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Costs of the Death Penalty

DPIC Report:

Millions Misspent: What Politicians Don't Say About the High Costs of the Death Penalty (updated version, 1994)

Financial Facts About the Death Penalty:

A new report from the Nebraska Judiciary Committee states that any savings from executing an inmate are outweighed by the financial legal costs. The report concluded that the current death penalty law does not serve the best interest of Nebraskans. (Neb. Press & Dakotan, 1/27/98)

In a report from the Judicial Conference of the United States on the costs of the federal death penalty, it was reported that the defense costs were about 4 times higher in cases where death was sought than in comparable cases where death was not sought. Moreover, the prosecution costs in death cases were 67% higher than the defense costs, without even including the investigative costs provided by law enforcement agencies. See, Federal Death Penalty Cases: Recommendations Concerning the Cost and Quality of Defense Representation.

According to an article in the Louisiana Sunday Advertiser, prosecutor Phil Haney, who often pushes for the death penalty, says if he could be sure 'life in prison really meant life in prison,' he would be for abolishing the death penalty. It's a matter of economics, he said. "It just costs too much to execute someone." (The Sunday Advertiser, 8/23/98).

Jim Dwyer, columnist for the NY Daily News, recently estimated that the projected costs of imposing the death penalty on NY's first death row inmate, Darrel Harris, will be $3 million. He concluded: "After spending $3 million extra for a capital case, New York will have bought itself nothing that it could not have gotten with a sentence of life without parole." (NY Daily News, 7/28/98).

In Indiana, three recent capital cases cost taxpayers a total of over $2 million, just for defense costs. (Prosecution costs are usually equal or more than defense costs and appellate costs will add even more expense.) Former death penalty prosecutor David Cook remarked: "If you're gonna spend this type of money in a system where there isn't much resources to go around, I think that we have a reasonable right to expect that we're gaining something by doing this. . . .We don't gain anything by doing this." (Indianapolis Star/News, 2/7/99)

Officials in Washington State are concerned that costs for a single death penalty trial will approach $1 million. To pay for the trial, the county has had to let one government position go unfilled, postponed employee pay hikes, drained its $300,000 contingency fund and eliminated all capital improvements. The Sheriff's request to replace a van which broke down last year for transporting prisoners has been shelved. (The Spokesman-Review, 1/19/99)

$Thurston County in Washington state has budgeted $346,000 in 1999 alone, to seek Mitchell Rupe's 3rd death sentence. Rupe is also dying of liver disease. Washington has made extreme efforts to save Rupe from a natural death just so it can execute him. Since 1997, Thurston County budgeted nearly $700,000 for the most recent sentencing hearing alone - expenses above the daily costs absorbed by the county prosecutor's office. (Seattle Times, 3/12/99)

$ The State of Ohio spent at least $1.5 million to kill one mentally ill man who wanted to be executed. Among the costs were: $18,147 overtime for prison employees and $2,250 overtime for State Highway Patrol officers at the time of the execution. This does not include overtime for 25 prison public information officers who worked the night of the execution. The state spent $5,320 on a satellite truck so that the official announcement of Wilford Berry's execution could be beamed to outside media, and $88.42 for the lethal drugs. Attorney General Betty Montgomery had 5 to 15 prosecutors working on the case. Between 5 and 10% of the annual budget for the state's capital-crimes section was devoted to the Berry case for 5 years. Keeping Berry in prison for his entire life would have cost approximately half as much. (Columbus Dispatch, 2/28/99)

$ In Mississippi, the state has no system for providing lawyers for death row inmates after their direct appeal. The Mississippi Supreme Court, however, has ordered counties to start paying attorneys for post-conviction appeals. Chancery Clerk Butch Scipper of Quitman County remarked: "We're probably the poorest county in the state. We have no cash reserves and nothing is budgeted for this type of expense." He indicated they would have to raise taxes to pay for the death penalty. (Biloxi Sun Herald, 2/21/99)

$ Many small counties are overwhelmed with the financial burden of the death penalty. "These capital-murder trials can devastate the budget of a small county," says Allen Amos, one of 55 judges from small west Texas counties in the Rural County Judges Association. "If you go to trial with an automatic appeal, you could be looking at $350,000 to $500,000 for each one of these things."(Christian Science Monitor, 2/25/99).

$Because of anticipated death penalty trial costs, Okanogan County Commissioners in Washington delayed pay raises for the county's 350 employees, then approved a 2% increase; the smallest in years. They also decided not to replace 2 of 4 public-health nurses, ordered a halt on non-emergency travel and put a hold on updating computers and county vehicles. Okanogan County shares the fate of many other rural counties across the country, where death-penalty cases are draining budgets. (Associated Press, 4/2/99).

$ Several lawyers in Louisiana are asking courts to postpone death penalty cases until there is sufficient funding to pay the attorneys. Because of a loss in revenue, private attorneys appointed by the court to handle death penalty cases as well as other criminal cases have not been paid in a year. The lawyers who handle these cases are concerned about the consequences for their clients: "I think poor people get poor representation. They are represented by overworked public defenders and private lawyers who aren't getting paid. That is not equal justice." (The Advocate, 4/5/99)

$ The taxpayers of Suffolk County and New York State paid $2.5 million for the capital murder trial of Robert Shulman, who was sentenced to death on May 6. Because prosecutors sought the death penalty, the trial was 3.5 times more expensive than if the death penalty had not been sought. The cost was more than double what it would have cost to keep Shulman, 45, in prison for 40 years. The public cost of Shulman's sentence will continue to climb throughout his incarceration. (Newsday, 7/12/99)

$Colorado taxpayers have spent more than $2.5 million on five death penalty cases so far this year under the state's new three-judge-panel sentencing system. Only one of the defendants was sentenced to death.

$The New York Daily News (which has supported the death penalty) estimated that the costs associated with pursuing the death penalty in that state could reach $238 million by the time of the first execution. If that execution is further delayed because of problems with the statute, the costs could reach $408 million. Professor James Acker, a death penalty expert from the State University of New York in Albany, noted: "There's all this money being invested up front with the intent of getting an eventual execution. But the return on the dollar of these investments is really quite poor. So the money is thrown away. If the ultimate punishment were life in prison to begin with, you wouldn't have all the added expense of a death penalty case . . . ." (N.Y. Daily News, 10/19/99)

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