What is the Difference Between a Life Sentence and a Natural Life Sentence in Arizona?

Many people get confused when distinguishing a life sentence from a natural life sentence, as they sound extremely similar. Countless people think that they mean the same thing. However, that is not the case; there is a big difference between the two prison sentences.

The Difference? The Possibility for Parole

Natural Life Sentence:

According to ARS 13-751 Subsection A Paragraph 2, a defendant who is sentenced to natural life is not eligible for commutation, parole, work furlough, work release or release from confinement on any basis. This is one of the harshest penalties the State of Arizona sentences a person to, only second to the death penalty.

Life Sentence:

In the same section, it explains that if the defendant is sentenced to life, the defendant shall not be released on any basis until the completion of the service of twenty-five calendar years if the murdered person was fifteen or more years of age and thirty-five years if the murdered person was under fifteen years of age or was an unborn child.

Clemency Board

Once a person is eligible for parole, they will go before the Arizona Board of Clemency or a hearing officer appointed by the board.

According to its mission, the board is to ensure public safety by considering and granting parole to inmates who are certified by the Department of Corrections and who appear not to pose a threat to society.

Do You Need Help with Criminal Charges in Arizona?

These sentences are very harsh and are normally reserved for Arizona offenders who have committed serious and often violent crimes.

If you are facing charges for a serious crime in Phoenix, Tempe, Scottsdale, Tucson, Mesa, Gilbert, Chandler, Peoria, Glendale, or another city in Arizona, the criminal defense team at JacksonWhite can work to ensure that you avoid such severe sentencing.

Schedule a free consultation with experienced criminal lawyer, Jeremy Geigle, by calling (480) 818-9943.

8 Responses to “What is the Difference Between a Life Sentence and a Natural Life Sentence in Arizona?”

  1. I’ve been following the Jodi Arias trial. In one of the sites covering this trial I was informed that if one gets “life” (not “natural life”), that person is NOT eligible for “parole” after 25 years. That person would be eligible for executive (governor) clemency. But that would be thonly way the person could be freed. A person convicted for first degree murder is NOT eligible for parole. So, is your opinion somewhat confusing?

    • Mr. O’Neill,

      Thank you for your comment. This topic can be somewhat confusing. Before a first-degree murder trial begins, the prosecutor must file a request to deem the case a capital case if they want the possibility of the defendant receiving the death penalty. After the offender is convicted of first-degree murder, the state must prove aggravating factors and the case will proceed to the penalty phase where a jury will determine whether or not the offender will receive the death penalty. If the jury does not find that the death penalty is appropriate, a judge will rule whether or not the offender will serve life or life without parole. If the judge sentences the defendant to life and the victim was 15-years-old or older, the defendant may be eligible for parole after serving 25 years, but if the victim was under the age of 15 or an unborn child, the defendant may be eligible for parole after serving 35 years.

      I hope that clears things up a bit. Thank you again,
      JacksonWhite Client Services

      • No, that doesn’t clear anything up. Some are saying AZ does not have a mechanism to parole anyone, it has to be up to the clemency board if they can be released after 25 years. Someone else said they do not get time served with a life sentence even if it says LWP because it is still a life sentence and will have to serve 25 years in PRISON before they can apply for clemency. You AZ lawyers seem to be all over the map on this issue.

      • Dear Ms. Misner,

        Thank you for your comment. Along with other responsibilities, the Clemency Board does in fact decide whether or not to a parole a convicted person that has a Life with Parole (LWP) sentence. The person convicted must be certified by the Department of Corrections and served 25 years of their sentence.

        Thank you again,
        JacksonWhite Client Services

  2. Approximately how many inmates incarcerated under a Life Without Parole sentence over the past 25 years have had their sentence commuted to straight life or less and then been released from prison? Is the public notified when those Life Without sentences are commuted or are they simply left to believe the criminal is still going to die of old age in prison?

    • Hi Bob,

      Thank you for your comment. In the state of Arizona, there are two types of life sentences: Natural Life in Prison and Life in Prison. If the person is sentenced to Natural Life, then there is no possibility for commuting a sentence or being released before death. If the person has Life in Prison, they have possibility for parole after serving 25 years. The public is only notified of the release of convicted sex offenders.

      JacksonWhite Client Services

  3. My brother have a life sentence in Michigan. Can he have a chance for parole after 25 yrs??? Or will he do life?

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