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Some crimes are less serious than others. In "Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking", Jaywalking is typically thrown in just for laughs. However, sometimes the smallest crimes have really serious consequences. This trope is for when the crime is treated as minor and the consequences are a matter of punishment and ostracism.
Let's say that Bob jaywalks. Not a car within a thousand miles, perfectly safe. But a cop arrests him. This makes his boss consider Bob a "criminal", and fires him. His wife, not wanting to be married to an unemployed criminal, divorces him.
Of course, whether a crime is considered a misdemeanor or a felony depends on various individual and cultural values. When Values Dissonance ensues, a point and counterpoint should be listed.
Compare and contrast:
- All Crimes Are Equal, when this trope is taken to its Logical Extreme.
- Can't Get Away with Nuthin', where the characters consider their actions harmless but the authors don't.
- Disproportionate Retribution, when characters seek serious vengeance for very minor offenses.
- Life Will Kill You, where the authors do treat the misbehaviour as minor and forgivable but it still leads to disastrous accidents.
- Judge Dredd is built on this. Littering, for example, usually carries a sentence between six months and two years, and Walter the Robot was arrested for throwing a cream pie to stop a criminal about to kill Dredd.
- In one Punisher story, Frank has been brainwashed by his archenemy Jigsaw and is set out for blood. He starts killing jaywalkers, red light runners, and litterers.
- Jigsaw himself has been known to impersonate Frank and behave similarly. Frank also once ran up against a group of vigilantes who included among their number Elite, a rich man who just kills people who do things he doesn't like - a hot dog stand? In his neighborhood?
- The Strontium Dog story arc "The Rammy" is a Law Procedural in which a lawyer accuses the Bounty Hunter protagonists of breaking the law in an elaborate scheme to reap a large monetary reward from said bounties. The charges are murder, conspiracy to murder, assault, fraudulent misrepresentation of a sporting contest, conspiracy to defraud actual fraud, drunk and disorderly conduct, and committing a nuisance in a public place. Given their line of work and the rights and privileges that gives them, the bounty hunters are eventually cleared of all charges except, of course, drunk and disorderly conduct and public nuisance. They're punished to the full extent of the law for this, which is a 3 million credit fine for each person (almost all their earnings from the entire scheme).
- A Serta Mattress advertisement once had the counting sheep getting thrown in jail for tearing the "Do Not Remove Under Penalty Of Law" tag off a new Serta mattress.
- Which is funny, because it's actually only the dealer who's not supposed to remove the tag, not the consumer.
- In Female Perversions, the main character's sister gets arrested for shoplifting. She can't pay the fine/bail, so she is kept in jail. Because of this, she risks missing getting her doctorate, tarnishing her academic career.
- In the film The 51st State, also known as Formula 51, Samuel L. Jackson, just fresh from graduating college with a degree in pharmacology, is pulled over by a patrolman and caught smoking marijuana. His arrest and conviction prevents his employment as a pharmacologist. Unable to work as a pharmacologist, he turns to a life of crime.
- Invoked in First Blood, the original Rambo-movie: Rambo gets picked up by the police for 'Vagrancy', which leads to them messing with him and dredging up his Vietnam-war trauma, which leads to rapidly escalating troubles, which leads to several dead cops and, eventually, Rambo working a prison-quarry. Towards the end of the movie, during the police's Hope Spot when they think they've managed to kill him, Rambo's old general has this to say:
Trautman: Vagrancy, wasn't it? That's gonna look real good on his grave stone in Arlington: Here lies John Rambo, winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor, survivor of countless incursions behind enemy lines. Killed for vagrancy in Jerkwater, USA.
- The Kevin Bacon movie Murder in the First has the main character imprisoned in Alcatraz as a youth for stealing $5 from a general store (granted, the store doubled as a post office, making the crime a felony.) The film actually is concerned with his other crimes, and excessive punishments, since... but still.
- The movie explores a very difficult conundrum - if you are sent to jail wrongfully and kill another inmate while in detention, are you legally accountable for that crime that would have never happened if the wrongful sentence hadn't been given in the first place? Keep in mind that the accused here has limited mental capacities and ability to tell right from wrong.
- Played for absurdity in Dogma, when the angel Loki murders an entire board of directors for being idolaters and for their various personal sins, except for one member of the board who turns out to be a pure soul. He then threatens to murder her for not saying "God bless you" when he sneezed. Bartleby talks him out of doing so.
- Pee Wees Big Adventure had the hard-boiled Mickey character on the run after breaking out of jail. He was imprisoned for the same crime as the Serta sheep. Or so he claims.
- Played for laughs in Mystery Team, where sneaking into movies, sticking fingers into pies and taking two milks at lunch are Serious Business
- Horrible Bosses: Dale got drunk at a bar that was next to a playground, and committed public urination. It was night, and there were no kids there, but he's still a registered sex offender.
- And Motherfucker Jones spent 10 years in prison for pirating Snow Falling on Cedars.
- This is a major element of Les Misérables, in which the main character serves years on a galley for stealing bread to feed his family. Even after serving his time, he continues to be stained as a criminal because of this act.
- One of Larry Niven's themes in his Known Space universe is that of body-part replacement technology. At one point (the novel A Gift From Earth centers around it), the demand for replacement parts is so high that crimes like running stop signs and littering are punishable by the death penalty (so that your parts could go into the organ banks).
- In One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, the main character is convicted for a crime that many considered laughable and "not a real crime" back in the days when the book was written and the film adaptation was made. He accepts the offer to be placed in an asylym instead of a jail, but once there he gets horrified with how the staff treats the inmates including himself. They eventually shut him up by literally destroying his brain. After the lobotomy, one of his friends gives him a mercy killing and then finally follow his previous advice and escapes.
- In The Bible, the first two people decide to have a bit of fruit, resulting in the fall of man and eternal punishment.
- Then again, it was a knowledge-giving, incredibly powerful bit of fruit that granted the gift of knowledge of good and evil to humanity.
- Leading to the Fridge Logic of how they could be held accountable if they didn't even know what evil was.
- Then again, it was a knowledge-giving, incredibly powerful bit of fruit that granted the gift of knowledge of good and evil to humanity.
Live Action TV
- In one episode of Law and Order SVU, the detectives uncover that a man has misplaced some paperwork. For this misdemeanor, they get his cell phone tagged so they can follow him around everywhere. They also do some intensive lobbying - trying to convince a lot of women to hate him, eventually leading one of them to murder him.
- There was also the time they're tracking a suspected rapist and murderer who they know did it, but can't hold him. Every effort to get evidence before he flies off fails, until Stabler arrests and holds him for jaywalking across an airport crosswalk.
- The "Weird Al" Yankovic song Don't Download This Song.
- Inverted in the Arlo Guthrie song "Alices Restaurant". Littering is what kept him out of the army, and out of Vietnam, quite possibly saving his life.
- In a Sunday Strip of Garfield, it was implied that the police were after Jon for trying to redeem expired coupons at the supermarket.
- In Grand Theft Auto games, the slightest bump into a police car apparently gives cops enough of a reason to try and arrest you in and of itself.
- In the older Hitman games, just running or even walking "suspiciously" can get you shot.
- The original Assassin's Creed had guards that would attack Altair just for running in a crowded area.
- They would also attempt to kill you if you rode a horse past them at anything other than a slow walk.
- The backstory of Fallout included a US President being impeached for Jay Walking. Then again, this was Congress retaliating after said President invaded and conquered Canada through legal means.
- In Halflife 2, the guard near the beginning of the game would assault the player for not putting a can (that was already there) in the bin, repeatedly attempting to gain passage without placing the can in the bin would result in the player being being beaten to death.
- The guards will also react this way if you invade their personal space.
- One arc in Order of the Stick does this, wherein Belkar and Roy are sentenced to the live out the rest of their lives as gladiators for not having entrance papers.
- In Sluggy Freelance Torg, because he shouted something at an airport that included the words "blow them up" and "kill everyone", gets sent to the Guantanamo Bay prison as an enemy combatant. The only thing that gets him released is something even more inconsequential: his "viking heritage" apparently let him pass their "Caucasianometer".
- The Japanese Beetle has the Jaywalker, a C-List Fodder member of the Beetle's Rogues Gallery. Jaywalking didn't completely ruin his life, it was merely the straw that broke the camel's back: he was fired, divorced, and evicted on the same day, and forced to take a job as an advertising mascot in a blue jay costume. When he jaywalked, the Beetle intercepted him and, due to the costume, he was assumed to be a supervillain and given 20 years in prison. This actually does make him become a supervillain, plotting to destroy the city as well as developing schizophrenia and believing that the costume is talking to him.
- In Danny Phantom's Bad Future Episode, Danny cheats on his CAT test. Indirectly causing his friends and family to die. Which causes him to ask his nemesis for help. Which prompts his nemesis to remove his ghost half from him. Who then kills his human half. And then becomes just about the most evil villain the series ever had.
- There's that Bad Future Episode of Darkwing Duck where he turns into the fearsome Darkwarrior Duck, ruling St. Canard with an iron fist and levying harsh punishments on even the most minor offenses. Lifetime imprisonment for jaywalking, maybe... or was it littering? Either way it was probably moot, Darkwarrior considered having high cholesterol a crime.
- One episode of The Batman has The Joker begin dressing as Batman and assaulting people who commit minor infractions (And his Batmobile is a go-kart...). Security camera footage shows a guy missing when he tries to throw a can behind his back into a trash can, the Joker swoops in on him and drags him screaming into the shadows. In that same Batman cartoon, The Joker poisoned the mayor's wife for having too many items in the express checkout lane at a supermarket.
- In one episode of COPS, the new Justice Unit police robots are seen from the very beginning to be very hard on very small offenses. "Crime: Jaywalking! Verdict: Guilty! Sentence: Four years hard labor!" They dole out similar sentences on a guy whose hat blew off in the wind ("littering") and a guy who parked illegally. Later, when Berserko and Ms. Demeanor rob a bank, the Justice Units let them go and claim the overwhelming evidence as "circumstantial" - as we see, the Justice Units were a plot by the Big Boss to get free rein to do whatever he wants.
- The justice system in SpongeBob SquarePants pretty much is this trope. If you litter, if you have no front license plate, IF YOU RUN A STOP SIGN; you better believe they will be ready to take you to jail.
- There are a bunch of Real Life examples of people being locked up for life for relatively minor third crimes under "three strikes" laws.
- Bill Clinton was impeached for having an extramarital affair in the Oval Office.
- Bill was impeached for perjury because he lied under oath about having an extramarital affair... had he just said -I like thick chicks.- He'd have been fine from a legal standpoint. He no doubt lost a few points for trying to question the definition of "IS" as well.
- In California the Vehicle Code states that there is an implied crosswalk at any public access driveway, so it shouldn't be jaywalking if you cross next to where a store's driveway lets out onto the street.
- The case of Raquel Nelson, who elected to jaywalk from the bus stop to reach home across the street, as opposed to walking over half a mile, burdened with bags of groceries while keeping track her three tired young children, to cross through nearest painted crosswalk. A drunk driver hit the group, killing her son. The kicker? She gets convicted of second-degree vehicular homicide, reckless conduct, and yes, jaywalking! She doesn't even own a car!! The drunk driver, who was on his third DUI accident, plead out and served a mere 6 months for hit-and-run (with the rest of the 5-year sentence on probation), while she gets 36 months! The conviction was later changed to community service and probation.