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View Full Version : Death Row inmate in a coma?



Drachen Jager
09-23-2015, 08:36 PM
So... hypothetically, in the United States (which state does not matter) would an inmate convicted of multiple murders and sentenced to death who was subsequently struck in the head and fell into a coma be executed on schedule or not?

What I'd like is for them to maintain his medical care indefinitely because he can't properly appeal his conviction in that state (any other reason will do as well, but from my understanding he'd normally be allowed several appeals and that process isn't open to him if he's in a coma, so the execution would have to wait).

King Neptune
09-23-2015, 09:58 PM
I believe that he would be returned to good health before he would be executed. I don't think was a death row inmate in a coma, but a number of them were in such poor health that their executions were postponed. I don't know the stated reason for such postponements of execution, but there certainly would be one.

Siri Kirpal
09-23-2015, 09:58 PM
Sat Nam! (Literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

I used to teach yoga at a men's maximum security prison. I've also looked up Oregon code on the death penalty. I'm pretty sure they'd get him medical care. And suspend an execution.

In any event, go online and check for the regs regarding the death penalty in one of the states that still has it. Oregon is one that does.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal

Drachen Jager
09-23-2015, 10:09 PM
Thanks for the quick responses!

That's exactly what I wanted to hear, dovetails nicely with the plot I've been working on.

MDSchafer
09-23-2015, 10:43 PM
Depends. If the prisoner was smart and established a DNR, then there would be a legal battle

ErezMA
09-23-2015, 10:58 PM
Everyone above is correct. If guards find an inmate on death row hanging on to life, they wouldn't think, "Well, we may as well finish the job." They'd be required to bring him to health before going through with the execution. Why? Procedures.

jclarkdawe
09-23-2015, 11:59 PM
First off, back up a bit. If the inmate has any appeals left to run, then he can't be executed, especially appeals related directly to the crime. This is why death penalty cases take so long.

Second, the living body on an inmate is the property of the appropriate government, whether state or Federal. A DNR is meaningless. One guy attempted suicide by drugs, was med-evac to the nearest hospital, stomach pumped, and returned later the same day to be executed.

Now getting to the actual execution, an inmate in the United States needs to know and understand why he is being put to death. This is frequently used with inmates with low intelligence as an appeal. Anyway, as long as he's in a coma, he would not know why he is being executed and therefore would not be until after he regained consciousness. This is from a US Supreme Court decision and applies to all states.

Inmates are constitutionally required to receive appropriate medical care. Further, the doctors that treat inmates are required to provide appropriate medical care under their oaths.

The appeals process is probably not going to be effected by him being in a coma. Very little of the appeals process requires the inmate. Only thing the coma might be used for is to request extensions based upon the client being in a coma. I'm not sure how much this would convince the appeals court to delay things.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

Drachen Jager
09-24-2015, 12:25 AM
Great! Thanks JCD.

The mechanics aren't important, all that really matters is that he's in a coma after a death sentence was issued, and he won't be executed so long as he remains in the coma. I'll keep that in mind about the appeals process if the issue comes up while I'm writing it.

WeaselFire
09-24-2015, 12:27 AM
What I'd like is for them to maintain his medical care indefinitely because he can't properly appeal his conviction in that state (any other reason will do as well, but from my understanding he'd normally be allowed several appeals and that process isn't open to him if he's in a coma, so the execution would have to wait).

Then write it that way. Quite plausible.

Jeff

jclarkdawe
09-24-2015, 12:47 AM
One thing I should mention is choose your state carefully. Many states do not have a hospital ward capable of dealing with someone who is in a coma. You're going to require feeding tubes and other supportive care. And no one is ever going to trust the inmate to actually be in a coma. He'll be restrained in a hospital bed. More likely then being in a prison is that he'll be in a prison ward at a regular hospital. A lot is going to depend upon how stable he is in his coma.

Prisons do not like to have death row inmates not residing on death row. I don't know enough about comas but I think I'd try to make him stable enough to stay in death row. Anything else is going to be hard to set up.

Best of luck

Jim Clark-Dawe

MDSchafer
09-24-2015, 01:24 AM
One thing I should mention is choose your state carefully. Many states do not have a hospital ward capable of dealing with someone who is in a coma. You're going to require feeding tubes and other supportive care. And no one is ever going to trust the inmate to actually be in a coma. He'll be restrained in a hospital bed. More likely then being in a prison is that he'll be in a prison ward at a regular hospital. A lot is going to depend upon how stable he is in his coma.

Prisons do not like to have death row inmates not residing on death row. I don't know enough about comas but I think I'd try to make him stable enough to stay in death row. Anything else is going to be hard to set up.

Best of luck

Jim Clark-Dawe

Comas are kind of my thing, and you're right he'd likely be a forensic patient on a neurological floor at some nearby large hospital. In the real world the problem you'd run into is that most rehab facilities wouldn't want to take him. I don't think most rehab facilities either aren't certified to take forensic patients, or the skilled nursing facilities probably don't want a death row inmate next to your grandmother. I'd suspect that the bigger names in the field, Craig, Rusk, Shepherd, wouldn't take a death row prisoner, even if the state was paying, because the death penalty doesn't jive with their internal ethics.

On a real-world level I'd argue against a coma, because you don't just wake up from a coma. However, because coma is shorthand for, "Long nap with no lingering effects," in fiction you can do whatever you want.

jclarkdawe
09-24-2015, 06:20 AM
Skilled nursing can be provided in prison. If a coma patient just needs normal skilled nursing, that's doable in prison. And feeding tubes are administered to inmates who are on strike and refusing to eat. Once the inmate stabilized in the hospital, he'd be returned to the prison.

There I think he'd be returned to either maximum security or death row. Death row inmates are locked in individual cells. Unless a coma patient needs a special bed, it may in fact be possible to take care of a coma patient in a regular cell. However, more likely another room in the maximum security section would be re-purposed into a hospital room. Monitoring the patient would be done through the control room, with a relay to the infirmary. Crash cart would be a slow process. Visitation would probably be only a couple of times a month. Probably a daily doctor visit from the prison doctor.

If there is a need for something more advanced, the inmate would be transported to the local hospital. For a death row inmate, probably three or four guards, and two vehicles. At least two guards would stay with the inmate at all times.

Remember that the big issue for the prison is if the inmate is faking.

Probably more information than you need to know.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

JetFueledCar
09-24-2015, 06:29 AM
Remember that the big issue for the prison is if the inmate is faking.

I have a dumb question. Wouldn't they know from an EEG that he was in a real coma?

raelwv
09-24-2015, 06:30 AM
The appeals process is probably not going to be effected by him being in a coma. Very little of the appeals process requires the inmate.

Heck, there are times I wish my clients were in a coma. :roll:

jclarkdawe
09-24-2015, 07:30 AM
My favorite trial was one where my court-appointed client refused to come to the courtroom. It was very peaceful and I got the jury out for 7 hours on what shouldn't have taken the jury longer than an hour to convict.

Prisoners are highly focused individuals. If there's a way to fake out an EEG, they'll find it. I have heard of an inmate who faked a heart attack, including the EKG readings. I don't know how. But even the doctors at the hospital were fooled. What the inmate didn't know was that a guard goes with him all the way to the operating room. The inmate confessed to the scam when the docs were beginning to load him up with drugs to open his chest.

During World War II, British and US POWs made a glider in one of the POW camps. So you always assume prisoners can figure out how to screw you if you're not careful.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

Drachen Jager
09-24-2015, 07:38 AM
Wow, thanks everyone, this is a wealth of information.

It works best for me that he's actually in a prison while being treated, so I'll assume he's stable enough to remain as JCD suggested, in a re purposed room (I was thinking of the prison infirmary, but having him alone works even better). The details of his daily existence and the back-story of his treatment don't matter much. The current plot calls for him to have made an escape attempt after conviction, wresting one guard's sidearm away and killing a second guard before the first slammed his head (either into a wall or with a truncheon (do they carry nightsticks still, or is that just in old Alcatraz movies?)) sending him into the coma.

The story isn't being told from his perspective, it involves a young man who convinces the guard who put the prisoner in a coma to help him break into prison so they can finish the serial killer off. Neither of them expects to escape after the deed is done. I haven't cemented the details yet, but the current working plan is to have the guard take early retirement after the trauma, but he still knows other people working in the prison who can get him and his "nephew" inside to have a look around (maybe he pretends the kid needs to be "scared straight"). They arrange some sort of distraction to break away from the guided tour and break in to the ward with coma-guy. Before they can kill him, they're swarmed by guards and forced into a stand off.

jclarkdawe
09-24-2015, 05:09 PM
With his history, a re-purposed room on death row would be the most likely place for them to keep him. In New Hampshire, as we only have one inmate on death row, it's actually part of the maximum security facility, or as it is more commonly called, SHU (Secure Housing Unit).

Getting into prison is complicated enough, but let me describe what you go through to get into SHU. You approach the Alice in Wonderland gate. It has this name became it is all secret. A voice asks what you want, and you explain. If the voice deems you worthy, the gate silently opens. No human is in sight. You then proceed to the next gate (no options on where to go), which is next to a guard tower. The guard lowers a bucket and you place everything you have into it. The guard looks at it, and then returns a pen and legal files. There's very little you can bring to SHU.

The guard opens the second gate and you approach the actual building. The door silently opens and you enter a small room. There the guard has you fill out a form and takes a wand to see whether you have anything metal on it. The guard then escorts you to a small elevator that takes you to the second floor. There a new guard meets you, and gives you a pat down search. You're then escorted into the phone room, with the glass partition, and locked into a small room to meet with the inmate. Inmate may be cuffed and shackled.

In other words, getting into prison isn't much easier than getting out. Maximum security is what the name says. Guided tours do not go into SHU. SHU is a major step above normal visiting that is impressive in what you have to go through.

Rather than your plan to break into prison, I'd have the friendly guard inject him with something that causes a problem requiring him to be sent to the hospital. An epi-pen or two could give some interesting results.

Prison guards do not have sidearms. Nor do they normally carry nightsticks. Shotguns and rifles are used, but only by guards who are not having one-on-one contact with the inmates.

As a death row inmate, he would only move out of his cell in cuffs and shackles. He would stick his hands through the door of his cell while facing away to be cuffed There's a slot in the door. He would then go the the far side of his cell while they open it, and then his legs would be shackled.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

Drachen Jager
09-24-2015, 07:55 PM
Thanks again, JCD.

I was planning to have the escape attempt during transport back to prison from his sentencing. I suppose the guards there wouldn't be prison guards though, would they? That could work, since the only reason I had the Guard character was so they'd have some contacts with others in the facility. There's no reason a U.S. Marshall wouldn't know a few people in the prison well enough to ask a favor.

Your description of the security procedures complicates things immensely. I'll have to think on some solutions. The suggestion of getting him transferred to a hospital might work best.

jclarkdawe
09-24-2015, 11:43 PM
During transport is the high risk time for escapes.

Before sentencing, the inmate is held at the county jail in which he is being tried. County jails are usually under the sheriff for the county, and the employees may wear normal sheriff's uniforms or special guard uniforms. So the inmate would be transported by the sheriff's department from jail to the courthouse. He'd probably go in a van with one or two escort vehicles.

Once at the courthouse, he'll be escorted to the holding cells, usually in the basement of the courthouse. From vehicle to holding cell is the best time to escape. Press coverage factors into this, as this is also the only time the press can get pictures of the inmate normally. The amount of deputies dealing with this varies with the escape risk of the inmate. If it's a crowded day, other inmates might be transported at the same time.

The inmate is held in the holding cell until the judge is ready to deal with the case. The sentencing hearing for a death penalty case is long, and usually includes victim impact statements. After the sentencing, the inmate is returned to the holding cell.

When the sheriff can get it organized, usually around 3 - 5 PM, the inmate will then be transported to either the nearest state prison, or to the prison that specializes in the intake process. Again, with a death penalty inmate, there's likely to be an escort vehicle as well as the transport vehicle.

Professionally, a prison guard and a US Marshal aren't that likely to meet. Different jobs with very different training.

I'm assuming this occurs before he goes into a coma. If he's in a coma, the likelihood is that the inmate would not be sentenced. It would present some interesting legal issues. In addition, some states sentence a death case immediately after the jury verdict.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

ironmikezero
09-25-2015, 12:00 AM
DJ, if you involve a U.S. Marshal in the plot, you put the inmate in federal custody--and that will change everything. Death sentenced prisoners are held by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and housed at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana (where federal executions via lethal injection are carried out). An inmate in a coma would be afforded all necessary medical care within BOP institutions. For example, the BOP facility at Springfield, Missouri is a fully staffed hospital capable of long term care in a maximum security environment. There is no chance a sentenced inmate would ever leave such a facility for treatment. I'd recommend keeping the jurisdiction at the state level; that'll provide far more options for plot twists.

https://www.bop.gov/

MDSchafer
09-25-2015, 06:19 AM
I wouldn't go the medical route, I'd use deception.

Have the guard be aware of some security faults in the system. Don't let him retire, or even if he retires have him coraspond with the guy. Have make the prisoner think he's manipulating the guard into helping him escape, when the guard is really manipulating him.

jclarkdawe
09-25-2015, 07:17 AM
Apparently the Feds have made at least some changes in their policy. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was sent to Florence, not Terre Haute, despite a death sentence. So if the inmate is a terrorist, I'd say Florence is more likely, but normally, Terre Haute.

The Feds have a couple of hospitals in their system. I think California does as well. Some states have prison wards in a regular hospital. You've got to be careful what state you choose here.

It's hard to understand how a prison system works unless you go there a lot, and see a lot of different systems. But any escape is going to involve some level of deception.

best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe