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November 29, 2004

Debating death in New York

Someone was kind enough to forward to me a fascinating notice, available for downloading below, concerning two planned hearings to be conducted by the New York State Assembly to "examine the future of capital punishment in New York State."  Here are just some of the highlights from the notice, which provides background and information about the death penalty in New York and why these hearings are needed:

New York's most recent death penalty statute ... became effective on September 1st of that year.... On June 24th, 2004, the New York Court of Appeals in People v. LaValle invalidated the "deadlock instruction" provision of New York's death penalty law, holding that the instruction created a "substantial risk of coercing jurors into sentencing a defendant to death" in violation of the Due Process clause of the New York State Constitution. The Court also held that the absence of any deadlock instruction would be constitutionally impermissible and that the Court was not judicially empowered to create a new deadlock instruction. The Court thus found that "under the present statute, the death penalty may not be imposed" under New York law, but that first degree murder prosecutions could continue to go forward as non-capital cases under the current statute....

New York's death penalty law was in effect for slightly less than nine years before it was struck down this past June. In that time, it is estimated that the state and local governments have spent approximately $170 million administering the statute. Not a single person has been executed in New York since the law's enactment. Seven persons have been sentenced to death [and only two of these sentences have not been reversed or converted yet].

New York's death penalty statute has remained highly controversial since its enactment and continues to be roundly criticized. The question of whether the statute should now be revived and, if so, in what form, has also been the subject of intense interest and debate since the Court of Appeals decision in LaValle. These hearings are intended to provide a public forum to review what New York's experience with the death penalty over the past nine years has been and what that experience has taught us. It is intended to solicit views on how the experience of other states, the federal government and other nations can help inform New York's actions on this issue. Finally, the hearings are intended to foster a public dialogue on the ultimate question of whether New York's death penalty law should be reinstated and, if so, what form any new law should take.

After providing this background, the notice also includes a lengthy list of "Select questions to which witnesses may direct their testimony."  Fascinating stuff (as was the Lavalle decision, which you can access here).  I am actually somewhat surprised that New York has spent "only" $170 million on administering its death penalty statute over the last decade.

Download AssemblyDeathPenaltyHearingNotice.doc

November 29, 2004 at 05:45 PM | Permalink


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I am extremely curious as to where this 170 million dollar figure comes from. The only reference to 170 million in New York that I have found was a New York Daily News article that estimated that the procedural delays in completing executions would add an additional 170 million to the already estimated 238 million dollar cost till the execution of the first inmate, for a 448 million dollar total.


This article also says that the DP costs the state 17 million dollars a year, so perhaps the legislature extrapolating out from that. If anyone else has seen the methodology that NY used to get this number I'd be very interested to see it. The number does seem low, but this is probably due to the very few DP cases that the state of New York has brought. As of 2003, only 49 death notices have been brought, with the highest yearly total being 14 in 1998.


170 divided by 49 is 3.43 million, which puts the cost of the NY death penalty significantly higher than the national average of 2.3 million. This is to be expected due to the procedural protections and features of the NY capital system. It is unclear though, how many variables this estimate takes into account or whether NY has considered offsetting costs and benefits.

Posted by: Michael Korns | Nov 29, 2004 11:33:03 PM

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