Created By: jujuP on September 4, 2013 Last Edited By: JujuP on September 17, 2013
Troped

Longer Than Life Sentence

A criminal get sentenced to prison terms going beyond a normal life expectancy

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Lemongrab: "ONE MILLION YEEEAAARS!! DUNGEON!" *jail door slams*

Basically, There Is No Kill Like Overkill applied to sentencing.

Bob commits a crime. The jury convict him of this crime and thus The Judge must determine an appropriate sentence.

The Judge decides to sentence to Bob 400+ years of prison or 11 life sentences, essentially rotting in a cell. Bob got Longer-Than-Life Sentence.

Such sentences are set sentences of a ridiculously huge amount of years (typically three digits) that, while theoretically has an end, can never be fully served by any ordinary person and could also include life terms in cases where such sentences are consecutive and/or the time before being eligible for parole is ludicrously long.

Sometimes it is not explained what the sentenced person did, just that they have X amount of years left that go beyond normal human life expectancy.

The reasons for such sentences are the desire for the judge to ensure a criminal never leave prison alive or insuring for the eventuality of an acquittal.

Such sentences can be enabled by the ability of consecutive sentencing or the fact that the upper limits to prison terms are very high or even nonexistant in the concerned jurisdiction.

This trope can be used by an author as a manner to indicate that a judge is a Hanging Judge or a jurisdiction is ruthless toward criminals, and could also show to the readers and/or other characters this criminal is truly hardcore and dangerous.

See also The Old Convict and Disproportionate Retribution.

Examples

Anime and Manga
  • All three protagonists of the cyberpunk anime Cyber City Oedo 808 are cons serving astronomical sentences on a prison satellite, to the tune of 300 years or more. For duty served, they get a few years of that sentence taken off, though if they screw up a job or piss off Hasegawa, the warden, time gets added to their sentences — if he doesn't just pop their collars, that is.
  • Taken to its logical conclusion in Soul Eater when the witches' Kangaroo Court sentences Free (who's functionally immortal, Nigh Invulnerable and was already serving an indefinite sentence when he was introduced and broken out of their jail) to multiple death sentences. Of course, he gets off lightly compared to Death the Kid (the son of the Grim Reaper himself) who they sentence to a million death penalties.

Comics
  • The Daltons are serving a 4200-years hard labor sentence in the beginning of La Ballade des Daltons before escaping.
    • In another Lucky Luke comic, an escaped convict lampshades this when his hostage tells him that if he turns back now, he'll get a lighter sentecne. The convict responds with "I can't see much of a difference between being sentenced to 236 or 295 years in prison".
  • In Le Grain de la folie Achille Talon expects being sentenced to 745 years (with mitigating circumstances) for breaking in Surrender's base.

Film
  • In Malcolm X the main character's friend, Shorty, faints because he think he will be victim of this trope.
    Malcolm X (voiceover): Shorty thought he [the judge] hit us with 114 years, until I explained "concurrently." It meant a minimum sentence of 10 years hard labor at the Charlestown State Prison.
  • In Sky High, there's a passing mention that Baron Battle had received a quadruple life sentence, with no chance of parole until after the third.
  • In the Red Dwarf episode "Justice", Rimmer gets sentenced to ten thousand years imprisonment. Subverted as he is expected to be able to serve his sentence and be released at the end since he is a hologram. Of course as always Status Quo Is God and the Reset Button is hit by the episode end.

Literature

Live-Action TV
  • In Oz, Chris Keller is sentenced to 88 years with parole accessible in 50 before being sentenced to death, sentence overturned eventually.
    • Subverted with Omar White: while he is sentenced to 75 years, he's up for parole in 20.

Music
  • In Cocaine Blues Willy Lee end sentenced, for murdering his girlfriend, to:
    99 years in the Folsom pen
    99 years underneath that ground

VideoGames

Western Animation
  • The titular Megamind was sentenced to 88 consecutive life sentences for his crimes against humanity and Metro City. Largely meaningless, since he's able to waltz out the front door of his Cardboard Prison, and back into his functional laboratory cum lair.
  • At the end of the Looney Tunes short "Baby Buggy Bunny", after Baby Face Finster has been jailed, Bugs Bunny shows up and gives him this classic line;
    Bugs Bunny: Don't be such a crybaby. After all, 99 years isn't forever.
  • Adventure Time: In the episode Too Young, The Earl of Lemongrab succeeds the throne from Princess Bubblegum after she was turned into a child. He's a tyrant who routinely gives these kinds of sentences to the candy citizens throughout the episode at the drop of a hat, and when Finn and Bubblegum pull a prank on him his line when sending them to the dungeon has become a meme by itself.
    Lemongrab: "ONE MILLION YEEEAAARS!! DUNGEON!" *jail door slams*

Real Life
  • Darron Anderson, in Oklahoma, was sentenced to 11,250 years for burglary, robbery and rape after appealing.note 
  • Bobbie Joe Long was sentenced to 28 life sentences, 99 years sentence and one death sentence by Florida for his murders and rapes.
  • James Earl Ray got a 99-years sentence for murdering Martin Luther King.
  • Jamal Zougal was sentenced to 50,000 years for the 2004 Madrid train bombings. note 
  • Ronald DeFeo, Jr., perpetrator of the so-called Amityville killings, was sentenced to six consecutive sentences of 25 years to life, hence a minimum of 150 years.


Community Feedback Replies: 70
  • September 4, 2013
    DennisDunjinman
    In Jack Blank, the Calculans sentence the Space Pirate Solomon Roka to 942 years in prison... for operating without a license. The length of the Calculan year isn't known, but 942 is still a lot of them.
  • September 4, 2013
    Chabal2
    In another Lucky Luke comic, an escaped convict lampshades this when his hostage tells him that if he turns back now, he'll get a lighter sentecne. The convict responds with "I can't see much of a difference between being sentenced to 236 or 295 years in prison".
  • September 4, 2013
    Paradisesnake
    Did some formatting.
  • September 4, 2013
    DAN004
    Uh, needs a better title. :P
  • September 4, 2013
    CrypticMirror
    In the Red Dwarf episode "Justice", Rimmer gets sentenced to ten thousand years imprisonment with the expectation that since he is a hologram he can actually serve it and be released at the end. Of course as always Status Quo Is God and the Reset Button is hit by the episode end.
  • September 4, 2013
    stormeye
    Some times it is not explained what the sentenced person did, just that they have X amount of years left that go beyond normal human life expectancy.
  • September 4, 2013
    spacemarine50
    Justified because executing a criminal instead is legally challenging and most everyone hates the idea. But holding him until he dies (assume average age of death) is very expensive and it's 1 cell that will never be empty.
  • September 4, 2013
    randomsurfer
    In Malcolm X it's actually not Malcolm who thinks they'll be serving 100+ years, it's his friend Shorty (played by Spike Lee). Shorty faints when he hears the sentence.
    Malcolm X (voiceover): Shorty thought he [the judge] hit us with 114 years, until I explained "concurrently." It meant a minimum sentence of 10 years hard labor at the Charlestown State Prison.
  • September 5, 2013
    TwoGunAngel
    All three protagonists of Cyber City Oedo 808 are cons serving astronomical sentences, to the tune of 300 years or more. For duty served, they get a few years of that sentence taken off, though if they fuck up or piss off Hasegawa, the warden, time gets added to their sentences -- if he doesn't just pop their collars, that is.
  • September 5, 2013
    oneuglybunny
    Western Animation
    • The titular Megamind was sentenced to 88 consecutive life sentences for his crimes against humanity and Metro City. Largely meaningless, since he's able to waltz out the front door of his Cardboard Prison, and back into his functional laboratory cum lair.
  • September 6, 2013
    Stratadrake
    I know this is trivial, but I think I generally hear "astronomical" used more than "astronomic" (they both mean precisely the same thing).
  • September 6, 2013
    Paradisesnake
    ^ I was actually thinking the same thing. It sounds a bit more natural in my opinion.
  • September 6, 2013
    JujuP
    Added some exemples.

    1) Would "Astrocomical Sentence", "Thousand Year Sentence" (from Thousand Year Reign), "The Prison Will Have To Keep The Body/Corpse" be good alternative titles?

    2) Does the description need be polished?

  • September 6, 2013
    DAN004
    Ridiculously Long Sentence? (Okay, a bit confusing)
  • September 6, 2013
    CaveCat
    • At the end of the Looney Tunes short "Baby Buggy Bunny", after Baby Face Finster has been jailed, Bugs Bunny shows up and gives him this classic line;
      Bugs Bunny: Don't be such a crybaby. After all, 99 years isn't forever.
  • September 6, 2013
    m8e
    ^^^Seven Hundred Year Sentence? (700 year sentance)
  • September 6, 2013
    CrypticMirror
  • September 6, 2013
    Bisected8
    • Taken to its logical conclusion in Soul Eater (manga only) when the witches' Kangaroo Court sentences Free (who's functionally immortal, Nigh Invulnerable and was already serving an indefinite sentence when he was introduced and broken out of their jail) to multiple death sentences. Of course, he gets off lightly compared to Death the Kid (the son of the Grim Reaper himself) who they sentence to a million death penalties.
  • September 6, 2013
    oneuglybunny
    Added a Hat. Made some minor grammar adjustments. :)
  • September 6, 2013
    SharleeD
    Astronomical Prison Sentence would be more explicit. "Astronomical Sentence" makes it sound like this is about record-breaking run-on sentences in text or dialogue.

    The practical reason for sentencing someone for this long is usually to ensure that, once convicted of multiple major crimes, they can't get free if their lawyer wrangles an acquittal for just one or two of them.
  • September 6, 2013
    DracMonster
  • September 7, 2013
    TonyG
    Cars: As Doc Hudson enters the courtroom to sentence McQueen, he rants about putting him in jail until the jail rots, then build another jail on top of him and let that one rot as well.
  • September 7, 2013
    CrypticMirror
    I'd take out the paragraph hypothesizing on why such sentences exist (or at least leave the Off On A Technicality section and pothole) and make this no real life examples. Its just asking for editorializing and flamebait. Stick to these sentences existing and leave it at that.
  • September 7, 2013
    DracMonster
    ^Hmmm. I agree about No Real Life Examples Please to prevent "Free this unjustly imprisoned mass murderer!" crap, but I dont think mentioning that it exists and the reason behind it in the description will be problematic. (It could be removed later.)
  • September 7, 2013
    JujuP
    Could Rule Of Cautious Editing be implemented (basically: only giving the convict's name and describing his crimes and not going beyond (exemple: Bob, sentenced to 300 years for murdering and raping Alice -good-, Bob, sentenced to 300 years, innocent of the Alice's rape and murder even though mean judges don't want to understand -bad-)) instead of No Real Life Examples Please? On the other hand keeping people from commenting about War on Drugs when writing about Weldon Angelos or about pedophilia with Morton Berger -who could both qualify for this trope- could be tedious.

    The paragraph hypothesizing on why such sentences exist could be cleaned of problematic points and/or moved in the Analysis page; this part should be taken out only if it's very clearly a flamebait.

    A cut-off is needed:
    • Should we determine the sentence's astronomical character by looking specifically at the convict's situation (which could make a five years sentence imposed on a 96-year-old qualify for) or shold we imagine the situation of an hypothetical 20-years-old upon who such sentence is given (i.e. a 50-years sentence imposed upon a 20-years-old means he will be out at seventy)?
    • Or a neat cut-off time is needed (i.e. any sentence over 50/60/75/100 years qualify)?
    And should be parole/good time be counted toward the sentence (see Omar White's case)?

  • September 7, 2013
    CrypticMirror
    With the cut off, I'd think the bare minimum to qualify would be 100 years. The triple digits is when people start to really notice length and triple digits give a nice narrative break for writers.

    I still think we're asking for trouble having a RL section at all on this. What purpose does it serve, it'll just fill up with either gloating or preaching, then it will catch fire and Eddie will kill it (and if it catches fire badly enough it might even get all the way to an example-less trope).
  • September 7, 2013
    JujuP
    I would put the bare minimum to 75 years and accept some exceptions to 60 or even 50 in some cases (older offenders), adapting for those whose life cycles are different (i.e. in Artemis Fowl Mulch Diggums got several centuries of prison but as fairies life very long it don't fit this trope; but a Gallivespian sentenced to 10 years could maybe qualify)

    As for the RL section, we could forbid any politic commentary (about War on Drugs for exemple) or allegations of Miscarriage Of Justice unbacked by a final court ruling or a pardon and restrict the exemples to the name, crime, sentence and pertinent legal comments; I'm always weary to forbid Real Life exemples except in extreme cases.
  • September 7, 2013
    CrypticMirror
    Well other races with much shorter lives are always going to be the exceptions, I wouldn't see any problem with examples though where the sentence is ten years but the life expectancy is only 7 years, its the same trope just a different biology. I wouldn't think there is enough of those to cause problems.

    For the term, well anything under 100 is generally "you will be imprisoned for life" and glum nods all around the court. If a judge came down and said "you will go to jail for one hundred years" then you get gasps all around and everyone is thinking "that is more than life itself". The triple digits are a big narrative break IYSWIM?

    For Real Life, I don't see how it can avoid commentary. Either the inherent gloating over the bad person who went to jail for more than life, or being shaded as the person who was sent to jail for beyond life by a [state/country of political disagreement] judge. Its going to be full of preachy preachiness or judgey judginess. I don't think either of those are opening the door on anything good. However, I can agree to disagree on that as long as it is closely watched. The Anderson and Zougal examples are already a bit wordier than they strictly have to be.
  • September 7, 2013
    JujuP
    @Cryptic Mirror For the term, well anything under 100 is generally "you will be imprisoned for life" and glum nods all around the court. If a judge came down and said "you will go to jail for one hundred years" then you get gasps all around and everyone is thinking "that is more than life itself".

    We have also to consider good time and parole; if, in a given jurisdiction, parole is available in one fourth of the sentence then someone sentenced to 100 years could be free in about 25 if he behaves himself.

    I agree than any eventual Real Life exemple should be solely despriptive.
  • September 7, 2013
    JujuP
    Is "Sentenced To Longer/More Than Life" a better title than "Astronomical Prison Sentence"?
  • September 8, 2013
    DAN004
  • September 8, 2013
    CrypticMirror
    ^ I like that. I gets the point that this isn't just a long life-sentence, but a sentence that goes way beyond life spans.

    ^^^I don't think we need to worry about parole. It is only really an issue with Real Life examples (and all the more reason not to have them), in fiction the only time parole might be mentioned is in a humourous version where "sentenced to 1 kerzillion years, or two hours with good behaviour" is used as a joke and that is obviously some form of playing with a trope. Sentence reductions not tending to form part of sentencing in fiction overall.
  • September 9, 2013
    LordGro
    Sentenced Beyond Life Expectancy could be misinterpreted. If a 80-years-old person receives a 10 years sentence, they are sentenced "beyond their life expectancy". I.e. a prison sentence so long the convict can not expect to come out of prison alive, not regarding the actual length of the sentence.

    How about Hundred Years Sentence, Two Hundred Years Sentence, Three Digit Sentence?
  • September 9, 2013
    Ryusui
    I was actually about to suggest Hundred Year Sentence.
  • September 9, 2013
    EponymousKid
    In the final issue of the COPS comic book, Big Boss and his gang are finally apprehended. Though we don't see them go to trial and Big Boss is positive none of the charges will stick, every one of the crooks is looking at a minimum of over 400 years if convicted.
  • September 9, 2013
    dalek955
    Seconding Thousand Year Sentence.

    • In Sky High, there's a passing mention that Baron Battle had received a quadruple life sentence, with no chance of parole until after the third.
  • September 10, 2013
    Stratadrake
    I wonder if Cars could do for a fitting quote:

    Doc Hudson: "I'm gonna put him in jail 'til he rots! — No, check that — I'm gonna put him in jail 'til the jail rots on top of him, then I'm gonna move him to a new jail and let that jail rot...!"
  • September 10, 2013
    Lumpenprole
    The classic movie Twenty Thousand Years In Sing-Sing (though that's not the protagonist's actual sentence).
  • September 10, 2013
    KarjamP
    In real life, I think this can occur because there's nations who believe in reincarnation.

    IE, they're punishing you in both this life and the next, after you've been reincarnated.
  • September 11, 2013
    Himbeergeist
    • A twist occurs in House where the titular character gets sentenced to six months, all while his Heterosexual Life Partner Wilson only has about five months to live. He manages to get around jail, though.
  • September 13, 2013
    JujuP
    Himbeergeist's exeple can't apply because one healthy individual can survive a six months sentence.

    This trope refers to sentences beyong what can humanely be served by any healthy person (ie. an hundred years sentence)

    As to Thousand Year Sentence, I think it's too restrictive.
  • September 13, 2013
    xanderiskander
    Western Animation
    • Adventure Time: In the episode Too Young, The Earl of Lemongrab succeeds the throne from Princess Bubblegum after she was turned into a child. He's a tyrant who routinely gives these kinds of sentences to the candy citizens throughout the episode at the drop of a hat, and when Finn and Bubblegum pull a prank on him his line when sending them to the dungeon has become a meme by itself.
      Lemongrab: "ONE MILLION YEEEAAARS!! DUNGEON!" *jail door slams*
  • September 13, 2013
    JujuP
    Should I launch this page? What about the title?
  • September 13, 2013
    SharleeD
    Possibly something should be said to distinguish between sentences that exceed a prisoner's expected natural lifespan, and cases when the prison itself, or the hard labor to which the convict is condemned, are so horrible/squalid/dangerous that they're expected to die in captivity due to the dreadful conditions.
  • September 13, 2013
    JujuP
    ..or the hard labor to which the convict is condemned, are so horrible/squalid/dangerous that they're expected to die in captivity due to the dreadful conditions.

    This is Hellhole Prison.
  • September 13, 2013
    Itsbrown4606
    The House example at least plays with this trope, IMO. Unless there's a better fit for it, I think it'd fit right in with Sentenced to Longer Than Life... it's just not the sentenced character's (House) life in this case.
  • September 14, 2013
    DAN004
    Yeah, launch plz.
  • September 14, 2013
    JujuP
    I repeat my question: does the title need be changed?
  • September 14, 2013
    LordGro
    Personally I think Hundred Years Sentence is better, on the understanding that the required minimum is not strictly 100 years. The "75 years upwards" mentioned above are probably a good rule of thumb.

    I wonder if there is a word for "doing a job with a lot of oomph when less oomph would be fully enough to do the job". I can only think of "overkill", but Overkill Prison Sentence sounds rather clumsy. If there was a more elegant way of expressing the idea, I'd probably prefer that.

    Edit: About the Real Life section—I think rather than listing individual cases of such sentences, it would be more interesting to mention which countries have justice systems where this kind of sentence can occur, and how the number of years is calculated in such systems.
  • September 14, 2013
    JujuP
    @Lord Gro

    Yeah, maybe migrating the Real Life section to the Analysis page is a good idea, where the motive and mechanism of the awarding of such sentences could be given before listing some exemples.

    Such suggestion could be implemented after the launching.
  • September 14, 2013
    DAN004
    Yeah, and "Longer than Life" can mean many things...
  • September 14, 2013
    JujuP
    @DAN 004

    Except in this case, it refers to prison sntences going beyond a natural life sentence, a sentence which go way beyond the time during which a normal being can live.
  • September 14, 2013
    LordGro
    If we stick to the phrase "longer than life", then Longer Than Life Sentence would be a more concise way of wording it.
  • September 14, 2013
    JujuP
    @Lord Gro

    "Longer Than Life Prison Sentence" could be a more precise way to formulate it.
  • September 14, 2013
    Antigone3
    Longer Than Life Prison Sentence isn't bad, but Hundred Year Sentence is a bit more succinct.

    I would suggest Ariel Castro's sentence (life without parole plus 1000 years), but 1) we haven't decided where Real Life examples go and 2) he sorta pre-empted things by hanging himself.
  • September 14, 2013
    xanderiskander
    ^ If we're going to rename this than I think Longer Than Life Prison Sentence is better, because the definition of a "life sentence" is different pretty much everywhere. Some define it by years (which vary a lot), and other places simply define it as "they have to stay in prison until they die". So I think that title fits, because it means that basically they'll be in prison for longer than they could reasonably be alive.

    Either way I'm removing a hat, because if the name isn't settled then it's not quite ready for launch yet. And this shouldn't have five hats unless it's completely ready for launch.
  • September 14, 2013
    DAN004
    ^ Couldn't think anything better than that one so I'd up that
  • September 15, 2013
    LordGro
    The word combination "life sentence" is only ever used in relation to prison sentences. So I thought Longer Than Life Sentence might be clear enough, without the "Prison". But if you think we need the "Prison" in it, I won't object.
  • September 15, 2013
    Arivne
    Seconding Longer Than Life Sentence. I think most people will see the "life sentence" and realize it's about prison.
  • September 15, 2013
    spacemarine50
    (straight or subverted? Depends on if ghosts in the sow are immortal or not) Danny Phantom was sentenced to 1000 years by The Warden Walker.
  • September 15, 2013
    Folamh3
    Real life example:

    • Ronald DeFeo, Jr., perpetrator of the so-called Amityville killings, was sentenced to six consecutive sentences of 25 years to life, hence a minimum of 150 years.
  • September 15, 2013
    JujuP
    I think this is ready to launch: the title is fixed (short and informative), the description is settled (basically, any sentence which is so long no person can live enough long to serve it - overkill sentencing) and there is enough exemples.

    Any additional comments before launching?
  • September 15, 2013
    robo126
    [[Video Games]]
    • [[Trauma Team]]: After the Cumberland incident, CR-S01 was arrested and recieved a 250-year life sentence.
  • September 15, 2013
    CrypticMirror
    You are still missing the Red Dwarf example upthread.
  • September 15, 2013
    JujuP
    In Red Dwarf Rimmer was an hologram but I will include him.
  • September 15, 2013
    oneuglybunny
    Here's a humdinger of a sentence:

    Western Animation
    • The sequel to Universal Pictures' Heavy Metal from 1981 is Heavy Metal 2000 by Cine Groupe, a studio based in Montreal, Quebec. When the vizir of a clan that guards a well of immortality reveals himself to be an alien slavemaster, he gains access to the well to begin a new conquest of the galaxy. Docile Zeek removes the key, which seals the door shut with the vizir inside. Protagonist Julie remarks, "Forever is a long time to spend alone."
  • September 15, 2013
    randomsurfer
    So, if the sentence is just "life" (or "life without the possibility of parole") it doesn't count?
  • September 16, 2013
    CrypticMirror
    ^ See this is why it needs to be triple digit sentences and over. The trope is for when the Hanging Judge imposes a set sentence of a ridiculously huge amount of years that, while theoretically has an end, can never be fully served by an ordinary person.
  • September 16, 2013
    Folamh3
    Oh yeah, it's spelt "Jamal Zougam", by the way.
  • September 17, 2013
    JujuP
    This trope will be launched now.

Three days must pass before this YKTTW is Launchworthy or Discardable

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=tiv83vtq94e73o3r3sjiu463&trope=LongerThanLifeSentence