NEW VOICES: Colorado District Attorney Says Death Penalty Costly, Time Consuming, and Unfair
In a recent op-ed in Colorado's Daily Camera, Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett expressed his concerns about the death penalty, as the state prepares to consider its repeal. Garnett said, "[T]he practical problems with the death penalty make it of limited relevance to Colorado law enforcement." He pointed to the high costs of capital cases, the time required to prosecute, and the randomness of its application as major concerns: "Prosecuting a death penalty case through a verdict in the trial court can cost the prosecution well over $1 million dollars .... my total operating budget for this office is $4.6 million and with that budget we prosecute 1,900 felonies, per year." He estimated that the appellate costs are even greater--up to $18 million through all the appeals. Geographic disparities in applying Colorado's death penalty raise questions of fairness: "Though Boulder County has had plenty of heinous murders over the years, there has never been a death verdict imposed here in the nearly 140 years since statehood," he wrote. Meanwhile, he noted, counties with similar crimes have a number of pending capital cases. Read the entire op-ed below.
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MULTIMEDIA: Nebraska Debate on the Death Penalty
On November 28, the University of Nebraska hosted a dialogue on the death penalty with J. Kirk Brown (left), Nebraska's Solicitor General, and Professor Michael Radelet (right) of the University of Colorado. Mr. Kirk was the state's counsel of record for all of its executions since 1978. Prof. Radelet is a well-known death penalty expert, researcher, and the author of several works on innocence and the death penalty. The discussion was titled: “The Death Penalty: Justice, Retribution and Dollars” and explored whether the state should continue or abandon its death penalty. A video of the dialogue is available at this link. Since 1978, Nebraska has carried out three executions, but none since 1997. There are 11 inmates on the state's death row. Learn more about Nebraska's death penalty here.
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COSTS: In Utah, Each Death Penalty Case Costs $1.6 Million Extra
According to Gary Syphus of the Legislative Fiscal Analyst's Office in Utah, seeking the death penalty costs the state an additional $1.6 million per inmate from trial to execution compared to life-without-parole cases. Syphus offered this estimate to the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee of the Utah legislature on November 14. Republican state representative Steve Handy had asked for an examination of the state and local government costs associated with implementing the death penalty in Utah. Although he has not proposed any legislation, Handy said that the comparative costs of life without parole and capital punishment should nevertheless be examined. Ralph Dellapiana, a defense attorney and the director of Utahns for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, said the cost estimate offered did not adequately capture the full expense incurred by the state, since it did not include costs such as those associated with cases in which the death penalty is sought but not ultimately imposed.
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California Retains Death Penalty by Narrow Margin
On November 6, 2012, California’s Proposition 34, an initiative to replace the death penalty with a sentence of life without parole, was narrowly defeated by a vote of 53% to 47%. Although the result means the death penalty will continue in the state, the percent of voters supporting repeal represents a dramatic shift away from capital punishment. The referendum, which indicated just more than half of voters are in favor of keeping the death penalty, follows a broader trend of diminishing public support for the punishment. By contrast, the 1978 ballot initiative that enacted California’s death penalty statute passed with the support of 71% of the voters. California’s use of the death penalty has declined in recent years. Death sentences in California dropped from 40 in 1981 to 10 in 2011. California has not carried out an execution since 2006. Among the leading proponents of Proposition 34 were Jeanne Woodford, former warden of San Quentin Prison, Gil Garcetti, the former District Attorney of Los Angeles County, and Donald Heller, a former prosecutor who drafted the 1978 death penalty initiative.
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EDITORIALS: Preserving Independent Funding for Death Penalty Representation
A recent editorial in the Miami Herald applauded a court decision finding that the costs of represening defendants in Florida death penalty cases should be kept separate from the judges’ annual budget. A state judge held it would be unconstitutional to have judges making decisions about attorneys' fees when the money for such expenses comes from the judges' own resources. The editorial stated, "We depend on the court system to dispense justice—period. Not justice on a budget, not justice on the cheap, not justice with 'ka-ching' in the back of a judge’s mind." The costs formerly came out of general state revenue. Death penalty attorney David Markus said the law would have made “judges think twice about paying a lawyer, knowing that he or she has to also think about paying his secretary or buying copier paper.” The editorial called on lawmakers to heed the recommendations of the Florida Innocence Commission, which made several recommendations to correct the high rate of wrongful convictions in the state. The editors wrote, “Lawmakers truly interested in reform would take the recommendations seriously, even though they require more-adequate funding. Instead, the Legislature has steadily chipped away at courts’ budgets for the past six years, while the volume of cases has increased. That’s a stumbling block to real reform.” Florida leads the country in exonerations from death row, with 23 wrongful convictions overturned since 1973. Read full editorial below.
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NEW VOICES: Bill O'Reilly Joins Conservative Voices Supporting Repeal of California Death Penalty
Conservative commentator Bill O'Reilly (pictured) of Fox News recently endorsed California's Proposition 34, the ballot initiative that would replace the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole. O'Reilly joined many conservative supporters of the measure, including Ron Briggs, who led the campaign to reinstate California's death penalty in 1978. In an op-ed about O'Reilly's endorsement, Briggs discussed the conservative argument for repeal, calling the death penalty "a fiscal disaster" and raising concerns about innocence and the effects on victims' families. He explained why the death penalty has cost California $4 billion and said the death penalty system is "light years away from the conservative mantra of 'smaller, smarter, simpler' government." He urged conservatives to support the alternative of life without parole, saying, "Life in prison without parole keeps our families safe and provides legal finality for victims. It also holds criminals accountable by making them work and pay restitution to the victims’ compensation instead of enjoying super star status on death row." Read full op-ed below.
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PUBLIC OPINION: New Poll Shows Dramatic Jump in Support of Repealing California's Death Penalty
A new Los Angeles Times poll of registered voters in California showed a dramatic increase in support of Proposition 34, a ballot measure that would replace the death penalty with life without parole, saving the state tens of millions of dollars annually. The survey, conducted October 15-21, showed more respondents supporting repeal of the death penalty (45%) than those wanting to keep it (42%) when they were given information about the measure's financial impact and effect on prisoners. Eleven percent were undecided. These results were an exact reversal of the Times earlier poll that showed more voters opposing the Proposition. Both this poll and the earlier poll also asked voters about Proposition 34 without including its financial impact. Although slightly more respondents opposed repeal with this shorter question, the gap between opponents and supporters shrunk from 13% in September, to a statistical tie in October (45% to 42%). The margin of error for the poll was 2.9%. The most recent poll was taken before a flurry of TV ads in support of Proposition 34 began running in the state. According to California's legislative analyst, passage of Proposition 34 would save the state $130 million per year. Although California has the largest death row in the country, it has not carried out an execution in almost 7 years, and has executed 13 inmates since 1978.
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NEW VOICES: California District Attorney and Veteran Police Chief Now Would End Death Penalty
George Gascon served for 30 years as a police officer, including as a police chief in Arizona and California. He is currently the District Attorney of San Francisco. Although he formerly supported the death penalty, he now believes it should be replaced with life without parole. In a recent op-ed in the Sacramento Bee, Gascon wrote: “I have had the opportunity to observe and participate in the development and implementation of public safety policies at every level. I have seen what works and what does not in making communities safe. Given my experience, I believe there are three compelling reasons why the death penalty should be replaced. (1) The criminal justice system makes mistakes and the possibility of executing innocent people is both inherently wrong and morally reprehensible; (2) My personal experience and crime data show the death penalty does not reduce crime; and (3) The death penalty wastes precious resources that could be best used to fight crime and solve thousands of unsolved homicides languishing in filing cabinets in understaffed police departments across the state." He concluded the death penalty is "fatally flawed" and "broken beyond repair.” Read the full op-ed below.
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COSTS: New Investigation Says Florida Spending Over $1 Million per Death Row Inmate
A newspaper's investigation into the costs of the death penalty in Florida revealed the state is spending as much as $1 million per inmate just for incarceration and appellate costs. Trial costs would add substantially to the state's total. Florida has over 400 inmates on death row. For example, keeping J.B. Parker under the special security of death row for 29 years has cost taxpayers $688,000; his appeals cost $296,000, for a total of $984,000. The total for Alfonso Cave has been $1,059,750. Both men remain on death row. Those figures do not include salaries for judges, prosecutors and clerks handling the cases. Shortening the appeals carries the risk of mistake. Neal Dupree, head of one of the appellate offices for death row inmates noted, "People need to know that just because someone has been convicted does not mean they are guilty," he said. Larry Spalding, who had been head of one of the appellate offices, added: "The most important thing we know about false convictions is that they happen and on a regular basis." Spalding said. "(Appellate) attorneys ... are trying to exonerate the innocent, and to prevent a wrongful execution. They should be admired, not excoriated." Florida has had more exonerations from death row (23) than any other state in the country.
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NEW VOICES: Former Supporters Rethinking the Death Penalty Because of its High Costs
According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, some long-time supporters of the death penalty have recently shifted their positions, questioning whether the occasional execution is worth the costs incurred by taxpayers at a time when budgets are strained. Gil Garcetti (pictured), the former district attorney of Los Angeles County, which is responsible for roughly one-third of California's 727 death-row inmates, recently remarked, “I was a supporter and believer in the death penalty, but I've begun to see that this system doesn't work and it isn't functional. It costs an obscene amount of money." A study of the death penalty in California in 2011 showed that the cost of housing a death-row inmate was $100,000 per year more than the cost of housing someone sentenced to life without parole. The same study concluded that just picking a jury in death penalty cases costs $200,000 more than the amount for non-capital cases. In Montana, a group called Montana Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty has joined the movement to repeal capital punishment because of its cost. Steve Dogiakos, the group’s director, said, “The death penalty is another institution of government that is wasteful and ineffective.” In Utah, Republican State Rep. Stephen Handy recently asked for a fiscal review of how much the state is spending on capital cases: "I don't have any illusion that either the Utah legislature or the people are ready to overturn the death penalty. But I want to start the dialogue," he said.
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