Understanding Life Sentences: Fast Facts


Life sentences are a punishment of the utmost severity. Such sentences are handed down by the court in cases where the convict has committed a serious crime and chances of parole look slim. It is in these cases that the punishment of imprisonment is most severe. The offender may be kept in custody for life, with no chance of release, parole, or pardon. In such cases, the punishment is so severe because it reflects the gravity of the crime and the court’s belief in the guilt of the convict.

Fast-forward to today—we have entered an era where states like California have abolished the death penalty and life imprisonment as punishment for certain crimes. This blog will touch upon all you need to know about life sentences, who can sentence an offender to life imprisonment, and how it differs from the death penalty.

What is a life sentence?

A life sentence is a form of criminal punishment where the offender is jailed for life without the possibility of parole. It is given in certain cases such as when the offender is convicted of an offence listed in the Sentencing Code. A court must give a life sentence if the offender is found guilty of murder. A court may also give a life sentence to offenders who are convicted of other serious offences like rape or armed robbery. If a life sentence is given, the court will decide how long the offender must serve in custody before they can be considered for parole.

A life sentence does not mean that the offender will spend their entire life behind bars. The length of a person’s jail term can vary depending on factors like sentencing guidelines and sentencing hearing outcomes.

Who can give a life sentence?

A court can give a life sentence to an offender for serious offences, such as murder, rape, armed robbery, and so on. A life sentence is a prison sentence of a fixed duration. These offenders are not released from prison even after serving the minimum term. If a court decides that the offender should not be released from prison, it can give the offender a life sentence with a whole life order, which means they will never be released from prison.

For all offenders found guilty of murder, the court must give them a life sentence with a minimum term set by the judge. This is mandatory in many countries, such as in Montana. In most cases, it is given without parole or other forms of conditional release.

How is a life sentence different from a death sentence?

A life sentence is a prison sentence for a serious offense such as murder, rape, or armed robbery, with the possibility of parole after a set number of years. A death sentence is a sentence of execution for a capital offense.

A life sentence commits the offender to a life behind bars, while a death sentence is the ultimate punishment. A death sentence never involves parole and the offender is put to death after sentencing is passed.

Life sentences are typically handed down in cases where the crime was grave and violent. Prison sentences of life imprisonment are often given in cases involving heinous crimes, including serial killings and organized criminal activities like drug trafficking or smuggling.

A life sentence requires the offender to serve the minimum term in prison and can apply for release on licence after serving the minimum term. A death sentence requires no parole and the offender is never released.

A life sentence commits the offender to incarceration for life, while a death sentence guarantees that the sentence will be carried out without the possibility of parole or pardon.

What are the eligibility requirements for getting a life sentence?

For a life sentence to be imposed, the court must find that the offender has been convicted of one of the offenses listed in 45-5-102, 45-5-303, 45-5-625, 45-5-627, or 45-5-508 and was previously convicted of one of these offenses or a comparable offense in another state. Additionally, the court must find that the offender committed the crime with an intent to cause death or serious bodily harm and that no sentence of imprisonment shorter than life imprisonment would adequately punish the offender for his crime.

A life sentence can also be imposed when the offender has been convicted of an offense listed in Schedule 15 of the Sentencing Code and has a previous conviction for a listed offense for which he received a life sentence with a minimum term of at least 5 years or a sentence of imprisonment of with.

That being said, it is vital to understand the eligibility requirements for getting a life sentence.


A life sentence is a punishment that is final and irreversible. It means the convict will spend the rest of their life in prison, and not be eligible for parole. The convict cannot appeal the decision, and can only hope that they change their minds. Still, it can be appealed in certain cases. If you want to learn more about life sentences, we recommend reading this blog here by Sumanth G Rao, a criminal justice expert in the field of law. You can also download PDFs of the blog here.