We all know you only have one life to live, yet when someone is accused of multiple crimes that can carry a life sentence they are often sentenced to multiple life sentences. So what, exactly, is the point of sentencing someone to more than one life sentence? Fallbrook criminal lawyer Peter M. Liss says while giving someone multiple life sentences may seem a little pointless, it has real legal implications.
How Life Sentences Work
In California, when someone is charged with a crime, they may be able to eventually apply for parole. That’s why many sentences are issued in terms of 15 years to life, 20 years to life or 25 years to life. This means the person can become eligible for parole after 15, 20 or 25 years, respectively. These types of sentences are known as indeterminate life sentences because the actual length of the sentence is undetermined as it must be a minimum number of years, could be indefinite or could be anywhere in between.
If people are sentenced to two of these indeterminate life sentences, they would have to wait for the combined minimums of the sentences before being eligible for parole. In other words, if someone was sentenced to two terms of 15 years to life, they would have to wait 30 years to apply for parole.
In some cases though, the person will be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. This is what most people think of in terms of “life sentences” and is known as a determinate life sentence because the sentence is firmly life imprisonment. These sentences are usually at the discretion of the judge, which is why a San Marcos violent crimes attorney will usually try to convince the judge to at very least show mercy when a client is found guilty and offer the possibility of parole at some point.
So Why Multiple Life Sentences?
Now you might be wondering why, if there’s no chance of parole, multiple life sentences would even be necessary. First, the criminal justice system in America often requires judges to give a sentence for each crime someone has been convicted of. So if a serial killer is found guilty of killing five people, the judge must issue a sentence for each of the five convictions.
But more than that, the United States allows ample chances for people to appeal their crimes. By sentencing someone to multiple life sentences, the judge may be helping to ensure the person stays behind bars. For example, consider the serial killer above. If he successfully appeals his case on the grounds of police misconduct and that police department handled four of the victim’s cases, then even if those four convictions are overturned, he will still have one conviction. If he was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole for that crime, the serial killer would still be left behind bars for the rest of his life.
Avoiding Life Sentences
Some crimes carry a mandatory life sentence and the only option the judge has is whether to issue an indefinite life sentence or a definite one. But many other crimes give the District Attorney and judge more leeway. Gun-use violent crimes and sex offenses often carry life terms if convicted. A plea negotiation with the District Attorney can reduce the sentence to a determinate or non life sentence.
A large of people sentenced to life imprisonment are only subject to the penalty due to the three strikes law. A good Escondido criminal defense lawyer may be able to have one or both of your previous strikes ignored for sentencing purposes if you have been charged with a third strike. This process is commonly called “striking a strike” and while any ignored strikes will remain on your record and can count against you later, this can help you avoid a mandatory sentence of 25 years to life.
If you have been accused of any crime that may carry a life sentence, please call Rancho Bernardo violent crime defense attorney Peter M. Liss at (760) 643-4050 as soon as possible to discuss your case.
Creative Commons Image by Steve Mays