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February 14, 2012

Midshipman stole to keep mom alive

Awfully poignant  #appeals here, with a #USNA midshipman convicted of stealing equipment from the Naval Academy.

Former Midshipman Thomas J. Hayes did it to help his mom, and, he says credibly,  because he feared she might commit suicide.

In a decision that's intriguing both for its facts and for its law, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces kept alive the legal possibility that a suicide threat could potentially be an element in a duress defense. In other words, if Suits & Sentences has this right, a military member can raise a defense that he/she was compelled to act contrary to law in order to prevent a suicide.

However, the military appeals court also sided with the government, in reversing part of a lower court's decision that had set aside the finding of guilt. This case will get more consideration.

In 2010, Hayes was sentenced to one year in the brig for stealing about $28,000 worth of electronic lab equipment from the academy and selling it on eBay. Hayes pleaded guilty to larceny and loss or destruction of government property.

During his first year at the Academy, his mother would call and ask "if there was any way I could help out" since she was "short on money." By his junior year, Hayes was receiving "daily" phone calls from his mother saying that "she didn’t want to lose her house" and that it was his responsibility to help her because he was her eldest son. Hayes reported:

"It got to a point where she would -- she would call crying and -- and then say that she didn’t want to live any more and that she, you know, was thinking about taking her life...(I) didn’t know how to handle that."

As for the thefts, Hayes said:

"I was like, 'Well, my mom needs money, there’s all these extra things laying around.' I know it wasn’t right, but in my state of mind I just -- I just couldn’t differentiate the difference between doing the right thing for -- for home or doing the right thing that’s going to make the phone calls stop, or doing the right thing for being a Midshipman...

I used the money, and I’d go home every weekend, and whether -- whatever my mom needed I was doing, whether it was just taking her out to dinner or taking all my brothers and sisters out for ice cream, I mean just being there. I’m not -- I didn’t know how to deal with somebody who’s threatening to end their life or threatening to, you know, not be there anymore."


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Excellent! Thanks for post.

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"Suits & Sentences" is a legal affairs blog written by Michael Doyle, a reporter for McClatchy's Washington Bureau. He was a Knight Journalism Fellow at Yale Law School, where he earned a Master of Studies in Law; he also earned a Masters in Government from The Johns Hopkins University with a thesis on the Freedom of Information Act. He teaches journalism as an adjunct instructor at The George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs.

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