In The Court of Appeals in Book Six: Trying to Hold On 2019

  • Nov. 8, 2019, 3:17 p.m.
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Always nice when an Iowa Court Case gets national attention.

Benjamin Schreiber is a convicted murderer who was sentenced to serve a life-sentence in the Iowa Department of Corrections. He is required to be incarcerated until he dies. In 2015, he had a medical problem and was rushed into surgery. Doctors had to restart his heart five times during that surgery.

When he awoke from the surgeries and was informed that he had died and been resuscitated 5 times, he filed for relief from his sentence. Because he had died. He had died potentially 5 times. Therefore, his life sentence had been met. He died, so his life sentence was complete. The fact that he was resuscitated was a moot point, he had died.

It is certainly an interesting legal argument but I have to say the fact that the Court of Appeals heard the case at all is a little upsetting. Prima Facie (On its face), the case feels moot. You are alive, therefore, your sentence of life imprisonment is still valid. However, as it seems the Iowa Court System wishes to have at least one major National Headline a year; they heard the arguments on this case. This is one of those moments where… the guy is abusing the system and by letting him do so, the system looks stupid. History of the case follows:

April 2018, Schreiber filed for post-conviction relief (PCR), claiming that he was being held in prison illegally. His sentence was supposed to end with his death, he argued, which had taken place three years prior, when his heart stopped.
A district court judge wasn’t convinced by his creative attempt to find a loophole in the law, saying that Schreiber’s argument was “unpersuasive and without merit.” The fact that Schreiber was able to file a legal motion petitioning for his release, the judge added, “in itself confirms the petitioner’s current status as living.”
Dying for a brief amount of time doesn’t amount to a get-out-of-jail-free card, the Iowa Court of Appeals ruled on Wednesday, saying that the 66-year-old will remain in prison until a medical examiner determines that he is dead for good.
“Schreiber is either alive, in which case he must remain in prison, or he is dead, in which case this appeal is moot,” Judge Amanda Potterfield wrote.
“We do not believe the legislature intended this provision [ …] to set criminal defendants free whenever medical procedures during their incarceration lead to their resuscitation by medical professionals,” Potterfield wrote.

NOW there is still a wrinkle… because my FIRST THOUGHT was
I’m sorry. If I was sentenced to life in prison, I would file a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) Order the next day!
Well… Schreiber does have a DNR! His brother gave consent to the hospital to administer medicine of a palliative nature. NOT a life-saving nature.

Thing is: The Court of Appeals refused to rule on IF a DNR Violation affects their judgment. A lower court has yet to rule on the violation of DNR; therefore, the Court of Appeals cannot consider it as factual or violative. HERE, for me, is where the case could actually be interesting and/or worthwhile.

Now, the way I anticipate it playing out is as follows-

The District Court rules that the Convicted’s rights were violated as he had a DNR on file and was resuscitated five times. The proper response to such a violation is a financial settlement against the medical institution. Schreiber, again, requests PCR only now he is stating that he is owed post-conviction relief because the lower court ruled wrong-doing by the medical establishment and therefore, he should be dead. The Appellate Court hears the case, once again maintaining that the legislative intent for “life sentences” is not to release the convicted upon a medical finding of temporary death or momentary death; but that a life sentence holds that if the person is alive, they are incarcerated.
THEN I see it getting interesting. Schreiber takes the appeal all the way to the Iowa Supreme Court. WITH the DNR ruling, there could be an interesting and sticky Constitutional Issue.

A person is sentenced to life in prison. Knowing they will never be released, they sign a DNR with the expectation that “when I die, I die.” During their incarceration, they die. BUT ARE WRONGFULLY RESUSCITATED. Does that, then, violate the 6th Amendment against cruel and unusual punishment?!? They were dead. They had completed their sentence. Had the medical staff followed the DNR Order; that would be the end of it. But, by willfully violating the DNR, the medical staff have subjected the individual to a longer incarceration.

Honestly, I don’t see the Iowa Supreme Court finding in favor of that. As they will affirm that the proper response to a violated DNR is a monetary reward. But I do know the members of the Iowa Supreme Court well enough to know… this is a case they would hear and debate. Because the Iowa Supreme Court (at least of late) has been very focused on making sure the rights of the accused and the rights of the convicted are held sacrosanct.

hippiechica15 November 08, 2019

Wow that's a very interesting legal question.

Foofah November 08, 2019

That is a definite loophole that I never would have thought of myself. Very interesting.

Rivercity November 09, 2019

I‘m surprised this case got a hearing with the Appeals Court!

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