Death Penalty Cost

Death Penalty Cost

"Using conservative rough projections, the Commission estimates the annual costs of the present system ($137 million per year), the present system after implementation of the reforms ... ($232.7 million per year) ... and a system which imposes a maximum penalty of lifetime incarceration instead of the death penalty ($11.5 million)."

Recent Cost Studies

  • A 2003 legislative audit in Kansas found that the estimated cost of a death penalty case was 70% more than the cost of a comparable non-death penalty case. Death penalty case costs were counted through to execution (median cost $1.26 million). Non-death penalty case costs were counted through to the end of incarceration (median cost $740,000).
    (December 2003 Survey by the Kansas Legislative Post Audit)
  • In Tennessee, death penalty trials cost an average of 48% more than the average cost of trials in which prosecutors seek life imprisonment.
    (2004 Report from Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury Office of Research)
  • In Maryland death penalty cases cost 3 times more than non-death penalty cases, or $3 million for a single case.
    (Urban Institute, The Cost of the Death Penalty in Maryland, March 2008)
  • In California the current sytem costs $137 million per year; it would cost $11.5 million for a system without the death penalty.
    (California Commission for the Fair Administration of Justice, July 2008)

The greatest costs associated with the death penalty occur prior to and during trial, not in post-conviction proceedings. Even if all post-conviction proceedings (appeals) were abolished, the death penalty would still be more expensive than alternative sentences.

  • Trials in which the prosecutor is seeking a death sentence have two separate and distinct phases: conviction (guilt/innocence) and sentencing. Special motions and extra time for jury selection typically precede such trials.
  • More investigative costs are generally incurred in capital cases, particularly by the prosecution.
  • When death penalty trials result in a verdict less than death or are reversed, taxpayers first incur all the extra costs of capital pretrial and trial proceedings and must then also pay either for the cost of incarcerating the prisoner for life or the costs of a retrial (which often leads to a life sentence).

The death penalty diverts resources from genuine crime control measures. Spending money on the death penalty system means:

  • Reducing the resources available for crime prevention, mental health treatment, education and rehabilitation, meaningful victims' services, and drug treatment programs.
  • Diverting it from existing components of the criminal justice system, such as prosecutions of drug crimes, domestic violence, and child abuse.
  • Emergency services, creating jobs, and police & crime prevention were the three highest rated priorities for use of fiscal resources.
  • Schools/libraries, public health, and roads/transportation also ranked higher than the death penalty.