Benjamin Schreiber, 66, was sentenced to life in prison for killing a man with an axe handle back in 1996. When he collapsed in his prison cell from septic poisoning and briefly died, doctors had to resuscitate him five times. Now, he’s argued to an Iowa appeals court that he has served his sentence and should be set free.
In other words, it’s the Jon Snow defense.
From the New York Times:
“Schreiber is either still alive, in which case he must remain in prison, or he is actually dead, in which case this appeal is moot,” Judge Amanda Potterfield wrote for the court….
Judge Potterfield wrote in the ruling this week that because “life” is not defined by the state’s code, the judges had given the term “its plain meaning,” which they took to prescribe that Mr. Schreiber must spend the rest of his natural life incarcerated, regardless of whether he had been revived. “We do not find his argument persuasive,” Judge Potterfield wrote, adding that the judges found it unlikely the Legislature would have wanted “to set criminal defendants free whenever medical procedures during their incarceration lead to their resuscitation by medical professionals.”
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via Oddity Central:
The judges ultimately ruled that Benjamin Schreiber could not have it both ways – being dead as far as the criminal justice system was concerned, while simultaneously being alive otherwise. It’s unclear if the inmate plans to take his legal fight to a higher court.
The case has social media taking sides, though. On the one hand:
He may have been medically dead but he wasn’t legally dead. And the legal definition predates the medical one and is intuitively and logically what everyone knows it to be.
There was no death certificate issued. None of the legal things that are triggered by death (ending of social security benefits, payout of life insurance, estate probate, etc.) happened. Likewise he wasn’t issued a birth certificate for being resuscitated.
Of course there are real legal issues as mentioned upthread for people who have been declared/presumed dead and turn out to be alive. But even then that is treated as a legal error: they were never actually dead, rather than treated as someone who came back to life.
On the other:
If you were locked in for life, wouldn’t you give even an absurd argument a try? It might work, and if nothing else it will give you something to do. I think it was pretty clever trolling of the legal system.
There are definitions of corporeal death which WERE satisfied when this inmate died. The very fact that he required resuscitation may well imply that he satisfied one of these definitions, because it seems almost certain the condition that required resuscitation was that his heart had stopped. Possibly also he stopped breathing.
The idea that his argument is absurd (as well as the court’s opinion) seems predicated upon the assertion that a person only truly dies once. This may or not be true, but that is semantics. That inmate was dead as a doornail if he had no heartbeat, no respiration and was not resuscitated. He went through the process of dying. If no medical intervention would have occurred, he would remain dead.
But, medical intervention – done by the state – did occur. He was then brought back to life.
His body had indeed died. But his cells had not died. And because of that, he was reconstituted as a functioning organism through medical intervention.
The problem here is that medical death and legal death are very different things. Even medical death does not countenance verification of universal cell death. People are pronounced death when they have no heartbeat, no brain wave function, and they have stopped breathing on their own. I daresay there has never been a single case where a patient was not declared dead until all cell activity had ended.
And legal death is parochial. Let’s say the inmate was sentenced to death, and he was indeed put to death. What specific physical indicators would that particular institution in that particular state use to verify he was dead? And if he was found to fulfill those indicators, would it not mean his death sentence had been carried out?
So, this inmate – in state care – did die. And then the state revived him. That was their call, not his. Now he essentially is being required to fulfill a second life sentence. We do not allow the state to torture inmates by intentionally stopping their heart and then reviving them, because that would be cruel and unusual punishment. Why would we want to allow the same thing to occur unintentionally?
Fascinating. What do you think?