Migdail-Smith, Liam. “Executing Justice: A look at the cost of Pennsylvania’s death penalty.” Reading Eagle, 2016.
In Pennsylvania, death sentences have cost taxpayers $816 million more than if those cases had resulted in life without parole sentences.
Collins, Peter et al. “An Analysis of the Economic Costs of Seeking the Death Penalty in Washington State.” Seattle University, 2016.
According to this analysis of nearly 150 aggravated first-degree murder cases in Washington, seeking the death penalty increases costs to the justice system by 40%-50%, or over $1 million per case.
Idaho Legislature Office of Performance Evaluations. “Financial Costs of the Death Penalty.” Evaluation Report 14-02, 2014.
This study, commissioned by the Idaho Legislature, notes that while cost data can be difficult to obtain, capital cases consistently take more time than non-capital cases, resulting in higher costs. It concludes that further research would likely find that “death penalty cases are inherently more expensive.”
Nevada Legislative Counsel Bureau. “Performance Audit: Fiscal Costs of the Death Penalty.” 2014.
In 2014, the Nevada Legislative Counsel Bureau estimated that the death penalty adds over $500,000 compared to murder cases that do not seek a death sentence. The death penalty nearly triples trial and appeal costs, and incarceration costs are higher than life without parole.
Petersen, Nicholas and Mona Lynch. “Prosecutorial Discretion, Hidden Costs, and the Death Penalty: The Case of Los Angeles County.” Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 2012.
This study examines death penalty and death-eligible cases from Los Angeles County, using the length of time until a trial concludes as a proxy for cost. After controlling for the complexity of the case, the authors found that capital cases take over 50% more time to complete than similarly complex cases where the death penalty is not pursued.
Indiana Legislative Services. “SB 43 Fiscal Impact Statement.” 2010.
This legislative analysis notes that, “Of the three possible sentencing options for murder, the death penalty is generally the most expensive for trial courts to conduct.”
Death Penalty Information Center, “Smart on Crime: Reconsidering the Death Penalty in a Time of Economic Crisis.” 2009.
This DPIC report surveys existing cost studies and estimates that nationwide, the death penalty has cost anywhere from $2.25 to $25 billion more than in life without parole was the maximum penalty.
Cook, Philip. “Potential Savings from the Abolition of the Death Penalty in North Carolina.” American Law and Economics Review, 2009.
In this 2009 follow up, Duke University professor Philip Cook estimates that North Carolina would have saved $10.8 million per year in 2005 and 2006 without the death penalty.
California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice. “Report and Recommendations.” 2008.
This comprehensive report on California’s death penalty system estimates that the state spends about $137 million per year on its current death penalty regime, versus $11.5 million for life without parole.
The New Jersey Death Penalty Study Commission found that death sentences were more expensive than life without parole. Among the findings: the Department of Corrections estimated that incarcerating a prisoner on death row costs $32,000 per year more than a general population inmate in maximum security; the Office of the Public Defender would save nearly $1.5 million per year without the death penalty.
American Bar Association. “Evaluating Fairness and Accuracy in State Death Penalty Systems: The Florida Death Penalty Assessment Report.” 2006.
The cost of the death penalty extends beyond dollars. For example, this ABA analysis found that 50% of the Florida Supreme Court’s docket is devoted to capital cases, crowding out other cases that the court could weigh in on.
S.V. Date, “The High Price of Killing Killers.” Palm Beach Post, January 4, 2000.
This newspaper analysis estimated that the death penalty costs Florida about $50 million per year above what a system with a maximum sentence of life without parole would cost.
Cook, Philip and Donna Slawson. “The Costs of Processing Murder Cases in North Carolina.” Duke University, 1993.
This 1993 study of the North Carolina death penalty system factors in costs incurred at the trial, appellate, and corrections stages of a capital case, and concludes that pursuing capital cases costs the state about $4 million extra per year.
Jurisdictions cut other public safety services while spending extraordinary sums on a small number of death penalty cases.
In Florida, there is a backlog of over 9,000 rape kits that could contain important evidence that have not yet been tested. Governor Rick Scott has requested an extra $8.5 million to expedite testing, but the Florida Department of Law Enforcement estimates that testing every kit could cost up to $32 million. Meanwhile, Florida’s annual spending on the death penalty could be as high as $51 million.
In 2015, North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin asked for an additional $30 million to aid a severely underfunded court system that has lost over 40% of its budget over the last six years and would have to hire 600 additional personnel to operate at full strength. According to a 2009 cost study, the state spends over $10 million per year on the death penalty.
In 2014, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon withheld nearly $3 million of a planned $4 million budget increase for the state’s public defenders system, widely regarded as one of the most stressed in the country. Meanwhile, one analysis estimated that its costs the state over $100,000 more to defend capital murder cases compared to life without parole.
Death penalty cases can put severe strain on local and county governments’ budgets. For example:
- Mohave County, Arizona recently had to authorize $344,000 from contingency funds to pay for two death penalty trials and three appeals.
Jim Seckler. “Supervisors given overview of death penalty’s cost to county.” Mohave County Daily News, April 20, 2016.
- Jasper County, Texas had to raise its property tax rate by nearly 7% for two years after a capital trial cost $1 million (compared to the county’s $10 million annual budget).
- Jefferson County, Florida had to freeze employee salaries and cut the library budget after pursuing a capital trial.
Jeff Scullin. “Death Penalty: Is Price of Justice Too High?” The Ledger, December 14, 2003.
- Quitman County, Mississippi had to repeatedly raise taxes and take out a loan to pay for two capital trials.
- Polk and Dallas Counties, Texas had to ask for supplemental funding from the state to pay their trial expenses.
- Several states, including Utah, have risk-sharing pools that counties pay into to cover the costs of possible capital trials.
Russell Gold. “Counties Struggle with High Costs of Prosecuting Death-Penalty Cases.” Wall Street Journal, January 9, 2002.