The notorious case of the lip biting marine

At a law alumni activity, I once had the pleasure of talking to an attorney who worked in the Navy JAG core. JAG is Judge Advocates General, and is the judicial branch of the navy. It has been sensationalized in popular culture with the phrase “You can’t handle the truth!” and an eponymus tv drama.

This officer, who we will call Lieutenant Commander (LTC) Doe, recounted to me the story of perhaps her most famous client, a marine who had been dubbed the “Lip Biter”.

The facts of the case were not in dispute. One evening some marines were in a bar drinking, dancing with their girlfriends or wives, and socializing. At some point, one of them got liquored up and imprudently made remarks which assailed the virtue of another marine’s date. Defending her honor, the aggreived marine returned fire, and in the course of the fistfight, threw the indiscreet marine down on a pool table, bent down, bit off his lip, spit it out on the floor, and stomped on it.

LTC Doe was assigned the role of criminal defense attorney for the lip biter (as he was universally referred to on base). After reading the arrest report, she was a bit nervous about meeting him. She took every precaution available, arranging to have the defendant chained hand and foot and to the table, with two marines to guard him. During the discussion, she was surprised to find the lip biter soft spoken and unfailingly polite.  He remained so throughout pendancy of the case, and attended subsequent meetings unchained.

This case quickly became the talk of the base. One day an admiral entered her office. She shot up and snapped off her best salute. She had never had someone of that high rank in her office before. Nervously inquiring how she could help him, he asked “So, you have the lip biter case?” This increased her trepidation, wondering what she had done wrong to warrant this visit. She responded “Yes, Sir!” He then inquired “Can I see the pictures?” Greatly relieved, she accomodated his request.

In the fullness of time, the case was resolved in a courts martial. The lip biter was facing perhaps 10 to 20 years in military prison, but was sentenced to something like 18 months. There was some sense that his actions, while violative of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, were not quite as violative of the unspoken Marine Code of Chivalry.

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