Jim Davidsaver, a 20-year veteran with the Lincoln Police Department in Nebraska, recently wrote a column outlining his support for legislation that would have repealed the state’s death penalty. Davidsaver said he supported the measure, which failed to pass into law, because the death penalty does not deter crime and is too expensive. He noted that in his years of service with the police force he witnessed many horrific crime scenes, but none of the accused murderers was ever deterred by the death penalty. He wrote:

As a career law enforcement officer, I considered myself an interested spectator as the Legislature debated the bill, LB476, sponsored by Sen. Ernie Chambers, that would have replaced the state’s death penalty with mandatory life imprisonment without parole and allowed the victim’s family to seek restitution.

During my career, which includes 10+ years as a certified crime scene technician, I have experienced countless violent crime scenes where the perpetrators inflicted horrific injury, pain and suffering on their victims. Of the accused murderers my fellow officers and I have brought to justice, I do not believe any of them was deterred in the least by Nebraska’s death penalty.

One facet of the issue that is rarely mentioned is the economic cost of capital punishment. Many who oppose the death penalty are quick to mention the “cost” in abstract sociological terms, referring to the negative impact on society when reverting to “an eye for an eye” retribution and punishment.

I do not know whether it is proper or ethical to base a death penalty discussion on simple economic terms, but this aspect deserves consideration.

[C]apital punishment cases are the most expensive cases by far. The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty estimates the average cost of a single death penalty case, from arrest to execution, ranges from $1 million to $3 million. Other studies have estimated this cost as high as $7 million. This compares to an average of $500,000 for a life imprisonment case, including incarceration. The mandatory fiscal note attached to LB476 shows the attorney’s general office estimates no fiscal impact if the law is adopted. The Department of Correctional Services stated the fiscal impact cannot be determined.

Whether you agree with it or not, it is an absolute requirement to maintain the integrity of the system and ensure justice is served. Removing the death penalty variable from the justice equation should reduce the overall cost.

((Lincoln) Journal Star, March 25, 2007). See DPIC’s report on Law Enforcement and the Death Penalty; also see Costs and New Voices.