From the Boston Herald:
RALEIGH, N.C. — Twenty murderers, rapists and robbers sentenced to life in North Carolina prisons in the 1970s will be released at the end of October as a result of recent court rulings.
Well, basically it comes down to this. These murderers, rapists, and robberts were sentenced to life in prison in the 1970s as a result of their crime.
In 1981, the NC sentencing guidelines were revised. Essentially, all sentences were cut in half. The new guildelines were applied retroactively.
One industrious lifer argued to the court that, back in the 1970s, the sentencing guidelines interpreted "life in prison" as meaning "80 years". Therefore, when the 1981 changes came along, that meant that their sentence was, effectively, 40 years.
Last week, the highest court of North Carolina agreed with this interpretation.
So, with some staturorily-recognized time off for good behavior, some "lifers" are now being set free, having served their sentence. More will be released in the decade to come.
Thank you, legal fluke.
[For what it is worth — since 1994, when North Carolina eliminated parole, a life sentence in North Carolina has meant the convict will die behind bars. But only first-degree murder can carry a life sentence, and now, the shortest sentence someone convicted now of first-degree forcible rape can serve is 12 years.]