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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Marine Fights Conviction for Suicide Attempt

Pvt. Lazzaric T. Caldwell
Associated Press
Originally Published February 3, 2012

HAGERSTOWN, Md. - A discharged Marine private who slit his wrists in a suicide attempt is fighting his military conviction for deliberately injuring himself, arguing the punishment is inconsistent with the armed forces' efforts to battle a rise in suicides during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It's not clear how often the Marines or any other service branch prosecute active duty members for trying to kill themselves. But the defense lawyer for Pvt. Lazzaric T. Caldwell says it's wrong to punish service members with mental health problems for genuine suicide attempts. Suicide prevention has become a priority across the military as numbers climbed in the past decade with the increasing stress of combat and multiple deployments in the wars.

Caldwell, 25, of Camp Pendleton, Calif., never deployed to a war zone but was diagnosed in 2009 with post-traumatic stress disorder and a personality disorder, according to court records. In 2010, he slashed his wrists in his barracks at Camp Schwab in Okinawa, Japan.

He pleaded guilty at a court-martial that year to "intentional self-injury without intent to avoid service," a criminal charge that the government says helps maintain good order and discipline in the armed forces. The charge is sometimes used in self-injury cases when there isn't enough evidence to prove malingering, military justice experts say.

Caldwell was sentenced to 180 days in jail and a bad conduct discharge. Military rules allow an appeal after a guilty plea in some cases, but Caldwell's initial appeal to the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals was denied in December. 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.

"I think it definitely touches important issues which are affecting all the branches of the armed forces right now," Hanzel said in a telephone interview from Bremerton, Wash.

Military prosecutors didn't immediately respond to requests for comment on the case. In an appellate brief, the government stated that Caldwell "was not charged with, or convicted of, attempting suicide. He was charged with, and properly convicted of, intentionally injuring himself to the prejudice of good order and discipline or the discredit of the service."

The entire story is here.