A Prisoner Who Technically ‘Died’ Claimed He Served His Life Sentence

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You are currently viewing A Prisoner Who Technically ‘Died’ Claimed He Served His Life Sentence
Benjamin Schreiber. Image Credit: Iowa Department of Corrections

Someone in prison who technically “died” said he had served his life sentence.

In 2019, Benjamin Schreiber, an Iowa prisoner facing a life sentence without the possibility of parole for murder, caused a legal storm. By saying that Schreiber’s life sentence ended when he briefly died but was brought back to life against his will, he should theoretically be freed.

The Death Penalty

Benjamin Schreiber. Image Credit: Iowa Department of Corrections


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The case goes back to the mid-1990s, when Ben was found guilty of first-degree murder for killing a guy with the handle of a pickaxe. He got a life term because of the horrible crime he committed and the fact that the body of the victim was dumped somewhere else. Even though Schreiber was found guilty, his legal case took an odd turn when he had a medical issue in 2015.

Several news sources say that Schreiber had septic poisoning in his kidney stones, which needed medical help. After his heart stopped beating, epinephrine and adrenaline were used to bring him back to life, and he was able to heal and go back to prison. But Schreiber used this as a chance to say that he “died” during the medical emergency, which meant that he was no longer on death row. He also said that being resuscitated against his will was against his right to follow the court-ordered punishment.

As the 2010s came to a close, Schreiber’s legal fight took center stage as he asked the courts to support his unusual approach to his life sentence. However, his claims were “unpersuasive” and were thrown out by both the district court and the state’s court of appeal.2The appellate court’s decision was read by Justice Amanda Potterfield, who emphasized the purpose of sentencing rules. The main goal of the law is not to free convicted criminals because of medical interventions, and the decision made Schreiber’s crime even worse.

To be exact, yes. By law…

The lawyers who were talking about Schreiber’s case looked at the connection between criminal punishment and medical care while in jail. The court did not agree with Schreiber’s point of view because of how they interpreted Iowa state law, which says that people guilty of class A felonies must serve life in prison without the chance of parole. In Iowa, people who are found guilty of a Class A felony spend the rest of their natural life in jail. No questions asked.

Although Schreiber said that his “death” ended his sentence, the court said that because he was still alive, he had to follow the rules of his conviction. This was a similar argument that a pirate made. In the end, the judge decided that Schreiber’s life sentence could not end until a medical officer formally pronounced him dead.

The details of Schreiber’s case are unique, but it shows how complicated the criminal justice system is. When a medical emergency and a court case happen at the same time, it can be hard to figure out how to apply and understand the law. Sometimes it can be fun to see someone try to get around the system (like a certain American presidential candidate right now).

Even though Schreiber tried to use his physical condition against him, the courts were able to protect the fairness of the process. Even though Schreiber is still serving his life term, his case has set a new standard for how to balance life, death, and justice in the legal system.

Even though he argued, Schrieber couldn’t get out of court, but he did make people talk about it, and some people agree that he did serve his time. The court of public opinion isn’t higher than the court of Iowa, which is a shame. Schreiber did finish his life sentence when he died in jail at age 70, a little less than a year ago.

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