A troubled #Marine convicted of trying to kill himself has prevailed on appeal, with the U.S. Court of Appeals ruling in a narrowly constructed opinion Monday that the particular facts of his case merited reversal.
Importantly, though, the military appeals court explicitly declined to use the case of Lazzaric T. Caldwell to address the larger question of whether a bona fide suicide attempt should be a court-martial offense under the theory that it would cast discredit upon the service.
Or, as the court's 3-2 majority put it:
"We need not determine whether, as a general matter, a bona fide suicide attempt alone may be service discreding, or is more properly considered a noncriminal matter requiring treatment not prosecution."
Represented on appeal by Navy Lt. Mike Hanzel, based in Bremerton, Wash., Caldwell had challenged his guilty plea to "wrongful self-injury." In light of the rash of military and veteran suicides that have followed deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, the charges against Caldwell had incited considerable debate over the tension between prosecution and psychological help.
Tellingly, the military appeals court took judicial notice of a pronouncement by the Pentagon that suicide prevention is a leadership issue.
Among other points, the court's majority declared that Caldwell's impression, upon entering his initial guilty plea, "that members in the unit felt uneasy does not provide a sufficient factual basis to establish a direct and palpable effect on good order and discipline."
For the two dissenters, Judge Margaret A. Ryan argued that the Pentagon's "view on the appropriate balance between empathy and prosecution in deterring suicide attempts in the military does not bear on the altogether different question whether, as a matter of law, a suicide attempt is punishable" under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.