In the military, a suicide attempt is a crime

Should the military consider a suicide attempt a crime?

A Marine from California is appealing his conviction on several charges, including trying to kill himself.

Pvt. Lazzaric Caldwell, who was never deployed but has been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, slit his wrist in a suicide attempt, while awaiting trial on charges of stealing a belt in Okinawa. He was then charged with trying to kill himself.

Why does the military consider it a crime? The answer is in the decision of a Navy court which reopened the 2010 case last November:


As to the public policy argument, I’m not persuaded that criminal prosecution of genuine suicide attempts should be prohibited under military law. As both parties note in their briefs, self-injury has long been a chargeable offense in military jurisprudence. Conceivably, many instances of malingering or self injury could be concealed in the guise of a sincere suicide attempt. My own personal experience over the past 25 years of active duty service leads me to believe that self-injury, whether it results in an intentional suicide or not, has the potential to cause tremendous prejudice to the good order and discipline within a unit. If a convening authority feels it necessary to resort to court-martial to address this type of a leadership challenge, he or she should be allowed to do so, at least until the executive or legislative branches of government have proscribed this approach by law or regulation.

  • Alison

    Last I checked the Catholic Church considered a suicide attempt a sin too. Great idea. That’ll stop ‘em.

  • jon

    My dad tells stories of being fined when in the military for getting a sunburn… “Damaging Government property” I believed he called it…

  • Skoglund Sheryl

    Ref: Last I checked the Catholic Church considered a suicide attempt a sin too. Great idea. That’ll stop ‘em.

    Sin will stop ‘em? The Catholic Church disagrees with original sin also. All sin should be a crime.The Bible states not to kill in the ten commandments. Going to war should be a crime. Or maybe medical attention for a human so desperate to take own life,

  • Jim Shapiro

    With very few exceptions, the act of suicide is a crime against the sanctity of life.

    Again with very few exceptions, a suicide attempt harms others beyond the central victim. ( see “suicide by cop”; “suicide by traffic accident”; “grieving survivors”.)

    While it would obviously be inhuman to punish a failed suicide attempt with incarceration, even the seriously mentally ill need to know that their actions have consequences for those other than themselves.

    Mandatory hospitalization and treatment significantly beyond the current 72 hour hold ( I leave specifics to those in the biz) would help to further protect the individual as well as secondary victims.

  • Kim E

    “My own personal experience over the past 25 years of active duty service leads me to believe that self-injury, whether it results in an intentional suicide or not, has the potential to cause tremendous prejudice to the good order and discipline within a unit.”

    So, the judge believes that self-injury should be a crime because it makes the unit look bad?

  • Bismuth

    Kim E – I think the judge is trying to say that self-injury has the potential to make the unit *act* bad. As in, it could lead to things like increased tempers between soldiers, insubordination, desertion, etc., making the unit less effective.

  • Alison

    \\even the seriously mentally ill need to know that their actions have consequences for those other than themselves.

    Have you spent much time with someone who is seriously mentally ill, Jim?

    Further, not everyone who attempts suicide is seriously mentally ill. Some get to that point as a result of the mental anguish caused by the actions and attitudes of others who are close to them, such as family, friends, and co-workers. When should the people who make life so miserable that suicide seems like a reasonable option be held accountable? To change the subject in your statement: Even the most self-righteous homophobes need to know that their actions have consequences for those other than themselves.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Alison – “Have you spent much time with someone who is seriously mentally ill, Jim?”

    Yup. Professionally and personally.

    The level of mental anguish that would result in a suicide attempt should be treated as a serious mental illness, regardless of the source of the anguish.

    Everyone should be held accountable for inhumane cruelty.

    My point is that in the case of suicide, the central victim is more often than not also a victimizer.

    Or do homosexuals who have been severely mistreated now have a special exemption from caring about those who will suffer from their death.

    Compassion is a two-way street.

  • Alison

    They have about as much exemption as those who drive to desparation, who often are those who ‘love’ them and you would consider the victims. If they love the criminal suicide attempter so much and are so hurt by the attempt, where were they when it was time to either not treat the person with such cruelty in the first place or stand up against those who were?

    And I disagree with you. It isn’t right to consider those driven to desparation by the perpetual torture of ‘loved ones’ as seriously mentally ill.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Alison – I wholeheartedly agree that horrible things are often done to others by those who claim to love them.

    “Don’t tell me that you love me. Just treat me with human decency.”

    -Kurt Vonnegut

    If one is being tortured, the first step is to get away from the torturers.

    If the tortured person is a child or someone else who doesn’t have the capacity to take self preserving action, and their only means of escape is by ending their lives,

    of course they deserve nothing but compassion.

  • Jacques Stern

    Although usually a terrible idea, taking one’s own life is a right as far as I’m concerned. Taking someone else’s life is the worst of all crimes.