Inside the Mind of Military Review Court Senior Judge Lewis Booker; Ruled 2010 Suicide Attempt of Pvt. Lazzaric Caldwell in Okinawa Was a Crime
by Senior Judge Lewis T. Booker
Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals, Nov. 15, 2012
The appellant was alone in his barracks room, located in Camp Schwab, Okinawa, when he intentionally cut open his wrists with a razor blade, leaving a trail of blood on the barracks floor.
The appellant was in a highly distraught state at the time of the self-injury. Moments later Gunnery Sergeant (GySgt) C, one of the staff noncommissioned officers in the appellant’s unit, entered the room and discovered the appellant in his injured state.
GySgt C administered first aid by wrapping socks around the appellant’s wounds and then called for the assistance of corpsmen who resided in the barracks, who responded with their medical kits.
After the appellant received acute care for his self-inflicted injuries, he was kept for a day in the base hospital’s psychiatric ward for observation before being placed into pretrial confinement.
The undeveloped facts in this guilty plea indicate the self-injury was a genuine suicide attempt which was precipitated by the appellant receiving two pieces of bad news:
1) the death of a close friend who had just returned home after being discharged, and
2) his commanding officer was ordering him back into pretrial confinement.
These two events constituted what the appellant considered the “last straw” in a recent series of emotional hardships which ranged from the deaths of several family members to a variety of personal problems the appellant was having in the unit.
… By cutting himself, the appellant caused a disorder in the barracks. He needlessly exposed GySgt C to his bodily fluids and he caused corpsmen to respond with their medical kits, presumably expending medical supplies in the process.
… 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 — Lewis T. Booker, Senior Judge, NMCCA
Another matter which may have been a contributing factor leading to the appellant’s actions was the fact that the appellant had been treated for depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and an unspecified personality disorder.
Part of his treatment included a prescription of a number of medications, including “Zoloft.”
According to the appellant, the medications might have been the cause for seizures and brain hemorrhages which caused the appellant to stop taking his medication approximately two weeks before the self-injury.
Notwithstanding these issues, the appellant disavowed any severe mental disease or defect at the time of his offense.
Likewise, the appellant’s defense counsel, who represented the appellant on other legal assistance and military justice matters, was convinced that an inquiry into the appellant’s mental responsibility or capacity was not warranted under Rule For Courts-Martial 706, Manual For Courts-Martial, United States.
The assigned error in regard to the self-injury specification sought relief under the theory that prosecution of a genuine suicide attempt ought to be prohibited under public policy reasons.
The lead opinion does not address the assigned error; instead, it sets aside the conviction because it finds a substantial basis in fact to question the plea. I very respectfully disagree with the lead opinion’s resolution of the issue and decide the assigned error against the appellant.
The appellant pled guilty under both a clause 1 and clause 2 theory of culpability, i.e., that his self-injury was:
1) an act prejudicial to good order and discipline (clause 1) and
2) conduct of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces (clause 2).
I am satisfied the appellant provided a factual and legal basis that his self-injury was prejudicial to the good order and discipline and was therefore provident to his plea under clause 1 at a minimum.
There is no dispute that the appellant intentionally cut both of his wrists with a razor blade. Furthermore, the record amply satisfies the requirement that the appellant’s act was prejudicial to good order and discipline.
By cutting himself, the appellant caused a disorder in the barracks. He needlessly exposed GySgt C to his bodily fluids and he caused corpsmen to respond with their medical kits, presumably expending medical supplies in the process.
Furthermore, the appellant did not go into pretrial confinement as ordered by his commanding officer; instead he was transported to the hospital where he received treatment in the psychiatric ward for 24 hours.
The appellant himself stated that the impact of his actions on his fellow Marines was palpable by the way they acted around him after he returned to the unit.
Accordingly I find no substantial basis in law or fact to question the appellant’s plea.
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.
Read the entire three-member opinion of the court:
Filed under: Resources Tagged: | Camp Schwab Okinawa Japan, Court-Martial, Lazzaric T. Caldwell, Lewis T. Booker, Marine Corps, Personality Disorder, PTSD, suicide attempt, United States Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals, Zoloft