Miscarriage of Justice

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This trope covers when an innocent person goes through the justice system, but for whatever reason is found guilty. The reasons can often include corruption in the system, or misleading circumstantial evidence. In Real Life, it can include bad eyewitness evidence; in fiction, it's more likely to be a false witness or a lying eyewitness. In both, it is not uncommon to see overly zealous prosecutors who may focus more on their record of successful convictions than guilt or innocence.

This can be the premise of a story, or it can be a Downer Ending if it overlaps with Acquitted Too Late.

The inverse—an Obviously Evil and guilty person going free—is also often seen as a miscarriage of justice; but that is covered by other tropes such as Karma Houdini. Also, has nothing to do with a pregnant woman having a miscarriage due to bad karma.

See also Kangaroo Court, which may relate to this.

Examples of Miscarriage of Justice include:

Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • In the Zanpakuto Filler arc in Bleach, this happened to Kouga, the owner of Muramasa.
  • A twist on this trope occurs in Fullmetal Alchemist, when Lt. Maria Ross is accused of murdering Lt. Col. Hughes. She's not allowed to present the evidence that proves her innocence because it involves the testimony of her parents, whom she was visiting at the time of the murder, and family members aren't allowed to testify. Her partner, Sgt. Brosh, is also not allowed to speak on her behalf. She's confident that justice will still carry the day, though...until she's informed that it's been reported in the newspaper that she was convicted while she's still awaiting trial.

Film[edit | hide]

  • Marv from Sin City is put on death row and ultimately executed for murdering all the women Kevin and Cardinal Roark killed and ate. Though, to be fair, the list of victims also included all the people that Marv did kill, including the two Complete Monsters in question.
    • John Hartigan from "That Yellow Bastard" is wrongly imprisoned for eight years on false charges of raping Nancy Callahan, the eleven-year-old girl who he saved from pedophile rapist and Serial Killer Junior Roark, whose father is a powerful and corrupt U.S. Senator.
    • Both cases were due to extreme corruption, forged evidence and confessions acquired by threats - Marv confessed after his mother's life was threatened, and Hartigan when he thought that Nancy's life was in danger, and he was able to get out on parole if he did.
  • The Fugitive
  • In Double Jeopardy, Ashley Judd's character is wrongly convicted of murdering her husband and spends several years in prison.
  • The Shawshank Redemption: The driving force of the plot is that Andy Dufresne is wrongly convicted of the murder of his wife and her lover in the misleading circumstantial evidence variant. It then becomes much worse when exculpatory evidence emerges, and is destroyed by corrupt officials, because Andy has been acting as the warden's accountant during his prison time and now knows too much about his shady finances to be allowed to go free. They murder a witness willing to testify that someone else committed the crime.
  • An Innocent Man (1989) starring Tom Selleck. Selleck's character is framed by Dirty Cops and is jailed.
  • Dial M for Murder, Margot is tried and found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. But the police are really after her husband, and let her go in the end.
  • In the Name of the Father is based on the real story of the Guildford Four and Maguire Seven, who were accused of a pub bombing in London in the 1970's. The movie took some liberties with the story for dramatic purposes, but the facts are still the same: they were threatened and lied to in police custody to scare them into confessing, the trial was held in the same city as the bombing and ensured that the jury would be very willing to convict the Four (all were Irish hippies and drug users), and the police specifically prevented two of the Four's alibi from being shown to ensure a conviction. They were all released about 15 years later, but none of the police officers were found guilty of any crimes and one of the Maguire Seven died in prison.
  • In Inception, Dom Cobb is on the run for apparently having murdered his wife Mal. It turns out that Mal was insane and convinced that after having spent fifty years in a dreamworld, she was still dreaming and needed to wake up - and the only way to "wake up" is to kill yourself. She tried to make Dom kill himself along with her by deliberately having herself declared sane by multiple psychiatrists, filing a letter stating she was afraid for her life with her attorney, and setting up a hotel room to look like a violent struggle had taken place in it before luring Dom into the room and killing herself. Dom didn't follow through with it, and the setup was convincing enough that he was forced to flee the country.
  • John Coffey in The Green Mile.
  • Atonement, through Briony's mistake.
  • In Chicago, the one innocent inmate is the one who gets executed thanks to a language barrier (she can only speak Hungarian and no one bothers to get a translator).
  • The Hurricane is a Biopic about promising boxer Rubin "The Hurricane" Carter's conviction for a murder he didn't commit, and the young lawyers who vow to acquit him.

Literature[edit | hide]

  • Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban - Sirius Black, in Azkaban. The Minister of Magic would even ignore the witnesses that claimed that Peter Pettigrew, the wizard believed to have been murdered by Sirius Black, was alive.
    • Sirius Black is one of the most extreme examples of this trope not just because of the entire lack of a trial but because of the gaping lack of evidence. His 'confession' at the scene is highly doubtful due to the fact that he is visibly not in his right mind, or even aware of or responding to his surroundings, when he says it -- its hysterical babbling that doesn't even name who he's supposed to have killed. There is no murder weapon (even the most cursory check of Sirius' wand would have revealed that it had never been fired). There is no corpse of the alleged murder victim, just his severed finger (and one cleanly severed by a cutting charm, at that, not torn loose in a blast, further highlighting the abysmally incompetent police forensics here). And the witnesses are not only not questioned but also wiped of their memories, completely destroying that evidence -- and if they had been questioned they would have testified that while Sirius was holding the man at wandpoint, no spell was actually seen leaving his wand before the explosion (and blasting hexes are visible to the naked eye). It would be like convicting a man of shooting another man when the alleged murder weapon still had six bullets in the revolver and ten eyewitnesses testified that they never saw a muzzle flash.
  • Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire - Sirius mentioned that several accused Death Eaters were sent to Azkaban without a fair chance to defend themselves during their trials or even without a trial at all. Sirius mentioned he was in the second group.
  • Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets - Hagrid, in Azkaban. Cornelius Fudge, the Minister of Magic, even told Dumbledore and Hagrid that he was only sending Hagrid to Azkaban because people had to see him doing something.
  • The Count of Monte Cristo - Edmond Dantes is framed for treason and sent to the Chateau d'If by his former best friend, who wanted the woman he loved, Mercedes, for himself.
    • Eh? 'Twas her cousin, Ferdinand, Danglers, the second mate of the ship Dante was assigned to, and who was a lazy lout, as well as Villefort, who receives the letter. No former best friend involved at all.
  • In Kim Newman's "Tomorrow Town", a murder has been committed in a 1970s futurist community. When the investigating detectives get there, they learn that the townspeople have already imprisoned a suspect, who they insist must be the killer, citing that he never really fitted in to the community and that the murder weapon was found in his house. Later that night, one of the townspeople promoting this theory himself tries to kill the detectives, but accidentally manages to kill himself instead. One of the detectives then notes rather dryly that if one of the most enthusiastic proponents of "the first guy did it!" theory later tries to kill the investigating detectives, it's a fairly safe bet that there's an injustice going on.
  • The climax of A Man for All Seasons turns upon one of these; Richard Rich commits outright perjury against his former acquaintance, Sir Thomas More, in exchange for an appointment as Attorney-General for Wales.
  • In Kevin J. Anderson's Blindfold, a loading dock worker is falsely accused of murdering his boss. Subverted in that the accusation came not from a trial but from a mind scan by a young Truthsayer, who are implicitly trusted to always be right. When the mistake is realized, the head Truthsayer realizes they can't admit it to the people, as their entire justice system will crumble. Interestingly, the guy who actually ordered the murder is just as shocked as anyone else by the verdict, even though his manipulations with the Veritas drug caused the mistake. In the end, the truth is revealed, causing the Truthsayers to be disbanded and the society to return to a more traditonal justice system.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird sadly ends in this for Tom Robinson.
  • The Trial by Franz Kafka. The opening line of the book describes the entire plot:

"Someone must have been spreading lies about Josef K., for one morning, after having committed no real crime, he was arrested."

  • Atonement
  • Sisterhood series by Fern Michaels: Isabelle Flanders and Alexis Thorne were victimized in this. Both of them were framed by very bad people. Isabelle had her reputation ruined, and she was lucky that she didn't end up in prison. Alexis ended up in prison, and when she got out, she could only apply for a job as a personal shopper. The book Sweet Revenge has Isabelle strike back against bitchy Rosemary Hershey, and the book Lethal Justice has Alexis strike back against conscienceless Arden Gillespie and weepy Roland Sullivan.
  • In Starship Troopers, a recruit is court-martialed, flogged, and drummed out of the service for punching his sergeant during a combat exercise. Everyone involved (including the sergeant) knows it was the sergeant's fault for allowing the recruit to land the punch, and all the officers want to ignore the incident—but the recruit admits to hitting his sergeant (in front of witnesses), and military discipline forces them to punish him.
    • In fairness, the Captain arranges things so that he doesn't have the power to hang the man, which he would have been forced to do under military law if a full tribunal had been called.
    • There is also the fact that the recruit actually is legitimately guilty of striking his sergeant, of his own free will. The 'fault' of the sergeant was in standing close enough and with his guard far enough down that he could actually get sucker-punched by a recruit, which may be a professional lapse worthy of criticism but is not in any way an absolution for the recruit doing said punching.
    • Now, it is true that the recruit thought his offense was justifiable self-defense as the sergeant had struck him first. Unfortunately, the recruit had forgotten that under his home nation's legal system, corporal punishment is entirely legal in boot camp.

Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • The Rockford Files. In the backstory of the series, Jim Rockford was wrongly convicted of armed robbery and spent five years in prison before receiving a pardon.
  • Life
  • So many telenovelas it isn't funny nor interesting anymore. La Madrastra, La Dama de Rosa, and their remakes are specially egregious examples of this trope.
  • Crops up occasionally on Law and Order. Usually partially subverted in that the wrongly convicted is either wholly unsympathetic (a white supremacist convicted of child murders that were actually committed by a mentally-ill black man) or turned out be connected after all (a man convicted of killing his wife turned out to have hired the actual killer. He was convicted of murdering the actual killer). At least once however, prosecutors did accidentally convict an innocent man, and found that their attempts to exonerate him were frustrated by their own successful prosecution which, lacking any intentional impropriety or error, couldn't simply be reversed because they weren't sure the right man was convicted. A Judge on appeal even tells them in effect "12 people looked at your evidence and said he was guilty, who am I to disagree?"
  • Invoked by violent robber Kim Trent in series 1, episode 2 of Life On Mars:
    • "This is an abortion of justice!"
  • One episode of Criminal Minds has the team suspect that a woman who was supposedly the accomplice of her serial killer husband is nearing is innocent of her son's murder (the only crime which she was actually charged with)...but she doesn't seem very enthusiastic about the possibility of being cleared. It turns out that she is indeed innocent, but she doesn't want to be acquitted, because the only way to achieve that would be revealing that her son is alive and has a new identity. She believes that if that happened, the boy's knowledge of what a monster his biological father was would taint his whole life.
  • The 2003 adaptation of Sad Cypress (it's an episode, part of a TV series). Only the adaptation, though. In the novel, the innocent person is found innocent, which is much less dramatic.
  • An innocent man spends 2 years and 8 months in prison in the Psych episode "True Grits"
  • The JAG episode "Secrets" revolves around an escaped prisoner trying to prove his innocence
  • A subplot in the Person of Interest episode "Identity Crisis" involved an innocent man sent to prison
  • Tony sent an innocent man to prison as revealed in the NCIS episode "Bounce"
  • The main theme in the Awake episode "Guilty"

Music[edit | hide]

Video Games[edit | hide]

  • The third case of Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations begins with Maggey Byrde being convicted of murder. Not only was she framed, but the murderer actually disguised himself as Phoenix Wright so he could be her lawyer and make sure she lost. Fortunately, this means a mistrial is declared and the real Phoenix can uncover the truth in another trial.

Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • In the DuckTales episode "Duckman of Aquatraz," Scrooge McDuck is framed for theft by his rival Flintheart Glomgold and put into prison, where, conveniently, it turns out that his cellmate was also framed by Glomgold.
  • Happens a number of times in Tiny Toon Adventures. One incident that really sticks out is in the TT version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, where the role of Goldilocks is played by animal abuser Elmyra. After breaking into the three bears' house, trashing everything, messing with their stuff, followed by causing great pain and abuse to the bears, upon being summoned by the bears alarm, instead of arresting Elmyra, the police mistaken the bears for wild creatures, capture them, and haul them to the zoo!
    • Although Baby Bear, who wasn't that comfortable living in a modern home, didn't complain about the change.
  • In an episode of Rocko's Modern Life, Rocko is convicted (by a Joker Jury of insects) for injuring a fly, and sentenced to 30 days as a fly. Later, the fly that Rocko allegedly injured is seen perfectly fine, guzzling soup at a fancy restaurant. At the same restaurant is The Judge, who then comes to Rocko's home to turn him back into a wallaby, apologizing profusely for the Miscarriage of Justice.

Real Life[edit | hide]

  • For film documentary accounts:
    • The Thin Blue Line where director Errol Morris made such a convincing case of Randal Adams being framed for murder by the police and the District Attorney that he was exonerated and released.
    • Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, where three non-conformist boys were indicted for a horrific triple murder and convicted even though it's obvious that at best, there is not enough evidence, or at worst, they are innocent boys screwed by community prejudice and hysteria. Here, activists worked on getting them exonerated with the help of the producers following up with Paradise Lost 2 and soon, Paradise Lost 3, which drop the ambiguity of the first film and firmly support the boys' innocence.
      • Recently the boys released with the understanding that they plead guilty while still allowed to assert their innocence. Obviously, the fight for a real exoneration will continue.
  • Everyone on this page.
  • On their Showtime series Bullshit, Penn and Teller did an episode focusing on the causes and results of such miscarriages of justice.
  • The "Central Park Jogger" case. On April 19, 1989, and young woman was savagely attacked in New York City's Central Park—beaten, raped, and left for dead. Within days, six young men who had been terrorizing people in the park were arrested. Despite no DNA evidence, no indentification by the jogger (she survived, but could not remember the attack), and a time frame that showed that the boys could NOT have assaulted the woman—ironically because they were attacking someone else at the time), all were convicted and sent to prison. A decade later, a man serving time for another crime came forward and confessed that HE, and he alone was the real perpetrator. There was nothing the DA's office could do but overturn the convictions of the others—who had all served their undeserved time. Meanwhile, the staute of limitations had run out, meaning that the man could not be prosecuted for the attack. So, 6 inncoent young men spent a decade in prison for something they didn't do, a guilty man remained—and STILL remains unpunished for something he did, and the woman herself, Tricia Meili, will never see proper justice done. A thoroughly gross miscarriage of justice all around.
  • Mel Ignatow was accquited on charges of raping and murdering his ex-girlfriend Brenda Schaffer despite eyewitness testimony from an accomplice. Several years later, graphic pictures taken by said accomplice depicting the hours he spent torturing the poor woman surfaced. Unfortunately, thanks to "double jeopardy" laws, he could not be tried again. The most the prosecution could nail him for was perjury.