Sirius himself says at some point in Goblet of Fire that Crouch pushed through legislation to have him convicted and thrown in Azkaban without a trial.

There seems to be a general consensus, specifically voiced by Fudge but also implicit in Crouch pushing through this legislation, that Sirius was considered one of Voldemort’s innermost, most dangerous, and most trusted right hands. Easily as inner-circle as the Lestranges, for example.

It seems quite unlikely to me that someone so close to Voldemort should not be a Death Eater—apart from Fenrir Greyback (who I would think is much less inner-circle), I do not recall hearing of any of Voldemort’s important servants not being Death Eaters.

As far as canon describes, all Death Eaters have the Dark Mark magic-tattooed on their arm, to be used as a way for Voldemort to summon them to him. Considering that Karkaroff, who had definitely burnt all his Death Eater bridges, still had the Dark Mark, I am assuming that getting rid of the Mark is not possible: once it’s on, it stays on.

Yet, as Hermione points out in Order of the Phoenix (ch. 16, “In the Hog’s Head”), Sirius does not have the Dark Mark.

So why was he so swiftly convicted and locked up? I mean, I know they were eager to be seen to be doing something (as Fudge keeps pointing out is his excuse for most of the miscarriages of justice he commits)… but seriously, did no one think to check if Sirius actually had a Dark Mark on his arm or not? Did the Ministry of Magic not even know at the time that all Death Eaters had the Mark? Or were they just happy to accept—without the scrutiny of a full trial—that a non-Death Eater would commit mass murder for a Voldemort who was presumed defeated?

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    If the downvoter would care to add an explanation for why they downvoted, I would be happy to try to improve the question accordingly. Apr 26, 2015 at 14:25
  • 3
    Highly related: Why not question Sirius with Veritaserum?
    – Dacio
    Apr 26, 2015 at 17:51
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    @JanusBahsJacquet - some people just want to watch the world burn. +1 to offset - excellent question! Apr 27, 2015 at 1:57
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    I'm pretty sure the Dark Marks vanished after Voldemort's death, as per Karkaroff and Snape's conversations about it getting darker in the weeks preceding his return. So the Wizengamot couldn't have known if Sirius had one or not
    – childcat15
    Apr 27, 2015 at 20:12
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    I always assumed Sirius was convicted for killing Peter Pettigrew - and since everyone, including Sirius himself thought he killed Peter, why wouldn't he be convicted?
    – nikie
    Apr 28, 2015 at 20:46

7 Answers 7


I suspect that much of the rumours about Sirius (he's the worst of the worst, Voldemort's inner circle, etc.) spread after he was convicted, and that, like you said, they were eager to be seen to be doing something.

You don't need the Dark Mark to betray people to Voldemort. As far as we know, Pettigrew didn't have the Dark Mark until after he'd betrayed the Potters. The Ministry might have assumed that Sirius was an "aspiring Death Eater" - working towards helping Voldemort as much as he could have. He wasn't imprisoned for being part of Voldemort's inner circle or being a Death Eater - he was imprisoned for (a) betraying the Potters, and (b) killing twelve people. These actions could both have been viewed as trying to get close to Voldemort, even if he had not been accepted.

As Dumbledore said, Sirius did not act like an innocent man. At the scene of the twelve murders, he laughs maniacally. I don't believe it's ever explicitly said that he defends his innocence (the implication is that he's too gobsmacked at Pettigrew's weaseling). This kind of action would elevate Sirius' status - from someone who wants to be part of Voldemort's inner circle, to sociopath levels of killing, as far as the Ministry is concerned. Then, as rumours fly around and everyone gets the wrong end of the stick, it's easy to go from "Friend of the Potters", to "Betrayed the Potters", through "Murder of innocents while laughing" to "I heard he was Voldemort's most ruthless supporter".

So, in conclusion, I would guess that:

So why was he so swiftly convicted and locked up? I mean, I know they were eager to be seen to be doing something (as Fudge keeps pointing out is his excuse for most of the miscarriages of justice he commits)… but seriously, did no one think to check if Sirius actually had a Dark Mark on his arm or not?

They were keen to be seen to be doing something; and were probably aware that Sirius was not a full Death Eater.

Did the Ministry of Magic not even know at the time that all Death Eaters had the Mark? Or were they just happy to accept—without the scrutiny of a full trial—that a non-Death Eater would commit mass murder for a Voldemort who was presumed defeated?

They were happy to accept that a non-Death Eater would commit mass murder - but not necessarily for Voldemort's sake. Remember the circumstances of the twelve murders (from the Ministry's perspective) - they were not carefully planned assassinations of important Order members, designed to bring Voldemort to power. It was about Black - it was poor, innocent Peter who had confronted Black, and the rest were collateral damage. The Ministry didn't view this as mass murder for a defeated Voldemort - I suspect they viewed the betrayal of the Potters as attempts to impress the Dark Lord, while the mass murder (and ensued laughing) was evidence that he was crazy, deranged and bent on vengeance and destruction, and should not be allowed on the streets. Thus, he was thrown in jail, partly to appease the public that they'd found the person responsible for the Potters' deaths, and partly because he was genuinely viewed as a danger to the public - his actions seemed excessive and unpredictable, unlike say the Malfoys, who never seemed to do anything if it didn't help them in some way.


Not all Death Eaters, or those in their employ, had a Dark Mark, so the lack of a Dark Mark did not indicate automatic innocence from Death Eater activities:

Harry thought he knew why Greyback was not calling Voldemort. The werewolf might be allowed to wear Death Eater robes when they wanted to use him, but only Voldemort’s inner circle were branded with the Dark Mark: Greyback had not been granted this highest honour.

Deathly Hallows - pages 267 - 268 - Chapter twenty-three, *Malfoy Manor - Bloomsbury

  • Only those Death Eaters in Voldemort's immediate inner circle were granted the privilege of the Dark Mark.
  • The Death Eaters employ non-Death Eaters to do their business.
  • The lack of a Dark Mark on Sirius would not necessarily suggest innocence; the Ministry could have checked for a Dark Mark, but the lack of one wouldn't mean Sirius wasn't a Death Eater.
  • I can't think of an instance in canon where Ministry officials actually refer to Sirius as a Death Eater. Rather, they defer to terms such as "mass murderer, Sirius Black."
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    I suppose that depends on how you define Death Eater. Greyback was not a Death Eater if you ask me—Voldemort may have employed ‘halfbreeds’ and giants and other such beings in his service, but he would never have let anyone but a pure-blood human become an actual Death Eater. My point was really that all descriptions we have of Sirius’ supposed status are of someone in Voldemort’s innermost circle. And it seems unlikely to me that Voldemort would let anyone but a true Death Eater that far in. Apr 26, 2015 at 14:22
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    If that's what you meant, that's what you should have said. Questions are not best served when based on personal theory -- perhaps that's your personal definition of what constitutes a Death Eater, but canon says otherwise. I've given you a canon answer that defines who can have a Dark Mark, and the fact that some Death Eaters do not have the Dark Mark. That's what J.K. Rowling wrote. :) Apr 26, 2015 at 14:27
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    But does canon ever actually say exactly who is and who isn't a Death Eater? Unless I'm misremembering, Snape specifically says at the end of GoF that all Death Eaters have Dark Marks. Where does canon/JKR define what the difference between someone who supports and helps Voldemort and a Death Eater is? Apr 26, 2015 at 14:30
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    Yes, just checked—his exact words are: “There. The Dark Mark. It is not as clear as it was, an hour or so ago, when it burnt black, but you can still see it. Every Death Eater had the sign burnt into him by the Dark Lord. It was a means of distinguishing each other, and his means of summoning us to him.” Apr 26, 2015 at 14:32
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    @chirlu Touché. Let me take back the full-blood bit. The right half-blood was clearly acceptable. A Muggle-born would probably find it harder to be accepted—and I believe it is canon (from some interview?) that ‘half-breeds’ were definitely not welcomed into the inner sanctum of Death Eaterness. Apr 26, 2015 at 20:20

We know from the end of Goblet of Fire that a number of Death Eaters were found innocent, at around the same time that Sirius was convicted:

'Look, I saw Voldemort come back!' Harry shouted. He tried to get out of bed again, but Mrs Weasley forced him back. 'I saw the Death Eaters! I can give you their names! Lucius Malfoy -'

Snape made a suddent movement, but as Harry looked at him, Snape's eyes flew back to Fudge.

'Malfoy was cleared!' said Fudge, visibly affronted. 'A very old family - donations to excellent causes -'

'Macnair!' Harry continued.

'Also cleared! Now working for the Ministry!'

'Avery - Nott - Crabbe - Goyle -'

'You are merely repeating the names of those who were acquitted of being Death Eaters thirteen years ago!' said Fudge angrily.

We know these Death Eaters had Dark Marks, because that is how Voldemort summoned them to him after his resurrection.

The only reasonable conclusion is that either the Dark Marks were invisible or that the Ministry simply did not know to look for them.

It would be a sensible precaution on Voldemort's part to have designed the Dark Marks to be invisible except when he wished them to be seen, and personally this is my preferred interpretation. We do know that they change in some way according to his wishes.

However, I believe Hermione made a comment at one point about it being obvious even to the Ministry that Sirius was innocent (after his death) because he didn't have a Dark Mark. That suggests that the Dark Marks are visible, but perhaps indistinct enough to be overlooked if you don't know what you're looking for, and that the Ministry didn't know about them until after the battle at the end of Order of the Phoenix. (Of course, Snape told Fudge about them at the end of Goblet of Fire but Fudge didn't want to believe it.)

Dumbledore presumably knew about them from Snape, and could have told the Ministry about them during the first war or after Voldemort's disappearance. However, if he had done so, it would not have been possible for Snape to pretend to have remained loyal to Voldemort, and Dumbledore may well have felt (correctly, as it turned out!) that this was more important.

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    I don't think I quite agree with your only reasonable solution. I myself had always assumed that these people were acquitted despite their Dark Marks because they managed to convince (which probably frequently meant ‘bribe’) the Ministry that they had not been acting of their own accord, but under force, Imperius curses, and what have you. Certainly that is true of Karkaroff, who openly admitted to having been a Death Eater at his retrial. Voldemort also indicates that it is true of other not-so-ex-Death Eaters in the graveyard at the end of GoF. Apr 28, 2015 at 0:57
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    @JanusBahsJacquet: someone acting under the Imperius curse (or similar) would not be a Death Eater and would not have been given the Dark Mark. It is I suppose possible that the Ministry knew about Dark Marks but thought Voldemort gave them away like candy - that they were merely a means of communication rather than a badge of honour - that seems unlikely to me, but it works out the same regardless. If the presence of a Dark Mark doesn't mean someone is a Death Eater, than certainly its absence doesn't mean that someone isn't. Apr 28, 2015 at 4:07
  • can't remember where (if anyone else knows, please speak up), but I seem to recall there being a reference somewhere in either the Goblet of Fire book or movie about the Dark Mark on Snape and Karkaroff's arms getting stronger as Voldemort got closer to coming back. it's plausible that if trials were held after Voldemort's "defeat" the Mark all but disappeared off Death Eaters' arms to the point where the Ministry couldn't actually tell. again, citation needed, but still.
    – strugee
    Dec 9, 2016 at 1:11
  • @strugee: yes, that's in the book. (I have no idea whether it is also in the movie or not.) Towards the end, where Dumbledore, Snape, and Harry are trying to convince Fudge that V is back. There are also a few (less explicit) references to it earlier on. Dec 10, 2016 at 1:27

You got the right quote you needed to answer your question and yet didn't get to see the answer was here :

“There. The Dark Mark. It is not as clear as it was, an hour or so ago, when it burnt black, but you can still see it. Every Death Eater had the sign burnt into him by the Dark Lord. It was a means of distinguishing each other, and his means of summoning us to him.”

And Karkaroff all year long go and see Snape to talk about the reappearing of the Mark, and how that means Voldemort is getting stronger.

It means that the Mark is visible when Voldemort is powerful but it disappears when he is weak. Thus, for all the Death Eaters caught after Voldemort's downfall, it would not have been visible, no need for a disillusionment charm.

That's how Malfoy, MacNair & Cie could be cleared even with the Dark Mark on their arms, and how Sirius could still be suspected of being a Death Eater.


In OotP, Hermione says

"The trouble is, until V-Voldemort - oh for heavens sake, Ron - comes out into the open, Sirius is going to have to stay hidden, isn't he? I mean, the stupid Ministry isn't going to realize that Sirius is innocent until they accept that Dumbledore's been telling the truth about him all along. And once the fools start catching real Death Eaters again, it'll be obvious Sirius isn't one. . . I mean, he hasn't got the mark for one thing."

Also, the ministry had several eye witnesses, and lots of evidence, like Peter Pettigrew's finger, and the fact that when the ministry arrived on scene, they found Sirius laughing, and then Sirius went willingly with the ministry.


My hypothesis to the question "Why was Sirius ever convicted?" is: Only one of the nearest four friends or aquaintance Pettigrew, Lupin, Sirius or Dumbledore could ever betray the exact location of the Potters to Voldemort, one of them was the secret keeper (Fidelius Charm). Lily and James Potter thought that no one would ever suspect Peter Pettigrew as the secret keeper, since he was just the follower of their group and had the image of a weakling in opposite to Sirius. And since Pettigrew seemed to had "died" as an "hero" at the murder night, the suspect could either be Lupin, Black or Dumbledore. No one would ever suspect Dumbledore to be the one, since he had openly opposed to Voldemort ever since. Black on the other hand always had the dare-devil image. However, I cannot say why Lupin never was suspected.


Because someone didn't want Sirius Black being set free.

Crouch even ensured that his son had a trial. There was no good reason for Sirius to not be given a Trial except someone was plotting against him.

Hagrid was sent to grab Harry and take him to the Dursley's where Dumbledore was waiting the exact same night that Harry's parents died. Sirius didn't "kill" Pettigrew and the Muggles until the next day.

To put this in Auror terms Dumbledore had Hagrid kidnap a child and contaminate a crime scene in doing so. Harry just survived the killing curse and isn't seen by any healers. Being the Chief Warlock doesn't mean that outside of the Wizengamot he can make blanket decisions for the whole Wizarding World. Dumbledore isn't the king and he isn't even minister.

This action puts suspicion on Dumbledore as being one who was plotting against Sirius. Even if he doesn't know Sirius was not the secret keeper, which why would be kept out of the loop on that if he is their leader? That's kind of important information for someone to know and Dumbledore wouldn't have gossipped about who the secret keeper was. He doesn't even tell his own people what they need to know.

Everything that Dumbledore does is to mold Harry into someone who cares enough to save everyone else but places no value on his own life. I would go on but yeah basically Sirius didn't get a trial because Dumbledore's plans required Harry growing up in the least hospitable environment possible and at the end of a war fewer people are likely to raise a fuss if you assure them Harry was placed with Family. After all he wasn't the boy who lived until someone told them he had survived a curse that at that moment none of them could know he had survived.

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    "Dumbledore's plans required Harry growing up in the least hospitable environment possible" - [citation needed], but doesn't Dumbledore visit the Dursleys in _Deathly Hallows_(?) and get mad at them for not providing Harry with a decent home? Petunia in particular? if I recall correctly he sends her a bunch of Howlers.
    – strugee
    Dec 9, 2016 at 1:16
  • @strugee I believe that it was Half-Blood Prince that Dumbledore came to the Dursleys and berated them. Right before the mission to recruit Slughorn Feb 15, 2018 at 2:27
  • @MatthewBarclay ugh, I wish I had the books in front of me but I don't think that's it. at least in the movie Dumbledore gets Harry while he's out and about, and IIRC it's the same in the book.
    – strugee
    Feb 16, 2018 at 1:08
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    @strugee the movie completely got rid of the Dursleys for books 4 and 6. In the book, Harry Potter was at No. 4, Privet Drive when Dumbledore came to get him. The movies never have the Dursleys being told off by Dumbledore Feb 16, 2018 at 2:30

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