What does a life sentence mean to you? Does it mean a natural life sentence when someone dies in old age behind bars? Could it mean someone that serves 50 years for a crime basically rendering the rest of their life moot? According to most legal definitions, a life sentence is when a person lives the rest of their life in prison until they die. That’s the key we will discuss, what defines “a life”?
Benjamin Schreiber received a life sentence. During his prison tenure, he died before being resuscitated in a hospital. He technically died for a brief moment. Does that mean his life sentence should be commuted? There are several sides of this argument we will explore focusing on the careless definition of life sentences.
If the law states that a life sentence is until the death of an inmate, then Schreiber has legally fulfilled his sentence. He did die. His heart stopped. The justice system isn’t abiding by their own rules. They are stating that he must remain in prison until he dies forever. But that’s not what the legalese states. If this is the rule, then we must amend our national legal definition of all life sentences stating until the body is dead forever.
The legal system is a mixture of complex contradictions. If Schreiber’s sentence was commuted, then other prisoners would be freed as well through an assumed slew of court battles. Yet, states throughout the nation have consistently proven their protection of life. A life is defined as the body being alive.
Legal studies have proven that prisoners have been denied their do-not-resuscitate orders regularly. In Wisconsin, jail staff can ignore a DNR but medical staff cannot. Isn’t it the jail staffers that see the prisoners first? What if a prisoner doesn’t have a DNR? Can the jail staff ignore their immediate medical needs? Again, a complex contradiction that on one hand makes the state medical staff responsible for abiding by a DNR but not the immediate help of jail staff. Accordingly, this case proves that the state believes in the revival of a person even if it isn’t by a jail staffer. The revival of the body to a living state is the key.
In 2013, hunger-striking prisoners were force-fed by a California judge. The judge and state were worried about the welfare of the prisoners. They didn’t want prisoners to eventually die from starvation. Though these prisoners had the right to die, California intervened due to the sanctity of their lives. Lives being the living state of their bodies.
Finally, Doyle Lee Hamm didn’t die by the hands of the state due to a botched execution. He sued and won that he should not have to be executed again since it was cruel and unusual punishment. The key is that his body would remain in a state of living.
These complex contradictions prove that the state believes life is a living body. Schreiber’s technical death should have been a completion of his sentence. Secondly, the refusal to re-execute a prisoner proves that a second sentence, a repeat execution, is cruel and unusual punishment. Therefore, Schreiber’s sentence must be commuted due to his death in upholding our Eighth Amendment. We must have an amendment stating the legal definition of a life sentence, the state’s definition of life and the role of the state in preserving life. Without these definitions, a dead man walking is a second chance.