New Hampshire Commission Studies Cost of the Death Penalty

On December 4, the New Hampshire Commission to Study the Death Penalty held a hearing in Concord to examine the cost of the death penaty in the state. The twenty-two member Commission, led by retired Judge Walter Murphy, has been charged with considering several issues, including whether the death penalty is a deterrent, if it is arbitrarily applied, and if it covers the appropriate crimes. The Commission is considering alternatives to capital punishment and the related question of whether the state spends more on a death penalty case than on a first-degree homicide case resulting in a life sentence. The state spent more than $5.3 million on two capital cases last year, and has not had an execution since 1939. Deputy Attorney General Orville Fitch told the committee that his office spent $1.6 million while prosecuting Michael Addison, who was ultimately sentenced to death. The state spent an additional $1.2 million for the public defender who represented Addison, a large sum when compared to the $70,000-$100,000 it costs to defend a typical first-degree case. Fitch also testified that his office spent $2.4 million prosecuting another defendant in a murder-for-hire case, in which a life sentence was returned.

Richard Dieter, Executive Director of the Death Penalty Information Center, was also invited to testify before the Commission. He noted that some states have spent over $30 million per execution, when all costs of the death penalty are taken into account. “I think one of the most common misperceptions is the notion that (the death penalty) saves money because the executed defendant doesn’t have to be cared for at the state’s expense. Sums like these are causing officials to rethink the wisdom of such expenditures,” he said.

(A. Timmins, “Counting costs in death penalty cases,” Concord Monitor, December 05, 2009). See also Costs; read DPIC’s latest report, “Smart on Crime: Reconsidering the Death Penalty in a Time of Economic Crisis.”