WASHINGTON - The U.S. military's highest court has reversed a discharged Marine's criminal conviction for slitting his wrists in a case that raised questions about whether suicidal service members should be prosecuted.
The Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces ruled in a 3-2 decision released late Monday that a military judge shouldn't have accepted Pvt. Lazzaric Caldwell's guilty plea in 2010 to a charge of "wrongful self-injury without intent to avoid service" because his plea offer was technically insufficient.
The opinion didn't address the larger question of whether military suicide attempts should be prosecuted as crimes or considered noncriminal matters requiring treatment.
Caldwell, 26, of Oceanside, 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.
He slit his wrists at Camp Schwab in Okinawa, Japan, after learning of a friend's death back home. Court records indicate a non-commissioned officer found Caldwell bleeding soon after and administered first aid by wrapping socks around the wounds before Caldwell was rushed to a hospital.
Caldwell was sentenced to 180 days in jail and received a bad-conduct discharge for the self-injury conviction and convictions for larceny and violating orders.
Caldwell said last year that he pleaded guilty because he hoped it would be the quickest way to get home to see his sick mother. The court-martial judge accepted his guilty plea without ordering a mental-health examination, which Caldwell's lawyer, Navy Lt. Mike Hanzel, contended was a mistake.
The new ruling sends the case back to a lower appellate court, the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals. The lower court could either dismiss the self-injury charge and reassess the sentence, or order a rehearing.
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's lawyer, Hanzel, told The Associated Press in an emailed reply to a request for comment Tuesday that he considered the decision a positive step toward addressing suicide attempts as a health issue rather than a criminal matter.