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You don't understand! I have a daughter and she's sick! That makes it okay for me to break the law! ...I am not a bad person.

This is a trope for when a person becomes a criminal because of socio-economic reasons, or just plain horrible circumstances. Basically a person or a group of people are in dire straits and need money immediately and become bank robbers, and drug dealers out of necessity. This trope usually occurs in crime dramas (specifically urban dramas). Also may be considered Truth in Television. And more often than not it's usually overlapped with Plethora of Mistakes. Also can be a case where a hero has to choose to do what's right despite being illegal. Or something morally dubious for a greater good. This trope almost always fall on the Grey and Grey Morality side.

Some social analysts have also have been known to refer to this as "Survival Crimes".

See also Sympathetic Criminal and Karmic Thief. Compare to: I Did What I Had to Do. See also Single Mom Stripper, in which necessity leads to degrading (but not necessarily criminal) work and Healthcare Motivation, in which the criminal wants money to pay a treatment or operation for a friend or sibling.

Examples of Justified Criminal include:

Anime and Manga

  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Heavily implied to be Kyouko's "lifestyle". Meanwhile, Homura must steal guns, bombs, rocket launchers, and even a friggin' missile to arm herself in her endless struggle against the Walpurgis Night. First she robs the yakuza dry, then she haul the armory of the JSDF. Yeah, it's that kind of story.
  • The first anime of Fullmetal Alchemist has an episode where Ed and Al meet a thief who claims to rob so she can support the local hospital. The hospital still goes belly-up, revealing that the thief actually subverted this trope by keeping the riches for herself. She subsequently becomes a nun, so she can lie about supporting the local church, and then a teacher, so she can claim to help keep the school afloat.

Comic Books

  • Fagin the Jew, Will Eisner's revision of Oliver Twist, portrays the eponymous character in this light.
  • In the super-comic miniseries The Pro, the eponymous character is a new superhero on the ersatz Justice League.... and a career prostitute with a kid. Spectacular levels of gag-a-maggot self justification abound. A typical example of the writer's thoughtful social commentary includes gems like:

 Speedster hero: "We're the League! We battle world destroying supervillains and cosmic perils! We've saved the world a dozen times over!"

The Pro: "Too bad you couldn't save a world where I didn't have to (engage in oral sex) to feed my kid."


  • Joe Chill in Batman Begins, killer of the Thomas and Martha Wayne went from being a hitman in the comics to a desperate man trying to survive. Realizing this, and being deprived of the chance to kill Chill himself drives Bruce Wayne to embark on his war on crime.
  • Flint "Sandman" Marko from Spider-Man 3 was robbing banks just to help his sick daughter.
  • Michael Corleone sees himself as one, he starts as a detached from crime college student turned war hero who is dragged into the underground world first to protect his vulnerable father and then to protect his whole family. He actually uses the trope when his ex-wife confronts him.
  • The girls from the film Set It Off
  • The remake of Gone in Sixty Seconds has Nicholas Cage stealing cars to help his younger brother, who got in trouble promising too much to a crime lord. Of course, the detective investigating the thefts learns of this and lets him go in the end.
    • That Cage had just saved the cop's life may have also had something to do with it.
      • And that he'd given the cop the information to recover said cars, now that the bad guy was dead.
  • In ~How To Beat The High Co$t Of Living~ the Ragtag Band of Misfits plan and carry out a robbery because, thanks to the recession (this was set in the late 1970s) all of them are in financial straits for various reasons.
  • The film Dead Presidents follows a promising and popular inner-city high school graduate, Anthony Curtis (Larenz Tate), who decides to forego college and enter the Vietnam War as a member of the Marine Corps. Anthony survives a graphic and arduous three-plus-year stint in the jungle, but upon his homecoming, he realizes that the "real world" can be just as trying as war. His low-paying job provides little support for his new family and he becomes desperate to make ends meet. He enlists the help of his wife's sister who is a radical black panther member, some old friends and war buddies and plans a daring armored car heist which, if successful, could serve to amend his past and brighten his future... And of course EVERYTHING goes horribly wrong.
  • Straight Out of Brooklyn is a gritty story about Dennis, an African-American teen living in a housing project with his sister, mother and abusive, alcoholic father. Fed up with his family's seemingly hopeless future, he plans with his friends to rob a drug dealer. Of course the consequences is like a domino effect which leads to a very bitterly cruel Everybody's Dead, Dave ending.
  • V in V for Vendetta.
  • Dr. Richard Kimble in The Fugitive.
  • In Aladdin, the only thing that the title character steals is food, and no one but the completely heartless would blindly condemn that. The merchants and guards don't see it that way.

 Alladin: "Gotta eat to live, gotta steal to eat. Otherwise we'd get along."


  • Half the point of Les Misérables; justified because the messed-up justice system of the time is what the book is about. Making Valjean a justified Justified Criminal. The book also makes it clear that the poverty of the Thenardiers is no excuse; so perhaps it's the Heel Face Turn that's important and Valjean is really The Atoner.
    • Valjean's original crime was stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister and her children, however he broke a window to steal that bread, making it burglery. By the time he gets out of prison, he can't get a job (because he's a convict). It should also be noted that most of what Valjean steals he might have been given, had he asked (the bread, and bishop's silver). Also, Valjean only stole from those who could afford it, whereas the Thenardiers extortion forced Fantine into prostitution, which caused her death.
  • Henry from The Time Travelers Wife, because when you end up being dropped naked into unexpected situations, odds are you're going to have to steal clothes and beat up on anyone who decides to come after you when you're in a vulnerable state.
  • A lot of people and governments in World War Z do things that would put them in jail (or worse) if it wasn't for the crazy circumstances.
  • In the book series Maximum Ride the main characters often steal in order to survive and to get to where they need to go including stealing a van and somebody's ATM card+ pin number.
  • In On the Run, the main characters find themselves having to steal food, clothes, even cars in order to survive in their quest to prove their parents' innocence.
  • A couple examples from the Dark Life series: The Seablite gang from book one and the Drift surfs from Rip Tide. They don't have any other options.

Live Action TV

  • Most of the teens from the HBO series The Corner (which is inspired by a true story)
  • Most of the things that Michael and Lincoln do on the tv show Prison Break. Unfortunately there's a lot of collateral damage.
  • In ~24~, Jack Bauer breaks a lot of laws and civil rights to stop terrorists.
  • The entire point of Breaking Bad: Chem teacher cooks meth to pay for cancer treatment and leave an inheritance for his wife and children.
    • Also deconstructs this trope, as it is clear that he's doing it out of pride of his own accomplishments for the most part.
  • River and Simon Tam on Firefly. In their case they are criminals primarily because the Alliance said so rather than for anything they did.
    • Technically, they could have Simon for Impersonating an Alliance Officer and Assaulting Alliance Personnel, but let's face it, the man was still justified.
  • Michael Westen on Burn Notice. Because he helps the helpless, especially children.
  • The brothers Winchester on Supernatural can't get legitimate work due to their monster-hunting activities, so they support themselves through credit card fraud, hustling, and the occasional act of burglary. Sam also has a habit of boosting cars when he's separated from Dean.
  • Iljimae Il Ji-mae, Yong, Swe-Dol, and arguably the Castor Oil Gang.
  • Played with in Power Rangers Time Force, where Fantastic Racism against mutants drove them to crime; one called Notacon even says he only landed in jail because he stole food to survive. On the other hand, Notacon's the exception; all the others we see are all too happy to play Monster of the Week.


  • A lot of socially conscious gangsta rap would explain this in bleak gritty detail, usually by rappers who would put it in proper context. Rappers like Ice-T, Ice Cube, and 2pac are mostly known for their justified crime tales, like the two hip-hop quotes from above.
  • Probably about half of all folk songs ever.


  • King David entering the holy temple to eat the "showbread" - consecrated loaves that only priests are allowed to eat - along with his starving men. The priests allow him to do it, but it's still a violation of Mosaic law. Jesus recounts this incident as a Take That to the "law-abiding" Pharisees


  • The music-theatre piece Der Silbersee (The Silver Lake) by Kurt Weill. Severin is driven by stavation to rob a grocery store. Police officer Olim debates with himself whether to cut Severin some slack. He does, and more than that.

Video Games

  • The Big Bad's Motive Rant at the end of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker has shades of this.
  • Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas includes references to this, including one instance where Sweet outright says that he and Carl robbed people at gunpoint for the money for both their mother's lifesaving operation and to put their sister through college.
    • In fact, the whole plot of San Andreas employs this trope, as CJ involves himself in many dangerous, morally questionable activities (stealing cars to fund a dealership, infiltrating Area 69, robbing a mob-owned casino) in order to rescue his brother from prison and his family/neighborhood from internal and external destruction.
  • Played with in Ace Attorney with Phantom Thief Mask*DeMasque. Why does he steal? To support his wife's shopping habit. Since he is afraid she'll leave him if he's not as rich as he says he is, he hasn't considered just telling her to cut down on the spending sprees.
    • In the fourth game, Drew Misham, a starving artist, decides to use his daughter's artistic talents to create forgeries in order to support them both.
  • Dragon Age brings us the casteless dwarves. Due to their ancestry, these dwarves are disallowed legitimate jobs and segregated from the main population. As such, they're usually forced into some form of criminality just to feed themselves. Towards the end of Origins, if you help Prince Bhelen become king he abolishes the caste system, freeing every dwarf including casteless to do what they want.
  • The city-nation of Champa in Golden Sun: The Lost Age is driven to piracy when the world upheaval of the plot ruins their fishing waters, the only reliable resource they had (there's a master blacksmith and an ancient Magitek forge, but no workable ore). There's indicated to be some reprieve after Briggs finds an island cave full of treasures, but thirty years later they've returned to piracy.

Web Comics

  • Volkonir Meets the Power Rangers has Kayla, and boy does her story ever add up to her eventually turning to crime! After being kidnapped in Texas and missing too many days of school before she is finally rescued, a mean judge sends her to jail for a few days. (This was before 2015, when truancy in Texas was decriminalized.) Since then, she had difficulty finding a job, as the judge spitefully refused to let her juvie records be sealed. As such, she faced discrimination almost everywhere. Her father went MIA during the War in Iraq, and her mother died of stomach cancer. This forced her to the streets - where she was eventually raped by a complete stranger ambushing her from behind some shrubbery.
    • The rapist later tried to kill her, but she outsmarted him into falling off a building to his death - and then fled to avoid being charged with manslaughter.
    • She later took odd jobs to live on the streets, as no one would take her in. She got pregnant from the rape, gave birth, and continued to get odd jobs to support herself and her daughter.
    • She tried prostitution one time, but felt guilty and filthy afterward and vowed never to do it again.
    • When homeless shelters wouldn't take her and her daughter in, she was reduced to breaking into vacation cabins to survive the winter. No one was able to prove she did it, however.
    • She first got in trouble, ironically, for refusing to commit a crime: she wouldn't help a "friend" on the streets with a drug shipment. As such, she was sold out to a Gwirdon-sympathizing and otherwise dirty CPS agent.
    • When said agent tried to abduct her daughter, Lucy, the toddler took advantage of Kayla's feisty resistance and ran away from everyone - toward a creek. Unfortunately, Lucy fell into the creek and got swept away and drowned.
    • Kayla retaliated by punching the CPS agent and breaking his nose. This earned her 14 months in prison. To add insult to insult, they sent her to one in Texas - after she'd years ago moved to Wyoming!
    • Toward the comic's end, she explains how nearly all of Team Volkonir could be indicted for something or another, if a mean-spirited-enough malicious prosecutor looked hard enough into their operation to defeat Gwirmalesh.

Western Animation

  • Scott Lang from The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes helped Crossfire rob banks to pay for the medical treatment of Scott's daughter, Cassie. Some time after Cassie got cured of her disease, Crossfire kidnapped her to make Scott pay him a share of the stolen money. This prompted Scott to steal Hank Pym's Ant-Man suit so he could quickly pull off a solo bank heist.


  A man has a loved one dying from cancer. The pharmacist holds the cure but is charging ten times the cost of the drug. Try as he may, the man can only gather half the money the pharmacist demands. The pharmacist refuses to budge. Should the man steal the drug? Why (not)?

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