Legal Guides

How Long Is A Life Sentence In California?

how long is a life sentence

If you see or hear the news, you will always hear about criminals getting life sentences in prison. Unfortunately, this news has become quite commonplace in the state of California. This is because California leads the department to have the most number of prisoners given life sentences.

But you may be asking, what is a life sentence? Also, more importantly, you may be asking how long is a life sentence? Well, you have come to the right place on the world wide web. In this article, you will learn the meaning of life sentences in California and how long they generally last.

What Is A Life Sentence?

In California, Life Without Parole (LWOP) is a type of prison sentence given to the worst offenders of the state. Another term for a life sentence meaning is life without parole.

Here, if found guilty of serious crimes, the defendant is sentenced to prison without the possibility of parole. This is the second most severe and short death sentence – the harshest charge in California. The life sentence length is generally 25 years in prison in California. However, this varies from state to state since 40 years is how long is a life sentence in Texas.

When Is Life Sentence Imposed In California?

To understand how long is a life sentence to be imposed on the defendant, they need to have committed serious crimes. If the court finds the person guilty of the charges, the severity of the charges will determine the extent of the sentence. Some severe offenses which make the defendant serve life sentences are:

1. First Degree Murder (Penal Code 187)

According to Californian state laws, first-degree murder is defined as the voluntary killing of a person or an unborn fetus with malicious intent. This includes a person planning the murder of someone before the act is committed beforehand.

First-degree murders also include killings that act due to the defendant carrying out any other activity. This includes deaths resulting from armed robberies, carjacking, and rape.

2. Felony Murder (Senate Bill 1437)

But not all murders are premeditated. There can be many “heat of passion” killings where someone kills someone else due to aggravated assault by accident. For example, if a person kills someone else because they got into an argument. During such cases, the defendant is sentenced to 25 years in prison for first-degree murder.

However, the defendant can understand how long is a life sentence if the person kills more than one person due to his activities. For example, the court may grant a life sentence if the person kills more than one person after attempting a car robbery and running over the victims.

3. Rape (Penal Code 261)

While this is something that everybody knows, rape is an act of having forceful sexual intercourse with someone else without the other person’s consent. Generally, a person who is found guilty of raping someone will be charged with eight years in state prison, along with being permanently labeled as a registered sex offender by the sexual harassment lawyer.

However, if the raped victim dies due to the rapist’s actions, the accused can be sentenced to a life sentence in prison.

Can The Criminal Appeal For Release From Prison?

Under Californian penal law, there is a way that the defendant can appeal for a release for how long is a life sentence imposed on them.

To do so, the defendant has to file a petition against the charges that have been imposed on them. These include:

1. Petitioning To The Governer For A Commutation

A commutation is a plea made by a sentenced person to the governor, requesting them to reduce how long is a life sentence for the defendant. In this case, the criminal is not forgiven for their acts. Instead, they will still be labeled as criminals who have committed serious offenses.

However, the criminal can plea for a reduction with the help of their criminal defense attorney in the sentence if they can present substantial reason. The final decision to sign the petition still lies with the governor. This includes:

  • The criminal was very young (18+) at the court proceedings when the defendant carried out the criminal acts.
  • If the criminal suffered from intimate partner battering. This means that their partner sexually mistreated them. This is quite common amongst newlyweds.
  • The laws were too harsh on the criminal during the sentencing, compared to their crimes.

2. Filing An Appeal

An appeal is a plea made by the criminal to a higher court to review the court proceedings for any legal errors. This can happen many times when some misjudgment of the evidence and the confirmation present during the court proceedings determine how long is life in prison for the accused.

For example, if someone died after being run over by a car, the accused is sentenced to life in prison. However, there may be exceptional cases where the victim was already injured or was killed by someone else after being run over.

The criminal can also appeal if they believe that the other party caused prejudice for a suspended imposition of life sentence. Here, prejudice means that the victim’s party deliberately changed the case’s outcome using bribes and threats to ensure that the defendant serves life in prison. 

3. Possess A Write Of Habeus Corpus Petition

A Writ of Habeas Corpus is the final plea that the defendant can make. This is often called the last resort for criminals. However, the criminal must have filed for a commute and an appeal to the higher courts to possess this writ. A habeas corpus is a written statement where the criminal accuses the court of unlawfully detaining them and providing a life sentence that make no sense

Frequently Asked Questions:

Q1. How Many Years Is A Life Sentence California?

Ans: If you want to know how long is a life sentence in California, then it is 25 years. 

Q2. What Is A Life Sentence In Years?

Ans: If you want to know how long a life sentence is, it is between 25 years to 40 years, depending on the state penal code.

Q3. How Long Is 3 Life Sentences?

Ans: If you want to know how long is a life sentence if it is imposed three times, then it will 75 years.

Q4. What Does 25 To Life Mean?

Ans: 25 to life means that the defendant will serve 25 years in prison – which is precisely how long is a life sentence is in California and many other states.


If you wanted to know how long is a life sentence in California, then it is 25 years. There can be many conditions for which a court can impose a life sentence on the defendant. This includes being charged or first-degree murder and manslaughter. However, the criminal can appear later on file for a commute or appeal to reduce their life sentence.

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Debamalya Mukherjee
Debamalya is a professional content writer from Kolkata, India. Constantly improving himself in this industry for more than three years, he has amassed immense knowledge regarding his niches of writing tech and gaming articles. He loves spending time with his cats, along with playing every new PC action game as soon as possible.

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