How Long is a Life Sentence?

A life sentence is any type of imprisonment where a defendant is required to remain in prison for all of their natural life or until parole. So how long is a life sentence? In most of the United States, a life sentence means a person in prison for 15 years with the chance for parole. Sometimes this is referred to as 15 years to life. 

It can be very confusing to hear a man sentenced to life, but then 15 years later they are free. The reason this happens sometimes is the defendant, in some cases, is allowed to live the rest of their sentence on parole. 


What is a life sentence without parole?

A sentence of life without parole means that the man or woman receiving the sentence will remain in prison the rest of their natural life. This sentence is usually only given in extremely serious cases such as murder. 

What is Parole?

Parole is when a prisoner is released into the world temporarily or permanently on account of good behavior. In other cases with more serious criminal activity, a man or woman could be sentenced to life without parole and would be in prison for the remainder of their life.

Offenders with a life sentence who are granted parole may remain under supervision of a probation officer for the rest of their life. The Parole Commission may terminate supervision earlier and issue a Certificate of Early Termination.

Multiple Life Sentences?

You may hear a judge of the court sentence a man to more than one life sentence, this is because, when a man is sentenced to a life sentence in prison it means they are required to live 15 years in prison before they are allowed parole. 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. So the question of how long a life sentence is, really just a misnomer and depends on the crime committed. It is generally much more difficult for someone given multiple life sentences to receive parole approval. 

In the case of Robert Hanssen, an FBI agent who was a spy for the soviet and Russian services, he was sentenced to 15 consecutive life sentences which could mean more than 200 years before the chance of parole. 

The judge looks at the crime committed and decides whether or not he feels the defendant will be of harm to the community or commit a similar crime in the future, if he feels the defendant should not be let back out into the community again he can give him the number of life sentences that he sees fit according to the crime/crimes committed, and therefore the defendant will have to live out each life sentences before he can be released for parole. 


How many people in the US are serving life sentences?

In the United States, approximately 203,865 people are currently serving a life sentence in prison. This figure includes those serving life without parole (LWOP), life with parole (LWP), and those with virtual life sentences of 50 years or more, making up one in seven of all incarcerated individuals.

The trend towards more severe sentences is evident, with the number of people serving LWOP reaching an all-time high, marking a 66% increase since 2003. The number of women serving life without the possibility of parole has also seen a notable increase, rising by 43% between 2008 and 2020, compared to a 29% increase among men.

Can a Minor Get a Life Sentence?

In 2011 the Supreme Court of The United States set-up a law stating that sentencing a minor to life without the chance of parole (except for by committing intentional homicide) violated the 8th Amendment, but because this law against life sentences for minors wasn’t in place until 2011, some young men and women are now being released from prison after they were previously sentenced to life without parole.

For example, a young man named Jeff Johnson was a minor when he was accused of felony murder, meaning, he committed a murder while another crime was taking place. Jeff Johnson was in foster care at the time and snuck out with another kid from the home to steal a car, without knowing what was going on, he saw the other kid wrestling, or so he thought, with a man, but soon found out it was the murder of a man named John Leonardelli.

Evidence accounts that Jeff witnessed the murder without joining in on it. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole, but later when the new law against life in prison for a minor passed, he was able to be released on account of his good behavior.

Very few countries allow their minors to be given a life sentence without some opportunity for release. Countries such as Antigua, Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Belize, Brunei, Cuba, Dominica, and now the United States, must have the opportunity of release for minors.

Although Judges may allow a defendant a chance for parole, it still might not be a possibility after prison. In order to achieve parole,  a man or woman would need to be accepted by the parole board, they will say whether or not they feel as though the prisoner is still a threat to the outside world. The parole board looks at the crime committed and the past behavior in prison to determine if they should be released on parole.

Thank you for reading this article, How Long is a Life Sentence?, if you are looking for more jail, prison, or bail related information, check out our blog. if you or someone you know needs help being released on bail in Utah,  Sportsman Bailbonds is the place for you. You can call us on the phone at 801-623-6877 or contact us online.