Even as death penalty cases continue to absorb tens of millions of taxpayer dollars, state budget cuts are affecting courts, public defenders,and district attorney’s offices across the country, raising concerns about delays and inadequate representation. Reduced budgets are impacting all aspects of the court system, including civil and criminal cases, and delaying death penalty cases. Prosecutors are forced to ignore some violations, judges are delaying trials, and in some cases, those charged with violent crimes have been set free because speedy trial requirements can’t be met. “It’s extremely frustrating,” said Scott Burns of the National District Attorneys Association. “Frankly, the people that do these jobs have a lot of passion. They don’t do these jobs for the money. They are in America’s courtrooms every day to protect victims and do justice. And they’re rewarded with terminations, furloughs and cuts in pay.” On the defense side, in the last three years, Georgia has cut funding for the Georgia Resource Center, which represents indigent death penalty defendants in post-conviction proceedings, by $250,000, forcing the center to reduce its staff. “We’ve been running on a shoestring for years and we are minimally available to take care of all the guys on death row,” said Brian Kammer, the center’s executive director. “But with this kind of funding loss, we’re getting crippled.”

Public defenders nationwide are taking on extra clients as their offices face reductions in funding. “If you don’t have enough lawyers to handle the cases, it leaves them open to speedy-trial challenges and ineffective assistance of counsel,” said Ed Burnette, a vice president of the National Legal Aid & Defender Association.

(G. Bluestein, “State budget cuts clog criminal justice system,” Wall Street Journal (Associated Press), October 26, 2011.) Death penalty cases carry much higher costs than other criminal cases, thereby requiring a disproportionate share of criminal-justice dollars. In California, which has faced some of the country’s toughest budget cuts, the death penalty system has cost the state $4 billion since 1978. In Maryland, a 2008 study found that the average cost to taxpayers for a single death sentence is about $3 million - $1.9 million more than a non-death penalty case. See DPIC’s Costs and Representation.