How Do Multiple Life Sentences Work? The Law and the Lifespan (2023)

Have you ever heard of a criminal getting three life sentences or getting sentenced to 1000 years in prison?

These sentences must have come as a surprise to you since humans cannot naturally live that long, so what is the meaning of such a sentence?

So how can a judge give a criminal more than one life sentence? What crimes will get such sentences? Let us take a deeper dive into the judicial system to understand all of these aspects;

How Do Multiple Life Sentences Work?

To understand better what multiple life sentences mean, you need to understand a single life sentence.

As implied by the name, it means that there is a chance that the offender will spend the rest of their life in prison.

It means that a person goes to prison for 15 years with the opportunity for parole depending on the crime.

A prisoner can file a petition and get the punishment reduced to get out of prison in life sentences.

They could also get out on parole and spend the rest of their life free, but on parole which could be confusing if, you know, they got a life sentence.

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Life sentences are given to criminals who committed capital crimes, but they can be waived with a petition or good behavior to get the defendant on parole.

Some cases feel heavier and deserve more punishment than life imprisonment, but they don’t make it to lethal injection. In such a case, multiple life sentences are an option.

This sentence is mainly if the judge looks at the defendant as a threat to the community in the future.

A judge can issue multiple life sentences for one crime if it is outstandingly heinous or harmful.

For instance, Robert Hanssen was an FBI agent proven to be a spy for the Russians. He was sentenced to 15 life sentences.

This ruling means that he must be in prison for about 200 years before coming out on parole.

As you know, there is no way anyone can live for 200 years, which means that he will die in prison. This system makes sure that the criminal never comes out of jail.

Another scenario for multiple life sentences is to acknowledge several crimes committed by the same person. Let’s say a person is proven to be involved with terrorism, manslaughter, kidnapping, and rape.

A judge could issue a life sentence for each crime and give the defendant five life sentences.


Considering that each life sentence is 15 years, they would stay in prison for at least 75 years before having a possibility of parole.

There are other technicalities involved, and they differ depending on the case. For instance, a defendant could get 40 life sentences for burning a building with 40 people in it even if they survived. This total will come about as one life sentence for each attempted murder.

This system will make sure such offenders don’t get free since they will probably have died by making parole.

Even if they get past the 15 years or its equivalent, they might not get parole, depending on the sentence.

The Longest Recorded Prison Sentences

Every law-abiding citizen wants to feel safe in their home and country. The best way to do this is to have a just judicial system to imprison criminals that put the community at risk.

The death penalty is rare, but there are other ways to get rid of offenders permanently.

The most effective one is multiple life sentence imprisonment. This loophole is a way to keep violent or dangerous criminals in prison for all their lives to protect society. Here are some of the longest sentences recorded in the US;

1. Terry Nichols

Anyone familiar with the Oklahoma City bombings will recognize them as one of the US’s worst acts of domestic terrorism.

The event leader was executed for his crime, but he had an accomplice, Terry Nichols.

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Terry helped Timothy McVeigh with the bombing of the Alfred Murray Federal building in 1995 and killed 168 people. Terry was sentenced to 161 life sentences without the possibility of parole.

2. Charles Scott Robinson

Charles violated a child in multiple ways before getting arrested in Oklahoma. He was found guilty of all the crimes he committed against the child by a jury. Because of the crime and law in Oklahoma, he wasn’t able to get life without parole.

The jury sentenced him to 30000 years in prison to make sure he never walked free again.

This is 5000 years for each count filed against him, which was the jury using a loophole to ensure a guilty man never hurt any child again.

3. McLaurin and Anderson

This was a pair of criminals arrested for kidnapping, robbery, sodomy, and rape. They were sentenced to a combined 6000 years in prison, which was a record at the time.

Later on in the sentence, they decided to appeal for their case to reduce their years.

However, this made everything worse for them since they got upped from 6000 years to a combined 32500 years in prison.

One of them had another appeal a few years later and got 500 years removed from his sentence. This reduction doesn’t make much difference for him since he still has 30000 years in prison.

4. Gary Ridgway

Serial killers are some of the most infamous criminals, and one of the worst was the Green River Killer, Gary Ridgeway. He was convicted for 49 murders making him the 2nd worst serial killer in the US.

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He killed many women and female teenagers in the 1980s and 1990s. He was so unremorseful in his confession, and he claimed it was his career to kill the women.

For his crimes, he was sentenced to 49 consecutive life sentences and an additional 480 years. Because he made a plea deal and confessed, he was imprisoned instead of getting a death sentence.

Crimes That Are Punishable By A Life Sentence

A defendant can get multiple life imprisonment by committing several crimes that qualify for life imprisonment. In the US, there is a long list of crimes that can get to this point depending on the jury and circumstances;

  1. Attempting to murder a witness. Killing a witness qualifies as obstruction of justice, resulting in the life imprisonment of anyone involved. The defendant who stood to lose from the witness’s testimony might find themselves in a worse position.
  2. War crimes. War crimes include killing prisoners and civilians, taking hostages, using child soldiers, pillaging, torturing, and rape. These acts strictly go against the laws of war, and it is punishable by life imprisonment in the US.
  3. 1st and 2nd Degree murder. 1st-degree murder is a willful killing and deliberate by the perpetrator. The timeframe of premeditation differs depending on the jurisdiction. As long as there is a clear motive and a murder that takes place after the reason, it can be considered as first-degree murder. 2nd-degree murder is when a criminal harms another person without the intention of killing them, but they die.
  4. Large-scale drug trafficking. Drugs are one of the biggest problems facing the United States. Adding to this problem by trafficking large amounts of drugs will get the defendant arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment.
  5. Spying. Leaking sensitive information about the United States Government to other countries is treason. Therefore, it will be punishable by life imprisonment, and it can get added depending on the information the suspect gave away.
  6. Terrorism. Any acts of domestic terrorism or helping terrorists will get a life sentence. The exact length of the sentence will depend on the damage done by the attack and the number of casualties, if any.
  7. Manslaughter. Manslaughter is categorized into voluntary and involuntary. Involuntary manslaughter would involve mostly road accidents that end in the death of a victim. Reckless behavior that causes someone’s death is involuntary manslaughter.

Voluntary manslaughter comes in when the occurrence of the killing is prompted by adequate provocation. This situation is primarily the case when the perpetrator loses emotional control and lashes out.


Multiple life sentencing is a punishment system designed to keep criminals in prison for all their lives. Life sentences give the defendants a chance to get out but making the multiple ensure they are not allowed into society again.

The basic concept is, a criminal gets separately sentenced for each crime, and then they are all put together to total to some insanely high number of years.

Some criminals were sentenced to up to 30000 years in prison to ensure they didn’t put anyone in danger again.

Crimes that warrant life sentences could easily turn into multiple life sentences if they are heinous or on a large scale. These crimes include war crimes, murder, manslaughter, spying, treason, and terrorism.

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How does multiple life sentences work? ›

Back-to-back life sentences arise when there are two or more crimes committed by the defendant. The combination of multiple sentences would lead to an increase of years until a defendant is eligible for parole.

Why can you be sentenced to multiple life sentences? ›

Most often, multiple life sentences arise in murder cases involving multiple victims. To take a situation involving the possibility of parole, suppose that a defendant is on trial for two murders. The jury convicts him of both, and the judge sentences him to consecutive life sentences with the possibility of parole.

What does 2 life sentences mean? ›

Depending on the state, if you are convicted of First Degree murder, the judge has to impose a life sentence. If two people are killed there are two life sentences. If 50 people were killed, there would be 50 life sentences.

How do life sentences work? ›

Life imprisonment is any sentence of imprisonment for a crime under which convicted people are to remain in prison for the rest of their natural lives or indefinitely until pardoned, paroled, or otherwise commuted to a fixed term.

Is a life sentence actually for life? ›

This is a prison sentence given to a convicted defendant in which they will remain in prison for their entire life and will not have the ability to a conditional release before they complete this sentence (see Parole).

How many years is a life sentence worth? ›

In the United States, people serving a life sentence are eligible for parole after 25 years. If they are serving two consecutive life sentences, it means they have to wait at least 50 years to be considered for parole.

Why does the government give multiple life sentences? ›

In judicial practice, back-to-back life sentences are two or more consecutive life sentences given to a felon. This penalty is typically used to minimize the chance of the felon being released from prison. This is a common punishment for a defendant convicted of multiple murder in the United States.

What does 15 consecutive life terms mean? ›

A consecutive life sentence will help to ensure that a dangerous criminal remains behind bars. In most cases, life imprisonment means that a criminal must serve between fifteen to twenty years of their sentence before they will be considered for parole.

What does it mean to get 3 life sentences? ›

Three life sentences insures you die in prison. One life sentence could be commuted after 20 years.

Why do judges give 1000 years? ›

Sentencing laws vary across the world, but in the United States, the reason people get ordered to serve exceptional amounts of prison time is to acknowledge multiple crimes committed by the same person.

What is the longest life sentence in jail? ›

He appealed, was reconvicted, re-sentenced and received an additional jail term of 9,500 years, later reduced by 500 years. Nation's longest sentence for fraud and sexual abuse commitment according to TRT. Originally sentenced to 1,075 years. On November 17, 2022, he was retrialled and sentenced to 8,658 years.

How many years is a double life sentence? ›

So for example, a constitutional court could decide that a particular prisoner must serve at least 20 years before he is considered for remission.

How many years is a life sentence in the US? ›

A life sentence from a federal court will therefore result in imprisonment for the life of the defendant unless a pardon or reprieve is granted by the President or if, upon appeal, the conviction is quashed.

Why is a life sentence not life? ›

Except in a handful of cases (fewer than 1%), a life sentence does not automatically mean that the convicted person must be imprisoned for the rest of his or her life. Instead,it means they must be imprisoned for an indeterminate period. If they are later released on parole, their freedom is always conditional.

How is a life sentence 25 years? ›

“25 to life” means that the sentence will be a minimum of 25 years prison confinement, and can extend as long as the life of the inmate. “Without parole” means that they are not eligible for early release, and must serve the entire sentence.

Has anyone been released after a life sentence? ›

No one sentenced to life without parole has ever been released on parole, in California or in any other state. Prisoners sentenced to LWOP actually remain in prison for the rest of their lives and die in prison. All sentences, including the death penalty, are equally subject to clemency from the governor.

Why is a life sentence only 14 years? ›

In order to benefit from the policy of remission established by an appropriate government under Section 432 of the Code in light of the superseding provision of Section 433 A of the Code, a prisoner must serve a minimum of 14 years in prison without remission for an offence that carries a death sentence.

How long is the longest life sentence? ›

In 1981, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA, Dudley Wayne Kyzer received the longest single sentence of 10,000 years for murdering his wife. He then received a further two life sentences for murdering his mother-in-law and a college student.

What is life like on death row? ›

While on death row, those serving capital sentences are generally isolated from other prisoners, excluded from prison educational and employment programs, and sharply restricted in terms of visitation and exercise, spending as many as 23 hours a day alone in their cells.

What is the difference between life imprisonment and life sentence? ›

Life imprisonment is 14, 20 or 25 years. It can last a lifetime. Life imprisonment can go to the end of life. After a life sentence, the perpetrator has to face all circumstances in prison.

What does 25 to life mean? ›

2 Answers. 25 years to life tends to mean a prison sentence. The convict is sentenced to live their life in prison for 25 years or possibly to the end of their life.

What does a sentence of 32 years to life mean? ›

For example, a judge may impose a sentence of 30 years to life with a chance of parole. This means that after the offender serves the first 30 years of the life sentence, the offender could possibly have the opportunity to get out of prison on parole to serve the remaining years of the sentence.

What does 6 consecutive life sentences mean? ›

A consecutive sentencing plan is where a court imposes two or more terms of custody time and you serve one term immediately following another.

Why is a life sentence only 25 years? ›

The min. set is just to make sure the convicted served at least that amount of time before possibly being paroled. If paroled he will still be under supervision until death and subject to be put back in prison without trial for failure to comply with the stipulations of parole.

Can someone have multiple life sentences? ›

Offenders sentenced for violent felonies must now serve 30 years in prison to be eligible for parole. However, in some cases, law offenders commit more than one crime. When individuals face charges for several offenses, judges can order them to serve multiple life sentences.

Why do judges sentence over 100 years? ›

Sentencing laws vary across the world, but in the United States, the reason people get ordered to serve exceptional amounts of prison time is to acknowledge multiple crimes committed by the same person.

What does a life sentence plus 30 years mean? ›

Originally Answered: Punishment: Why are some prison sentences life plus "x" years? (Life + 65 years, for example.) In many cases, it means that they have been sentenced for multiple crimes, with the sentences running consecutively.

What is the toughest jail in America? ›

The United States Penitentiary, Administrative Maximum Facility (USP Florence ADMAX), commonly known as ADX Florence, is an American federal prison in Fremont County near Florence, Colorado. It is operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, a division of the United States Department of Justice.

How much time do you serve on a 12 year sentence? ›

If you are sentenced to a 12 year sentence then the maximum time you would serve in prison would be 72 months.

What is a Miller hearing? ›

The Miller v. Alabama decision requires the lower courts to conduct new sentencing hearings where judges will have to consider children's individual characters and life circumstances, including age, as well as the circumstances of the crime.

Who has outlived a life sentence? ›

Paul Geidel Jr.

What was the shortest jail sentence ever? ›

(By the way, where is my wallet?) ... the shortest official jail sentence ever imposed was one minute? Joseph Munch (1874-1907), a soldier who had become extremely disorderly while drunk off duty in Seattle in August of 1905, was brought before a municipal court judge on the charge.

Who is the oldest person to go to jail? ›

Viva Leroy Nash (September 10, 1915 – February 12, 2010) was an American career criminal and one of the oldest prisoners in history as well as one of those longest incarcerated (for a total of 70 years), spending almost 80 years behind bars.
Leroy Nash
Criminal chargeArmed robbery, murder
6 more rows

What is considered living a double life? ›

If you say that someone is living a double life, you mean that they lead two separate and very different lives, and they appear to be a different person in each.

What is difference between life sentence and double life sentence? ›

Double life imprisonment

However, in case of multiple life sentences, they are to be served concurrently and not consecutively as the life sentence by default continues to the end of one's life. In case of a double life imprisonment, a sentence is superimposed on another sentence.

What does whole life sentence mean? ›

Whole life orders

A whole life order means you will never be released from prison, except in exceptional compassionate circumstances.

What state has the lowest life sentence? ›

New Hampshire. In New Hampshire, a prisoner serving a life sentence is eligible for parole after serving a period of 18 years. The minimum length for a life sentence in New Hampshire is 18 years except in the case of 1st-degree murder, murder with a sexual component, or having 2 prior convictions for violent offenses.

What crimes get life sentences USA? ›

(Published July 26, 2022) There are numerous federal criminal statutes authorizing a sentence of life as the maximum sentence allowed, such as for offenses involving drug trafficking, racketeering, and firearms crimes.

How long is a life sentence in Florida? ›

In Florida, a person can be sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. That means the individual must serve 100% of their court-imposed prison term in confinement. They have no opportunity to seek early release.

Can a child be given a life sentence? ›

A sentence of detention for life or an extended sentence of detention may be imposed if a child or young person is convicted of a specified offence and the Crown Court considers that there is a significant risk of serious harm to members of the public from them committing further specified offences.

Can you get more than one life sentence? ›

Offenders sentenced for violent felonies must now serve 30 years in prison to be eligible for parole. However, in some cases, law offenders commit more than one crime. When individuals face charges for several offenses, judges can order them to serve multiple life sentences.

What is the most life sentences ever given? ›

Abdulkadir Masharipov, an Uzbek national, was handed the equivalent of 40 life sentences plus an additional 1,368 years for perpetrating the 2017 Istanbul nightclub shooting. Received 40 convictions of sexual assault for abusing three teenage girls. Serial rapist and former physician who practiced medicine in Arkansas.

What does 5 life sentences mean? ›

Each defendant has to live out each life they've been sentenced before they get parole. So if someone is sentenced to 5 life sentences that means they face 75 years before parole.

What does 3 concurrent life sentences mean? ›

A concurrent sentence refers to a type of sentence judges are able to give defendants convicted of more than one crime. Instead of serving each sentence one after another, a concurrent sentence allows the defendant to serve all of their sentences at the same time, where the longest period of time is controlling.

What does it mean when a judge says 25 years to life? ›

“25 to life” means that the sentence will be a minimum of 25 years prison confinement, and can extend as long as the life of the inmate. “Without parole” means that they are not eligible for early release, and must serve the entire sentence.

What is the lowest life sentence? ›

What is the shortest life sentence? There are multiple states where a prisoner under certain circumstances can become eligible for parole after 2 years served of a life sentence. Often these variable life sentences are given for crimes that require additional rehabilitation or stricter parole.

Did a man get sentenced to jail for 137 years? ›

CLAIM: A video shows a defendant's emotional reaction to being sentenced to 137 years in jail. AP'S ASSESSMENT: False. The video shows a man named Jacob Morgan reacting to a judge's finding at a preliminary hearing in 2015.

Who is the oldest person in jail? ›

Until 2020, Francis Clifford Smith was the oldest living prisoner still in jail. However, according to a Connecticut-based news site, Smith was moved to a nursing home and paroled. What is this? Currently, Smith holds the record for second-longest prison sentence after Charles Fossard, who is also on this list.


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