February 2020 Millar's JurisDiction - You Only Live Twice

by Richard W. Millar, Jr.

I was an Ian Fleming/James Bond fan since his books first came out. I remember when the late President Kennedy announced he was an avid reader. I don’t know if that caused my introduction to Mr. Bond or merely validated it, but it started around that time. I have read all the books, including all those by other authors after Mr. Fleming died, and have seen all the movies.

I don’t know if I have a favorite, but I was always intrigued by the title “You only live twice.” It comes from a haiku which says: “You only live twice. Once when you are born. And once when you look death in the face.”

When the movie came out, the title song put it differently: “You only live twice or so it seems. One life for yourself and one for your dreams.”

I suppose that “born” and “death” don’t rhyme as well as “seems” and “dreams,” but I prefer the haiku even without Nancy Sinatra singing it.

What does James Bond have to do with a column purportedly about the law, you ask? Well, the answer is absolutely nothing, but that hasn’t stopped me from making dubious connections before.

That brings me to Benjamin Schreiber.

Of course it does.

Don’t worry, I promise I will connect it up or, perhaps more accurately, Mr. Schreiber will.

Mr. Schreiber, who is incarcerated in Iowa, was convicted of killing a man with an axe handle in 1996 and sentenced to life in prison without parole. On March 30, 2015, he was hospitalized “after large kidney stones caused him to urinate internally, which, in turn, led to him developing septic poisoning.

He fell unconscious in his cell and was then transported to a local hospital. There, he was resuscitated five times by an IV drip of “adrenaline/epinephrine.” After the resuscitation “took,” if you will, he had surgery to repair his organ damage caused by the kidney stones and his septic poisoning was treated by antibiotics.

Three years later, in April, 2018, he filed his third Postconviction Relief Application. The state filed a motion to dismiss to which he didn’t respond, contending that he only knew of it after he learned it had been granted. He then filed a “Petitioner’s Pro Se Motion for Reconsideration,” which I am sure was warmly received. The district court set a hearing, but Mr. Schreiber “did not submit any documents for this hearing.”

Predictably, the district court denied the motion, and, equally predictably, Mr. Schreiber appealed and the case was handed off to the Court of Appeals of Iowa.

While he had a couple of “throw away” procedural complaints, his main claim was “that he ‘died’ and was resuscitated by medical staff in 2015 against his wishes, thereby completing his sentence.”

Let me rephrase it: he was sentenced to life, he died, and therefore, he completed his sentence so he is now a free man.

That’s why I hate cases with pro pers. They always seem to come up with something that skitters between insanity and logic so you don’t know exactly how to reply without jumping into their zip code.

He argued that he was sentenced to life, “not to life plus one day.” But, he cited no case law which supported that position which was less surprising than if he had. The court of appeals found that an Iowa code section prescribed that those found guilty of class “A” felonies were to be incarcerated for the rest of the defendant’s life and that while “life” was not defined, the court would give it its “plain meaning,” and doubted that the legislature “intended to set criminal defendants free whenever medical procedures during their incarceration lead to their resuscitation . . . .”

The court capped its conclusion with a Catch-22 saying that there was no issue because Mr. Schreiber was either alive, in which case he had to complete his term, or he was dead, in which case his appeal was moot.

It seems that Mr. Schreiber will have to Die Another Day.