A recent report to the Committee on Defender Services of the Judicial Conference of the United States by Jon Gould and Lisa Greenman provided an update on the costs of representation in federal death penalty cases. The report examined all cases in which the federal death penalty was authorized by the U.S. Attorney General between 1998 and 2004. The authors found that “The median cost of a case in which the Attorney General authorized seeking the death penalty was nearly eight times greater than the cost of a case that was eligible for capital prosecution but in which the death penalty was not authorized.” (emphasis added). The report found that the median cost for defense representation in a death case that went to trial was $465,602, including $101,592 for experts. If the authorized case was settled by a plea, the median cost was $200,933, still far greater than the median cost of a death-eligible case in which the death penalty was not sought— $44,809. In other words, it is the seeking of the death penalty that considerably raises the costs, even if the case results in a plea bargain and no trial. These figures do not include prosecution and judicial costs .

The report also found a close correlation between low spending and a heightened probability of a death sentence: “There was a strong association between a lower cost defense representation and an increased likelihood of a death sentence at trial. For trial cases in which defense spending was among the lowest one-third of all trial cases, the rate of death sentencing was 44 percent. For trial cases in which defense resources were in the remaining two-thirds of cost, the likelihood of a death sentence was 19 percent. Thus, the lowest cost cases were more than twice as likely to yield sentences of death.”

(J. Gould and L. Greenman, “Report to the Committee on Defender Services-Judicial Conference of the United States,” September 2010. See Federal Death Penalty and Costs.