Imponderable #19: Denver Colorado

30 Sep

September 30, 2011

In a nutshell, a convict serving a life sentence is suing the prison for saving his life.

I have some thoughts.

Daniel Self has made his thoughts about DNR clear to the prison. They are under not to resuscitate him. Self suffers from sleep apnea, a condition that causes him to stop breathing during his sleep and in this case led to his near-death.

He is in jail for murder and is serving a life sentence. A life sentence has no set ending but ends, obviously, when the inmate dies. The length of the sentence is not set. It can be years or days depending on the lifespan, so if the inmate dies the day after the sentence he has served the full term of the sentence. Self did not try to commit suicide, which some could argue is a way to circumvent life in prison. (I’m not sure I’d make that argument, but it could be made.) This was a case of someone dying (almost) of natural causes so take out any intent of avoiding his sentence. Like millions of others, the inmate made a perfectly legal DNR request, meaning no methods like CPR be used to revive him.

I doubt DNRs are posted on cell doors and I doubt the guards knew he had one. And remember- this was not in a hospital environment. I assume the guards acted fast and properly saving his life. No way would they be expected to wait around while someone checked to see if there was a DNR. If an error has to be made, I’d prefer it to be made on the side of saving someone’s life, not ending it.

Self is now suing the state. I am not sure what he is suing for. Money? I don’t know what his damages are. His release? That is interesting. It could be argued that when his heart stopped his life ended and he has therefore served his life sentence and he should be let out. Is it fair to save someone’s life and force him to serve possible decades more in jail?

This is almost the opposite of a death penalty argument.

Is it cruel and unusual punishment to save a man’s life only to force him to serve a life sentence in jail?

The question in Imponderable.

3 Responses to “Imponderable #19: Denver Colorado”

  1. Thomas Stazyk September 30, 2011 at 12:17 am #

    Excellent questions, especially what does he get if he wins.


    • Joe McTee September 30, 2011 at 9:42 am #

      I don’t believe that resuscitation is cruel or unusual, even for a prisoner facing life. That said, in this case, the state will likely be found negligent.

      But unless the state has bozo lawyers (a possibility), I doubt he could claim he actually died, as determination of death must be made by an attending physician or coroner. Without such a proclamation, hard to argue that a death occurred.

      At a minimum, what any lawsuit brought by a prisoner brings is a break in the monotony of prison life, as the convict is allowed to attend court proceedings (paid for by the state). The number of frivolous lawsuits brought by inmates would probably make a good imponderable in itself!

      I would expect something like a DNR request would be posted in a guard log along with other relevant info on the prisoners in a given block. Guards would be able to read this and be appraised of all medical and safety situations for the inmates they are guarding.

      Oh yeah, IANAL!


      • bmj2k September 30, 2011 at 6:47 pm #

        I too doubt that he could prove he died, but it is worth a shot, even more so when he has so much to gain, nothing to lose, and so much to do it in. I also think you are correct about the DNR but in some circumstances is there time to get that information? Seconds count. And though guards may be made aware of the DNR, the guards have a lot more important things to keep track of so I could not blame them for forgetting. As I said, I prefer that the error is made on the side of saving the life. All good points, however. And though I do not see how resusitation is cruel or unusual at all, I think that the arguement could still be made. I don’t agree, but I can see that side.


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