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Article 134 - Self-injury Without Intent to Avoid Service

Paragraph 103a of the Manual for Court Martial deals with service members who inflict injuries on themselves though not with the intention of avoiding service. It is usually applied against service members who attempt to commit suicide.

Elements of the offense

  • The accused has inflicted injury(s) on himself or herself.
  • In these circumstances, the accused's conduct was adverse to the discipline and good order in the armed forces or the nature of the act brought discredit to the armed forces.

If the accused commits the offense during war time or when he is in a hostile fire pay (HFP) zone, then the following elements should be added.

  • The accused committed the offense during war time or in a hostile fire pay (HFP) zone.

Explanation for elements

Nature of offense: The offense in this paragraph is different from malingering. To charge a service member for this offense, it is not necessary that his intention was to avoid any work, service or duty which may normally or properly be expected of a person serving in the military.

It is irrelevant whether the accused was not able to perform or was absent from his place of duty because of the injury. It is possible that the accused may have inflicted the injury on himself when he was on leave or had taken a pass. The extent and the circumstance of the injury, however, are important to determine whether the conduct of the accused was adverse to the discipline and good order in the armed forces or discrediting to the service.

The way the injury was inflicted

The accused may have inflicted the injury on himself, through violent or non-violent means and it may have been accomplished through an act or an omission that caused, aggravated or prolonged a disability or sickness. So, if a service member starves himself voluntarily then it can be called a self inflicted injury. Likewise, the accused may have requested another person to inflict the injury on him.

Maximum punishment for this offense

  • A self injury inflicted intentionally

The accused can be punished with a dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of allowances and pay and 2 years of confinement.

  • A self injury inflicted intentionally during war time or in a hostile fire pay (HFP) zone

The accused can be punished with a dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of allowances and pay and 5 years of confinement.

An example to show how a service member can be charged for this offense

The armed forces has made suicide prevention a priority, as thousands of ex-servicemen and serving soldiers have committed suicide over the years. Many more have tried to commit suicide.

Most of these cases have been because of combat stress. For instance, many of the soldiers who have killed themselves had served multiple deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq.

In this case, the accused had never been to a combat zone (he was serving in Japan) yet he was diagnosed with a personality disorder and post traumatic stress disorder. This is an indication of the high amount of stress that service members in the armed forces, have to bear.

The accused later attempted to commit suicide by slitting his wrists. Army prosecutors charged him with the offense of 'self-injury without intent to avoid service'. The service member did not contest the charges and pled guilty at his court martial. He was punished him with a bad conduct discharge and 180 days in prison. Later, the case was brought before the CAAF, which set aside the conviction.

Apparently, if a service member commits suicide, his service is given honorable treatment and his dependents get full benefits, but if a service member unsuccessfully tries to commit suicide, he can be given a federal conviction, a bad conduct discharge and time in jail.

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