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December 18, 2008

How might police departments of school districts use $3 million in Fulton County, Georgia?

This new piece from the New York Times, headlined "In Georgia, Push to End Unanimity for Execution," spotlights some of the consequences of a few Georgian jurors' decision to resist imposing a death sentence on courthouse killer Brian Nichols.  The question for this post comes from this notable accounting of some of the costs of the efforts by the state to get Nichols on death row:

The county spent more than $3 million on a 54-count trial featuring 144 witnesses and 1,200 pieces of evidence, and much of that money could have been saved had the prosecution accepted Mr. Nichols’s offer to plead guilty in exchange for a sentence of life without parole. Mr. Howard [the Fulton County district attorney] scored a victory by convicting Mr. Nichols on all counts, but his primary goal was always a death sentence.

Though I know many people are disinclined to look at capital cases in cost/benefit terms, I have to think that Fulton County police departments and school districts would have ultimately put the millions spent seeking to get Nichols on death row to better use than did DA Howard.  Ironically, the requirement of jurors unanimity now saves Fulton County taxpayers and other taxpayers from a lot of additional expenses: millions more surely would have been expended during years of state and federal appellate review had Nichols been sentenced to death.

Especially during these tight budget times,  more and more jurisdictions seem likely to realize that a well-run capital punishment system is a luxury that is rarely worth the government expense if and when other services are being cut.  It will be interesting to see if persons in Georgia come to recognize this inevitable reality after anger over the Nichols' verdict subsides a bit.

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December 18, 2008 at 09:45 AM | Permalink

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