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"Now, here are some results from our phone-in poll: 95% of the people believe Homer Simpson is guilty. Of course, this is just a television poll which is not legally binding, unless Proposition 304 passes. And we all pray it will."
Kent Brockman, The Simpsons -- "Homer Badman"

Usually when a person's guilt can't be proven (or has not yet been proven or disproven) in a court of law, it is assumed that he or she is innocent. But in the court of public opinion it tends to be the exact opposite. The public (or even the authorities) are convinced you're guilty; they just don't have enough hard evidence to prove your guilt. Now this doesn't necessarily means the person in question IS guilty mind you, It just means he/she has already been tried and Convicted by Public Opinion. The public can either be right or dead wrong.

Whenever someone is placed in the dock accused of "Crimes Against Humanity", you can be pretty sure this trope is in full effect.

If the public is particularly displeased with a juridical decision, they might take the matter in their own hands. See Witch Hunt and Vigilante Man, although the public does not necessarily have to be unjust and violent.

Usually combined with Reformed but Rejected. See also Never Live It Down.

No Real Life Examples, Please


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Examples of Convicted by Public Opinion include:


Fanfic Edit

  • Some Harry Potter fanfics where Sirius Black is acquitted have the Wizarding World believing he's guilty. One in particular has Sirius Black unable to gain custody of Harry until he found an old law stating orphans of wizarding parents cannot be raised by muggles for as long as a magical guardian remains available. The Minister was quite unhappy with this development but, having to uphold the law, couldn't prevent it.


Film Edit

  • The whole point of Absence Of Malice, in which an innocent man's entire life is ruined because an anonymous tipster's claim he's involved in a current murder case gets published in the newspapers.
  • Somewhat Lampshaded in the film Stand by Me. Chris Chambers admits to stealing the milk money, but was still irritated (though not terribly surprised) by the fact that people automatically assumed he took it solely because of who he was. What really hurt him, though, was that the teacher he returned it to took advantage of that fact and kept the money for herself.
  • In Secret Window, when Mort Rainey is eventually revealed to be the Tomato Surprise, Sheriff Dave Newsome interrupts Mort's nonchalant casual conversation and bluntly says in a matter of fact tone something to the effect of "Both you and I know what you did. We can't find the bodies, But we'll find the bodies and we'll link you to them. And eventually put you away.. And of course since he's the proverbial Tomato in the Mirror Mort was completely confused by the sheriff's out of nowhere comment. Also the locals are completely freaked out by him. So much so the sheriff wanted him to stop coming into town at certain parts of the day. The implications are strong granted, But the authorities still never found the bodies.
  • Discussed in Sin City where the powerful Roarke family can get enough public approval to not only get away with crimes, but the citizens of Basin will gladly put an innocent man behind bars.


Literature Edit

  • In the X Wing Series, when Tycho is tried for the death of Corran Horn, pretty much everyone who didn't know him personally thought he did it. The New Republic trying him had to keep at least some of the public's sentiment in mind, since they had just taken the planet from the Empire, and many of the nonhumans were angry enough at the new government due to the plague that only affected nonhumans. It's stated that there were already grumblings that if Tycho hadn't been human he would already have been tried and convicted.
  • Harry Potter oh so many times. The wizarding public changes their mind about whether Harry is the savior of their world or a spoiled celebrity more times than they change their robes.
    • Also Frank Bryce from the opening chapter of Harry Potter, who was nearly convicted for the murder of Voldemort's muggle family. The villagers continue to treat him with suspicion even after his name is cleared, as they have no idea what happened to the Riddles.
    • Sirius Black is a partial example. While he was convicted (without a trial), his infamous reputation went well beyond the crime for which he was originally convicted. For example, Stan and Ernie of the Knight Bus believed him to be Voldemort's right hand and an Ax Crazy Psycho Supporter.
    • In the case of Barty Crouch, Jr., it's implied that he was convicted on flimsy evidence because the public was crying for blood. Subverted when it turns out he was guilty after all.
    • Also mentioned by Ron when they find out Hagrid is half-giant: while any who know Hagrid know he'd be incapable of the mindless violence giants are known for, most people don't know Hagrid.
  • Tyrion Lannister of A Song of Ice and Fire always had a reputation of being a monster, depsite the fact that he is one of the most honorable characters in the series, simply because of his outward appearance (An ugly dwarf, who eventually loses his nose). Every time he's at trial, everyone is ready to execute him unless defending him will somehow help their own agenda. Fortunately, Tyrion is very much aware of this, and has long since figured out how to use it to his advantage. Eventually, however, it does make him snap.
  • In Harlan Ellison's short story "Hitler Painted Roses", souls go to Heaven or Hell based on how good people think they were. In the story, an Expy for Lizzie Borden, sentenced to hell because everyone knows she killed her parents, gets a chance to confront her lover, a clean upstanding pillar of the community who went to Heaven despite actually killing her parents.
  • An unusual variant in The Truth: when The Ankh-Morpork Times publishes evidence that Vetinari was entirely innocent of attempting to leave town with stolen funds, and was the victim of a nasty frame-up, the opinion of the average reader is given as "He got away with it, then. Of course, he's a very clever man." The unusual aspect is that they don't actually seem to care much either way. Of course, compared to the antics of many of Vetinari's predecessors in office[1], allegedly stabbing a formerly trusted subordinate and absconding with as much of the treasury as you can carry barely merits a raised eyebrow.
    • In Going Postal, this is practically how Moist defeats the Big Bad and his cadre of Corrupt Corporate Executives. All he needs to do is name some names and some places, enough to indicate the guilt, and then the message itself does the rest. This is all Vetinari needs to instigate an official investigation and nail them properly.
  • Invoked almost work for word by Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. The public decided long before the trial that Tom Robinson, a black man, was guilty of raping Mayella Ewell, a white woman, because this was Alabama in the 1930s.
  • In the Knight and Rogue Series because he's marked as a criminal Michael is an instant suspect when building start being burned down. He has an alibi all three times, but still gets chased by a mob twice before the real criminal is caught.


Live Action TV Edit

  • Talk shows like Jerry Springer or the Maury Povich show. Whenever a guest is accused of doing something wrong to his or her significant other, such as cheating with someone else, the crowd will always boo the suspect, sometimes even after the person is proved innocent. On top of this, if the show shows the couple got back together in a "Where Are They Now?" update segment, the audience will always boo the person that had broken the other's heart, even if the two of them are truly happy now.
  • The Highlander the Series episode "An Innocent Man" is based on this trope.
  • Nick Knight ran into it in an episode of Forever Knight, both with the suspect he was investigating, and a past incidence where he was hung as a killer, even though he was innocent.


Newspaper Comics Edit

  • A fairly early storyline in Pogo centered on Albert being accused of eating the Pup-Dog. One strip cut to a bunch of crotchety old lady... animals... on a porch talking about the news, all certain he was guilty. At the end Albert was found innocent when the Pup-Dog showed up from wherever it was he'd gotten off to. Cut back to the old ladies on the porch, positively incensed that Albert "got away with it" and bemoaning the "travesty o' justice" that had occurred. Even though the "victim" was very much alive and well.


Video Games Edit

  • The Phoenix Wright series displays this a few times for the people inside the courtroom who are convinced that the defendant or a particular witness is truly guilty, despite what the evidence or lack of evidence shows. The judge is also easily swayed by the opinions of the prosecution and is sometimes quick to hand down a guilty verdict due to said opinions.
    • It also applies to Phoenix's childhood where he is accused of stealing lunch money from his fellow classmate, Miles Edgeworth. All the children point their fingers at Phoenix as the thief and even the teacher is convinced that Phoenix is guilty, despite no evidence. Only Edgeworth and Larry Butz stand up for Phoenix and convince the whole class that he is not the guilty party.
      • No evidence? There was no direct evidence. They thought he was guilty because he was one of the few members of the class without an alibi. In fact, the person who did it seemed to have an alibi, so Phoenix was the only suspect who seemed like he could have done it.
      • It was Larry Butz, of course XD..
    • Played straight in Apollo Justice where Phoenix meets Zak seven years after he escaped from his trial. Phoenix tells him that the public firmly believes that his partner, Valant, helped him escape during the trial and they also believe that he was the one who killed Magnifi, even though there's no evidence to support their claims. To put everything to rest and let the public believe what it wants, Zak writes a confession note saying that he "killed" Magnifi. This is all before days after Zak is legally declared dead after seven years since his vanishing act.
    • In the first game, the first few times Phoenix meets Detective Gumshoe, he is recognized as the lawyer who defended a murderer. He has to point out that his client was actually found not guilty.
      • To be fair, Gumshoe is shown as a big scatterbrain, so it's most likely he just kept forgetting the outcome of that trial.
  • Tropes Are Not Bad: the Tribunal system in League of Legends allows players to vote on a case as to whether or not the accused deserves to be punished. The players assigned to a case can review logs of the ingame chat, a supermajority is needed for actual punishment, and the worst punishments are subject to manual review by Riot Games staff (as are randomly chosen cases that don't warrant particularly strong punishment).
  • In the original campaign of Neverwinter Nights, Fenthick Moss is manipulated into assisting the Big Bad of the first act, publicly supporting him while being unaware of his true intentions or eventual actions. By the time of the second act, he has been hung to appease the masses, who demanded blood for what happened and believed Fenthick to be complicit in the plot, no matter how ignorant he was of it.


Western Animation Edit

  • Monkey Dust's Paedofinder General sketch is a parody of this.

 "By the power invested in me by prurient wishful thinking, I pronounce you guilty- of PAEDOPHILIA!"

"By the power invested in me by some bloke I met in a pub, who knew for definite, I find your sort GUILTY of PAEDOPHILIA!"

  • In The Simpsons, Homer was accused of sexual harassment. The entire country decided he was guilty, based on nothing more than hearsay and an extremely biased - and clearly fake - news segment. The episode was meant as a satire of the current state of the media - which, sadly, hasn't improved since the episode first aired (in 1994!). The quote of the top of this page is from that episode.
    • Homer himself immediately buys into the report made by the same show that slandered him about how Groundskeeper Willy (who saved Homer by coming forward with a video that happened to prove his innocence) is a perverted stalker and a looming threat to everyone in Springfield.
      • Funnily enough, Homer is Right for the Wrong Reasons- he claims that he believes that Willy is a perverted stalker for the incredibly bad reason that the television is claiming it, rather than the far better one- Wily had flat-out confessed to it earlier when he was telling Homer that he had a tape that could prove his innocene, since he explained the tape by saying that his hobby is spying on couples having intimate moments and recording them- in other words, he is a perverted stalker.
  • The Beetlejuice cartoon had this happen to Beetlejuice himself, accused of scamming the city for donations. The donations were stolen, but this was a rare time when he was being honest. Naturally, it turned into a huge angry monster. When Beetlejuice tried proclaiming his innocence, Lydia reminded him that when it's public opinion, "facts don't matter" to it. In fact, this instance is almost a subversion, since Beetlejuice has already pulled so much crap (and, in fact, he originally intended to scam the city) in the Neitherworld that it's a lot easier to see just why the public automatically thinks he's guilty.

Notes

  1. Lord Winder, whose rule up until the events of Night Watch wasn't so much a Reign of Terror as a Monsoon Of Terror, is implied to be fairly typical. Neither was his successor Lord Snapcase very much better