U.S. Military Still Considers Attempted Suicide a Crime

Thursday, November 29, 2012
Lazzaric Caldwell (photo: Denis Poroy, AP)

At a time when the US military is dealing with an epidemic of suicides, military leaders are insisting those who attempt to kill themselves should be punished.


The military has considered attempted suicide a crime since World War II, and this statute has not been seriously challenged in the courts since the Gulf War of 1990-1991, at which time it was upheld.


But the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces will hear a case next week of a discharged Marine who tried to kill himself, and decide whether his punishment—and the statute—should stand.


Lazzaric T. Caldwell admitted to his superiors that he slit his wrists in January 2010 while stationed in Okinawa, Japan. He pleaded guilty to attempting suicide and was sentenced to 180 days in the brig. He also received a bad-conduct discharge, which bars him from receiving mental health benefits.


His lawyers contend that his guilty plea be thrown out, on grounds that it is wrong to punish troops whose mental problems cause them to attempt suicide, especially at a time when suicide rates are soaring.


The U.S. Army and Navy have recorded record highs this year for suicides, with the Marine Corps and Air Force not far behind.


The military, however, insists the statute needs to remain in order to help retain discipline within the ranks.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Military Court to Review Rule Making Suicide Attempt a Crime (by Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times)

Military Appeals Court to Decide: Was Marine’s Suicide Attempt a Crime? (by Michael Doyle,  McClatchy Newspapers )

Army and Navy Set Suicide Records (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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