The death penalty in California is enormously expensive compared to the sentence of life without parole. One death penalty case has already taken 28 years and may cost $5 million dollars. Chief Assistant Attorney General Dane Gillette, head of the criminal division, said Michael Ray Burgener’s case has been delayed because of legally required reviews. “When you have a new judge, you have to have that judge take a look at the record and base their decision on the review of the record.” Burgener’s case, which begain with his death sentence for murder in 1981, has been overturned numerous times, including decisions by conservative judges. Santa Clara University Law Professor Gerald F. Uelmen, who served as executive director of a state commission that examined criminal justice, called Burgener’s case “a great example” of the cost of imposing death instead of life without parole. Uelmen estimated that by the time Burgener’s appeals are exhausted, the cost to the state could total $5 million more than the expense of a life term without parole. He also pointed out that an inmate on death row costs $92,000 a year more than an inmate in regular prison. He estimated that the state’s legal bill for appeals “has come to well over $400,000.” Uelman concluded,”It just shows that in California, a sentence of death is usually a sentence of life without parole, except it costs us a lot more.”

Lawyers estimate that if Burgener is again sentenced to death he would face another 15 years of appeal. (M. Dolan, “Dysfunctional death penalty racks up 28-year, $5-million tab,” Los Angeles Times, May 17, 2009). See Costs and Time on Death Row.