High Trial Costs Put Death Penalty Under Scrutiny in Arizona, Colorado

The high cost of capital trials has put the death penalty under scrutiny in Arizona and Colorado. In Mohave County, Arizona, where two capital cases have already cost about $239,000 this fiscal year, County Supervisors have been told that the defense costs for trying these two cases and pursuing three other capital cases that are currently on appeal will be $380,000 this fiscal year, with comparable costs expected for next fiscal year. County Supervisors approved an expenditure of an additional $344,000 this year for the capital trials. County supervisors questioned County Attorney Matt Smith on the process for determining whether to seek the death penalty. Smith said his office considers the aggravating factors in the case, as well as the strength of the defense's mitigating factors. Though it is not required, Smith said he also considers the costs to the county before seeking the death penalty. Mohave County has seven defendants on death row, but only one defendant from the county has been executed. In Colorado, The Denver Post reports that the trial of James Holmes, which resulted in a sentence of life without parole, cost taxpayers more than $3 million, including nearly $1.6 million in federal monies. Holmes had offered to plead guilty if the prosecution dropped its quest for the death penalty. When it did not, the resulting trial was one of the longest in state history. Among the costs for the trial were two psychiatric evaluations ($600,000), victims' services and travel expenses to attend the trial ($1.2 million, paid out of a federal grant), and $500,000 in state funding for the District Attorney's office. The Post said the actual price tag for the Holmes case was even higher, because these totals do not include the salaries of state officials, including judges, prosecutors, and sheriffs, who spent large amounts of time on the case instead of other cases, but would have been paid regardless. If those salaries are included, the Post said, the cost of the case soars to more than $7 million. Public defender expenditures were also not included, because they are protected by attorney-client confidentiality.

(J. Seckler, "Supervisors given overview of death penalty’s cost to county," Mohave Valley Daily News, April 20, 2016; J. Ingold and J. Steffen, "Aurora theater shooting trial cost taxpayers at least $3 million," The Denver Post, April 19, 2016.) See Costs.