The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California has released two reports on California’s death penalty dealing with the high costs and arbitrariness of the system. The report on costs, “The Hidden Death Tax,” found that a capital trial costs counties at least $1.1 million more than a non-capital murder trial, and that the state spends an additional $117 million a year pursuing the execution of those already on death row. One trial alone cost California $10.9 million. The ACLU writes, “counties that send many people to Death Row are wasting resources that could be spent on other county needs,” such as teachers or police officers. The $22 million spent on 20 death penalty trials per year could pay for the salaries of 358 police officers or 395 experienced teachers. Executing all of the people on death row will cost California an estimated $4 billion more than if they were all sentenced to die in prison of disease, injury or old age.

The ACLU’s second study, “Death by Geography,” examined the variation among California counties in seeking the death penalty. The study reported that 10 counties produced 83% of the 166 death sentences from 2000-2007. Tulare County, which had the most death sentences per capita, issued death sentences at 13 times the rate of neighboring Fresno County. The ACLU noted, “The county border has become the dividing line between those sentenced to execution and those sentenced to permanent incarceration.” Factors such as homicide rates and population densities did not correlate with death sentencing.

The ACLU’s reports were presented at the final hearing of the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice on March 28. California currently leads the nation with 669 death row inmates and has executed 13 inmates since the death penalty was reinstated there in 1977.
(Death sentences vary by county, study finds,” by Bob Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle, March 29, 2008). Copies of the reports are available here. See Studies, Costs, and Arbitrariness.