Defining Maximum Penalty As ‘Natural Life’ Sentence After Court Challenge

Des Moines, Iowa — (RI) — 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.

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. Schreiber was unconscious when he was taken to a hospital in 2015 and 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 that Schreiber must remain in prison because he is still alive.

This is day four of the 2020 Iowa legislative session and a subcommittee hearing for Smith’s bill has not yet been scheduled.

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