New Mexico to Save Money After Abolition of Death Penalty

A cost assessment prepared for the New Mexico legislature prior to its vote on repealing the death penalty indicated some of the money that would be saved if the bill was passed.  The state will save several million dollars each year, according to the fiscal impact report by the Public Defender Department. For example, in the case of State v. Young, the public defender office expended $1.7 million.  They estimated that the total cost to the state would be three times that much when the costs to the prosecution and to the courts are factored in. In the end, the state Supreme Court barred the state from pursuing the death penalty further because insufficient resources were being provided for the defense.

Citing just one part of the death penalty process, jury selection, the report noted, "Jury selection is a long, arduous process that potentially touches on the constitutional and religious rights of New Mexicans, and costs at least four times as much as a non-death first-degree murder case." 

The report stated that the costs of the death penalty impact many departments: “The costs of the death penalty are borne systemically, impacting the Public Defender Department, the Attorney General’s office, the various District Attorney offices, and the trial and the appellate courts." The state gets almost nothing as a result of these high expenditures since “only 7% of the cases in which the prosecutor seeks the death penalty end in a death sentence. and . . . 68% of all these convictions are overturned on appeal.”

(Fiscal Impact Report to the New Mexico Legislature on HB285-355, Public Defender Department, January 28, 2009) (emphasis added).  See Studies and Costs.

July 1, 1979 - December 31, 2007 - 211 death penalty cases filed:

  • Two-hundred and three of those cases resolved by December 31, 2007.
  • Nine of those resolved cases dismissed before trial without a conviction.
  • Almost one-half of the resolved cases ended with a plea bargain precluding death penalty.
  • Approximately one-half of the resolved cases went to trial.
  • About one-fourth of the resolved cases proceeded to a penalty phase.
  • Juries sentenced 15 men to death from 1979 through 2007:

        1.  One defendant died before his appeal was resolved
        2.  Five commuted by then-Governor Anaya
        3.  Five overturned on direct appeal
        4.  Two overturned during state habeas proceedings
        5.  As of the end of 2007, only two men on death row

(Source: Marcia J. Wilson, “The Application of the Death Penalty in New Mexico, July 1979 through December 2007: An Empirical Analysis,” New Mexico Law Review (Spring 2008)).