What is the Cost?



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.

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 percent more than the cost of trials in which prosecutors seek life imprisonment.

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 seeks life without parole as its maximum punishment.

The most comprehensive study in the country found that the death penalty costs North Carolina $2.16 million per execution over the costs of sentencing murderers to life imprisonment. The majority of those costs occur at the trial level. (Duke university, 1993).

In Kansas, the costs of capital cases are 70% more expensive than comparable non-capital cases, including the costs of incarceration. (Kansas Performance Audit Report, December 2003).

Enforcing the death penalty costs Florida $51 million a year above what it would cost to punish all first-degree murderers with life in prison without parole. Based on the 44 executions Florida had carried out since 1976, that amounts to a cost of $24 million for each execution. (Palm Beach Post, January 2000).

In Maryland, an average death penalty case resulting in a death sentence costs approximately $3 million. The eventual costs to Maryland taxpayers for cases pursued from 1978-1999 will be $186 million. Five executions have resulted. (Urban Institute 2008).

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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