During the final court scene in A Few Good Men when Kaffee is confronting Jessup after his outburst, Kaffee gives him the following small speech:

Don't call me son. I'm a lawyer, and an officer in the United States Navy, and you're under arrest you son of a bitch.

Congress in its wisdom long ago decided that individuals in the military services could not be governed by civilian penal codes, so they drafted the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). There are a few different ones that cover language and conduct towards officers and especially superior officers. Notably, Articles 89, 117 and 134. Article 117 especially states:

Any person subject to this chapter who uses provoking or reproachful words or gestures towards any other person subject to this chapter shall be punished as a court-martial may direct

Obviously, the movie ends very shortly thereafter, however, why didn't Jessup or the presiding judge either admonish or charge Kaffee with violation of one of these articles?

  • 3
    Probably for the same reason they kicked the two enlisted guys out for "Conduct Unbecoming a Marine" which actually doesn't exist (it's Conduct Unbecoming an Officer). The movies get it wrong, sometimes intentionally to make for a better story. But, that's JMHO. Apr 9, 2014 at 17:07
  • 1
    I thought Kaffe was provoked with "u have fucked the wrong Marine" attempted attack by Jessup Apr 10, 2014 at 4:01
  • @KharoBangdo - There was another monologue between that outburst and when Kaffee speaks, ending with Jessup saying "All you did was weaken a country today, son." in a relatively calm (if contemptuous) manner.
    – JohnP
    Apr 10, 2014 at 4:44
  • I'm not sure if a real answer to your question exists. It could be up to the judge to reprimand and maybe he deemed it an appropriate response. It could be that once arrested in that setting Jessup could no longer be treated as an officer. Also there is the extra consideration that no matter rank all are equal to the military law. Meaning the lowest ranking MP has a right and responsibility to arrest the highest ranking General. May 21, 2014 at 19:31
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    @KevinHowell - It depends. Confinees (on charges, awaiting trial) are generally permitted things not allowed prisoners (Convicted, serving sentence) such as giving/returning salutes, etc. They have the same presumptions we do, it's just that the burdens of proof and some other considerations differ from civilian law. It's kind of a convoluted system, but it protects military from things like a civilian court charging a military member with murder for shooting someone during war.
    – JohnP
    May 21, 2014 at 19:40

2 Answers 2


Court martials are not some sort of magically fairy effect that shimmers into existence as soon as a soldier does something naughty. A court martial has a convening authority. Much like a civil trial, somebody has to file charges. After such a high-profile, emotionally charged case involving conspiracy and murder, it's unlikely that anybody is going to file charges for potty mouth.

You generally don't seen it in Hollywood courtroom drama, but there are often ancillary charges that go along with the "big" criminal charges. Somebody who commits murder is not only charged for the murder, but they'd also face weapons charges for whatever they used to do it, reckless endangerment charges if anybody else was around and could potentially have been injured, drug charges if they were on something while they did it, and so forth. Unless it was a habitual offense, a charge for language would be added to something more severe, not prosecuted by itself.


Conversation was like this:

Col. Jessep: ... I'm gonna rip the eyes out of your head and puke into your dead skull, you messed with the wrong marine!

Capt. Ross: Colonel Jessep, do you understand these rights as I have just read them to you?


Col. Jessep: You friggin' people. You have no idea how to defend the nation. All you did was weaken a country today, Kaffee. That's all you did. You put people's lives in danger. Sweet dreams, son,

Kaffee: Don't call me son. I'm a lawyer, and an officer in the United States Navy, and you're under arrest, you son of a bitch. IMDb

As you can note Kaffee was not the one who started the provoking language neither did he seems intentionally doing it. It seems more like a response to the opposition's comment. So in that case, I think he can get clean chit or just a warning. Court-martial doesn't looks suitable here.

Note: It's a film and to get dramatic effect sometimes abusive words are used ignoring few facts, like mentioned by you.

  • 5
    It might be better if you used the actual language/transcript, rather than the edited for TV version. Additionally, the UCMJ makes no distinction of "he started it" as a defense.
    – JohnP
    Mar 9, 2015 at 14:55

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