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Det. Lenny Briscoe: So he gets off for killing the cop, but gets life for killing a cop killer?

DA Jack McCoy: An irony he can reflect on for the next forty years in Attica.

Sometimes the detectives/prosecutors have found out who the true culprit is, but there is simply not enough evidence to arrest/convict the perp.

However, sometimes the heroes demonstrate there are other ways to make the guilty pay that do not involve going outside the law themselves.

For instance:

  • Justice by insurance: In this case, the criminal has gotten a big payout from the insurance company related to the crime he actually caused. In this conclusion, while the justice system's hands are tied, the evidence presented is enough for the insurance company to take back their money saying that it was obviously claimed under criminal circumstances. Of course, the criminal could be stupid enough to sue, but that means his crime could be fully revealed and he is really sunk.
  • Justice by lawsuit: The prosecutor was not able to convict the criminal, but the evidence amassed could be given to the victim and/or his family as good enough grounds to sue the criminal for everything they have in civil court.
  • Justice by diplomatic intervention: The criminal could skip the country or claim diplomatic immunity by his own nation, unaware that their government wants to haul him into their own courts and all they have to do is use the other country's court records to nail him to the wall.
  • Justice for another crime: The criminal can't be indicted for one crime, but he or she can get nailed for another. Tax Evasion instead of murder, for example. This one is often Truth in Television.

A specific punishment prohibited in the current venue may be achieved through Death Penalty By Extradition.

Warning: These examples contain unhidden spoilers.

Examples of Justice by Other Legal Means include:

Comic Books

  • In Shamans Tears, Joshua Brand is unable to arrest the Corrupt Corporate Executive for various crimes because the victims (genetically engineered lifeforms) are not technically human. So he instead arrests him for violating the Endangered Species Act after he realizes one of the genetically engineered constructs was created using the DNA of a black-footed ferret.
  • In the 600th issue of Amazing Spider-Man, the Bar with No Name is shut down for not having a liquor license.
  • At the end of the Judge Dredd arc The Pit, Dredd has no evidence to convict Fonzo Bongo on being the head of his sector's branch of the Frendz crime syndicate. What Dredd does have, thanks to an observant rookie, is several hundred unpaid parking tickets in Bongo's name, earning him a sentence of twenty five years.


  • The Untouchables presents a good (although hardly perfectly realistic) depiction of how Al Capone, a notorious crime boss from The Mafia, was well-known to be guilty of crimes up to and including murder, yet since no-one could stick it to him, he was arrested for tax evasion.
  • In Tapeheads, the main characters get revenge on a Sleazy Politician by broadcasting a Home Porn Movie of him on live TV, which gets them arrested by the FBI. They're acquitted of the crime, but go to jail anyway for outstanding traffic warrants.
  • In Yellowbeard, the narrator at the beginning, after giving a laundry list of the title character's atrocities, including tearing men's hearts out and swallowing them whole, says, "Often forcing men to eat their own lips, he was eventually caught and imprisoned — for tax evasion."
  • This is how Judy Hoops gets Nick Wilde to collaborate with her in Zootopia: when she discover that she can't charge Nick for his "pawsicle" scheme because he has legally covered his ass in every possible step, she then threatens him with fiscal evasion charges, as she realized that he hasn't declared any of his income and she recorded his boasting about his earnings to prove it.


  • This looks like it's going to be the case in Seven Days in May. The US President knows the Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Scott, is planning a coup, but has no solid evidence. The President does however have letters from the general's mistress that he could use to blackmail him into resigning. In the end the President refuses to use such an underhanded method. Fortunately a missing piece of evidence turns up at the last minute, and Scott is forced to resign when all his co-conspirators abandon him.
  • In the gangster spoof Dickie Dick Dickens, our Villain Protagonist ends the first volume being arrested for bigamy, the result of an attempt to get a new identity going south.
  • In the Vorkosigan Saga, a new law was passed making it easier for the population to move. This of course meant that the least competent noble got the least revenue — which was the idea — and the most competent got the most. It passed easily, every noble naturally thinking himself the most competent. One count, however, found himself losing money, so what he did was import dozens of uterine replicators from offworld to produce daughters in them. Unfortunately the law allowed this, there not having been a such thing as uterine replicators on Barrayar when the law was written. The Count claimed he wasn't really guilty of slavery because technically the girls were his children (even though he only wanted them for breeding stock). After consultation with advisers, the Emperor agreed — they were all the count's daughters. And because of that he was, as a "father", bound to pay a hefty dowry for each and every one of them.

Live Action TV

  • Common in the CSI Verse. In one case, someone was cleared of murder during a burglary but discovered to be guilty of Felony Murder.
    • In another case, the perp initally got away with murder by framing his victim for the sexual assault of his 12 year old daughter. When new evidence proved that the killer was in fact the abuser, he was arrested for the new crime, one which guarantees an automatic life sentence without parole.
    • In yet another episode, the team can't get enough evidence to press charges against a guy who murdered his wife before the episode is over. However, they assure him it's only the beginning of their investigation. In the mean time, the evidence acquired thus far is enough for the wife's insurance company to want their $750k back and to start repossessing the guy's stuff, starting with his brand new Ferrari.
    • CSI: Miami had Horatio unable to arrest a murderer because he had diplomatic immunity. However, one of the victims was a Canadian citizen, and Canada did not recognize the guy's diplomatic status. When the guy's yacht ends up in international waters, Horatio alerts the authorities.
      • Another episode has Horatio figure out that the deaths of two people were caused by toxic genetically modified lettuce but cannot press charges against the company or its smug CEO. However, all the evidence he gathered will make for a massive lawsuit by the victims' families.
    • In one of the few original CSI episodes not involving murder, an exhibit of valuable Japanese historical items is robbed, with the perps making off with several items and millions of dollars in cash from the vault. The team finds out that all the items were fake. The perps, including the supposed owner of the items, a wealthy Japanese businessman, turn out to be employees of the guy hosting the exhibit (the pretender was also Chinese). Grissom confronts him with the evidence, but the guy points out that there's not enough to press charges. Grissom agrees but says he will send the evidence to the guy's insurance company to expose his scam.
  • This is also a fairly common tactic on Law & Order, as is threatening suspects' friends and acquaintances with accessory charges to get them to testify—or to get the criminal to confess.
    • For example, an episode of Law & Order: UK has a man get off for manslaughter and drug running after a witness changes his statement. After the trial, Steel has a Eureka Moment and asks his boss to "pull a Capone" on him and get him for tax evasion (which they do).
    • In a classic Law and Order episode, the show's resident expert psychologist, Dr. Olivet, accused a gynecologist of raping her, but the court was forced to withdraw the charges when the defense attorney claimed that Dr. Olivet had visited the OB-GYN when one of her patients claimed he had raped her, and therefore claimed entrapment. ADA Stone then publicly announced that the city of New York would attempt to prosecute the OB-GYN again. When the doctor gloated that they couldn't touch him for Olivet's rape, Stone revealed that after his public announcement, some fifty-plus former patients stepped forward with rape charges of their own. As Stone then said when discussing a reduced sentence, Stone answered, "In a perfect world, I would leave you in a room with your former patients for an hour. I'll settle for you spending the rest of your life in jail."
      • The same happens with the UK version of the episode, "Alesha".
    • Jack McCoy was an expert at coming up with creative "legal theories" usually involving a defendant's actions being legally reinterpreted to make them guilty of a legal statute that wasn't obvious before or coming up with a new theory of the defendant's motive to sidestep some evidentiary hurdle that enabled him to present an open-and-shut case (or threaten to present it in order to force a plea). The most common example was a "Depraved Indifference" murder, where Jack only had to prove the defendant acted recklessly or neglected a legal burden to act in a given situation, even if they were not provably guilty of the actual murder.
    • There's also a few episodes where the DA doesn't have enough admissible evidence to convict the guy of what actually happened, so he instead changes his theory and convicts the guy based on a version of events that he knows is false. One of the better ones involves a pair of conspirators. Their tactic is to have both of them point fingers at the other. Only one person actually shot the victim and the evidence proving conspiracy was thrown out. The jury can't convict them both, and since they're unsure who did it, they would acquit both. However, McCoy tricks one of the lawyers into getting the trials severed. Both of them are convicted in separate trials of firing the same bullet from the same gun at the same person at the same time. Adam Schiff even remarks on how McCoy got the justice system to legally recognize a physical impossibility as true.
    • An episode in the Ben Stone era featured an African clan leader, whose drug-trafficking resulted in a few deaths and was thus charged with Felony Murder, fleeing to his home country in the middle of his trial, with the cooperation of his country's embassy. When confronted, the ambassador points out that the clan leader has been arrested in his native country, and the New York DA's office has done his country a great favor by bringing forward all that evidence, which could not be gathered in his native land due to his political power, but now that they have absolute proof of his guilt, and they can charge him with drug trafficking, which, unlike New York's Felony Murder law, allows for the death penalty.
    • Averted in Jeopardy. The prosecution argues the corruption of the judge in the first trial means the criminal was never in jeopardy and isn't protected by double jeopardy. This is successful and prevents the need for this trope. This argument was Ripped From the Headlines in the then ongoing Aleman trial and the method of suicide in both the real and fictional case matches.
    • An SVU episode used a variation of this to get around a criminal fleeing to Canada to extradite him, citing a vehicle related charge which Canadian courts would have to honor to let them bring him back to the US. The defense on the Canadian side immediately calls them on this legal run-around, but the Canadian court has little sympathy for the perp, basically says once he's out of Canada what happens to him in the US is not their concern, and gives up the perp to American custody on the vehicle charge, and he's nailed for the more serious charges when back on US soil.
  • The Closer, "Good Housekeeping"; a spoiled rich youth, Austin Philips, fled south of the border to avoid prosecution for killing the daughter of a Hispanic immigrant. Knowing she couldn't get him extradited, Brenda went to Mexico to get the full story from him, and he refuses to come back to the US no matter what she tried, even letting Brenda charge his parents, which would cut him off. Brenda asks him for the story so she can close the case, and offers to drop the charges against his parents. The killer, confident he's beyond the reach of American law enforcement, tearfully confesses that he did it by accident, at which point, Brenda reveals that the murdered girl hadn't been born in the U.S., as her mother had claimed. Bad move, confessing that you've killed a Mexican citizen when you just fled to Mexico! The Mexican cops lay hands on him, and Brenda is noticeably disturbed right afterwards, breaking out the booze she bought to bribe the Federales if needed; you don't want to be a white prettyboy in a Mexican prison. More detail here.
  • In an episode of Ashes to Ashes, Gene Hunt mentions how Al Capone was caught for tax evasion. Inspired by this, the team arrest a troublesome loanshark for outstanding parking tickets.
  • In the Bones episode "Harbingers In The Fountain" the suspect appears to be getting away with his crime of killing a dozen people and burying them under a fountain. US District Attorney Caroline Julian calls them near the end of the episode to tell them to arrest the man. She has handed the evidence to the DC DA, who is going to prosecute him for fraud. As Caroline notes, "Murder isn't the only crime. It just seems like it around you two."
  • The District had an example of an interesting legal loophole. An ambassador's son was smuggling drugs in diplomatic bags — specially marked and exempt from searches as part of diplomatic immunity. The cops convince a citizen known for clumsy driving to make a fender-bender on the kid's car, so the contents of the bags in the trunk can be examined. For damage. The traffic cops are admirable: fast, polite and by-the-book. The commissioner is overseeing them personally. While reading from said book. And it's all in the guise of preventing a diplomatic incident. Doubles as Crowning Moment of Awesome.
  • Something of an inversion on Psych. SBPD are going after a known crime lord for tax evasion, and Shawn's illegally obtained evidence threatens to get the whole thing thrown out of court. Shawn redeems himself by convincing several other victims to overcome their fear and testify, meaning the DA can now pursue more serious charges.
  • On Blue Heelers, Tom goes after a suspected gangster (played by Gary Sweet) in this fashion, even bringing up Al Capone at one point.
  • JAG: Invoked on at least 3 different occasions when an aviator did something which was clearly the wrong thing to do (e.g. accidentally killing Russian peacekeepers in Serbia, unilaterally destroying a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft captured by the Chinese, and intervening in civilian law enforcement in the U.S.), but got acquitted of all significant charges all thanks to having Harmon Rabb as his defense counsel. After the trial, however, the CO informs the aviator that he’s permanently grounded and will undergo extensive medical evaluation. In any case Uncle Sam always wins.
  • In one episode of The Practice, a man kills his wife. His son, trying to protect him, claims he attacked his dad and the gun went off accidentally. When the man is acquitted, the DA has the son arrested for felony murder. The dad then confesses to the killing but is protected by double jeopardy, so the judge puts them both away for 20 years for perjury.

Video Games

  • Edgeworth does this unwittingly in Ace Attorney Investigations. He gets Ernest Amano arrested for helping Lance cover up a murder, to the great delight of Agent Lang. Lang had been previously unable to prove he was tied to a smuggling ring and now had a reason to take him in.

Real Life

  • As mentioned above, Al Capone. To elaborate, his sentence of 11 years imprisonment for tax evasion was, at the time, the longest sentence ever given for the crime.
    • Although there is another reason: he usually got a "not guilty" verdict from the jury by having his men bribe or intimidate them. The jury for this case was swapped at the last minute, and the trial was started before they could be coerced.
    • Similarly, there are stories of gangsters who, after managing to finagle out of a trial for murder, were brought up on littering charges after it was later proved they had disposed of bodies in the river.
  • O.J. Simpson has argued that his current conviction and sentence for armed robbery and kidnapping is this for his acquittal for murder. It is quite likely. It is also likely that no one has any sympathy for him about this.
    • Much earlier he also lost a civil suit for the deaths to the Goldman family, who were awarded damages in excess of 30 million. However, he's paid only a tiny fraction of this.
    • And granted, the possibility was pointed out by the judge, who warned the jury that they could get removed from the bench if they used the murder trial as a prior prejudice.
  • Jack McCall was found not guilty of murdering Wild Bill Hickock, despite doing it in front of several witnesses. However, the court his trial took place in was set up by a town illegally settled on Indian territory, so it had no authority. This allowed him to be tried again in the Indian territory court, without violation of double jeopardy under the Fifth Amendment of the US Constitution. He was convicted by the jury and sentenced to death. His last words before hanging were in response to a question why he shot Hickock, a famous gunfighter who had out-drawn everyone who ever faced him, in the back: "I wasn't looking to commit suicide."
  • To date, issues of international jurisdiction have prevented anyone from nailing Julian Assange on charges of espionage -which he isn't likely to be found guilty of anyway, according to the letter of the law- so Sweden is going after him on charges of sexual assault. The evidence on which the Swedish government is attempting to extradite him has so far failed to convince any British court to hand him over, however.