Smaller Arizona Counties Lack Resources for Capital Cases

The Arizona Supreme Court recently remanded a death penalty case for re-sentencing to a county that does not have the resources to pay for it. By law, counties are required to fund a specialist to gather mitigating evidence for the defense to use at the sentencing phase. Some jurisdictions, however, do not have the money to pay for pre-sentencing investigation. The situation puts smaller counties in the position of choosing to pursue capital sentencing based on cost. This would make the application of the death penalty in Arizona arbitrary because those who commit capital crimes in the state’s larger counties (Pima and Maricopa) will more likely be subject to the death penalty simply because of resources. “If you live in Pima or Maricopa county you’re going to get one form of treatment, while anywhere else you’re going to get a different form of treatment,” said Sen. Elaine Richardson, who earlier this year sponsored a bill to deal with the issue by siphoning state financial support for capital cases. The bill passed the Senate but failed in the House. (Arizona Capitol Times, May 29, 2001)

Small Georgia Counties Going Broke from Death Penalty Cases

The Savannah Morning News recently reported that small counties in Georgia are going broke prosecuting death penalty cases. “If you’re spending $300,000 for a (death penalty) case, that’s $300,000 that could be used for buying road equipment, paying salaries, the fire and sheriff’s departments. We don’t have a lot of room to play with,” said Richard Douglas, the Long County, GA, Administrator. Douglas, who had to rely on emergency state grants to keep paychecks from bouncing, added, “If you have 2 or 3 of these in a row, that can put you in a million dollar hole. We’re probably not too far removed from that.” (Savannah Morning News, January 14, 2001)

California Would Save Tens of Millions of Dollars Annually by Abolishing the Death Penalty

“Elimination of the death penalty would result in a net savings to the state of at least several tens of millions of dollars annually, and a net savings to local governments in the millions to tens of millions of dollars on a statewide basis.” -Joint Legislative Budget Committee of the California Legislature, Sept. 9, 1999. (The Catalyst, February 22, 2000)

New York Invests in Death Penalty But No Executions Occur

The New York Daily News (which has supported the death penalty) estimated that the costs associated with pursuing the death penalty in that state could reach $238 million by the time of the first execution. If that execution is further delayed because of problems with the statute, the costs could reach $408 million. Professor James Acker, a death penalty expert from the State University of New York in Albany, noted: “There’s all this money being invested up front with the intent of getting an eventual execution. But the return on the dollar of these investments is really quite poor. So the money is thrown away. If the ultimate punishment were life in prison to begin with, you wouldn’t have all the added expense of a death penalty case … .” (New York Daily News, October 19, 1999)

New York Death Penalty Trial 3.5 Times More Costly than Non-Capital Trial

The taxpayers of Suffolk County and New York State paid $2.5 million for the capital murder trial of Robert Shulman, who was sentenced to death on May 6. Because prosecutors sought the death penalty, the trial was 3.5 times more expensive than if the death penalty had not been sought. The cost was more than double what it would have cost to keep Shulman, 45, in prison for 40 years. The public cost of Shulman’s sentence will continue to climb throughout his incarceration. (Newsday, July 12,1999)

Louisiana Lacks Funds to Pay Court-Appointed Private Attorneys for Death Penalty Cases

Several lawyers in Louisiana are asking courts to postpone death penalty cases until there is sufficient funding to pay the attorneys. Because of a loss in revenue, private attorneys appointed by the court to handle death penalty cases as well as other criminal cases have not been paid in a year. The lawyers who handle these cases are concerned about the consequences for their clients: “I think poor people get poor representation. They are represented by overworked public defenders and private lawyers who aren’t getting paid. That is not equal justice.” (The Advocate, April 5, 1999)

Rural Washington State County’s Anticipated Capital Trial Costs Strain Budget

Because of anticipated death penalty trial costs, Okanogan County Commissioners in Washington State delayed pay raises for the county’s 350 employees, then approved a 2% increase; the smallest in years. They also decided not to replace 2 of 4 public-health nurses, ordered a halt on non-emergency travel and put a hold on updating computers and county vehicles. Okanogan County shares the fate of many other rural counties across the country, where death-penalty cases are draining budgets. (Associated Press, April 2, 1999)

Washington State Keeps Inmate with Liver Disease Alive for Execution

Thurston County in Washington State budgeted $346,000 in 1999 alone to seek Mitchell Rupe’s 3rd death sentence. Rupe is also dying of liver disease. Washington has made extreme efforts to save Rupe from a natural death just so it can execute him. Since 1997, Thurston County budgeted nearly $700,000 for the most recent sentencing hearing alone - expenses above the daily costs absorbed by the county prosecutor’s office. (Seattle Times, March 12, 1999)

Execution Cost Ohio Twice as Much as Life Imprisonment

The State of Ohio spent at least $1.5 million to kill one mentally ill man who wanted to be executed. Among the costs were: $18,147 overtime for prison employees and $2,250 overtime for State Highway Patrol officers at the time of the execution. This does not include overtime for 25 prison public information officers who worked the night of the execution. The state spent $5,320 on a satellite truck so that the official announcement of Wilford Berry’s execution could be beamed to outside media, and $88.42 for the lethal drugs. Attorney General Betty Montgomery had 5 to 15 prosecutors working on the case. Between 5 and 10% of the annual budget for the state’s capital-crimes section was devoted to the Berry case for 5 years. Keeping Berry in prison for his entire life would have cost approximately half as much. (Columbus Dispatch, February 28, 1999)

Capital Murder Trials and Appeals Weigh on Small County Budgets in Texas

Many small counties are overwhelmed with the financial burden of the death penalty. “These capital-murder trials can devastate the budget of a small county,” says Allen Amos, one of 55 judges from small west Texas counties in the Rural County Judges Association. “If you go to trial with an automatic appeal, you could be looking at $350,000 to $500,000 for each one of these things.”(Christian Science Monitor, February 25, 1999)

Mississippi Counties Lack Money for Death Row Inmates’ Lawyers

In Mississippi, the state has no system for providing lawyers for death row inmates after their direct appeal. The Mississippi Supreme Court, however, has ordered counties to start paying attorneys for post-conviction appeals. Chancery Clerk Butch Scipper of Quitman County remarked: “We’re probably the poorest county in the state. We have no cash reserves and nothing is budgeted for this type of expense.” He indicated they would have to raise taxes to pay for the death penalty. (Biloxi Sun Herald, February 21, 1999)

Indiana Taxpayers Charged Over $2 Million for Defense of Three Capital Cases

In Indiana, three capital cases cost taxpayers a total of over $2 million, just for defense costs. (Prosecution costs are usually equal or more than defense costs and appellate costs will add even more expense.) Former death penalty prosecutor David Cook remarked: “If you’re gonna spend this type of money in a system where there isn’t much resources to go around, I think that we have a reasonable right to expect that we’re gaining something by doing this… .We don’t gain anything by doing this.” (Indianapolis Star/News, February 7, 1999)

Washington State Halts Capital Improvements to Pay for One Death Penalty Trial

Officials in Washington State are concerned that costs for a single death penalty trial will approach $1 million. To pay for the trial, the county has had to let one government position go unfilled, postponed employee pay hikes, drained its $300,000 contingency fund and eliminated all capital improvements. The Sheriff’s request to replace a van which broke down last year for transporting prisoners has been shelved. (The Spokesman-Review, January 19, 1999)

Louisiana Prosecutor Says Life in Prison is More Economical

According to an article in the Louisiana Sunday Advertiser, prosecutor Phil Haney, who often pushes for the death penalty, says if he could be sure ‘life in prison really meant life in prison,’ he would be for abolishing the death penalty. It’s a matter of economics, he said. “It just costs too much to execute someone.” (The Sunday Advertiser, August 23, 1998)

Columnist Says New York Spends $3 Million Extra on Capital Case, But Receives No Added Benefit

Jim Dwyer, columnist for the New York Daily News, recently estimated that the projected costs of imposing the death penalty on New York’s first death row inmate, Darrel Harris, will be $3 million. He concluded: “After spending $3 million extra for a capital case, New York will have bought itself nothing that it could not have gotten with a sentence of life without parole.” (NY Daily News, July 28, 1998)

Nebraska Judiciary Committee Says Legal Costs of Executions Outweigh Any Savings

A report from the Nebraska Judiciary Committee states that any savings from executing an inmate are outweighed by the financial legal costs. The report concluded that the current death penalty law does not serve the best interest of Nebraskans. (Neb. Press & Dakotan, January 27, 1998)

Defense Costs in Federal Death Penalty Cases 4 Times Greater than Comparable Non-Capital Cases

In a report from the Judicial Conference of the United States on the costs of the federal death penalty, it was reported that the defense costs were about 4 times higher in cases where death was sought than in comparable cases where death was not sought. Moreover, the prosecution costs in death cases were 67% higher than the defense costs, without even including the investigative costs provided by law enforcement agencies. See, Federal Death Penalty Cases: Recommendations Concerning the Cost and Quality of Defense Representation