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Agent: Now, before I give you the check, one more question. This place "Moe's" you left just before the accident. This is a business of some kind?

Homer's Brain: Don't tell him you were at a bar! But what else is open at night?

Homer: It's a pornography store. I was buying pornography.

Homer's Brain: Heh heh heh. I would've never thought of that.
Homer Simspon, "Mr Plow."

Your crimes are catching up to you. The cops/your boss/your wife knows that you're hiding something, and they're no longer buying your lies. What are you to do?

Confess, of course, just not to what you really did. Maybe you admit to a piece of what you did, but not the whole thing, maybe you completely make something up. Either way, you hold them off discovering what you're really up to.

There are clear advantages to pretending to come clean. When you admit to wrongdoing, people usually don't assume you're lying. When they think they've caught you, they don't usually keep investigating, and you've got a perfect explanation for why you've been acting strangely and looking guilty.

The disadvantage, of course, is that you're on the hook for whatever you confessed to, so you better be sure it's worth it to keep the greater crime concealed.

May be used by an Undercover Cop to keep from being exposed, or by a Sympathetic Criminal to avoid punishment.

Different from a Plea Bargain in that the character is trying to keep their crimes concealed, not trying to strike a deal to avoid punishment.

Contrast False Confession and Taking the Heat.

Examples of Confess to a Lesser Crime include:

Anime and Manga

  • In the Ace Attorney manga, the murderer in the second case admits to setting the fire at Wolfe Manor because otherwise, Bobby, the defendant, would go free. Phoenix's defense had hinged on disproving that Bobby would have willingly burned up his spider and spider book collection, so he's at a loss for words until he realizes that just as the arsonist set a timed ignition device, he also set a timed device to kill the victim and create an alibi. Afterward, Phoenix thanks Edgeworth for calling for a recess and bringing the witness to the stand, thus enabling him to find the truth.


  • Spy Game: Nathan Muir spends most of the film using CIA resources to plan an unauthorized operation to rescue his protégé. When the CIA discovers he's been accessing satellite data, Muir admits to misusing agency resources... to research retirement properties.
  • White Heat
  • In Breaker Morant, a soldier is accused of murdering a suspected spy, but confesses that, at the time, he'd been in the bed of a married woman. Turns out he had time for both.


  • In one of the novels based on the Paranoia RPG, a villain is reported for concealing a dangerous mutant power, but saw it coming and registered a different mutant power (chronic runny nose) first. The Computer bought it, and thus disbelieves the report because mutants with multiple powers are unheard of.
  • In Robert A. Heinlein's If This Goes On..., Lyle is advised to pretend to commit a lesser offense to help cover up his involvement in La Résistance. He's further told that faithfully adhering to all of the regime's many laws is unusual enough to get the regime's attention, so he should "never try to pretend lily-white innocence". Lyle leaves evidence of gambling, gets "caught" and lectured on it, and then is let go.

Live Action TV

  • Breaking Bad: The seemingly-docile Walt, unbeknownst to his family, is actually in the business of cooking crystal meth with Jesse, a loud and crude drug dealer. In the first season, Skyler confronts Walt about his odd behavior and consorting with a drug dealer. He "confesses" that he's been buying marijuana from Jesse.

 Jesse: "And why'd you go and tell her I was selling you weed?"

Walt: "Because somehow it seemed preferable to admitting that I cook crystal meth and killed a man."

    • Later on, when Walt has to explain all the money he's been making to his DEA brother-in-law Hank, he actually his wife Skyler says he earned it from counting cards.
  • Dexter: When finally confronted about his mysterious disappearances at night by his girlfriend, Dexter is forced to admit that he's an addict (even though he's never even tried drugs) to conceal the fact that he's a serial killer.
    • Technically, he told the truth. She accused him of doing drugs and he admitted to having an addiction. He does have an addiction - just to murder, not drugs.
  • Frequently used on Lie to Me. Justified in that Cal and his team can always tell if you're lying, or guilty, or ashamed -- but not what you're lying, guilty, or ashamed about. This trope may be the only way to throw them off your trail.
  • In one episode of Frasier, the gang travels to Canada in a Winnebago, unaware that Daphne isn't allowed to leave the country without her green card. Frasier and Niles act as one would expect from them, making customs suspicious until Martin "confesses" that his dog Eddie doesn't have a proper pet ID.
  • Frequently used in Burn Notice to maintain cover identities. In one memorable case, a drug dealer finds out Michael has been making phone calls to his would-be girlfriend (who's an undercover cop). The dealer assumes they're sleeping together and plans to kill her, until Michael "confesses" that he was asking around about the man because he wanted to do business with him. Thus confessing a minor violation of privacy to cover up a secret relationship which was itself a lie to cover up her being a cop.


  • Inverted in the song Long Black Veil. The narrator is executed for a murder he didn't commit, because he refused to say where he was during the crime. He'd been in the arms of his best friends wife.

Video Games

  • In the Ace Attorney game Trials and Tribulations, you manage to save your defendant from a conviction for theft on the first day of his trial, by pointing out that the supposed Ace Detective Luke Atmey actually did it. The suspect crazily admits that yes, he did it! Victory, right? Wrong. Your defendant is promptly accused of killing someone, and you have to prove him innocent of that crime despite the fact that you just proved he doesn't have an alibi for it. Turns out Luke Atmey faked the theft he confessed to on the first day, then committed the murder, confident that he could confess to the theft and therefore have an alibi for the murder.
    • In Apollo Justice, the true killer of case 2 admits to trespassing, burglary and property damage when they say they broke into the murder victim's office too try and steal a medical chart. By that time she had already admitted she only married a mob boss's son for his money, and that the chart she was trying to get proved she knew said boss's son's life was in major danger, thus she was trying to protect her life. She also later in the case admits that she threatened someone with a gun. She does all this because is she did not admit to any of these smaller crimes, then it would mean she was guilty of a much bigger crime: murder.
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