« "How Many Medical Marijuana Patients Are Fakers? Does It Matter?" | Main | "The Hazy Science of Hot Weather and Violence" »

August 7, 2011

Interesting accounting of death penalty realities in Indiana

This very lengthy article from the Evansville Courier & Press provides considerable data on the administration of capital punishment in Indiana. The piece is headlined "Seeking death penalty in Indiana is expensive, often unsuccessful," and here are excerpts:

Seeking the death penalty in Indiana has become an expensive proposition, and one that often doesn't end with execution.  Only 16 percent of Indiana's death penalty cases — 30 out of 188 — filed from 1990 through 2009 ended in death sentences, according to the Indiana Public Defender Council.

Such statistics have given death penalty foes a solid economic argument, and even supporters of the death penalty are calling for reforms to control skyrocketing defense costs often born by local and state governments.

Vanderburgh County's record is as mixed as the state's.  In the last two decades the county spent more than $800,000 defending death penalty cases, each more expensive than the last. Only one of the county's last five death penalty trials resulted in an execution.

"If there is something broken it is the courts' allowance of a blank check for the defense," said Clark County Prosecutor, Steven Stewart, a recognized death penalty expert in the state.... "The No. 1 defense strategy is to make it as expensive and burdensome as they can.  That is just a fact of life.  That is the way it is," Stewart said.  The risk for judges in not allowing defense requests, he said, is that the refusal might become grounds for a successful appeal....

These kinds of trial expenses have forced other, more rural counties to raise taxes, Stewart said.  For instance, Parke County raised its economic development income tax by0.25 percent to pay for the prosecution of Chad Cottrell for the murder of his wife and step-daughters.  Although it was a death penalty case, it ended in 2009 with his guilty plea and a life without parole sentence, according to the Indiana Public Defenders Council, making it the third most expensive death penalty trial in state history.

In similarly rural Pike County, Prosecutor Darrin McDonald acknowledges he was aware of the potential for such costs when he decided against pursuing the death penalty for Nicholas Harbison, convicted of the July 2006 murders of three people in a rural cornfield....

Much of the cost of capital cases comes from compensating the attorneys involved....  The state Supreme Court dictates the conduct of capital cases in Rule 24 of the Indiana Rules of Criminal Procedure. The rule requires two public defenders to represent defendants.... In many death penalty cases separate investigators are hired for trial and to find evidence that supports a life sentence in the event of a conviction....

The disparity in counties' abilities to pay for death penalty cases, combined with the significantly lower cost of seeking a life without parole sentence, has raised questions of reform....  Life without parole has been a sentencing option in Indiana since 1993. Indiana prosecutors have been authorized by the General Assembly to seek life without parole without requesting a death sentence since 1994....

The average cost of a death penalty trial and direct appeal was more than $450,000, according to a fiscal impact report done by the Indiana Legislative Services Agency in 2010.  That is more than 10 times the cost of a life without parole trial, which averaged $42,658.  In addition, the cost of filing a death penalty case, investigating it and working on it until a plea agreement is reached was still more than twice the cost of a life without parole trial.

The report found that of 26 death penalty cases between 2000 and 2007, seven actually went to trial, resulting in six death sentences and one life without parole sentence.  The majority — 19 cases — ended in plea agreements for life without parole sentences.  "If you look at this from a public policy perspective, from a taxpayer's perspective, in either case the person is going to die in prison. The only question is who picks the date," [said Paula] Sites, [an assistant executive director at the Indiana Public Defender Council].

August 7, 2011 at 03:02 PM | Permalink

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d83451574769e2015434545525970c

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Interesting accounting of death penalty realities in Indiana:

Comments

Probably the ONLY pragmatic benefit to the death penalty option is to give the prosecutor a significant plea bargain position. I would be interested in hearing from other prosecutors or defense lawyers how significant the death penalty option is in their own plea calculations. I'm especially interested in hearing from those who live in states that are have the option and compare it to those who don't.

For instance, if the death penalty is an option, then a prosecutor can offer LWOP as the plea, while in non-capital punishment states, when LWOP is the harshest punishment, perhaps 25-Life may be the more likely plea.

Douglas, do you think this is a worthy discussion, perhaps even the basis for a peer reviewed paper?

Posted by: Eric Knight | Aug 7, 2011 4:11:52 PM

lol talk about a santimonious twit!

"Vanderburgh County's record is as mixed as the state's. In the last two decades the county spent more than $800,000 defending death penalty cases, each more expensive than the last. Only one of the county's last five death penalty trials resulted in an execution.

"If there is something broken it is the courts' allowance of a blank check for the defense," said Clark County Prosecutor, Steven Stewart, a recognized death penalty expert in the state.... "The No. 1 defense strategy is to make it as expensive and burdensome as they can."

How about we set it up that whatever the state is willing to spend on police resources for investigation and at the prosecutors office in the prosectuion.....

THAT'S WHAT THE DEFENSE GETS! darn we would now have a lvl playing field and since it would have to be displayed in public on EACH AND EVERY CASE....the public could quickly see where it's all going and which laws we might need to trash can as a useless waste!

Posted by: rodsmith | Aug 8, 2011 12:00:24 AM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB