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March 2, 2009

CNN now talking about the costs of the death penalty and state reforms

Continuing the trend of MSM outlets looking at capital punishment reform in tough times, CNN has this new piece headlined "Budget concerns force states to reconsider the death penalty."  Here are excerpts:

Anti-death-penalty groups say longer jury selection, extra expert witnesses, jury consultants and an extended penalty phase tend to make death penalty trials more costly than non-death-penalty cases.  Extra safeguards in place to ensure a fair verdict, including additional investigators and defense attorneys certified to handle death cases, who spend more time researching and litigating the case, also drive up costs.

A 2008 study by the Urban Institute, an economic and social policy research group based in Maryland, found that an average capital murder trial in the state resulting in a death sentence costs about $3 million, or $1.9 million more than a case where the death penalty is not sought.  A similar 2008 study by the ACLU in Northern California found that a death-penalty trial costs about $1.1 million more than a non-death-penalty trial in California....

Kansas, New Mexico and Colorado, among the states where legislators are seeking to get rid of the death penalty, have carried out few or no executions since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976.  On the other hand, Texas, Georgia and Virginia, which consistently lead the nation in executions each year, show no signs of changing course....

Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos intends to proceed with 194 pending death penalty cases she has on the books.  "We will spare no expense.  We will go after them.  Justice has no price tag," Lykos said.  "We want to be as cost-effective as possible without compromising the administration of justice and public safety."

Nonetheless, budget concerns in those states still hamper some efforts to seek the death penalty. In Georgia, where Gov. Sonny Perdue has ordered all government agencies to trim their budgets by 6 percent, Jamie Ryan Weis, on trial for murder, has been sitting in a jail without a lawyer for more than a year. 

Disappointingly, this new CNN piece does not mention Criminal Justice Legal Foundation's recent study (discussed here) suggesting that the death penalty's savings through plea bargaining may compensate for its extra costs for those cases that go to trial.  The reality, as everyone knows, is that justice always comes with a price tag, but very few persons working in the criminal justice system (none of whom are really subject to market-based constraints) ever want or need to worry directly about the price tag or even care to see if agenda-driven estimates of the price tag by certain public policy groups are accurate.

Some recent related posts about death penalty costs:

March 2, 2009 at 03:06 PM | Permalink


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