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Albert Morake was sentenced to 1,535 years in prison.

How can a person be sentenced to more than 1 life imprisonment?

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    You have to distinguish that in some countries the prison system is based on resocialization, while others are based on revenge. – PlasmaHH May 31 '16 at 16:54
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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – feetwet Jun 1 '16 at 13:31
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    This should probably have a country tag, since this not possible in quite a few countries, and may have different reasons in the countries where it is possible. – Peter Jun 1 '16 at 18:32
  • In addition to the factors mentioned there is the concept in some legal systems of time off for good behavior. A sentence well above a life sentence keeps someone from being released this way. – Loren Pechtel Jun 1 '16 at 23:31
  • This is very linked to the questoin "why are people released from life sentences?". However you answer this one, multiple life sentences are to prevent this from happening. – AJFaraday Jun 2 '16 at 8:16
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Summary

It tends to happen when someone is found guilty of multiple crimes. Sentences involving multiple convictions can be either concurrent or cumulative. Often, the law the defendant broke will specify whether the sentence should be concurrent or cumulative.

Background

As an example of the latter, if a defendant is convicted of four cumulative crimes that have 15, 20, 10, and 5 year sentences, which often (though not necessarily) happens at the same trial, you'd expect to see a 50 year sentence.

In reality, it can be a complicated math problem, and many---though not all---jurisdictions have sentencing guidelines. For example, the federal system uses the following guidelines.

That said, the judge's discretion plays an important role, and where they don't have to follow a mandatory formula, judges often consider criminal history, crime severity, need to protect the public, and so forth.

As a side note, some really long sentences are just a way to express public outrage. The three Madrid train bombers (2004, multiple murder counts) each received at least a 30,000 year sentence, although Spanish law caps imprisonment at 40 years.

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    @A.Darwin Spain draws a distinction between the maximum sentence and the maximum imprisonment....thanks for the typo catch! – Pat W. May 31 '16 at 13:35
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    Just as a sidenote on international deviations: In Sweden criminals will get a discount for all subsequent crimes that are less severe than the most severe crime. So if you did 5 crimes with 2 years sentance each (which would result in 10 years) you would in reality get around 5-6 years instead (40-50% discount!). So as you commit more and more crimes, the risk gets lower. It's a crazy world. – Liren May 31 '16 at 19:42
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    Side note about Hungarian laws: If you commit anything violent multiple times, the third sentence must be the double of the normal maximum of that crime, or a life sentence, if that is possible, or the sentence exceeds 20 years. (or something among these lines, ianal :) ) – Akos Lukacs May 31 '16 at 20:41
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    @Liren The justice system is not about "trade" where you trade X years of your life for the right to murder someone. Instead it's about a combination of reintegration, satisfying the need for vengeance, and making people feel safe. In simple terms: someone who robs 4 banks is quite simply not twice as evil as someone who robs 2 banks, so there's no ethic or economic need to spend twice the money to punish them. – Peter Jun 1 '16 at 18:42
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    @Mauser. I disagree that someone who robbed 4 banks is twice as dangerous as someone who robbed 2 banks, and I find it highly unlikely that you'll find any studies from reputable sources that back such a claim. The big difference is between robbing 0 banks and 1 bank. – Peter Jun 2 '16 at 19:33
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Just to expand on what others have answered: It's important that each crime is also given its own sentence as it's possible that prisoners can be cleared of crimes if new evidence is found. This could make a significant difference to the amount of time the prisoner is serving.

For example if a person was convicted for kidnap, murder, and stealing a car, all adding up to a total of 120 years, but later was found to be a car thief who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and proven innocent of the kidnap and murder charges, that person would then only face the sentence from the car theft. If one life sentence had been issued for the three crimes, a new sentence would have to be worked out.

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    @RonenFestinger Why would it? – user253751 May 31 '16 at 23:09
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    @Ronen Festinger: The sentences should be calculated at the time of the original conviction because that is when the best and freshest evidence is available. Sentencing may involve hearings separate from the trial, victim statements, character references, etc., relying on evidence and testimony that will not be available to subpoena when a change happens years later. – A. I. Breveleri Jun 1 '16 at 0:10
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    To be fair, if that was all one bad day and the known events changed sufficiently that convictions for kidnap and murder were overturned, then the sentencing for car theft could be reviewed, since chances are it was calculated based on aggravating factors that aren't actually true (or aren't admissible, whatever). The court that made that set of convictions clearly wasn't in the best position to do anything given that it got two verdicts wrong. If the convictions were entirely separate, for unrelated events, then that wouldn't be the case. – Steve Jessop Jun 1 '16 at 1:12
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    Doesn't really explain matters IMO. If the constituent sentence lengths are A, B, and C then it could equally well just use MAX(A,B,C) and then fall back to the next MAX if some components were found to be invalid. There doesnt seem anything inherently easier about calculating SUM(A,B,C) then subtracting invalid components. – Martin Smith Jun 1 '16 at 5:20
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    @immibis well in the event that a single sentence is longer than life it is already. Raising the sentence to 1,535 years doesn't change the actual penalty. – Martin Smith Jun 1 '16 at 15:32
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In this case, it was a life sentence for the crime of rape and he got 30 life sentences because he committed 30 rapes, and is sentenced separately for each.

Any time you see something talking about an absurdly long sentence, or about multiple life sentences, that's normally what happened. As a technical matter, many jurisdictions do not give convicted criminals a sentence. They impose a sentence for each and every single crime that the person was convicted of. In some jurisdictions (like US federal civilian courts), the appropriate sentence is calculated as a single thing to cover all the crimes, not independently for each crime. The sentence is still imposed separately for each crime, though.

Now, a judge can sentence someone to serve their terms consecutively or concurrently. At least in the US federal system, the norm is "concurrently" -- your sentence on each individual offense is either the statutory minimum/maximum or the appropriate overall sentence (if the overall sentence is within the statutory range), and you serve your sentences on all counts at the same time. Consecutive sentences only come in when your overall sentence is more than the maximum sentence you could be given on any individual count. With several life sentences or several death sentences, though, it doesn't really matter whether it's consecutive or concurrent; at that point, you may as well sentence them to consecutive life terms because it sounds more severe.

There are some parole considerations to keep in mind. Consecutive life sentences may leave you ineligible for parole longer than concurrent life sentences, or may force "life without parole" even if each individual crime was one where the maximum sentence included the possibility of parole. That's not the only reason, though: the US federal system doesn't have parole anymore, and this is still done.

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Medical life extension, ie treatments for common age-related causes of death, is increasing at a surprisingly fast pace, and life expectancy is only increasing. An 18 year old now might possibly live to be 125.

The law doesn't, and shouldn't have to, take life expectancy into account when considering prison terms.

Many sentences allow for consecutive or concurrent punishments, mostly to avoid double jeopardy appeals when the same act may be punishable under two laws. Rather than make them both consecutive and possibly one being voided on appeal for being punished twice for one crime, the judge might allow the accused to serve the two sentences at the same time. Say one is 10 years, another is 25 years. If one falls on appeal, the other stands.

When looking at complex cases like this, you'll often see consecutive sentences where the crimes are repeated, and not the same. Such as the murder of several people, you might receive a sentence for each murder, and they might be served consecutively.

Further, parole is affected by the remainder of time left to serve. A person sentenced to only 10 years remaining is more likely to receive parole than a person who has 110 years remaining. Those with longer sentences serve them longer, even with liberal parole laws.

So the effect of absurdely long sentences is 1) make sure that if one charge falls, all have to fall before release, 2) make sure that particularly egregious crimes don't get parole as easily, and 3) avoid worrying about whether a long sentence is a "life" sentence or not, based on our rapidly progressing medical care.

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some thinks, which crossed my mind:

  • justice - if one kills like 5 people and is sentenced to life, than another, who killed brutally maybe 20 people should be senteced more. And if torture/execution is not possible, than to say "over this line you can do crimes without additional penalty, because it no longer matters what you do" simply does not feel right.
    • also there was custom, that in case execution was not successfull (like rope for hanging did broke, guilotine stucked or so), the victim would be freed "as it was sign from god". So sometimes there was sentence to more than one death just in case something like that happened (and it was just random - god can save the victim as often as He wish)
  • amnesty - many times new ruler/goverment gives amnesty when he starts his ruling - like halving all pending sentences, or deduct 5 years from them or something similar - so this make the criminal "immune" to such amnesty
    • also restrictive regimes many times punish opponents not for "political crime" but for some (constructed) "regular crime" and after overthrowing such regime it is hard to say, what was "masked political crime" and what was "normal crime" as normal criminals usually states, that they are political too, in hope to get free - so in such case amnesty is "for all" as it is better to leave some "real criminals" free, than leave imprisoned some innoncent political ones
  • if person "behaves good" in jail, he can usually ask for earlier leave, usually after half sentence is served.

So to prevent really bad criminals from getting out the longer than life sentence make sense.

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