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

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

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 is essential to note that the specifics of life sentences can vary significantly depending on the jurisdiction, with different states having distinct legal frameworks and sentencing guidelines. For instance, felony charges in Colorado may be subject to unique considerations and sentencing structures compared to other states. Therefore, the implications and duration of a life sentence can differ based on the jurisdiction in which the offense occurred.

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.

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.

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.

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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