Saw the original sentence for Adnan Syed and I couldn't understand why it's life AND 30 years. What does that mean?

  • I would think that if the murder conviction were overturned on appeal, he could still be kept in prison because the 30-year sentence would still stand. Commented Dec 24, 2015 at 22:07

2 Answers 2


Syed was convicted of two crimes: first-degree murder and kidnapping. In many American court systems, including civilian criminal courts in the state of Maryland, convicts receive a sentence for each offense. They don't get one overall sentence to address all their crimes. Sentencing guidelines may make sentence calculation work by computing one sentence for all the offenses, but the sentence is actually imposed by specifying a certain sentence for each offense and setting them to run concurrently or consecutively to match the guidelines sentence.

The judge gave Syed life on the murder charge, but he also needed a sentence for kidnapping. The judge picked the maximum of 30 years. Thus, life plus 30. The sentences can run either concurrently or consecutively; if one sentence is life, that isn't necessarily an important issue, but it could potentially have parole implications.

  • 6
    Also if one of the sentences is invalidated on appeal, this guarantees the criminal won't get out anytime soon.
    – Viktor
    Commented Dec 24, 2015 at 3:04
  • @Viktor that makes a lot more sense.
    – rddead
    Commented Dec 24, 2015 at 11:17
  • I think in the USA a prisoner on life sentence could get parole, and then the 30 years would start running.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Dec 24, 2015 at 16:08
  • @gnasher729 That'll depend on the jurisdiction. For instance, with federal charges there is no such thing as parole anymore, unless your crimes were before the mid-1980s.
    – cpast
    Commented Dec 24, 2015 at 16:11
  • 2
    Forgetting appeals, think initial trials too. If somehow the prosecution fails to prove one count, hey that's okay, because we added 10 more that all carry huge sentences too and we're bound to get you on at least one of them.
    – user900
    Commented Dec 24, 2015 at 17:05

I've always believed one of the core reasons for the sentence per offence approach is that each victim, community, and society at large will have justice provided on their behalf regarding the offence committed against them.

For example should someone have their brother murdered as part of a serial of homocides the person, community, and society, would still receive a recognition and recompense from the justice system in the form of the sentencing even if the practicalities of multiple life sentences mean that not all the allotted time would be served.

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