Life imprisonment (also known as a life sentence, lifelong incarceration or life incarceration) is any sentence of imprisonment for a serious crime under which the convicted person is to remain in prison for the rest of his or her life or until paroled. Crimes for which a person could receive this sentence include murder, attempted murder, severe child abuse, rape, espionage, high treason, drug dealing, human trafficking, severe cases of fraud, aggravated criminal damage in English law and aggravated cases of arson, burglary or robbery resulting in death or grievous bodily harm.
Life imprisonment can, in certain cases, also be imposed for transportation offences causing death, as a maximum term. Some American states and Canada allow judges to impose life imprisonment for such offences.
This sentence does not exist in all countries. Portugal was the first country in the world to abolish life imprisonment by the prison reforms of Sampaio e Melo in 1884. However, where life imprisonment is a possible sentence, there may also be formal mechanisms to request parole after a certain period of imprisonment. This means that a convict could be entitled to spend the rest of the sentence (until he or she dies) outside prison. Early release is possible with certain restrictions or obligations. In contrast, when a fixed term of imprisonment has ended, the convict is free.
The length of time and the modalities surrounding parole vary greatly for each jurisdiction. In some places, convicts are entitled to apply for parole relatively early, in others, only after several decades. However, the time until being entitled to apply for parole does not necessarily tell anything about the actual date of parole being granted. Article 110 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) stipulates that for the gravest forms of crimes (such as war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide), a prisoner ought to serve two-thirds of a fixed sentence, or 35–50 years in the case of a life sentence. The highest determined prison sentence that can be imposed in the ICC, aside from life imprisonment, is 30 years (article 77 1) a)). After this period, the court will review the sentence to determine whether or not it should be reduced.
The US has the world's largest population behind bars and leads in life sentences, at a rate of 50 people per 100,000 residents imprisoned for life. Some technically finite sentences are handed out, especially in the United States that exceed a century and thus are seen as being 'de facto' life sentences, since without indefinite life extension it is likely that nobody would ever be able to live long enough to serve those sentences. In the best case scenario, under United States law, a 14-year-old tried as an adult sentenced to 100 years could be released by the age of 114-years-old. While the oldest recorded person lived 122 years, it is highly unlikely that such circumstance would ever happen. Additionally, for particularly heinous crimes, courts will sometimes tack additional years onto the sentence, in addition to life imprisonment, in order to ensure that no amount of good behavior could ever result in the person being set free. For example, Ariel Castro, the perpetrator who kidnapped Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry, and Gina Dejesus from the streets of Cleveland between 2002 and 2004, was sentenced to "life plus 1,000 years," in 2013, for the 937 criminal counts of kidnapping, rape, and aggravated murder stemming from those kidnappings, to which he pleaded guilty. He committed suicide in his prison cell one month later. Courts in South Africa have handed out at least two sentences that have exceeded a century (to Moses Sithole and Eugene de Kock) and were thus symbolic life sentences.
Unlike other areas of criminal law, sentences handed to minors do not differ from those given to legal adults. A few countries worldwide allow for minors to be given lifetime sentences that have no provision for eventual release. Countries that allow life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for juveniles include Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina (only juveniles between the ages of 16 and 18, as those under the age of 16 cannot be held accountable for their actions and cannot be tried), Australia, Belize, Brunei, Cuba, Dominica, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, and the United States. Of these, only the United States currently has minors serving such sentences, though even in the U.S., life sentences without parole for juveniles who are under 18 cannot be given automatically, and are only for certain cases of first-degree murder, once the judge and jury have considered mitigating and aggravating factors (the death penalty is no longer constitutional for U.S. minors). As of 2009, Human Rights Watch had calculated that there were 2,589 youth offenders serving life without parole in the United States.
Definition of a Life Sentence
Have you ever heard the phrase, 'Throw the book at him?' This means that the judge will impose a severe sentence on an individual for committing a crime. There is no other penalty more severe than a life sentence, except for the death penalty.
A life sentence is a prison term that one receives after a judge imposes a sentence. As its name implies, an offender who is given a life sentence is sentenced to spend the rest of their life in a prison cell as a punishment for committing a crime. A life sentence is typically reserved for the most serious of crimes, such as murder, manslaughter, or rape.