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Movies and the Law

Choose one of the following movies and send a brief summary of the story line including the ethical dilemma facing the attorney. Suggested movies are as follows:

Criminal Law

Penalty Phase

Presumed Innocent

Erin Brokovich

A Time to Kill

Runaway Jury

The Firm

A Few Good Men

The Rainmaker

Analyze the ethical dilemme presented in the movie by writing 1400 - 1750 words about the following topics:

Summarize the movie plot

Describe the ethical dilemma from the perspective of each of the main characters involved

Describe how the dillemma was resolved

Describe the type of ethical framework that best describes how the dilema was analyzed and resolved by the characters involved

Consider whether the ethical framework used to resolve the dilemma was an effective solution. would a different framework have resulted in a better outcome?

Explain why you think legal dramas and dilemmas make for interesting entertainment.

Solution Preview

A Few Good Men - if you haven't ever seen this movie, you should - it's amazing.

Anyway...ethical dilemma:

In the movie, "A Few Good Men" Jack Nicholson is a military officer who has covered up a murder. When he is in court on the witness stand, Nicholson, yells, "You want to know the truth? You want to know the truth? Well, you can't handle the truth." Nicholson's testimony is that some military crimes must be covert for national security purposes. He implies that it is acceptable to murder one cadet who isn't going along with the rest of the company. He states it is acceptable for him to lie about the incident under oath to protect the company involved as well as the military overall.

We believe this is an ethical dilemma for three reasons: 1. A murder has been committed. It is not acceptable to take a human life merely because this individual doesn't get along with the rest of the company. 2. The investigation of the murder is hindered. It is not acceptable to lie about the cause of death in an effort to preserve public relations or personal esteem. 3. Cadets and officers lie under oath in court. It is unacceptable to lie in court. The military has determined that it is essential this case be investigated and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. A sub-group in the military can't make its own rules of military morality.

In analyzing this critical incident, we stipulate first that the murder was wrong. The murder was immoral in every sense and those causing the murder should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. We further stipulate that it is unacceptable for a coverup of the murder. Jack Nicholson defends the practice of lying under an area of lying covered by Plato.

Plato gave support for some lies when he said: "It is the business of the rulers of the city, if it is anybody's, to tell lies, deceiving both its enemies and its own citizens for the benefit of the city; and no one else must touch this privilege."(1)

If using the Plato type justification for the coverup, Nicholson and those around him have a deluded sense of their place in national security. Their actions are not for the preservation of military. Their actions and lies are for preservation of their own positions...

Kant declares: "A lie is a lie...whether it be told with good or bad intent...But if a lie does no harm to anyone and no one's interests are affected by it, is it a lie? Certainly."(2) Kant believes truthfulness is a duty, an "unconditional duty which holds in all circumstances."(3) According to the categorical imperative, if there is even one case in which it is acceptable to lie and honesty can be overridden, then the perfect" status of the duty not to lie is compromised. Kant is most strident in not allowing for even a seemingly innocent lie, which could save a life instead of causing harm. He merely asserts that if something terrible happens it is not your fault. The terrible act is something wholly unjustified in the first place.(4)

Duty is often represented by Kant and his deontological views on lying. Kant tells us that it is never acceptable to lie, and places this on the level of a moral law, or a "categorical imperative." He contends that lies always harm others--the individual or society. "To be truthful (honest) in all declarations, therefore, is a sacred and absolutely commanding decree of reason, limited by no expediency."(5)

Utilitarian Jeremy Bentham also would not allow for the Nicholson defense of the coverup. Bentham delivered a frothy lecture to England's judges who were using their power and lying to the people. Bentham sees nothing more abhorrent than using lies and power to further one's position....(6)

Our group finds this incident to be an example of a series of unethical behaviors. The justification for the behaviors is weak, with hundreds of years of morality, ethics, and laws written in opposition to Nicholson's rationale.

On any list of the most memorable movie quotes of the last 25 years, probably of all time, this one makes the cut. You may not have seen the film, but you've definitely heard the quote, even if you didn't know the source. The line is also a good summary of the entire film, even if it too often overshadows an excellent motion picture. Yes, the courtroom scenes are Hollywood-ized, but isn't that why movies exist?

Adapted by Aaron Sorkin (Sports Night, The West Wing) from his stage play, A Few Good Men merges a coming-of-age story into a military courtroom drama. Tom Cruise stars as Lt. Daniel Kaffee, a smart-aleck JAG lawyer whose career is on (ahem) cruise control until he runs into Lt. Cmdr. JoAnne Galloway (Demi Moore) and her relentless, over-achieving work ethic. Together with Lt. Sam Weinberg (Kevin Pollak), they are sent to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, where a Marine has died under suspicious circumstances beneath the command of Nicholson's Col. Jessup. As Kaffee and company investigate, they unearth continually deepening layers of ethics and questions that lead to answers that perhaps should have been left covered.

Although the aforementioned quote is the most famous part of A Few Good Men, the film is much more than just that explosive exchange between Nicholson and Cruise. The first act of the film could almost be classified as a comedy, due to Cruise's spot-on performance of the young Kaffee and his laissez faire demeanor that prefers the softball diamond to the courtroom. But over two hours, the tone seamlessly coalesces into a drama filled with legitimate moral questions. The remarkable mixture of humor and poignancy sinks its teeth into you and refuses to relent, demanding repeat viewings. Go ahead, try to flip the channel when this movie is on (which is often). You'll find yourself entranced, watching and waiting for the climactic final scene, when Nicholson spews the thunderous trademark line.

The fantastic content is accentuated by a cast that is stunningly strong from top to bottom. Cruise and Nicholson headline with their powerhouse performances, even though Cruise is playing his normal role as a brash young gun who faces adversity and learns about both life and himself. He deserves credit not only for one of his best turns, but also for ceding to Nicholson when necessary, permitting the veteran actor to dominate the film, despite appearing in only three scenes.

Moore and Pollak transform roles that are only slightly more than ...

Solution Summary

Movies that deal with the criminal justice system and examples of ethical situations/dilemmas the attorney faced in the movie.