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

In 2019, a legal debate arose around Benjamin Schreiber, an Iowan murderer serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Schreiber claims he should be released from prison since his life sentence expired when he was briefly declared dead and then forcibly revived.1.

The Life Sentence

Benjamin Schreiber
Benjamin SchreiberImage Credit: Iowa Department of Corrections

The case itself began in the middle of the 1990s when Ben was found guilty of first-degree murder after using a pickaxe handle to bash a man to death. The horrific act and the dispossession of the victim’s body cast him in a negative light during the trial, earning him a life sentence. Even though Schreiber was found guilty, his legal path took an unusual turn in 2015 due to a medical emergency.

Schreiber reportedly had kidney stones caused by septic poisoning, which needed medical attention. After his heart stopped, doctors were able to revive him with adrenaline and epinephrine, and he eventually recovered enough to go back to prison. Schreiber, however, took advantage of the situation to claim that he “died” in a medical emergency, so voiding his life sentence. He further claimed that having his right to serve the court-imposed punishment infringed by being forced to participate in resuscitation was in violation.

In the latter part of the 2010s, Schreiber’s legal battle gained prominence as he petitioned the courts to support his nontraditional approach to his life sentence. Surprisingly, despite his arguments, his claims were dismissed as “unpersuasive” by the state’s court of appeal and the district court.2.The appellate court’s ruling was issued by Justice Amanda Potterfield, who emphasized the legislative purpose of sentencing regulations. The court emphasized the seriousness of Schreiber’s offense, and the main objective of the law is not to free convicted felons because of medical procedures.

Technically, Yes. Legally…

The legal discussions surrounding Schreiber’s case examined the connection between criminal sentences and medical treatments received while incarcerated. Based on its understanding of Iowa state law, which stipulates a life sentence without the possibility of parole for anyone found guilty of class A felonies, the court rejected Schreiber’s argument. In Iowa, offenders classified as class A must serve out the rest of their natural lives behind bars. Clearly.

Despite Schreiber arguing his “death” fulfilled his side of his sentence (a similar gambit was tried by a certain pirate), the court maintained that his status as a living individual bound him to the terms of his conviction. In the end, the judicial decision was made that Schreiber’s life sentence could only end upon a formal declaration of death by a medical examiner.

Despite being special in its circumstances, Schreiber’s case serves as a reminder of the criminal justice system’s difficulties. When it comes to understanding and administering the law, the intersection between medical emergencies and legal sentencing presents unique complications. Furthermore, occasionally it could be entertaining to see someone (like a certain current American presidential candidate) attempt to get around the system. Schreiber attempted to use his medical condition as leverage, but the courts maintained the fairness of the legal system. Schreiber’s case now serves as a model for managing the judicial system’s borders between life, death, and justice while he serves out the remainder of his life sentence.

Schrieber was unable to leave the courts despite his arguments, but he did spark conversation and some people do acknowledge that he did serve his sentence. Sadly, public opinion doesn’t hold more weight than the state of Iowa. Just than a year ago, Schreiber’s life sentence was finally served when he passed away in jail at the age of 70.3.

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