What Does Life Without Parole Mean?

Attorney Aaron Spolin

California criminal appeals lawyer Aaron Spolin has worked with countless clients who had LWOP sentences. He is passionate about helping them achieve their goals.

Life without parole (LWOP) is a harsh sentence that requires a defendant to spend the entirety of their life behind bars, offering no chance at future relief in the form of parole.

It is important to note that LWOP sentences differ from death penalty sentences, in which case a defendant will stay in prison until death by execution. LWOP sentences, on the other hand, require a defendant to stay in prison until death by natural causes.

  1. What Does Life Without Parole Mean?
  2. When is LWOP Imposed?
  3. Post-Conviction Relief Opportunities for LWOP Sentences
  4. The Importance of Working with an LWOP Attorney

When is LWOP Imposed?

LWOP sentences are reserved for the most serious of crimes. When determining whether to impose a punishment of life without parole, the court examines:

  • The statue for the crime in question, and/or
  • Sentence enhancements statues

The Statue for the Crime in Question

California law imposes LWOP sentences for only a handful of offenses. Under Penal Code (P.C.) §§ 187, 190 and P.C. §§ 261, 289, 288 for instance, crimes like first-degree murder, rape, and other extreme sex crimes run the risk of a LWOP sentence.

In addition, as per Senate Bill 1437, defendants convicted under the “felony-murder rule” are also eligible for a LWOP status.

However, one large exception to this trend remains. Recent United States Supreme Court cases have provided legal protection for minors against charges of LWOP. With California leading the pack, many states across the country have moved to adopt similar policies in cases like Graham v. Florida (2010) and Montgomery v. Louisiana (2016) that have deemed the unconstitutionality of LWOP sentences imposed for juvenile defendants.

Sentence Enhancements

California law allows the court to impose sentence enhancements to a defendant’s punishment. If the circumstances of the crime committed warrant it, a harsher sentence for the offense can be prescribed by a judge and may take the form of a LWOP sentence.

P.C. 667.61, for instance, is a California sentence enhancement statute that has the power to lengthen a sentence by 15 years, 25 years, or to life in prison without parole, depending on the facts of the case. This sentence enhancement, often called the “One Strike” Law, focuses on certain sex crimes committed with aggravating circumstances.

P.C. 12022.53 (10-20-life: Use a Gun and You’re Done) and P.C. 186.22 (gang sentencing enhancement) are just two other examples of state statutes that may leave defendants with a LWOP sentence.

Which Crimes Can Get an LWOP Sentence?

Life without parole sentences may be imposed for crimes such as:

  • First degree murder
  • Felony murder
  • Rape, if the defendant has previously been convicted of rape
  • Sexual penetration, if during the commission of the crime the defendant tortured the victim
  • Lewd or lascivious acts, if committed during a burglary
  • Spousal rape, if the victim experienced great bodily injury at the hands of the defendant during the commission of the crime
  1. What Does Life Without Parole Mean?
  2. When is LWOP Imposed?
  3. Post-Conviction Relief Opportunities for LWOP Sentences
  4. The Importance of Working with an LWOP Attorney

Post-Conviction Relief Opportunities for LWOP Sentences

Attorney Aaron Spolin and other attorneys discussing strategies | Spolin Law P.C.

The LWOP attorneys at Spolin Law P.C. know which options may work for you. Contact us at (310) 424-5816 to learn more about post-conviction relief.


A commutation is a form of clemency that is granted by the California Governor. When filling a petition of commutation, you are not asking to reverse the finding of guilt, but rather to shorten or completely eliminate your sentence. Commutation is only granted in cases where the defendant’s original sentence was deemed far too harsh because of:

  • The young age at which the defendant committed the crime,
  • Extreme abuse or hardship endured by the defendant, and/or
  • Laws that were too harsh at the time of the defendant’s sentencing

It is important to note that commutations are an option for all California sentences, including LWOP.

Direct Appeal

A defendant may file a direct appeal to the court by requesting that a higher court review the decision of the lower court. While appeals attempt to correct possible legal errors, they are not opportunities to retry a case, introduce new evidence, or receive further testimony from witnesses. Rather, on appeals, the appellate court examines a case for any legal errors made by the trial court that may have jeopardized the defendant’s rights to a fair trial. On appeal, you must be able to show that the trial court made an error so egregious that it made a recognizable difference in the outcome of the case.

Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus

In California, any prisoner may file a petition for a writ of habeas corpus to dispute the conditions of their imprisonment. Writs of habeas corpus are considered a remedy that should be used after all other possible routes of post-conviction relief have been pursued. There are timelines and restrictions imposed on petitions for writs of habeas corpus. Thus, it is important to work with a knowledgeable attorney to achieve success.

  1. What Does Life Without Parole Mean?
  2. When is LWOP Imposed?
  3. Post-Conviction Relief Opportunities for LWOP Sentences
  4. The Importance of Working with an LWOP Attorney

The Importance of Working with an LWOP Attorney

Spolin Law legal team having a discussion with a client | Spolin Law P.C.

Having the right attorney on your side can make a difference in the outcome of your case. Spolin Law P.C. will fight for you.

Our award-winning team at Spolin Law P.C. is here to help you with any questions you may have regarding LWOP sentencing. As accomplished appellate attorneys, we can assist you in building a strong defense and getting you the justice you deserve. The attorney you choose to work on your case will make a difference.

The best LWOP attorneys can make a difference in the following ways:

  • Reviewing the Details of Your Case: In order to achieve post-conviction relief, your attorney will need to thoroughly review all evidence in your case as well as available transcripts from hearings and your trial. Spolin Law P.C. has a team of legal professionals who will go through your case documents with a fine-tooth comb.
  • Understanding and Applying the Law: California is constantly passing new laws, some of which can help people with LWOP sentences reduce their time in prison. Our team stays up to date with California and federal laws that can benefit our clients.
  • Fighting Hard to Win Every Case: Spolin Law P.C. had dedicated attorneys who utilized strategies targeted to win. We will fight for the rights of our clients and work to achieve their goals.

To learn more about your options if you have a life without parole sentence, contact attorney Aaron Spolin and the legal team at Spolin Law P.C. at (310) 424-5816.