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A prisoner who technically ‘died’ argued that he has served his life sentence


In 2019, Benjamin Schreiber, a prisoner serving a life sentence in Iowa for murder, made headlines with a unique legal argument.

Back in the 1990s, Benjamin was found guilty of a serious crime: he had killed a man using a pickaxe handle and then hid the body. This led to him receiving a sentence to spend his life in prison without the possibility of release.

Benjamin Schreiber. Image Credit: Iowa Department of Corrections

However, Benjamin’s story took an unexpected twist in 2015. He faced a severe medical issue—septic poisoning from kidney stones—that caused his heart to stop. Doctors managed to bring him back to life using powerful drugs.

After recovering, Benjamin came up with a surprising argument. He claimed that since he technically “died” during this medical emergency, he had completed his life sentence as per the original terms.

Benjamin believed that since he was revived without his consent, he should be freed. He took this argument to court, hoping the judges would see things his way. Unfortunately for him, both the district court and the appeals court did not agree. They explained that the law’s intention was to keep people like him in prison for their entire natural life, regardless of any temporary medical conditions.

The courts emphasized that being medically revived does not count as completing a life sentence. They stated that a life sentence ends only when a person is officially declared dead by a medical examiner, not just because their heart temporarily stopped.

Benjamin’s case became a topic of discussion for its unusual circumstances and raised questions about the interplay between legal sentences and medical interventions. While his legal battle didn’t win him his freedom, it did spark conversations about the complexities of law and justice. His story continued until he passed away in prison at the age of 70, still serving his life sentence.