 8-Bit Theater webcomic, features a courtroom segment presided over by the Honorable Judge Hangemall Letgodsortitout.
  • Judge Wargrave from And Then There Were None. In fact, his nickname was "Hanging Judge" because he has given so many death sentences. He actually liked killing, but had enough of a conscience and sense of justice to become a judge instead of a serial killer -- he preferred to kill only people who deserved it. And the whole plot of the book comes from a Xanatos Roulette of his that would let him die after punishing other "criminals" who had formerly gotten scot-free for their crimes.
  • Lord Hate-good from The Pilgrims Progress.
  • Justice Hathorne from The Devil and Daniel Webster. This may also count as Truth in Television as Hathorne was the judge who presided over the Salem Witch Trials.
  • Bram Stoker wrote a short story called The Judge's House where the house was haunted by the ghost of a hanging judge.
  • In Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts novel His Last Command, Commissiar Kanow hands out the death sentences with abandon and explicitly tries to blungeon "Fast appraisal, fast dispatch" into Junior Commissiar Ludd's head. When he tries summary execution on Gaunt and his team (warrants to be made out next morning), he's taken hostage, and Gaunt tries to reason with him, fails, and deals with Ludd.
  • J. S. Le Fanu's short story An Account of Some Strange Disturbances in Aungier Street features the ghost of a hanging judge. Unfortunately for anyone who rents his house, the judge still likes to hang people.
    • Le Fanu's Mr. Justice Harbottle features a particularly corrupt hanging judge who is punished supernaturally.
  • Jaroslav Hašek's anti-war novel, The Good Soldier Švejk (set during World War I) features a general, who works as a judge under martial law. His favorite pastime is sentencing people to death; he makes the procedure so quick that he doesn't even say the required "In the name of His Majesty, the Emperor, I sentence you to death by hanging", just "I sentence you to death".
  • The Dresden Files - According to Harry, The Merlin tends to act as one over trials of lawbreakers of magic (with a strong implication that a good chunk of the offenders could be rehabilitated with a proper mentor). But again, Harry isn't exactly the most unbiased source when it comes to The Merlin's actions...
    • In The Merlin's eyes, nobody can be rehabilitated. Considering most people on the Council view Harry as a walking Time Bomb, the Merlin's not the only one who thinks that, so there are very few people willing to take on a warlock and rehabilitate them. In Council trials, the accused is not allowed to speak, and the final verdict is usually based on a soul-gaze given by the Merlin himself. We know of three people to escape the death penalty after being found guilty of using black magic: Harry's mother, Harry, and Molly. The first two were taken in and trained by Ebenezer, and Harry claimed responsibility for Molly. Harry's the only one to date for whom rehabilitation has worked. Only time will tell for Molly, but she did relapse a bit in Turn Coat.
  • From Harry Potter, Barty Crouch Senior was the head of magical law enforcement during the time when Voldemort fell from power, and gave those under him the power to kill, rather then capture, fleeing Death Eaters. Typically, they were sent to prison without trial, but those that were lucky enough to receive them would find Crouch the definition of a Hanging Judge, holding no sympathy for those accused or any belief that they might be innocent. Fortunately, the jury involved in these trials were typically more level-headed. This all came back to bite Crouch when his son was captured with a group of Death Eaters, and put on trial with them. Crouch was just as unsympathetic and condemning to Junior as he was to everyone else who came before him, and his cold demeanor toward his own son lost him his standing with the Wizarding public, which cost him his potential bid for Minister of Magic.
  • In Catch-22, Clevinger faces one of these when he's brought before a Kangaroo Court on trumped up charges. When Clevinger tries to protest that punishing him would be a violation of justice, the judge goes into a full blown rant.

"That's not what justice is (...) That's what Karl Marx is. I'll tell you what justice is. Justice is a knee in the gut from the floor on the chin at night sneaky with a knife brought up down on the magazine of a battleship sandbagged underhanded in the dark without a word of warning. Garroting. That's what justice is when we've all got to be tough enough and rough enough to fight Billy Petrolle. From the hip. Get it?"

  • Maximum Bob by Elmore Leonard was about such a judge—the title was his nickname, referring to the harsh sentences he handed down. It was adapted into a short TV series starring Beau Bridges.
  • Judge Knott was inspired to go into politics and displace a hangin' judge whose racism led him to destroy a man's livelihood for a minor infraction.
  • Archie's father Adam Weir in Robert Louis Stevenson's unfinished novel Weir of Hermiston. Believed to be based on the real life Robert McQueen (see below).
  • The Knight and Rogue Series proudly presents Loves-the-Rope Thrope.
  • In the Joes World novels there was a Hanging Judge so extreme that he sentenced other judges to hang for not handing out enough death sentences.

Live-Action TV

  • A less extreme example is Judge Roger 'The Mad Bull' Bullingham in Rumpole of the Bailey (although he would undoubtedly hang people if the death penalty still existed in the UK). As it is he despises defence barristers, assumes being on trial automatically indicates you are guilty, and issues biased instructions to the jury.
    • A (relatively) poor replacement for Bullingham after the death of the actor who played him (Bill Fraiser) was Mr Justice Graves, often refered to as Mr Injustice Gravestone. He is less agressive than Bullingham but non the less tries to unfairly influence the jury, only with more subtle methods. There is also a real 'hanging judge', Mr Justice Vosper, a relic from the days of the noose who summed up dead against one of Rumpoles' old clients, leading to his execution. He was later proved innocent.
  • Judge Judy from...Judge Judy. Though to be fair, she is always, ALWAYS right. Just ask her.
  • The episode "Judge Dread" of Law and Order featured a judge that was so harsh that her image was used on packets of cocaine to represent its potency; after she strikes down a white-collar criminal's plea agreement for being too lenient, he is convinced by another con to hire a hitman to kill her.
  • An episode of Law and Order Special Victims Unit featured a judge who imposed harsh penalties on juvenile defendants, citing a claim she was sending a message (most of the kids were sent to a facility for sex offenders for minor misdemeanors such as public urination. The case that brought it to their attention. A sixteen year old sent a racy photo by text message to her boyfriend, and was tried for distributing child pornography.) The detectives and a defense lawyer soon discovered the prison she was sending the kids to was run by her brother, who gave her a large kickback for every inmate she sent. She was caught accepting bribes in the end. Like many L&O plots, that was based on a true story—and then copied with significantly less elegance in just about every other Lawyer Show.
  • The judge George Frankly faced was supposedly a hanging judge.
  • An episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus (the one with the Spanish Inquisition) features a judge who plans to emigrate to South Africa because he is disgusted with the leniency of the British penal system and longs for manly punishments such as hanging and the cat-o-nine-tails.
  • Judge Clark Brown from Boston Legal. He's handed out cruel and unusual punishments for some very minor crimes.
  • Judge Jefferson Dixon from the Cowboy G Men episode "Hang the Jury".
  • Judge Alvarez in the Cold Case episode "Jurisprudence".
  • Mr Justice Kent, the mark in the Hustle episode "Lest Ye Be Judged".
  • Parodied in the Jeeves and Wooster episode "In Court After the Boat Race (or, Jeeves' Arrival)" which featured a magistrate who treated stealing a policeman's helmet as if it were mass murder and who handed down a five shilling fine as if he were pronouncing the death sentence.
  • The judge who passes sentence over the eponymous trio in the sixth episode of Filthy Rich & Catflap.
  • General Sir Anthony Cecil Hogmanay Melchett becomes one in Blackadder Goes Forth in a military court. He's completely ready to have Blackadder shot for shooting his prize pigeon, though Blackadder is supposed on trial for disobeying orders Melchett barely mentions them. He fines the Defence £50 for turning up and refers to Blackadder as 'the Flanders Pigeon Murderer'.
  • Wanted: Dead or Alive: In "Miracle at Pot Hole", Randall brings a suspected murderer to Pot Hole, but fears the man won't receive a fair trial when he finds the townspeople in the grip of a power-mad bully who serves as the hanging judge over a Kangaroo Court.
  • Justified has Judge Reardon, (played by Stephen Root.) The show somewhat both reconstructs and deconstructs the trope with him. He privately explains to Raylan that the reason he sends down such harsh sentences is because of a case early in his career where he gave a dangerous man a light sentence out of sympathy for the man's obvious abuse as a child. Said man proceeded to kill a six-year-old, an act that has haunted Reardon ever since. At the end of the episode it's revealed that the would-be assassin trying to kill him is aiming to either kill Reardon or try to get killed by Reardon so his family can get the insurance money. Reardon's harsh sentence, ostensibly to 'straighten out' the man, only ruined his family's lives.


  • Go Down Ye Murderers by Ewan MacColl features the lyric "... and the hanging judge, he smiled". Also Truth in Music, as according to the Other Wiki, Timothy Evans was hanged in a miscarriage of justice.
  • Country artist Vicki Lawrence's The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia is about a man executed by a hanging judge after being wrongly accused of killing his cheating wife and her lover. His sister, the narrator, was the one who killed them both. It includes the lyric "...the judge in the town's got bloodstains on his hands."
  • Two of Dylan's songs - 'Seven Curses' and 'Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts' feature a hanging judge. They are probably not the only ones.
  • The judge in the music video for Sammy Hagar's "I Can't Drive 55" is implied to be one of these. He has a model gallows and guillotine on his bench, and his name placard actually reads "Julius Hangman."
  • In The Agonist's song Thank You Pain, the narrator personifies their conscience as one of these.
  • Kaito as Gallerian Marlon is one of these in "Judgement of Corruption." It doesn't end well.

Newspaper Comics

  • Judge Horatio Curmudgeon Frump from the Tumbleweeds comic strip, who hangs a noose from his bonsai tree.

Tabletop Games

  • As the page quote indicates, more than a few Inquisitors in Warhammer 40,000 are like this, though they're more Burning Judge than Hanging...
  • Deadlands Has a number:
    • A number of NPCs, such as Roy Bean, Isaac Parker and, in Hell on Earth, Richard Tolliver.
    • A monster called the Hanging Judge, which repeats all the sins you've ever committed as it hunts you down. The worst sin? Being Texan - Texans killed them in life.
    • The spin-off card came Doomtown included "Hangin' Judge Gabriel", who could instantly 'Ace' any character marked as Wanted. As a bonus, his flavor text was a direct reference to Judge Death (see above). A later set introduced the Hangin' Judge monster from the RPG into the setting of the card game.
  • The background for Magic: the Gathering's Ravnica setting has an even worse possibility: the courtroom is someone else's personal fiefdom (generally the Orzhov, or the Dimir, the guild that doesn't exist).

"In Otiev's mind, he ruled in favor of the accused. But in his courtroom he was only a spectator, watching his hand deliver the sign of death."




  • The Right Honorable Judge Wallace P. Grindstump from Tales of Monkey Island once he catches the pox. Still, apart from his uncontrollable shouting, he's fairly reasonable for being a bloodthirsty voodoo-pox-stricken pirate judge presiding over a court filled with an equally bloodthirsty, pox-stricken audience of pirates.
    • Even with the pox, he's quite a different character outside the courtroom, not the least bit concerned when you escape from jail during recess.
  • Ace Attorney has hanging prosecutors, who basically rule the courtroom with an iron fist (or whip or coffee cup). The judge technically passes the final verdict but is largely ineffectual and the prosecutors can do whatever they want.
  • In Liberal Crime Squad, judges with a Conservative bent are called Hangin' Judges. Aside from not wanting your liberals put on trial by these guys, they're actually pretty dangerous in direct combat as they can essentially Hannibal Lecture your members into submission.
  • The Sheriff of Nottingham in The Adventures of Robin Hood.



Mr. Jones: Listen, here there are two types of accused. Those who plead guilty, and those who piss the judge off with a time-consuming trial before being found guilty.

  • Naturally, His Honorable Tyranny from Homestuck, and Terezi acting as a Dredd-esque arbitrator. These are trolls; there is no defense. "In a courtblock, the word 'defense' itself is offensive."

Western Animation

  • Judge Constance Harm from The Simpsons.
  • Judge Whitey from Futurama, who treads the line between embracing and parodying an Acceptable Target, filled up every mental asylum in New York when he declared being poor a mental illness.

Judge Whitey: Being as I have a ham sandwich with mayonnaise waiting for me at my mansion, I declare the defendants guilty as charged.

  • Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law, especially in regards to Judge Mentok, who often doesn't even pay attention to his own cases - instead whiling away the moments swapping the minds of all the jury members or goofing around with the bailiff. And he's known to just declare guilty verdicts solely based on one piece of evidence.
    • He once declared a mistrial because exactly two weeks to the second happened to coincide with Peter Potamus asking the prosecution if he got that thing he sent them (that thing being important to the case, in this instance) and the prosecution had, up until now, failed to acknowledge that yes, they had gotten it. Since Harvey was the one on trial, that's okay then.
  • The judge in the Invaded episode of Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends had most of the cast thrown in jail.
  • The traffic court judge in The Jetsons is little more than an image on a bendable flatscreen which is unrolled at kerbside (so literally "hanging", like a portable film projection screen). He appears just long enough to find the operator of some random flying saucer guilty. What if they're not guilty? Apparently no one thought of that.
  • And there's also the judge in the Home Movies episode where Brendon's bike was destroyed in an accident. Brendon had been riding his bike on the wrong side of the road, and he was struck by a car, head-on. The judge showed no sympathy toward Brendon who was on trial over said accident, when Brendon was nearly killed. Note that Brendon is eight years old.
  • Judge Mental from the animated version of Beetlejuice certainly qualifies here since he thinks EVERY punishment equals "sending them to Sandworm Land". Of course, considering that it's usually Beetlejuice himself the judge has to deal with, it's somewhat justified.
  • In "Trial" on Batman: The Animated Series, The Joker eagerly takes to this sort of role. When he's introduced as the judge in Batman's trial, he immediately slams the gavel and pronounces "GUILTY!" (He's persuaded to continue the trial anyway.) After the trial is over with a not-guilty verdict, Joker decides to execute Batman anyway. He even calls himself "Ol' Hanging Judge Joker" at one point.
  • A feline version of the Devil serves as this to a courtroom of demonic cats in Hell in Plutos Judgement Day.
  • Playboy cartoonist Brian Savage did quite a few with a judge who would look at a clock showing it's 4:30 and sentence someone to "Oh, four and a half years. In another the judge is shown firing a full clip of bullets into the defendant while a baliff comments "He's never had a ruling overturned."

Real Life

  • Roland Freisler, President of the People's Court during Nazi era Germany. He was known for (as his additional role as being court reporter) manipulating the transcripts to make the defendants guilty, and also for screaming the sentences to defendants - so much that in one politically-charged trial, the news media found it hard to comprehend what he was saying. He also was responsible in his three years on the bench for the majority of the death sentences the court ever issued - including some, like Helmuth Hubener (only 17), despite the recommendations of the Gestapo against executing him.
  • Vasiliy Ulrikh, the presiding judge of Stalin's show trials.
  • Judge Jeffreys (or to be exact, George Jeffreys, Baron Jeffreys of Wem) was called both "the Hanging Judge" and "the Bloody Judge" as a result of his habitual excesses, particularly during the so-called "Bloody Assizes" that marked the putting down of the Monmouth Rebellion of 1685. Jeffreys was notorious for his manipulation of juries and his violent language toward prisoners and witnesses even in that unscrupulous age. He has been a popular figure in historical fiction set in the seventeenth century, and has become for Britons the archetypical Hanging Judge.
  • Judge Isaac Parker of the US also earned the nickname "the Hanging Judge" for his harsh sentences.
    • As did Judge Begbie of British Columbia, waaaaay back when BC was still a British colony.
    • Judge Begbie earned the nickname well after his death, despite being known during his own time for being fair and even merciful. He successfully argued for clemency in several cases that would have demanded the death penalty, and was one of only a few colonial judges without racial bias.
  • John "Maximum John" Sirica, who presided over the Watergate scandal, might qualify. Lawyers who appeared before him gave him the nickname because he always applied the maximum penalty under the relevant sentencing guidelines.
  • Judge Roy Bean, "The Law West of the Pecos," gained a reputation as a hanging judge, though he seems to have passed that sentence on only two men—one of whom escaped.
    • It's worth noting too that he played fast and loose with the law, often exceeding his authority or making unauthorized "changes". Though in some cases he was actually less harsh-for instance, horse theft was a capital offense, but Judge Bean let people go so long as they returned the horses.
  • Athenian lawgiver Draco is the Ur Example, giving us the word "draconian" to describe excessively harsh punishment. It is said that when asked why minor offences get the same death sentence as the serious ones, he said that in his view these lesser crimes deserved them, and he couldn't think of any punishment harsher than death for more serious ones (good thing they didn't have TV Tropes back then).
    • Incidentally, the Greeks of his time seem to have regarded him as a genius and a courageous and enlightened lawgiver as he did make the trains run on time.
  • Time/Life treats Issac Parker, a Hanging Judge, in a favorable light, claiming that he brought peace to a lawless territory, and, among other things, treated Indians as fairly as whites. According to Time/Life the only reason he hanged so many people was that there was an excess of outlaws in his territory who of course "needed killin'."
    • More specifically the Indian Territory was nearby and there had been no properly negotiated extradition system. Anyone who was wanted on one side could Run for the Border or more realistically live on the border being an extreme nuisance to honest folk on both the Indian side and the White side. It was Parker's unfortunate job to administer the White side and he did it as well as can be and arguably if he was ruthless, that was really needed.
  • Robert McQueen, Lord Justice Clerk of Scotland from 1788-1799 and sometimes referred to as 'the Scottish Jeffries'. A survey of Scottish historians named as one of the twelve vilest villains in Scottish history.
  • Pontius Pilate, the man who sentenced Jesus Christ to crucifixion, was not any nicer to the rest of the people in his jurisdiction. In that time, hanging would have been getting off lightly. Pilate was so renowned for brutality, he got recalled to Rome as they felt his harshness was provoking rebellion, and they didn't want that.
    • Even worse was Gaius Verres, who had been praetor of Sicily. First of all, he extorted so much loot, slaves and capital from Sicily that some have estimated that he actually caused a recession on his own. His handling of corn and grain harvesting was so poor parts of Italy starved and he nearly ended up with a slave revolt. Anyone who confronted him he put on trial for treason or espionage where he was the judge and jury, and sentenced them to death. He was discredited in a case by Marcus Tullius Cicero, where it was revealed that he had sentenced Roman knights to death without trial, in one instance in order to disguise his own corrupt dealings with a gang of pirates (and sexual slavers). The Romans considered this to be a Moral Event Horizon. You will be pleased to hear that he was eventually murdered on the orders of Mark Antony, who wanted some of the art treasures he had thieved from Sicily.
  • Laurence J. Rittenband, the judge who presided over the Roman Polanski case. Say what you want about Polanski, but to say that Rittenband had a squeaky-clean image compared to Polanski, would be one of the most ridiculous things said. He was into girls much younger than the ones Polanski was into for crying out loud!
  • Judge Mark Ciavarella became infamous for his harsh treatment of juvenille offenders, sending children as young as five to Detention centers for relatively minor crimes, such as trespassing or even insulting a teacher on Myspace. It was later revealed that he was making obscene amounts of cash from his convictions as the owner of the center paid him for each new prisoner he sent there. He was later convicted and sentenced to twenty-eight years in prison. The good folks at Cracked.com probably summed up Your feelings about him by saying They'd "be completely fine with an amendment to give every American the right to kick this man in the balls once."