Apologies if this is too hypothetical and not allowed. I'm not trained in law, but am curious about the following question:

If you are sentenced to 1 life sentence, die, are legally declared dead, and you are brought back to life (not going to address how, but who knows, maybe it's something that could happen in the future), will you now be free, having technically served a life sentence? You were in prison until your death. Would the second interval of life be considered the same life, and so imprisonment should continue, or would it be a second life?

I understand that there is probably no precedent for this and so any answer may just be speculation. But if you were the judge, what would your opinion be?

As a follow up question, if the answer is that your second life would be free, then what if you have 2 life sentences? Would you serve another life sentence upon your second life? In that case, would the second life sentence be considered served to completion upon your second death, in which case you would be free if you were lucky enough to be revived once more?

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    A situation like this would result in a lot of arguing in courts for years trying to deduce what should happen, because no laws are designed to deal with a situation like this. Technically speaking, a life sentence ends with the person's natural life, but then one could simply argue that being revived isn't starting a new natural life, but continuing an existing natural life. Without precedent, it's impossible to know what would actually happen if that situation ever came up, and generic "please share your opinions" questions aren't on-topic here.
    – animuson
    Commented Jan 29, 2018 at 6:35
  • FYI, this slightly overlaps with the question of whether an execution can be reattempted if it fails to cause death the first time it is attempted.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Feb 1, 2018 at 0:07
  • More realistically, someone on trial or due to report to prison might fake their death to escape, be declared dead, and then be rediscovered. Commented Jan 14, 2019 at 8:44
  • A real-life instance of this: loweringthebar.net/2019/11/…. Commented Jul 13, 2020 at 5:13
  • This has happened a few times, but it is not the majority rule.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Mar 7, 2023 at 3:47

4 Answers 4


If you can be revived, you are not legally dead.

To be declared dead you must be in cardio-pulmonary failure and have all attempts at resuscitation cease or be brain dead - no one has ever recovered from these conditions.

Notwithstanding, if you are declared legally dead and show up alive, that declaration can be nullified i.e. you were never dead.

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    Did you read your own link? You can be declared legally dead if you're last seen in mortal peril and then not seen afterwards. You can declared legally dead if you disappear and enough time passes. Commented Jan 29, 2018 at 9:59
  • @DavidSchwartz I didn’t address those because I didn’t feel they were things likely to happen to a prison inmate. Please let me know if you think they really need to be addressed and I will.
    – Dale M
    Commented Jan 29, 2018 at 11:01
  • @DaleM In England and Wales (and Scotland too I believe) all but a handful of prisoners with a life sentence will be released on licence a few years after they have completed their tariff. "Release on licence" is a lot better than being in prison, but it's a long way from "free", so the question would apply to them too. Commented Jan 29, 2018 at 17:06
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    If you were declared legally dead and then revived, in this situation, the determination that you were legally dead could be set aside.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jan 29, 2018 at 18:27
  • "Declared dead" is how the legal system deals with inheritance when someone disappears; if there was no mechanism for declaring such a person dead then life insurance would not be paid, spouses could not remarry and heirs could not inherit. It has nothing to do with prison sentences. straightdope.com/columns/read/2253/… Commented Jan 14, 2019 at 8:42

Not a life sentence, but close enough to post it. After all, once you are dead you stop serving time; you no longer are a prisoner.

Recently in Spain a prisoner was found in a deep coma (apparently he attempted to suicide) and was certified dead, only to be revived later (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-42609239).

And no, he was not freed because of the incident. I have read that he has asked for an amnesty on the basis of the "mental pain" from the incident, but that is all.


People frequently die, and are declared dead, in prisons throughout the world. Do you really think that each time a nurse trained in CPR is able to bring somebody back from the dead, that the offender then gets a free ticket out of prison back into the community?

  • People aren't declared dead in the midst of resuscitation attempts.
    – user71659
    Commented Mar 6, 2023 at 22:14
  • In general yes, however there are many situations where people ARE declared dead but come back to life... Commented Mar 12, 2023 at 21:27

Anyone who dismisses this out of hand is a poor choice for legal advice. Any and every matter is potentially subject to judicial review and debate and APPEAL and therefore, may potentially have differing opinions, some of which may favor the underdog opinion for whatever reason.

This issue is not nearly as cut and dry as some make it seem and there IS precedent in numerous ways to look to for guidance, even if such guidance ultimately does not change a judicial opinion.

First, there is the definition of life v. death. If it has not been clearly and very specifically outlined to exhaustion, then there is room to argue. So a person declared clinically/legally dead one moment, may be revived and can legitimately argue they died. Its rare, but this is not about a widespread problem but rather a rarity in the law, which over a century across the globe will actually have numerous examples of possibilities.

Beyond defining life/death/sentencing in a particular jurisdiction, there is common-law or custom. Here are two customs:

  1. If you are sentenced to hang, but the rope breaks, you are to be set free. It has happened with both outcomes of rehanging and also being set free.

  2. When being stoned to death in some countries, it is a practice to be buried in the ground. If the recipient of the sentence is able to get free and run away, they are allowed to live. My understanding is that in some places, men are given an easier opportunity than women, but without a doubt, some have escaped and thus survived a death sentence.

I believe the electric chair, firing squads, lethal injections and other methods also have examples of “cheating the hangman”, so-to-speak. So its not all cut and dry 100% of the time. I think there is room to argue if one were to survive a technical death and depending on the wording of a particular jurisdiction, which could vary not only from state to state, but country to country and even culture to culture.

Beyond even all of that, as medical knowledge and tech advances, we may find that the line between life and death becomes even more confusing and as such, what is not possible or likely today may become possible or even common place in the future.

So there is absolutely some room to ask these questions and a good lawyer will, if they happen to have a client one day where this issue comes up.

For the nay-sayers who think they know 100% its not possible, I wouldn’t want them representing me, but would welcome them representing an opposing party.

  • 2
    I believe you are getting down-voted for two reasons. First you insult other posters in your first sentence, this is generally just a bad idea. Second you don't really answer the question, this post would better be condensed as a comment in reply to the answer(s) you disagree with.
    – Sam
    Commented Jan 16, 2019 at 18:39

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