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August 23, 2009

Notable local tales on the costs of seeking the punishment of death

Two local stories today from two states with notable and dynamic track records with the death penalty provide a window into some of the economic realities that surround efforts to implement the ultimate punishment.

First, consider this piece from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which is headlined "State can't afford to defend Gwinnett capital murder case."  Here is how it starts:

Gwinnett County prosecutors want the death penalty for a Vietnamese immigrant accused of killing a Lilburn man and his 2-year-old son by shooting each in the back of the head. But the case, now four years old, is stalled because the state cannot fund Khan Dinh Phan’s defense.

Now before the Georgia Supreme Court are these pressing questions: Can the state seek to put a man to death if the state can’t afford to defend him? Can the trial judge strike the prosecution’s motion to seek the death penalty or, even more extreme, dismiss all charges because the state doesn’t have the money to represent the accused?

The Supreme Court’s answer to Phan’s pre-trial appeal could have profound implications for the death penalty in Georgia, which is in the throes of a prolonged budget crisis and has struggled to fully fund its nascent public defender system.

Similarly, consider this piece from the Arizona Daily Star, which is headlined "Justice for killer costly for taxpayers."  Here is how it begins:

By the time convicted double murderer Robert Moody, 50, is resentenced in December, his victims will have been dead 16 years and Pima County taxpayers will have spent more than $500,000 ensuring that his civil rights were protected.

David Berkman, Pima County's chief criminal deputy county attorney, said county prosecutors reserve the death penalty "only for the worst of the worst" killers, and only make that decision after a panel of experienced attorneys discusses whether the facts of the case indicate seeking a death penalty is appropriate. And Berkman noted those discussions never involve the potential cost of such cases.

But Pima County Public Defender Robert Hirsh says that even though the course that Moody's case took over the years was unique, the case is a good example of the foolishness of seeking the death penalty. "What Mr. Moody did was reprehensible. He killed two innocent people absolutely without any justification, but what difference does it make to try and kill him?" Hirsh asked.

Some recent related posts on the costs of capital punsihment:

August 23, 2009 at 12:49 PM | Permalink


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This reminds me of forcing husbands to pay the legal fees of the lawyer representing the divorcing wife. The productive male is paying a lawyer to dismember his life as a lion does an antelope. The American Rule has each party paying its legal fees, until the lawyer client is a parasite without money. Then it goes out the window. The lawyer on the bench and in the legislature sets up false, pretextual obstacles to justice in the death penalty, and now wants to be paid. The death penalty appellate business is huge. It is about hyper-procedural, lawyer paper shuffling make work gotcha. It is make work with no benefit. It is a scam and a racket.

The public needs to bring justice to these crooks. It should start with a total boycott by all product and service providers. They should be shunned by all law abiding citizens. All released murderers should be made to live in a halfway house across from the home of the judge.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 23, 2009 3:03:02 PM

about fifteen years I represented a death row inmate and we spent years litigating an issue involving the prosecutor's refusal to let the defense lawyer visit the crime scene before the trial. In my experience, most lengthy appeals of capital cases relate to actions of the State which never should have happened, like failure to turn over Brady material.

bruce cunningham

Posted by: bruce cunningham | Aug 23, 2009 6:47:01 PM

Bruce: By your best expert estimate of the evidence was your client innocent or guilty? Forget all eyewitness testimony, its being implanted memories by irresponsible lawyers. Limit yourself to physical evidence.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 23, 2009 6:59:19 PM

Three possible solutions:

1. Make the goals of the AEDPA mean something by imposing a reasonable numerical limit on how many post-conviction motions the convicted killer can file.

2. Have a death penalty bailout. Since everything else gets a bailout, from inefficient auto makers to banks peddling risky loans, a bailout for a punishment the public overwhelmingly supports should be next in line.

Just in the last 48 hours, the news was (quietly) released that the ten-year deficit is going to be TWO TRILLION DOLLARS higher than the already gargantuan sum previously put forward by the Administration. Since there is no visible limit on the government's willingness to borrow to fund whatever it wants, similarly there should be no limit on what it will borrow to keep the criminal justice system going. Indeed, the amount needed to keep the death penalty is dwarfed by the amount needed to keep entitlement programs going.

It's just silly to pretend that the ONE AREA where parsimony needs to be practiced just happens to be criminal punishment.

3. Require lawyers making more than $250,000 a year (a popular number with President Obama) to take death penalty cases. If these fat-cat lawyers lack experience, likewise require them to pay for co-counsel who knows the ropes.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Aug 23, 2009 8:53:06 PM

There is little doubt that the death penalty does, in general, have greater up front costs. However, overall costs, maybe more expensive in true life cases.

Fact checking will show that most of the well known cost evaluations are hardly accurate in comparing the costs of the two sentences.

Cost Savings: The Death Penalty

Posted by: Dudley Sharp | Aug 24, 2009 8:26:01 AM

The Duke U, North Carolina Cost study is one of the most cited studies finding for the death penalty being more expensive.

Probelm is, it always found a true life sentnece to be more expensive than death penalty cases. In additon, part of the evaluation was, extraordinary, in what I see as intentional deception.


Posted by: Dudley Sharp | Aug 24, 2009 8:30:24 AM

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