"For the rest of your natural life" Is this a real thing?

On tv or in books you sometimes see sentences meted out like imprisonment or banishment to the colonies (old books) where the sentence is “for the rest of your natural life”. This makes me think, did they take something like unnatural life into account? Did the Judge in effect tell the convict that they’d be released if they somehow managed to become a zombie or a vampire? Just wondering…

It means when you die, your sentence has been concluded.

Life without parole.

(unless someone important decides to commute the sentence down the line in exchange for certain, um, considerations)

OK, but why the addition of the word natural? I’d think “For the rest of you life” would be clear enough.

Kind of the same as giving multiple consecutive 99 year life sentences, it has no rational meaning other than you’re going to be incarcerated until you die.

It reminds me of the wording when I paid off a certain debt in Mississippi, and the wording was I had no further obligation towards that person for any thing that had happened since the beginning of time. I always thought that that was a very strange way of writing legalese.

It is an odd phrase to include. My guess would be that it stems back to a time when most people assumed you would continue into an afterlife of some kind and included that notion in daily context. In that view, it would mean you didn’t have to stay in jail in heaven, hell, purgatory or whatever - quite a relief, I’m sure.

It does open a loophole that I’m sure has been exploited fictionally and might have even been argued in real life - if you “die” during surgery or from a heart attack, choking, drowning etc. and are then revived… is that still part of your “natural life”?

The purpose of giving multiple concurrent sentences is to ensure that the convict remains jailed even if one conviction or sentence is invalidated.

This was very useful for Dr. Praetorius’ (Cary Grant) friend Mr. Shunderson (Finlay Currie). In this case it’s one of the main plot elements of the fine movie “People Will Talk”. Mr. Shunderson was hanged and assumed dead as a consequence of his conviction for murder. Shunderson had spent 15 years in jail for being convicted of a man’s murder, though the man was alive and had hidden during the trial. When he was released after the sentence, he actually did murder the man. (Not moral or legal I suppose, but I couldn’t blame him.) Grant’s character found him when he was about to dissect him during his medical training. Shunderson simply didn’t die as a result of the hanging and Dr. Praetorius kept his survival a secret.
Slightly weird but ultimately lovely movie, one of my fav’s.

I always assumed that this was to some degree differentiate a life sentence from a death sentence, which will also have you spend the rest of your life in jail.

If you sentence somebody to death, you’re also sentencing them to prison for the rest of their life. Sentencing somebody to imprisonment for the rest of their natural life means there’s no death sentence included.

Pure speculation …

Perhaps what they really meant was that they accepted the Court’s jurisdiction ending at death. They were explicitly saying they weren’t poaching on God’s territory by sentencing a person for Eternity.

Avoiding even the appearance of blaspheming was much bigger in the Olden Dayes.

“Natural life” was the opposite of “civic death,” i.e. the death penalty. It said that the state would not kill the prisoner but that he would be allowed to live until other causes took his life. That gave assurances that the state wouldn’t change its mind and execute him at a later time.

Is it terrible when I hear “Natural life” So what if we get life enhancements, or heck. Even plastic surgery, cosmetic, necessary surgeries that involve non-natural parts for us?

Nah. That makes too much sense. :slight_smile:

I agree with Baracus and Little Nemo. It’s the difference between saying “We will put you in a box and then later we will kill you” as opposed to “We will put you in a box and wait for you to die of natural causes.” Either of those are for the rest of your life, but only the second one is for the rest of your natural life.

That was much better than the way I put it.

The idea of giving somebody multiple life sentences also makes legal sense. You never know what sentences may later be overturned.

Let’s say Smith is convicted of killing ten people and given a collective sentence of life imprisonment for the ten murders. And Jones is also convicted of killing ten people but he is given ten separate life sentences, one for each individual conviction.

A couple of years later, one of the supposed victims turns up alive. Obviously the conviction for killing that person is going to be overturned on an appeal.

In Smith’s case that’s going to be a problem. If you overturn the sentence, you’ve got nothing left to hold Smith on. The DA is going to have to hold a new trial for the nine remaining victims and hope that Smith will be re-convicted. Or let Smith go.

In Jones’ case, there’s no problem. The life sentence associated with the living victim can be dismissed. Jones is still being held on the other nine sentences, which were unaffected.

I only heard of it for transportation, as in Marcus Clarke’s Australian classic, For the Term of His Natural Life, set in Tasmania.

However googling indicates American judges used it for prison as recently as the Leopold-Loeb case. Just assumed the word applied to Nature as in what one could reasonably expect to live. After all although transport-ships rivalled slave ships in beastliness, and although the convicts were treated worse than slaves in early Australasia, after a while they were released, usually on ticket-o-leave, but they were expected to stay over there as free men and not return to England.
[ Strictly speaking, they could: at least if given a pardon; but in the case of the Tolpuddle Trade Unionists sent over by the Whig government of the day they were initially expected to buy their own passage back. This was kind of difficult for farm labourers who had been just released from penal servitude. ]

Yes, it does seem that a crafty con could set up a situation where they would be declared “dead” temporarily and then claim that their sentence ended upon their “death”. Perhaps one could per$uade a medical examiner to falsely issue a death certificate, file the certificate, and then get a high powered lawyer to argue why the death certificate ought not be overturned. E.g. maybe there is an obscure clause in the law that death certificates become uncontestable upon the occurrence of X condition, which just so happened to happen. E.g. “According to the Truthe and Finalitie in Deathe Acte of 1123, a death that has been certified by both a secular medical examiner and a member of the clergy is considered final and only a certificate issued by only a secular examiner or only by a clergy member can be overturned by lawsuit. Note that while there is only one signature on the form, namely Medical Examiner H. R. Jones, note that H. R. Jones also happens to be a Mormon Elder, which in a practical sense is a lay position but is formally, per LDS doctrine, considered to be a form of ordained clergy. The LDS religion has been recognized in this jurisdiction since 1920. QED, suckers! The death certificate was witnessed by a man of the cloth and is uncontestable!”

Hmmm… there was a guy sentenced to death on Martenique, held in jail, then a volcano destroyed most of the city, killing practically everyone except for him. When they dug him out of the half lava covered jail, they let him go cuz … I dunno, God’s will, or something?