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August 21, 2008

Costs discussed in Maryland debate over death

As highlighted in this DPIC post, the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment has begun hearing testimony from a variety of folks concerning the state's death penalty system.  And, as detailed in this Washington Post article, earlier this week the discussion turned to capital costs:

The cost associated with prosecuting a case in Maryland in which the death penalty is imposed is on average $1.9 million more than the cost of a similar case in which capital punishment is not sought, a researcher told a state commission yesterday.

The analysis was embraced by death penalty opponents, but supporters of capital punishment, including two Maryland prosecutors, vigorously sought to discredit the study by the nonpartisan Washington-based Urban Institute.  They argued that the methodology was flawed and cost assumptions greatly inflated.

Joseph Cassilly, the state's attorney for Harford County, said that the study was "so far off the mark as to be incomprehensible and useless" and that it contained "significant errors of math." Cassilly acknowledged that there are additional costs associated with a death-penalty case but said, "We're talking costs in the thousands of dollars, not in the millions of dollars."

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August 21, 2008 at 08:33 AM | Permalink


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Why don't they take testimony from the last person executed.

Posted by: S.cotus | Aug 21, 2008 8:51:33 AM

Is that "nonpartisan" meaning not affiliated with a political party or is that "nonpartisan" meaning neutral on the issue?

It's interesting how that ambiguity is routinely exploited to imply that an organization putting out a study doesn't have an agenda when it actually does.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Aug 21, 2008 10:35:16 AM

Mr. Scheidegger, I agree with you there. Indeed, I am surprised that someone that makes his living trolling the lay people and soliciting donations on the basis of political preferences (as opposed to someone like me who considers it a hobby) would be as forthright about the issue as you. Not that there is anything wrong with this. You deserve to make a living, and people can donate their money to whatever cause they want.

Some of your kind call yourselves “non-partisan.” I don’t remember if your firm does or not.

However, since lawyers can see through there, there really isn’t any harm done. Any lay person that is mislead by such silly wording really doesn’t matter anyway. Besides, sine most lawyers would agree that it would take too long to educate the lay people, there really isn’t an obligation to explain the nuances

Anyway, most of the death debate is silly. My only major qualm is that the pro-killing crowd seems to be completely unAmerican and undemocratic in their insistence killings by the state be carried out in secret, because they simply do not want the actual visual images of death to be debated by the voters. Their position is that the voters should not decide whether the death penalty is a good idea or not and the only way to keep the voters from doing this is to have the state employees that do the killing do it in secret. Also, the idea of an elected executioner – certainly a democratic one – is routinely rejected by the pro-killing crowd, because they don’t like the idea of voters being involved in the government.

I tend to agree.

Posted by: S.cute.us | Aug 21, 2008 11:43:14 AM

Kent, it's as bad as a "public interest" group supported by Richard Scaife's far right agenda.

If you are going to complain about "nonpartisan" how 'bout some full disclosure, like the real goal: sterilization?

ALEC and many Richard Scaife organizations are really like and modeled after the American Eugenics Society, which was also very successful at getting the unfit and unequal repressed state by state.

Posted by: George | Aug 21, 2008 12:05:17 PM

My organization forthrightly identifies itself as having a position and has never employed the faux-neutral scam. I don't believe I have ever seen us designated "nonpartisan" in the press.

The implication that we support sterilization or eugenics is preposterous.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Aug 21, 2008 12:47:30 PM

Kent, My general problem with your organization (and similar organizations) is not the positions you take (though they are legally and morally wrong), but the fact that you are a tad disingenuous that your organization exists to make its employees money. You solicit money, you promise “action” (which really means filing amicus briefs) and you pay yourselves a salary.

I don’t really have a problem with you making money in this industry. Heck, all lawyers deserve to make $200,000 or more per year (unless they are contract attorneys, in which case they should be disbarred for their unethical existence).

To Kent’s credit, he is correct: he hasn’t really played the “non-partisan crowd.” Anyone reading his website or his interest statements at the beginning of his briefs know what he wants: less process for poor people and more little people in jail or dead.

George, saying that one organization is “like” another doesn’t say much. I doubt that Kent has a eugenics agents. But, even if he did, so what? We can debate it.

Posted by: S.cute.us | Aug 21, 2008 2:03:57 PM

If you think I do this work just for the money, you are very much mistaken. I took a huge pay cut when I took this job, and over the years I have made far less than I could have made had I stayed in commercial law.

Of course, the employees here, including me, make a salary, but you are the one being disingenuous when you say that is the reason for the organization. We do this work, rather than the more lucrative work we could be doing, because we believe in the cause. You obviously disagree with us on the cause, and there is nothing wrong with that, but there is something very wrong with impugning our motives when you have no basis for such an assertion.

I don't solicit money, BTW. That's somebody else's job.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Aug 21, 2008 2:22:00 PM

Kent, You do it for the money. Not that there is anything wrong with that. The fact that you took a paycut is probably more a function of a career move. Likely at your old job the stream of “work” was less certain and you didn’t have the opportunity to do the things you like to do (i.e. write appellate briefs). Moreover, you probably work closer to a 9-5 job now. Nothing wrong with any of these things. In fact, I think it is good for a lawyer to do that. But, your organization IS a business. Since it is a non-profit it doesn’t have shareholders, but it exists to take in money, perpetuate itself, and pay people. Every now and then you toss off a brief.

While you are not specifically soliciting money, you ARE used as a form of “law candy.” (Its like eye candy.) Essentially you have a reputation of sorts and people feel confident knowing that someone with your reputation will sign a brief which coincides with their world view, which can be summed up as “Off with their heads.” Again, nothing immoral about this. The ACLU doesn’t really utilized personality-based fund-raising, but similar (usually the smaller ones) groups do.

Now, I don’t think I am impugning your motives. I think I am describing them. I don’t think your motives are immoral (though I think that if courts bought your positions, then the country would be quite immoral). In fact, I would even go so far as to say that I would consider joining a small issue-based advocacy group like yours (that took more moral positions, obviously), if circumstances were different.

Posted by: S.cute.us | Aug 21, 2008 4:22:05 PM

S.cute.us, the rebuttal needs to be as outlandish as the propaganda it is rebutting and defense attorneys need to just as creative. I didn't say Kent's organization practices eugenics but did say Richard Scaife has supported it and Richard Scaife supports Kent's organization. The comparison to ALEC is that the American Legislative Exchange Council is a more secret than not organization that gets laws passed state by state like the American Eugenics Society did. Victim's rights is a good thing, but, for one example, the California Victims' Bill of Rights amendment to the CA Constitution was more of an attack on due process than 100% genuine concern for victims. Just because an organization does not maintain a faux-neutral stance that does not guarantee it reveals its real agenda. Better if an organization not-so-honestly claims to be “non-partisan" but its agenda is real and known.

Posted by: George | Aug 21, 2008 4:55:25 PM

ALEC is annoying and immoral, but lets not claim that they can somehow control the minds of legislators. Organizations are free to lobby (in fact, I intensely dislike people that do not lobby). Legislators are people, and make decisions based on lots of stimulai.

Quite frankly, “Victims Rights” is nothing more than a cynical attempt to make money off some Americans fears of black people. Now, let me be clear: I am not saying that Kent is personally a racist. However, as we probably agree “Victims Rights” plays off peoples’ fears that somehow poor people are not paying for their sins with their blood or lives. And since most people think that black and poor means the same thing then it sure looks racist (even though I don’t think that Kent is racist.)

What I always find amusing about the Victims Rights Industry is they see no problem with the doctrine of qualified immunity in 1983 or Bivens cases. After all, under this doctrine, a dirty cop is able to violate someone’s constitutional rights and then essentially plead ignorance of the law. Somehow victims of cops are not real victims.

Also, Kent’s group doesn’t seem to care too much about victims that don’t want someone prosecuted, or want the alleged defendant released from jail. To my knowledge, his group has never once argued that “victims” should have an absolute right not to testify pursuant to prosecutor’s subpoena. This is why “victims rights” is really just a shorthand for “put the poor people away.”

Posted by: S.cute.us | Aug 21, 2008 5:11:09 PM

Is ALEC subject to the lobbying laws? It think it is a private, members-only-for-a-fee organization. Corporations buy a seat.

But by eugenics I don't mean only sterilization. That was only the logical conclusion of that world view. The world view of eugenics ranged from anti-immigration to religious revival, like today. See The Eugenics Archive.

But race to them was not limited to ethnic race. Race meant the fit as opposed to the unfit of any ethnic race. The majority of those sterilized were white women and girls. Indeed, a good case could be made that the word "race" in the 14th A was not limited to ethnic race because the common use of the word at that time was not limited to ethnic race. The Progressive Era world view was a middle class tyranny of the majority attacking the rich and wealthy and the poor and outcast, like today. Sterilization itself was a solution to the high cost of "colonization" much like the high cost of prisons today.

Posted by: George | Aug 22, 2008 2:38:10 PM

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