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November 4, 2007

Another reminder of capital punishment's significant costs

Today's NY Times article about the costs of administering capital punishment have me wondering again when jurisdictions will fully appreciate the extraordinary costs of running a sound death penalty system.  As the article highlights, many states still want to do the death penalty on the cheap:

Courts have repeatedly demanded a better defense in capital cases, but states have repeatedly refused to pay for it. In 1996, Congress established a “fast track” that would shorten federal deadlines in capital cases if states agreed to provide competent representation to death row inmates.  No state has fulfilled the requirements.

Capital defense lawyers face the highest possible stakes, but in many states the job is one of the lowest-paid in the legal system.  In New Mexico, for example, appointed capital defenders work under a contract system that caps their fee at $24,500, a salary that amounts to an hourly wage of just $19.50 for the average death penalty case, not enough to cover their overhead, according to a brief filed by the New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers. In contrast, private criminal defense lawyers in New Mexico made an average of $161 per hour in 2004.

As every consumer knows, you get what you pay for.  Consequently, states that do not adequately fund capital defense get sub-standard efforts that lead to more costs on the back end during appellate review.  Indeed, as the posts below highlight, any capital punishment system is necessarily a very costly endeavor:

November 4, 2007 at 06:53 PM | Permalink


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Interesting article, but I vote this case Least Likely to Attain Garden-Variety Status.

This case involves many costly extras that most trials lack: violence in a public place in a large metro area; a media frenzy; high security costs...and who can say what will happen on appeal (the trial is taking place in the very courthouse in which the crime was committed! Well, at least they save the money they might have spent transporting jurors to the scene.)

I realize that the crack-smoking (or was it meth?), pancake-eating (or were they waffles?), denouement to the manhunt makes this case exciting for readers, but a better analysis would be to look at a trial that has some resemblance to "average."

Posted by: Anne | Nov 6, 2007 12:25:36 PM

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