A state senator wants to make sure medical intervention doesn’t help inmates escape the state’s “life” prison sentence for first degree murder and other Class A felony convictions.
Senator Roby Smith of Davenport is sponsoring a bill on the topic after an Iowa prisoner sued for release, unsuccessfully arguing he technically died during a medical emergency, so his life sentence had been fulfilled when his heart stopped beating.
“The legislation would just come in and be crystal clear in the Code of Iowa,” Smith said, “that if you’re resuscitated from something like that, you’re going to still finish your life sentence.”
Smith’s bill adjusts the definition of a life sentence to ensure it refers to the duration of an inmate’s “natural life.” The inmate at the center of this story is Benjamin Schreiber. He was found guilty of first degree murder for killing a man with the handle of an ax in Wapello County in 1996. He was sentenced to life in prison, without the possibility of parole, in 1997.
Schreiber was unconscious when he was taken to a hospital in 2015 and he had signed a “do not resuscitate” order, but Schreiber was treated with fluids and underwent surgery. The Iowa Court of Appeals ruled this past November Schreiber must remain in prison because he is still alive.
“The court ruled correctly,” Smith told Radio Iowa, “but I just want to come in and put it in the Code Book of Iowa and make sure that it’s crystal clear.”
This is day four of the 2020 Iowa legislative session and a subcommittee hearing for Smith’s bill has not yet been scheduled.