Understanding Life Sentences in Missouri
If you or a loved one is facing, or has been charged with, a life sentence, it is important to understand exactly what a life sentence entails and what the end result can look like. This type of sentence is much different than a municipal charge.
What is a life sentence?
Believe it or not, this is not a simple question to answer and it depends on the jurisdiction.
In Missouri, a life sentence is considered a 30-year prison sentence with one exception. A first-degree murder conviction states that the life sentence imposed means that the person convicted will die in prison.
In the federal court system, a life sentence means that the person convicted will remain in prison until their natural death, unless successfully appealed or shortened to a fixed term.
Can minors be charged with a life sentence without the possibility of parole?
In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Miller v. Alabama that minors cannot be issued life sentences with no chance for parole except in the case of aggravated first-degree murder, based on the 8th Amendment outlawing cruel and unusual punishment.
What is the point of being charged with multiple life sentences?
At first glance, having a judge do this might seem to make no sense. But, in the state system, remember that life sentences are essentially 30-year sentences, so two life sentences would effectively equal a 60-year sentence.
In the case of life sentences without a term limit (such as a first-degree murder in Missouri or a federal life sentence), having multiple consecutive life sentences ensures that the person convicted will remain in jail until their natural death even if one conviction is commuted (shortened) or overturned.
What are crimes that are eligible for life sentences?
There are two types of crimes eligible for life sentences – federal and state.
Federal Crimes Eligible for Life Sentences
- First Degree Murder
Other federal crimes could be eligible for life sentences as well if certain circumstances existed when the crime was committed. For example, a life sentence could be imposed for kidnapping, if the person kidnapped was a minor who was sexually exploited and the kidnapper used a gun in the abduction.
You will notice that there are far fewer federal crimes eligible for life sentences, as compared to state charges, due to the fact that federal crimes are sentenced with the intent that the person convicted serve the entire term of the sentence. No parole options exist in the federal system except for those convicted prior to November 1, 1987.
Missouri Crimes Eligible for Life (30 Year) Sentences
- Abandonment of Child – 1st Degree – Death of Child
- Abandonment of Child – 2nd Degree – Death of Child
- Abuse or Neglect of a Child – Less Than 14 Years of Age and Sexual Abuse/Exploitation
- Abuse or Neglect of a Child – Resulting in Death Under Sec. 568.060.5(2)
- Abuse or Neglect of a Child – Serious Emotional or Physical Injury
- Aiding/Abetting a Person Discharging/Shooting a Firearm at or From a Motor Vehicle – Physical Injury or Death
- Any Person Not Owner/Not in Lawful Control of Approved Container, Allow Release/Escape of Anhydrous Ammonia-Death/Serious Injury
- Arson 1st Degree – Causing Serious Physical Injury or Death
- Arson 1st Degree – Causing Serious Physical Injury or Death as a Result of Fire or Explosion In An Attempt to Produce Methamphetamine
- Assault 1st Degree or Attempt – Serious Physical Injury or Special Victim
- Assault with Intent to Commit Bus Hijacking with a Weapon
- BWI – Death of 2 or More – 2nd or Subsequent Violation
- BWI – Death of Law Enforcement or Emergency Personnel – 2nd or Subsequent Violation
- BWI – Habitual – 2nd or Subsequent Violation
- Causing Catastrophe
- Child Kidnapping
- Child Molestation – 1st Degree
- Distribution of a Controlled Substance in a Protected Location
- Domestic Assault – 1st Degree – Previous Offense Under “This Crime”
- Domestic Assault – 1st Degree – Serious Physical Injury
- Domestic Assault – 1st Degree – Serious Physical Injury
- DWI – Death of 2 or More – 2nd or Subsequent Violation
- DWI – Death of Law Enforcement or Emergency Personnel – 2nd or Subsequent Violation
- DWI – Habitual – 2nd or Subsequent Violation
- Endangering the Welfare of a Child – 1st Degree – Death of Child – No Sexual Conduct
- Endangering the Welfare of a Child – 1st Degree – Death of Child – Sexual Conduct
- Escape or Attempted Escape from Confinement with Deadly Weapon, Dangerous Instrument or By Holding Hostage
- Escape or Attempted Escape from Custody with Deadly Weapon, Dangerous Instrument or By Holding Hostage
- Financial Exploitation of Elderly/Disabled Person
- Kidnapping – 1st Degree
- Knowingly Infect Another with HIV By Being a Blood, Blood Product, Organ, Tissue or Sperm Donor
- Manufacture of a Controlled Substance – Physical Injury or Death During Manufacture
- Murder 1st Degree (this is a full life sentence, not 30 years)
- Murder 2nd Degree
- Murder 2nd Degree – Felony Murder – During Perpetration/Attempted Perpetration/Flight from Perpetration of a Felony, a Person Dies
- Murder 2nd Degree – Vehicular – Intoxicated
- Perjury in Criminal Trial to Secure Conviction of Murder
- Planting Bomb or Explosive at or Near Bus or Terminal
- Promote Child Pornography to a Minor 1st Degree
- Recklessly Infect Another with HIV When Actor Is Knowingly Infected With HIV
- Robbery – 1st Degree
- Sexual Exploitation of a Minor Child
- Tamper with a Prescription Drug Order
- Trafficking Drugs – 2nd Degree – Over Statutory Amount
- Trafficking Drugs or Attempt- 1st Degree – Over Statutory Amount
- Unlawful Use of Weapon – Subsection 9 – Shoot At/From Motor Vehicle, At Person, Motor Vehicle or Building, Resulting in Death or Injury
How much time will someone sentenced to life in Missouri actually serve?
As a general rule, the time served after which someone can be eligible for parole is dependent on how many prior convictions someone has:
- One Prior – 40% of sentence (or until the age of 70 with 30% served)
- Two Priors – 50% of sentence (or until the age of 70 with 40% served)
- Three or More Priors – 80% of sentence (or until the age of 70 with 40% served)
There are certain crimes that do not allow a parole hearing until a certain portion of the sentence has been served no matter how many prior convictions someone has. Those crimes are:
- Armed Criminal Action – 3 years for first conviction, 5 years for second conviction, and 10 years for third conviction
- Aggravated and Chronic DWI Offenders – Aggravated – 60 Days; Chronic – 2 years
- Capital Murder – 50 years
- Discharging of a Firearm in the Committal of a Crime – 10 years for prior offenders
- Enticement of a Child Less than 15 – 5 years
- Failure to Register as a Sex Offender, 3rd Offense – 2 years
- Forcible Rape or Sodomy of a Victim Less than 12 – 30 years
- First Degree Involuntary Manslaughter – 85% of sentence
- Pharmacy Robbery in the First Degree – 10 years
- Pharmacy Robbery in the Second Degree – 5 years
- Prior or Persistent Domestic Violence Offenders – 6 months
And lastly, there are some crimes that are ineligible for parole:
- Child Molestation in the First Degree of a Child Less than 12 (when there was serious physical violence of the offender was a repeat offender)
- Discharging of a Firearm in the Committal of a Crime (by persistent offenders)
- Domestic Assault in the First Degree (for persistent domestic violence offenders)
- Drug Trafficking Offenses (in certain cases)
- Murder in the First Degree
- Persistent Sexual Offender
- Tampering with Victim/Witness
Life sentences are obviously a very big deal and especially in states like Missouri where life doesn’t necessarily mean life, they can be quite confusing as well. At Twibell Pierson Criminal Law, we have handled a lot of cases with life sentences on the line and won those cases. Even if convicted, having an experienced defense attorney on your side can help minimize you or your loved one’s time served.