US Marine Fights Conviction for Suicide Attempt
The armed forces might think legal action is the best way to battle the increasing numbers of suicides among those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan but Pvt. Lazzaric T. Caldwell disagrees.
Pvt. Caldwell, a discharged Marine, is fighting a conviction that says he deliberately injured himself after slitting his wrists in a suicide attempt in his barracks at Camp Schwab in Okinawa, Japan in 2010. That year, he plead guilty to “intentional self-injury without intent to avoid service,” a charge sometimes used in self-injury cases when there isn’t enough evidence to prove malingering, military justice experts say, and one that is supposed to help maintain good order and discipline in the armed forces. .
Despite never being deployed, Pvt. Caldwell was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and a personality disorder in 2009. Still, he was sentenced to 180 days in jail and given a bad conduct discharge. Caldwell’s initial appeal to the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals was denied in December, but his lawyer, Navy Lt. Mike Hanzel, said this week he will ask the military’s highest court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces in Washington, to hear the case.
“If you succeed in committing suicide your service is treated honorably and your family receives full benefits,” Hanzel wrote in an email to The Associated Press. “If you are unsuccessful in a genuine suicide attempt, you can receive a federal conviction and get a bad-conduct discharge and jail time, which is what happened to Pvt Caldwell.”
In 2010, Caldwell told the court he tried to kill himself minutes after he was told he was going to await trial on charges including larceny for allegedly helping a friend steal a belt from a local shop. The previous day, he also learned of a friend’s death and said those events, in addition to the deaths of several family members, a stabbing by his former fiance, and 60-day confinement for other alleged offenses and personal problems led him to slit his wrists.
Caldwell said in a telephone interview he was surprised to learn he would be charged with self-injury and that he took the plea, thinking it was the quickest way to get back to his sick mother. The bad-conduct discharge also made him ineligible for certain veteran’s benefits, and he’s currently getting no mental-health treatment.
“I thought it was unfair and I thought it was just kind of morally wrong to punish somebody for something of that nature,” he said.
“Seeing the kind of state I was in, there should have been a way of getting help instead of just a punishment.”
Hopefully Caldwell and his lawyer will prevail this time around.
What do you think about Pvt. Caldwell’s situation? Are you surprised at the armed forces’ self-injury policy?
Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.
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