In a recent op-ed in the Albuquerque Journal, the president of the New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association discussed the high costs of the federal death penalty. In particular, Barbara Mandel detailed the expenses involved in the recent federal trial of John McCluskey. He was sentenced to life without parole, an outcome that Mandel wrote, “occurred years and at least a million dollars later than it should have.” According to the op-ed, McCluskey had been willing to plead guilty in exchange for a sentence less than death early on, and, in February 2013, a senior judge offered to mediate the case. Although then-U.S. Attorney Kenneth Gonzalez rejected the offer, he did acknowledge that federal capital prosecutions inflict logistical and financial burdens on the entire federal system.

A 2010 study by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts concluded that the median cost of a federal death penalty case was nearly eight times greater than a non-death penalty case. The average cost for the defense in a federal death penalty trial is $620,932, and that figure does not include the cost incurred by the courts, investigative staff, the jury, and expert witnesses. Mandel also underscored that federal death penalty cases divert resources from other cases. She wrote, “If a government employee must devote 1,000 hours to seek a death sentence but only 100 hours to obtain a life without parole sentence pursuant to a plea agreement, that 900 hours could have been devoted to other cases.” Mandel concluded, “The citizens of New Mexico rejected the death penalty, in part because it requires diverting resources that could be allocated to programs that better increase public safety, health and welfare.”

(B. Mandel, “Pursuing death penalty is big waste of resources,” Albuquerque Journal, December 22, 2013). See Costs.