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Military Law

Conviction for suicide attempt reversed by top military court in narrow ruling

Posted May 1, 2013 10:34 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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The military’s highest court has reversed the conviction of a serviceman who slit his wrists in a case that was closely watched because of the debate over such prosecutions.

The 3-2 decision in the case of Pvt. Lazzaric Caldwell was narrow, however, and didn’t address whether or when cases of “wrongful self-injury without intent to avoid service” may be punished under military law, report the Associated Press, McClatchy Newspapers and the Air Force Times.

Caldwell had cut his wrists with a razor after learning his mother was ill and a friend had died. He had been suffering from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and a personality disorder, and had stopped taking an anti-depressant about two weeks before, the Air Force Times says. His guilty plea was accepted without a mental health exam.

The Court of Appeals of the Armed Forces said the guilty plea was unacceptable because it didn’t establish whether Caldwell’s conduct contradicted good order and discipline or brought discredit to the armed forces, AP explains. “Therefore, we need not determine whether, as a general matter, a bona fide suicide attempt alone may be service discrediting, or is more properly considered a noncriminal matter requiring treatment not prosecution,” the majority opinion said.

About 800 active duty service members survive suicide attempts each year, according to data cited by the Air Force Times. Few result in prosecutions. The Pentagon is currently evaluating whether changes should be made to the laws pertaining to attempted suicide.

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