indeterminate sentence

indeterminate sentence

indeterminate sentence: see parole; sentence.
Life imprisonment or life incarceration is a sentence of imprisonment for a serious crime, often for most or even all of the criminal's remaining life, but in fact for a period which varies between jurisdictions: many countries have a maximum possible period of time (usually 7 to 50 years or forever) a prisoner may be incarcerated, or require the possibility of parole after a set amount of time.

In almost all jurisdictions without capital punishment, life imprisonment (especially without the possibility of parole) constitutes the most severe form of criminal punishment. Only a small number of jurisdictions have abolished both.

Children and teenagers under 18

Like other areas of criminal law, sentences handed to minors may differ from those given to legal adults. About a dozen countries worldwide allow for minors to be given lifetime sentences that have no provision for eventual release. Of these, only some South Africa, Israel, Tanzania, and the United States actually have minors serving such sentences, according to a 2005 joint study by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Although South Africa does allow life imprisonment for children below 18 years of age, it is with the possibility of release. In terms of parole laws, a person sentenced to life will be eligible for parole after serving 25 years. Of these, the United States has by far the largest number of people serving life sentences for crimes they committed as minors: 9,700, of which 2,200 are without the possibility of parole, as of October 2005. Only 12 other juvenile courts nown as juve have such sentences in the rest of the world.

Interpretation in Europe

Austria

Life imprisonment theoretically means imprisonment until the prisoner dies. After 15 years parole is possible, if and when it can be assumed that the inmate will not re-offend. This is subject to the discretion of a criminal court panel, and possible appeal to the high court. Alternatively, the President may grant a pardon upon motion of the Minister of Justice. Prisoners who committed a crime when below the age of 21 can be sentenced to a maximum of 20 years imprisonment.

Belgium

Life imprisonment theoretically means imprisonment until the prisoner dies. However, a life sentence is assimilated to 30 years imprisonment, to determine when the prisoner will become eligible for parole: he can apply after a third of that sentence has been served, if convicted of a first criminal offence, or after two third if recidivist. Parole has to be granted by a jurisdiction, and the judgement can be appealed. Alternately, release can be postponed, even if the prisoner is eligible for parole, or is at the end of his sentence, if the trial court has added a security period "at the disposal of the government", for no longer than the maximum period set forth by the criminal trial court.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Before Bosnia and Herzegovina became independent in 1992, the maximum time a prisoner was to spend in jail was 20 years. The "life term" has been increased to 40 years since independence; however, no prisoner serves more than 10 to 20 years; most of them are pardoned for good behavior. Lesser penalties are given to offenders under the age of 18.

Croatia

The maximum sentence in Croatia is 40 years.

Denmark

A life sentence (Livsvarigt fængsel in Danish) theoretically means until death, with no parole. However, prisoners are entitled to a pardoning hearing after 12 years, and upon motion of the minister of justice, the Danish King or Queen may grant a pardon, subject to a 5-year probationary period. Prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment serve an average of 16 years, more for cases considered to be particularly grave. The only example in modern times of an individual serving significantly more than 16 years in prison is Palle Sørensen, who served 33 years for a quadruple police murder. Criminals considered dangerous can be sentenced to indefinite detention, and such prisoners are kept in prison until they are no longer considered dangerous (normally used for mentally ill criminals)). On average they serve 9 years before being released and then they will remain on probation for 5 years. However prisoners eligible for a life sentence are usually not given indefinite detention, as it is considered a lesser sentence than life. Persons under 18 can only be sentenced to 8 years imprisonment or indefinite detention.

Estonia

Life imprisonment means imprisonment until death. It is theoretically possible that the president may grant clemency, allowing possibility of parole; however, it has never happened.

France

Inmates jailed for life are eligible for parole after 18 years served, or after 22 years for recidivist offenders. Since 1994, for child murder involving rape or torture, the Court can impose a term of 30 years or decide that the defendant cannot be paroled

It is possible to give a reduction of this term for serious signs of social re-adaptation, past 20 years if the terms is to 30 years and past 30 years if the inmate is under decision that he cannot be paroled.

It is possible to be freed before these terms for serious health reasons.

Life imprisonment can be sentenced for aggravated murder, treason, terrorism, drug trafficking and other serious felonies resulting in death or involving torture.

There are an average of 25 sentences of life imprisonment by years (for 500 to 1000 murders by years) and 550 inmates jailed for life.

Persons under 16 years old cannot be sentenced to life, but, between 16 and 18 years it is possible by special decision.

Finland

Historically, the President of Finland has been the only person with the power to grant parole to the convicts imprisoned for life (see presidential pardon). Starting on October 1, 2006, this power has also been given to Helsinki Court of Appeal (Helsingin hovioikeus), and is effectively transferred there. A life prisoner is considered for parole after serving 12 years. If the parole is rejected, a new parole hearing is scheduled in 2 years. If the parole is accepted, 3 years of supervised parole follows until full parole, assuming no violations. If the convict was less than 21 years of age when they committed the crime, the first parole hearing is after 10 years served. Life imprisonment cannot be sentenced for a crime that has been committed while the offender was under 18 years of age.

Germany

The minimum time to be served for a sentence of life imprisonment (Lebenslängliche Freiheitsstrafe) is 15 years, after which the prisoner can apply for parole.

The German Constitutional Court has found life imprisonment without the mere possibility of parole to be antithetical to human dignity, the most fundamental concept of the present German constitution. That does not mean that every convict has to be released, but that every convict must have a realistic chance for eventual release, provided that he is not considered dangerous any more. Displays of contrition or appeals for mercy must not be made a condition for such a release. There is considerable popular opposition to the application of this ruling in the case of Red Army Faction terrorists.

In cases where the convict is found to pose a clear and present danger to society, the sentence may include a provision for "preventive detention" (German: Sicherungsverwahrung) after the actual sentence. This is not considered a punishment but a protection of the public; elements of prison discipline that are not directly security-related will be relaxed for those in preventive detention. The preventive detention is prolonged every two years until it is found that the convict is unlikely to commit further crimes. Preventive detention may last for longer than 10 years, and is used only in exceptional cases. Since 2006, it is possible for preventive detention to be ordered by a court after the original sentencing, if the danger that a criminal poses upon release becomes obvious only during his imprisonment.

For a person under the age of 18 (or 21, if the person is not considered to be of adult maturity, which is frequently the case) the life sentence is not applicable. The maximum punishment for a youth offender is 10 years imprisonment.

Greece

A "life term" lasts for 25 years, and one can apply for parole in 16 years. If sentenced to more than one life term, a person must serve at least 20 years before being eligible for parole. Other sentences will run concurrently, with 25-year terms being the maximum and with parole possible after three-fifths of this term are served.

Hungary

Life imprisonment (életfogytiglan in Hungarian) can be given to any individual above the age of 18. The life sentence term is 25 years and an application for a parole can be requested after 10 years. However if a prisoner has the ability to contact the current President of Hungary, the President has the power to end the prisoner's sentence anytime.

Ireland

A life sentence in Ireland lasts for life, albeit not life imprisonment - not all of the life sentence is generally served in prison custody. The granting of temporary or early release of life sentenced prisoners is a feature of the Irish prison system handled by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

In deciding on the release from prison of a life sentenced prisoner, the Minister will always consider the advice and recommendations of the Parole Board of Ireland. The Board, at present, initially reviews prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment after seven years have been served. Prisoners serving very long sentences, including life sentences, are normally reviewed on a number of occasions over a number of years before any substantial concessions would be recommended by the Board. The final decision as to whether a life sentenced prisoner is released rests solely with the Minister. The length of time spent in custody by offenders serving life sentences can vary substantially. Of those prisoners serving life sentences who have been released, the average sentence served in prison is approximately twelve years. However, this is only an average and there are prisoners serving life sentences in Ireland who have spent in excess of thirty years in custody.

Being found guilty of murder in Ireland automatically qualifies as a life sentence.

Italy

Life imprisonment (ergastolo in Italian) has an indeterminate length. After 10 years (8 in case of good behavior) the prisoner may be given permission to work outside the prison during the day, or to spend up to 45 days a year at home. After 26 (or 21 in case of good behavior) years, they may be paroled. The admission to work outside the jail or to be paroled needs to be approved by a special court (Tribunale di Sorveglianza) which determines whether or not an inmate is suitable for parole. Prisoners sentenced for associations with either mafia activities or terrorism that do not cooperate with law enforcement agencies are not eligible for parole. Under any circumstance, however, the admission to parole in Italy libertà condizionata is not easy. An inmate that has received more than one life sentence has to spend a period from 6 months to 3 years in solitary confinement. In 1994, the Constitutional Court ruled that giving a life sentence to a person under the age of 18 was cruel and unusual.

Netherlands

Since 1878, after the abolition of the death penalty in the Netherlands, life imprisonment has almost always meant exactly that: the prisoner will serve his term in prison until death. The Netherlands is one of the few countries in Europe where prisoners are not granted a review for parole after a given time. Though the prisoner can appeal for parole, it must be granted by Royal Decree. An appeal for parole is almost never successful; since the 1940s, only two people have successfully filed a request for clemency, both being terminally ill. Since 1945, 41 criminals have been sentenced to life imprisonment (excluding war criminals). There has been a noticeable increase of life imprisonment sentences being given in the last decade, more than triple the number of life imprisonment sentences in the last few years than the previous decades.

Norway

The maximum sentence that can be given is 21 years. It is common to serve two-thirds of this and only a small percentage serve more than 14 years. The prisoner will typically get unsupervised parole for weekends etc after serving 1/3 of the punishment, or 7 years. In extreme cases a sentence called "containment" (Norwegian: forvaring) can be passed. In such a case the subject will not be released unless deemed not to be of danger to society. This sentence is however not regarded as punishment, purely as a form of protection for society, meaning there is no minimum term, and that as long as the protective aspect is fulfilled, the subject can be granted privileges far beyond what is extended to people serving normal prison sentences.

Poland

Life imprisonment (Kara dożywotniego pozbawienia wolności in Polish) has an indeterminate length. The prisoner sentenced to life imprisonment must serve at least 25 years in order to be eligible for parole. During sentencing, the court may choose to set a higher minimum term than 25 years. Since the reintroduction of life imprisonment in 1995, the highest minimum term is 50 years, for serial killer Krzysztof Gawlik, sentenced in 2002 for killing 6 people.

At present, there are more than 200 people serving life sentences in Polish prisons (in march 2006 there were 204, but the number is still growing). All are convicted for murder.

For a person under the age of 18 the life sentence is not applicable. The maximum punishment for a youth offender is 25 years imprisonment.

Portugal

Life imprisonment is limited to a maximum of 25 years, but the vast majority of long-term sentences never exceed 20 years served.

Romania

Life imprisonment theoretically means imprisonment until the prisoner dies. After 20 years parole is possible.

Russia

After 25 years, a criminal sentenced to life imprisonment may apply to a court for "conditional early relief" (условно-досрочное освобождение) if the prisoner made no serious violations of prison rules in the last 3 years, and did not commit a serious crime during imprisonment. Parole, if granted, may carry restrictions, such as that the subject may not change residence, visit certain locations, and so forth. If the criminal commits a new offense, the court may retract the parole. If the application for parole is declined however, a new application can be filed 3 years later.

As life imprisonment was introduced in Russia only in 1996, prisoners will become eligible for parole only since 2021, if no changes in law are made.

Slovenia

In 2008 a new criminal code was adopted, which foresees life imprisonment for serious offenses like genocide or ethnic cleansing. Before that, 30 years of imprisonment was the harshest penalty.

Spain

The maximum imprisonment term is 40 years. Though a criminal may be condemned for much longer periods of time (such as 1000 years), the term for every charge is served simultaneously. Thus, the maximum time one can spend in jail is equal to the maximum 30. However, these things only happen in case of terrorism, notably involving Basque nationalism. The ETA member Jose Mari Sagarudi is currently (July 2007) the person who has spent most years in prison in Europe (he has been in prison since 1980).

Sweden

Life imprisonment is a sentence of indeterminate length. Swedish law states that the most severe punishment is "prison for ten years or life", and so life imprisonment is in practice never shorter than ten years. However, a prisoner may apply to the government for clemency, in practice having his life sentence commuted to a set number of years, which then follows standard Swedish parole regulations. Clemency can also be granted on humanitarian grounds. The number of granted clemencies per year has been low since 1991, usually no more than one or two. Until 1991 few served more than 15 years, but since then the time spent in prison has increased and today (2007) the usual time is at least 20-22 years. Offenders under the age of 21 when the crime was committed can not be sentenced to life imprisonment.

Increased criticism from prison authorities, prisoners and victims led to a revision of practices and in 2006 a new law was passed that also gave a prisoner the right to apply for a determined sentence at the Örebro Lower Court. A prisoner has to serve a minimum of 10 years in prison before applying and the set sentence can not be under 18 years, the maximum sentence allowed under Swedish law (10 years plus 4 years if one is a repeat offender and 4 years if the sentence contains other serious crimes). When granting a set sentence the court takes into account the crime, the prisoner's behaviour in prison, public safety and the chance of rehabilitation. However, some prisoners may never be released, being considered too dangerous. Of those who have been given set sentences under the new law, the sentences have ranged between 25 and 32 years.

The person currently having served for the longest time is Leif Axmyr, who in 1982 killed the stepson of the then Minister of finance and the stepson's fiancée, Axmyr's former girlfriend. He has spent over 26 years in prison. At present (2008) there are about 170 people, including four women, serving life sentences in Swedish prisons. All are convicted of murder or conspiracy to commit murder. The Swedish Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that ten years in prison should overrule life imprisonment as the "main option" for people who have committed murder. At present (2008) this is under review by the Swedish parliament and it is expected that the "main option" for murder will be a much longer sentence (16-20 years), although life in prison remains an option.

Switzerland

Life imprisonment is the most severe penalty under Swiss penal law. It may be imposed for a small number of intentionally committed felonies: murder, genocide, qualified hostage-taking and the act of arranging a war against Switzerland with foreign powers. Under the military penal code, it can additionally be imposed in times of war for several other offences such as mutiny, disobedience, cowardice, treason and espionage. Convicts sentenced to life in prison may be released on parole after having served no less than fifteen years in prison, or after ten years in exceptional cases.

In addition to any penalty imposed, criminals may be sentenced to detention if they have committed or attempted an intentional felony, punishable by imprisonment of five years or more, aimed against the life or well-being of other people (such as murder, rape or arson), and if there is a serious concern that he or she may repeat such offences. The detention is of indefinite duration, but its continued necessity must be examined by the competent authority at least once per year.

Following a series of murders by recidivists in the 1980s and 1990s, a citizens' committee collected 194,390 signatures to propose a popular initiative that would amend the constitution to mandate the effective incarceration for life of violent criminals and sex offenders considered untreatable. The amendment was adopted by 56% of the popular vote on February 8 2004, even though it was supported only by the right-wing Swiss People's Party. It was unsuccessfully opposed by the other major political parties and the government, as well as by legal scholars who argued that mandatory lifetime detention violates the European Convention on Human Rights. The enabling legislation will enter into force on 1 August 2008.

Turkey

Life imprisonment generally carries an option for parole, though the time varies depending on the sentence. For crimes prosecuted under anti-terrorism laws, however, there exists "strict life imprisonment", which essentially amounts to life imprisonment without parole: such prisoners will serve their term until their death.

England and Wales

A life sentence is a prison term of indeterminate length and in some exceptionally grave cases, a recommendation can be made that a life sentence should mean life. Formerly, the Home Secretary reserved the right to set the "tariff", or minimum length of term, for prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment, but politicians were stripped of this power in November 2002 after a successful challenge by convicted double murderer Anthony Anderson. Anderson had been sentenced to life imprisonment in 1988 with a recommended minimum term of 15 years, but the Home Secretary later informed him that he would have to serve at least 20 years.

Since then, judges have been obliged to recommend a minimum term and only the Court of Appeal or the House of Lords Judicial Committee can make any amendments to the sentence. Though politicians can no longer decide how long a life sentence prisoner spends behind bars, the Attorney General still has the power to petition the Court of Appeal in a bid to increase any prison terms which are seen as unduly lenient.

The Criminal Justice Act of 2003 set out guidelines for how long murderers should spend in prison before being considered for parole. This legislation highlighted the recommendation that multiple murderers (the murder of two or more people) whose crimes involved sexual abuse, pre-planning, abduction or terrorism should never be released from prison, which is known as a whole life tariff, while other multiple murders (two or more) should carry a recommended minimum of 30 years. A 30-year minimum should also apply to the worst single murders, including those with sexual or racial motives, the use of a firearm as well as the murder of police officers. Most other murders should be subject to a 15-year minimum. Inevitably, there have been numerous departures from these guidelines since they were first put into practice. For example, the judge who sentenced police killer David Bieber recommended that he should never be released from prison, whereas government guidelines recommended a 30-year minimum for such crimes. He is currently awaiting the outcome of an appeal to get his sentence reduced. And in the case of Mark Goldstraw, who killed four people in an arson attack on a house in Staffordshire, the trial judge set a recommended minimum of 35 years—as the crime included planning and resulted in the deaths of four people, it might have been expected to come under a category of killings which merited a whole life tariff.

The average sentence is about 15 years before the first parole hearing, although those convicted of exceptionally grave crimes remain behind bars for considerably longer; Ian Huntley was given a tariff of 40 years. Some receive whole life tariffs and die in prison, such as Myra Hindley and Harold Shipman. Various media sources estimate that there are currently between 35 and 50 prisoners in England and Wales who have been issued with whole life tariffs, issued by either the High Court or the Home Office. These include Ian Brady, Donald Neilson, Dennis Nilsen and Robert Black.

Prisoners jailed for life are released on a life licence if the parole board authorises their release. The prisoner must satisfy the parole board that they are remorseful, understand the gravity of their crime and pose no future threat to the public. They are subject to a possible lifelong recall to prison should they breach their parole conditions.

Interpretation in South America

Argentina

Argentina is one of the few countries in South America where the life sentence is legal. The life imprisonment is the mandatory sentence when murder is committed by a relative of the victim, when it is committed by a police officer and when it is aggravated with armed robbery or rape. Also, there have been sentences of life in cases of multiple rapes. If a person is sentenced to prisión perpetua could be released between the 13 and 25 years of prison. If a person is sentenced to reclusión perpetua he will never be released. Treason also carries the life sentence.

Bolivia

Maximum penalty is 30 years in prison.

Brazil

Article 5 of the Constitution of Brazil forbids the death penalty or life imprisonment. The Brazilian Penal Code establishes 30 years as the maximum amount of time one may be incarcerated. All convicts enjoy provisions that allow for parole after one-third of the term is served—João Acácio Pereira da Costa is the only known case of a convict imprisoned full-time for 30 years since 1985.

Uruguay

Does not have death penalty or life sentence. The maximum allowed penalty is 30 years.

Venezuela

The maximum sentence is 30 years of imprisonment.

Interpretation in North America

Canada

Life imprisonment means that the offender will be under supervision, whether in prison or in the community, for the rest of their life. The maximum sentence is life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for 25 years, but if they have a parole, every such year, they can stay in the prison for the rest of the natural life if not paroled. There is no guarantee that parole will be granted if the National Parole Board determines that the offender still poses a risk to society. At the present time, the so-called Faint-Hope Clause, which specifies those serving a life term have a chance to apply for parole after 15 years, as opposed to the maximum of 25, is still in force. However, the new Conservative Government, elected to a minority in January 2006, has pledged to repeal the Faint-Hope Clause. Moreover, the courts may apply a dangerous offender designation, which is in fact an indeterminate sentence: no minimum and no maximum, but parole review occurs every 7 years. Current sentencing guidelines, provided by the legislative leaders to judges of all levels on an annual basis, ensure that both a "life" sentence and the "dangerous offender" designation are very rarely used, even when the offender is found guilty for particularly grievous offences. Second degree murder carries a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without parole for between 10 and 25 years; first degree murder carries a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without parole for 25 years.

Mexico

Life imprisonment is defined as any long and determinate sentence ranging from 20 years up to a maximum of 40 years. The Mexican Supreme Court ruled in 2001 that life imprisonment without the possibility of parole is unconstitutional because it is cruel and unusual punishment, in violation of Article 18 of the Constitution of Mexico.

United States

Determinate and Indeterminate Life Sentence

There are many states where a convict can be released on parole after a decade or more has passed. For example, sentences of "15 years to life" or "25 years to life" may be given; this is called an "indeterminate life sentence", while a sentence of "life without the possibility of parole" is called a "determinate life sentence". Even when a sentence specifically denies the possibility of parole, government officials may have the power to grant amnesty or reprieves, or commute a sentence to time served. Under the federal criminal code, however, with respect to offenses committed after December 1, 1987, parole has been abolished for all sentences handed down by the federal system, including life sentences, so a life sentence from a federal court will result in imprisonment for the life of the defendant, unless a pardon or reprieve is granted by the President.

Three Strikes Law

Under some "three-strikes laws", a broad range of crimes, ranging from petty theft to murder, can serve as the triggering crime for a mandatory or discretionary life sentence in California. Notably, the U.S. Supreme Court on several occasions has upheld lengthy sentences for petty theft including life with the possibility of parole and 50 years to life, stating that neither sentence conflicted with the ban on "cruel and unusual punishment" in the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Interpretation in Asia/Pacific

Australia

For serious crimes, the State Supreme Courts may sentence criminals to a life sentence, usually with a minimum term before parole is available. This is dependent on the individual states and territories. New South Wales follows the definition of 'life means life'—so the maximum sentence is life without parole in NSW. In Victoria a person can be given a life sentence with or without parole.

A life without parole sentence was introduced to Victoria as a result of the Peter Dupas case, and currently nine people are serving life without parole in Victoria. Hoddle St killer Julian Knight is serving life with a minimum of 27 years as Victoria had no such sentence when he was sentenced and also the fact he was 19 at the time and therefore classed as a young offender. Notorious prisoners such as Ivan Milat (New South Wales), Peter Dupas (Victoria) and Martin Bryant (Tasmania) are currently serving life without parole; the federal government only pursues cases involving life terms where the states cannot do so.

India

In India life imprisonment [umar quaid (उम्र कैद )] used to be widely understood as one lasting 14 – 100 years, depending on the severity and recurrence of the crimes and callousness.[15] However, recent rulings by the Indian Supreme Court, on a case against Jahid Hussain in the state of West Bengal who held a life convict for a period of 21 years in prison, reaffirmed that life imprisonment should be treated as imprisonment of the convict for the remainder of his natural life [16][15], unless the government exercises its discretion to reduce the life term of the convict considering his good behavior and a guarantee that the convict will never commit an offense, especially one that could cause physical or mental harm to another human being or innocent animal after being released.

Indonesia

At least 5 years imprisonment, although it generally ranges from 10 to 20 years.

Israel

Life imprisonment is a mandatory sentence for murder, unless the defendant has special circumstances for reduced sentence. Normally, after several years the life sentence is reduced by the president to a period of 20 to 30 years, which could be further reduced by a third if the defendant shows good behaviour in jail.

In a special legislation, the possibility of reducing life sentence was denied in the case of Yigal Amir, who murdered prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.

Japan

A life sentence (muki choueki) is the second most severe punishment available, second only to the death penalty. Consisting of life sentence with the option of parole, a prisoner given a life sentence must spend at least 10 years in prison before they may have a chance at parole. But over the years the time spent in prison has become longer, and in 2005 was about 27 years. In addition, all prisoners have served at least 20 years. According to the survey by Center for Prisoners' Rights in Japan, in 2000 there were 2 prisoners who had served over 50 years without parole. Ikuo Hayashi, Daisuke Mori and Hiroshi Ogawa are currently serving life imprisonment. Though Japan has the death penalty, incarceration in Japan is typically short. Even serious assault and rape convictions might result in a suspended sentence if it is the first offense. Similarly, even second-degree murder might be given only 5–7 years, usually paroled in 3–5 years if there was no previous conviction. The rate of re-offending for most released prisoners is low, and the popularity of the death sentence is generally attributed to retribution. Those who are against the death penalty are calling for alternative longer sentences, with more than 10 years before being able to get parole, or shushin kei (an actual life sentence with no possibility of parole). Most Japanese tend to recognize that "life sentence" indicates only "life sentence with no possibility of parole" so that many mistakenly believe that "muki-choeki" is not equivalent to "life sentence" and Japanese punitive law does not allow "life sentence" as other developed countries' do. Although "muki-choeki" in Japanese is often interpreted as "indefinite sentence," "muki-choeki" has legally the same meaning as "life sentence." The reasons why it is often wrongly interpreted are following.

As a strange exception, upon the death of the emperor a life sentence is often reduced.

Malaysia

There are two types of life imprisonment in Malaysia "imprisonment for life" and "imprisonment for natural life." Imprisonment for life means imprisonment for 20 years with allowance for a one-third deduction for good behaviour. Imprisonment for natural life means imprisonment until death. In respect of a child guilty of a capital offence, a provision in the Child Act 2001 allows a child to be "detained at the pleasure of the [King]." This contained no specific indication for the length of time the child is to be detained. Thus, in July 2007, the Court of Appeal ruled that such a sentence was unconstitutional. However, the Federal Court overturned the Court of Appeal decision in October 2007.

New Zealand

A life sentence is an indeterminate sentence given automatically for murder and treason, and is the maximum sentence for manslaughter and Class A drug-dealing. In reality it is unheard of for a prisoner to die of old age in prison, as most are paroled. The default non-parole period for murder is 10 years, though in cases of particular violence the starting point is 17 years. The sentencing judge may demand a longer non-parole period, and as of 2008 the longest non-parole period handed down was 33 years, in 2003 to William Dwane Bell.

In the early hours of December 8, 2001, Bell entered the Panmure RSA clubrooms, where he had been fired from a job as a bartender three months earlier. After entering the building he brutally killed the club president, a club member and an employee. He also seriously injured another club employee. For committing the killings Bell was handed a 30 year non-parole prison sentence at Paremoremo Prison—the longest non-parole sentence ever passed in New Zealand. Bell was initially jailed for a minimum non-parole period of 33 years, which was reduced by three years on appeal.

New Zealand also has an indefinite sentence of preventive detention, which is handed out for crimes other than treason or murder/manslaughter. Traditionally handed down to repeat sexual offenders, in 2002 the criteria were extended to included serious recidivist offenders of a non-sexual, but violent, nature. Preventive detention has a minimum non-parole period of five years, and the sentencing judge may extend this if they believe that the offender's history warrants it. Parole under New Zealand law is no longer automatic, and it is theoretically possible for defendants sentenced to life or to preventive detention to remain in prison for the rest of their natural life, though it remains rare.

Taiwan

Life imprisonment(無期徒刑 in Chinese) theoretically means imprisonment until the prisoner dies. Parole is possible after 25 years.

Vietnam

Life imprisonment means, in principle, that the prisoner will spend the rest of their life in prison. However, after 20 to 30 years, they may be granted amnesty.

Interpretation in Africa

South Africa

Life sentence is mandatory for premeditated murder, gang rape, serial rape or if the rapist knew his HIV status to be positive. Life sentence is also mandatory if the victim was under 18 or mentally disabled. In certain circumstances, robberies and hijackings also carry a mandatory life sentence.
But Section 51 of the Criminal Procedure Act 1977 controls the minimum sentences for 'other' types of murders, rapes and robberies to 25, 15 and 10 years respectively, so parole is almost always granted to life sentences after the minimum sentence for the lesser crime has been served.

Notes

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