catch (one) red-handed

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catch (one) red-handed

To see, and perhaps apprehend, someone as they are doing something (often something nefarious). The phrase might have originally referred to blood on a murderer's hands. The police caught the robbers red-handed as they ransacked another house. Timmy tried to get into the cookie jar again, but I caught him red-handed.
See also: catch

catch someone red-handed

 and catch someone flat-footed
to catch a person in the act of doing something wrong. (See also caught red-handed.) Tom was stealing the car when the police drove by and caught him red-handed. Mary tried to cash a forged check at the bank, and the teller caught her red-handed.
See also: catch

catch red-handed

Also, catch in the act. Apprehend someone in the course of wrongdoing, as in The boys were trying to steal a car and the police caught them red-handed, or He tried to cheat on the exam, but his teacher walked in and caught him in the act. The first term referred to blood on a murderer's hands and originally signified only that crime. Later it was extended to any offense. The variant ( catch in the act) is a translation of the Latin in flagrante delicto, part of the Roman code and long used in English law.
See also: catch

catch someone red-handed

COMMON If you catch someone red-handed, you see or find them while they are doing something illegal or wrong. The burglar was on the roof and was caught red-handed by the police. They all pleaded guilty to conspiring to import drugs after being caught red-handed by customs officers. Note: The reference here is to a guilty person whose hands are covered in blood.
See also: catch, someone

catch somebody red-ˈhanded

find somebody while they are doing something wrong, committing a crime, etc: The thief was caught red-handed as she was emptying the till.This originally referred to catching a person with blood still on their hands after killing somebody.
See also: catch, somebody