Answering the hard questions: Cost

Capital Punishment is a far more expensive system than one whose maximum penalty is life without the possibility of parole.

According to a New Jersey study conducted by New Jersey Policy Perspectives, between 1983 and 2005, N.J. taxpayers paid $253 million more for their death penalty system than they would have for a system that only seeks life without parole as its maximum punishment.

A 1993 North Carolina study conducted by Duke University found that the state spends $2.16 million more per execution than on a non-death penalty murder case.

A 2008 Maryland study conducted by the Urban Institute found that the total cost of the death penalty to Maryland taxpayers for cases that began 1978 to 1999 to be at least $186 million. Furthermore, the total cost to the taxpayers of Maryland per death penalty case is $3 million, more than $1.9 million more per case than a no-death-notice case.

A 2004 study by the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury concluded that:

  • The Office of Research was unable to determine the total, comprehensive cost of the death penalty in Tennessee. Although noting that, “no reliable data exists concerning the cost of prosecution or defense of first-degree murder cases in Tennessee.” The report concluded that capital murder trials are longer and more expensive at every step compared to other murder trials.
  • Death penalty trials cost an average of 48% more than the average cost of trials in which prosecutors seek life imprisonment.

A report to the Washington State Bar association regarding costs found, that at the trial level, death penalty cases are estimated to generate roughly $470,000 in additional costs to the prosecution and defense over the cost of trying the same case as an aggravated murder without the death penalty and costs of $47,000 to $70,000 for court personnel. On direct appeal, the cost of appellate defense averages $100,000 more in death penalty cases than in non-death penalty murder cases.

The greatest costs of the death penalty are incurred prior to and at trial, not in post-conviction proceedings.

  • Under a death penalty system, trials have two separate phases (conviction and sentencing). Special motions and extra jury selection questioning typically precede these trials.
  • More investigative costs are generally incurred in capital cases, particularly by the prosecution.
  • When death penalty trials result in a verdict less than death or are reversed, the taxpayer incurs all the extra costs of capital pretrial and trial proceeding and must then also pay either for the cost of incarcerating the prisoner for life or the costs of a retrial (which often leads to a life sentence).

The death penalty diverts resources from genuine crime control measures. Spending money on the death penalty system means:

  • Taking it away from existing components of the criminal justice system, such as prosecutions of drug crimes, domestic violence, and child abuse.
  • Reducing the resources available to states for crime prevention, education and rehabilitation, law enforcement, drug treatment programs, care and follow-up of people who have been released into the community, and victims’ compensation funds.

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