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November 3, 2009

"Death penalty cases costly; instead, seek life sentences"

The title of this post is the headline of this commentary coming from The Spokesman Review in reaction to an intriguing debate over a potential capital case in Washington.  Here is how the piece starts:

Stevens County is balking at accepting the death penalty case of Christopher H. Devlin, because of the enormous costs associated with mounting such cases.  It’s a valid concern, because the county is already facing a $1.2 million deficit.

“I have no doubt that the defense cost of Mr. Devlin and the costs to prosecute this case would be a serious blow to the solvency of Stevens County,” county prosecuting attorney Tim Rasmussen told The Spokesman-Review.  He noted that a similar case cost Okanogan County $750,000.

While cost shouldn’t be the only concern in prosecutions, it’s become clear that a death penalty charge imposes a financial burden that isn’t worth it.  That’s also true of larger counties, especially as they try to dig themselves out of deep budgetary holes.  It can mean more pressure to reach plea agreements in other cases or employee layoffs or cutbacks in service.

The Devlin case was investigated by the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office and the death penalty charge was brought by Spokane County, because the body of Daniel D. Heily was found near Deer Park.  But investigators have since heard from a co-defendant who says the killing took place in Stevens County.

Spokane County Superior Court Judge Jerome Leveque ruled last month that because the crimes took place in two counties, the defendant could decide where to mount a defense.  Devlin chose Stevens County.

Rasmussen contends that the judge wants Spokane County to prosecute the case with a Stevens County jury. He says Spokane County should pick up the tab. Spokane County Deputy Prosecutor Dale Nagy says his interpretation is that the entire case — costs included — shifts to Stevens County.

This financial hot potato shows why it is a wiser course to seek life sentences, with no possibility of parole, for defendants like Devlin.

Some recent related posts on the costs of capital punsihment:

November 3, 2009 at 09:22 AM | Permalink

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Comments

Why don't they "bluff" and offer LWOP in exchange for a guilty plea. Obviously *now* it won't work, but it would not just save the cost of a capital trial, also the cost of a non-capital trial.

If they took DP off the table initially (like the DA in SF does), then there's no reason for the defendant not to goto trial.

Posted by: . | Nov 3, 2009 9:46:20 AM

This looks like a refreshing instance of reasonable and responsible public-official behavior: balancing the added value (if any) of a death sentence over an LWOP sentence against the opportunity cost of seeking a death sentence---money not spent on school books, after-school programs, tax reductions, extra police patrols, expanded library hours, parks and sports fields, etc., etc.

(Although it is generally true that the total cost of LWOP is less than a death sentence, from a parochial perspective, it seems like the cost/benefit analysis is even starker. The county, which reaps the savings from the capital prosecution, doesn't even have to pay for the cost of lifetime incarceration, which is externalized to the state.)

Posted by: Observer | Nov 3, 2009 9:50:31 AM

I hope justice does not suffer due to the economics involved when the victim is YOUR relative.

Posted by: Tim Heily | Jul 3, 2010 5:28:06 PM

money not spent on school books, after-school programs, tax reductions, extra police patrols, expanded library hours, parks and sports fields, etc., etc.

ralfh
pique polos

Posted by: knit polo shirt | Sep 20, 2010 1:55:02 AM

it is externalized to the state

Posted by: ralph lauren polo | Mar 23, 2011 3:36:42 AM

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