Is a Sentence of Imprisonment for a Term of Years Greater Than Life Expectancy Lawful ?
In Alvarez v. State, 358 So. 2d 10 (Fla. 1978), the defendant was convicted of robbery and sentenced to 125 years in prison under section 813.011, Florida Statutes (1973), which provided that first-degree felony robbery was punishable by a sentence of "life or any lesser term of years."
Alvarez challenged his sentence in the district court on the ground that it exceeded the limit set by the statute, arguing that 125 years was not a term of years less than life, but was in fact a term of years that exceeded his life expectancy.
The district court affirmed the sentence, but certified the following question:
Is a sentence of imprisonment for a term of years greater than the life expectancy of the sentenced person lawful under Section 813.011, Florida Statutes (1973), and Section 812.13, Florida Statutes (1975)? 358 So. 2d at 11.
The defendant argued that his sentence was unlawful under the statute, and that the statute itself was unconstitutionally vague because it measured a definite sentence term against the imprecise term of "life." Id.
In rejecting these arguments, the court reasoned as follows:
We reject the notion that an individual's life expectancy should be used, or was intended by the Legislature to be used, to mark the longest term which a particular defendant should serve.
Any sentence, no matter how short, may eventually extend beyond the life of a prisoner.
Mortality and life expectancy are irrelevant to limitations on the terms of incarceration set by the Legislature for criminal misconduct.
We also reject petitioner's contention that the statute is unconstitutionally vague and indefinite.
Although no person can predict the maximum length of time which can be served by a prisoner under a sentence of life, this in itself does not render a life sentence impermissibly indefinite.
The legislative intent from the face of the statute is clear: a person convicted of robbery while carrying a firearm or other deadly weapon may be sentenced to imprisonment for the remainder of his life; . . . . the trial court may, in its discretion, impose any sentence, or probationary period, up to the maximum term authorized for that crime by the Legislature. Id. at 12.