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The 2% Death Penalty: How a Minority of Counties Produce Most Death Cases at Enormous Costs to All (2013)

Smart on Crime: Reconsidering the Death Penalty in a Time of Economic Crisis (2009)

Millions Misspent. What Politicians Don't Say About the High Costs of the Death Penalty (1994)

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Financial Facts About the Death Penalty




A new, but limited, study of the costs of the death penalty in Idaho found that capital cases are more costly and take much more time to resolve than non-capital cases. One measure of death-penalty costs was reflected in the time spent by attorneys handling appeals. The State Appellate Public Defenders office spent about 44 times more time on a typical death penalty appeal than on a life sentence appeal (almost 8,000 hours per capital defendant compared to about 180 hours per non-death penalty defendant). Capital cases with trials took 20.5 months to reach a conclusion while non-capital cases with trials took 13.5 months. The study was commissioned by the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee and performed by the Office of Performance Evaluations.The study also noted how infrequently the death penalty was applied in Idaho: of the 251 defendants who were charged with first-degree murder since 1998, the death penalty was sought against 55 (22%) of them, and just 7 were sentenced to death. More than half of the 40 people sentenced to death since 1977 have received lesser sentences after their death sentences were overturned.


A new study of the cost of the death penalty in Colorado revealed that capital proceedings require six times more days in court and take much longer to resolve than life-without-parole (LWOP) cases. The study, published in the University of Denver Criminal Law Review, found that LWOP cases required an average of 24.5 days of in-court time, while the death-penalty cases required 147.6 days. The authors noted that selecting a jury in an LWOP case takes about a day and a half; in a capital case, jury selection averages 26 days. In measuring the comparative time it takes to go from charging a defendant to final sentencing, the study found that LWOP cases took an average of 526 days to complete; death cases took almost 4 calendar years longer --1,902 days. The study found that even when a death-penalty case ends in a plea agreement and a life sentence, the process takes a year and a half longer than an LWOP case with a trial .

(J. Marceau and H. Whitson, "The Cost of Colorado's Death Penalty ," 3 Univ. of Denver Criminal Law Review 145 (2013)).

Click on image at left to view infographic on Costs in Colorado (ACLU of CO).


Assessment of Costs by Judge Arthur Alarcon and Prof. Paula Mitchell (2011, updated 2012)

The authors concluded that the cost of the death penalty in California has totaled over $4 billion since 1978:

  • $1.94 billion--Pre-Trial and Trial Costs
  • $925 million--Automatic Appeals and State Habeas Corpus Petitions
  • $775 million--Federal Habeas Corpus Appeals
  • $1 billion--Costs of Incarceration

The authors calculated that, if the Governor commuted the sentences of those remaining on death row to life without parole, it would result in an immediate savings of $170 million per year, with a savings of $5 billion over the next 20 years.

See DPIC's Summary of 2011 California Cost Study

Report of the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice (2008) :

“The additional cost of confining an inmate to death row, as compared to the maximum security prisons where those sentenced to life without possibility of parole ordinarily serve their sentences, is $90,000 per year per inmate. With California’s current death row population of 670, that accounts for $63.3 million annually.”

  • Using conservative rough projections, the Commission estimates the annual costs of the present (death penalty) system to be $137 million per year.
  • The cost of the present system with reforms recommended by the Commission to ensure a fair process would be $232.7 million per year.
  • The cost of a system in which the number of death-eligible crimes was significantly narrowed would be $130 million per year.
  • The cost of a system which imposes a maximum penalty of lifetime incarceration instead of the death penalty would be $11.5 million per year.

See more California information below .


Study Reveals Costs in Maryland: $186 Million for Five Executions

A study released by the Urban Institute on March 6, 2008 forecast that the lifetime cost to taxpayers for the capitally-prosecuted cases in Maryland since 1978 will be $186 million.  That translates to $37.2 million for each of the state’s five executions since the state reenacted the death penalty. The study estimates that the average cost to Maryland taxpayers for reaching a single death sentence is $3 million - $1.9 million more than the cost of a non-death penalty case. (This includes investigation, trial, appeals, and incarceration costs.) The study examined 162 capital cases that were prosecuted between 1978 and 1999 and found that those cases will cost $186 million more than what those cases would have cost had the death penalty not existed as a punishment. At every phase of a case, according to the study, capital murder cases cost more than non-capital murder cases.

Of the 162 capital cases, there were 106 cases in which a death sentence was sought but not handed down in Maryland. Those cases cost the state an additional $71 million compared to the cost non-death penalty cases.  Those costs were incurred simply to seek the death penalty where the ultimate outcome was a life or long-term prison sentence.

(J. McMenamin, “Death penalty costs Md. more than life term,” Baltimore Sun, March 6, 2008). Read the entire study here .


A recent study of the death penalty in Nevada compared the costs of defending capital and non-capital murder cases. The study, conducted by Dr. Terance Miethe of the Department of Criminal Justice at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, looked at the time spent by defense attorneys at various stages of a case. The study’s findings included:

  • Clark County public defense attorneys spent an average of 2,298 hours on a capital murder case compared to an average of 1,087 hours on a non-capital murder case--a difference of 1,211 hours, or 112%.
  • Defending the average capital murder case in Clark County cost $229,800 for a Public Defender or $287,250 for appointed counsel. The additional cost of capital murder cases was $170,000 to $212,000 per case compared to the cost of a non-capital murder case in the same county.
  • The 80 pending capital murder cases in Clark County will cost approximately $15 million more than if they were prosecuted without seeking the death penalty.
  • Clark County cases that resulted in a death sentence that concluded between 2009 and 2011 took an average of 1,107 days, or just over 3 years, to go from initial filing to sentencing. In contrast, cases that resulted in life without parole took an average of 887 days (2.4 years) to go from initial filing to sentencing.
  • Of the 35 completed cases in Clark County from 2009 to 2011 where a Notice of Intent to seek the death penalty was filed, 69% resulted in a life sentence. Nearly half (49%) ultimately resulted in a sentence of life without parole, and the next most common disposition was a sentence of life with parole (20%). Only 5 of the 35 cases (14%) resulted in a death sentence.

The study did not include the costs of prosecution or all appelate expenses.  The author noted: "It is important to note that this statistical extrapolation does not cover the full array of time spent in capital cases by other court officials (e.g. judges, prosecutors, jurors), staff and administrative personnel, mitigation specialists, investigators, and expert witnesses.  It also does not take into account the additional costs of capital litigation that are associated with state/federal appeals and the extra costs of imprisonment of death eligible inmates pending trial and sentencing."

Federal Costs

The average cost of defending a trial in a federal death case is $620,932, about 8 times that of a federal murder case in which the death penalty is not sought.  A study found that those defendants whose representation was the least expensive, and thus who received the least amount of attorney and expert time, had an increased probability of receiving a death sentence. Defendants with less than $320,000 in terms of representation costs (the bottom 1/3 of federal capital trials) had a 44% chance of receiving a death sentence at trial. On the other hand, those defendants whose representation costs were higher than $320,000 (the remaining 2/3 of federal capital trials) had only a 19% chance of being sentenced to death. Thus, the study concluded that defendants with low representation costs were more than twice as likely to receive a death sentence. The complete report can be found here .

(Office of Defender Services of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, "Update on Cost, Quality, and Availability of Defense Representation in Federal Death Penalty Cases ," June 2008; prepared by Jon Gould and Lisa Greenman).


Report to Washington State Bar Association regarding cost

At the trial level, death penalty cases are estimated to generate roughly $470,000 in additional costs to the prosecution and defense over the cost of trying the same case as an aggravated murder without the death penalty and costs of $47,000 to $70,000 for court personnel. On direct appeal, the cost of appellate defense averages $100,000 more in death penalty cases, than in non-death penalty murder cases. Personal restraint petitions filed in death penalty cases on average cost an additional $137,000 in public defense costs.

New Jersey

Death Penalty has Cost New Jersey Taxpayers $253 Million

A New Jersey Policy Perspectives report concluded that the state's death penalty has cost taxpayers $253 million since 1983, a figure that is over and above the costs that would have been incurred had the state utilized a sentence of life without parole instead of death. The study examined the costs of death penalty cases to prosecutor offices, public defender offices, courts, and correctional facilities. The report's authors said that the cost estimate is "very conservative" because other significant costs uniquely associated with the death penalty were not available. "From a strictly financial perspective, it is hard to reach a conclusion other than this: New Jersey taxpayers over the last 23 years have paid more than a quarter billion dollars on a capital punishment system that has executed no one," the report concluded. Since 1982, there have been 197 capital trials in New Jersey and 60 death sentences, of which 50 were reversed. There have been no executions, and 10 men are housed on the state's death row. Michael Murphy, former Morris County prosecutor, remarked: "If you were to ask me how $11 million a year could best protect the people of New Jersey, I would tell you by giving the law enforcement community more resources. I'm not interested in hypotheticals or abstractions, I want the tools for law enforcement to do their job, and $11 million can buy a lot of tools." (See Newsday, Nov. 21, 2005; also Press Release, New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, Nov. 21, 2005).

New York

State spent $170 million in 9 years, with no executions

New York reinstated the death penalty in 1995. In 2004, the state's high court overturned the law. Eventually, all 7 death sentences that had been imposed were overturned.  No one was executed. The legislature repeatedly rejected attempts to reinstate the death penalty. During the time when the law was in effect, NY spent about $170 million over 9 years, producing no final death sentences or executions. (See D. Wise, “Capital Punishment Proves to Be Expensive,” New York Law Journal, April 30, 2002, at p.1; see also “Costly Price of Capital Punishment—Case Shows Effort Expended Before the State takes a Life,” Albany Times-Union, Sept. 22, 2003 (over $160 million spent in 7 years); N.Y. Times, Feb. 28, 2005 (citing costs of $170 million).

Early projections: Death penalty would cost state $1.8 million per case just through

trial and initial appeal

One of the earliest cost studies was prepared by the N.Y. State Defenders Association in 1982 as the state was considering reinstating the death penalty. The report concluded that state and county charges for the defense, prosecution, and courts would be about $1.8 million per case through trial, initial state appeal, and appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The first 40 cases when tried to a verdict would cost the state over $59 million. (J. Gradess, "Capital Losses: The Price of the Death Penalty for New York State," NY State Defenders Assn. April 1, 1982).


Study Finds Death penalty Costly, Ineffective

A new report released by the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury recommended changes to the state's costly death penalty and called into question its effectiveness in preventing crime. The Office of Research noted that it lacked sufficient data to accurately account for the total cost of capital trials, stating that because cost and time records were not maintained, the Office of Research was unable to determine the total, comprehensive cost of the death penalty in Tennessee." Although noting that, "no reliable data exists concerning the cost of prosecution or defense of first-degree murder cases in Tennessee," the report concluded that capital murder trials are longer and more expensive at every step compared to other murder trials. In fact, the available data indicated that in capital trials, taxpayers pay half again as much as murder cases in which prosecutors seek prison terms rather than the death penalty. Findings in the report include the following:

  • Death penalty trials cost an average of 48% more than the average cost of trials in which prosecutors seek life imprisonment.
  • Tennessee District Attorneys General are not consistent in their pursuit of the death penalty.
  • Surveys and interviews of district attorneys indicate that some prosecutors "use the death penalty as a 'bargaining chip' to secure plea bargains for lesser sentences."
  • Previous research provides no clear indication whether the death penalty acts as a method of crime prevention.
  • The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals reversed 29 percent of capital cases on direct appeal.
  • Although any traumatic trial may cause stress and pain for jurors, the victims' family, and the defendant's family, the pressure may be at its peak during death penalty trials. (July 2004)

Read the The Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury Office of Research's Report, "Tennessee's Death Penalty: Costs and Consequences" (2004).


Study Concludes Death Penalty is Costly Policy

In its review of death penalty expenses, the State of Kansas concluded that capital cases are 70% more expensive than comparable non-death penalty cases. The study counted death penalty case costs through to execution and found that the median death penalty case costs $1.26 million. Non-death penalty cases were counted through to the end of incarceration and were found to have a median cost of $740,000. For death penalty cases, the pre-trial and trial level expenses were the most expensive part, 49% of the total cost. The costs of appeals were 29% of the total expense, and the incarceration and execution costs accounted for the remaining 22%. In comparison to non-death penalty cases, the following findings were revealed:

  • The investigation costs for death-sentence cases were about 3 times greater than for non-death cases.
  • The trial costs for death cases were about 16 times greater than for non-death cases ($508,000 for death case; $32,000 for non-death case).
  • The appeal costs for death cases were 21 times greater.
  • The costs of carrying out (i.e. incarceration and/or execution) a death sentence were about half the costs of carrying out a non-death sentence in a comparable case.
  • Trials involving a death sentence averaged 34 days, including jury selection; non-death trials averaged about 9 days.

(Performance Audit Report: Costs Incurred for Death Penalty Cases: A K-GOAL Audit of the Department of Corrections, Dec. 2003) Read DPIC's Summary of the Kansas Cost Report.


Death Penalty Trials Very Costly Relative to County Budgets

Capital cases burden county budgets with large unexpected costs, according to a report released by the National Bureau of Economic Research, "The Budgetary Repercussions of Capital Convictions," by Katherine Baicker. Counties manage these high costs by decreasing funding for highways and police and by increasing taxes. The report estimates that between 1982-1997 the extra cost of capital trials was $1.6 billion. (NBER Working Paper No. w8382, Issued in July 2001) Read the abstract .


A state analysis of the costs of the death penalty in Indiana found the average cost to a county for a trial and direct appeal in a capital case was over ten times more than a life-without-parole case. The average capital case resulting in a death sentence cost $449,887, while the average cost of case in which a life-without-parole sentence was sought and achieved was only $42,658.  The study was prepared by the Legislative Services Agency for the General Assembly, Jan. 2010, as a cost assessment for a bill that would make more cases eligible for the death penalty. Read the assessment .

Total cost of Indiana's death penalty is 38% greater than the total cost of life without parole sentences

A study by Indiana's Criminal Law Study Commission found this to be true, assuming that 20% of death sentences are overturned and resentenced to life. (Indiana Criminal Law Study Commission, "Commission Report on Capital Sentencing, " January 10, 2002)

North Carolina

Death Penalty Costs North Carolina Nearly $11 Million a Year

A recent study published by a Duke University economist revealed North Carolina could save $11 million annually if it dropped the death penalty. Philip J. Cook, a professor at Duke University's Sanford School of Public Policy, calculated the extra state costs of the death penalty during fiscal years 2005 and 2006.  He calculated over $21 million worth of expenses that would have been saved if the death penalty had been repealed. The total included extra defense costs for capital cases in the trial phase, extra payments to jurors, post-conviction costs, resentencing hearings, and the extra costs to the prison system. This conservative estimate did not include resources that would have been freed up in the Office of the Appellate Defender and the North Carolina Supreme Court, the extra time spent by prosecutors in capital cases, and the costs to taxpayers for federal appeals.

The two-year costs were summed up as follows:

Extra defense costs for capital cases in trial phase $13,180,385

Extra payments to jurors $224,640

Capital post-conviction costs $7,473,556

Prison system $169,617

Total $21,642,414

North Carolina Spends More per Execution than on a Non-death Penalty Murder Case

The most comprehensive death penalty study in the country found that the death penalty costs North Carolina $2.16 million more per execution than the a non-death penalty murder case with a sentence of life imprisonment (. On a national basis, these figures translate to an extra cost of over $1 billion spent since 1976 on the death penalty. ("The Costs of Processing Murder Cases in North Carolina " Duke University, May 1993).


Florida Spends Millions Extra per Year on Death Penalty

Florida would save $51 million each year by punishing all first-degree murderers with life in prison without parole, according to estimates by the Palm Beach Post. Based on the 44 executions Florida has carried out since 1976, that amounts to an approximate cost of $24 million for each execution. This finding takes into account the relatively few inmates who are actually executed, as well as the time and effort expended on capital defendants who are tried but convicted of a lesser murder charge, and those whose death sentences are overturned on appeal. ("The High Price of Killing Killers ," Palm Beach Post, January 4, 2000)

Florida Spent Average of $3.2 Million per Execution from 1973 to 1988

During that time period, Florida spent an estimated $57 million on the death penalty to achieve 18 executions. ("Bottom Line: Life in Prison One-Sixth as Expensive," Miami Herald, July 10, 1988)

California (earlier)

California Spends Millions More on Capital Cases

California spends $90 Million dollars annually above and beyond the ordinary costs of the justice system on capital cases. $78 million of that total is incurred at the trial level (Sacramento Bee, March 18, 1988). In January 2003, despite a budge deficit, California Governor Gray Davis proposed building a new $220 million state of the art death row. ("San Quentin Debate: Death Row vs. Bay Views. New York Times, December 18, 2004).

The California Death Penalty System Costs Taxpayers More than $114 Million a Year

According to state and federal records obtained by The Los Angeles Times, maintaining the California death penalty system costs taxpayers more than $114 million a year beyond the cost of simply keeping the convicts locked up for life. This figure does not count the millions more spent on court costs to prosecute capital cases. The Times concluded that Californians and federal taxpayers have paid more than a quarter of a billion dollars for each of the state's 11 executions, and that it costs $90,000 more a year to house one inmate on death row, where each person has a private cell and extra guards, than in general prison population. This additional cost per prisoner adds up to $57.5 million in annual spending. ("Death Row Often Means a Long Life ," Los Angeles Times, March 6, 2005).

1988 Cost Study by the Sacramento Bee

A study done by the Sacramento Bee (March 28, 1988) suggests that California would save $90 million per year if it were to abolish the death penalty. $78 million of these expenses are occurred at the trial level and would not be reduced by shortening appeals. ("CLOSING DEATH ROW WOULD SAVE STATE $90 MILLION A YEAR," Sacramento Bee, March 28, 1988).


"[T]he average cost of defending a death penalty case at the trial level over the last ten years was $438,651, while the average cost of defending a non-death aggravated murder case at the trial level was $216,693, less than half. The Department of Justice has spent on average $66,728.65 and 818.5 attorney hours on just direct automatic appeals in the cases of 61 defendants (for a total amount of $4,070,447.60 and 49,928.80 hours respectively)." A. Kaplan, "Oregon's Death Penalty: The Practical Reality ," 17 Lewis & Clark Law Review 1, 36 (2013).

According to an estimate by Dr. Bill Long, "Costs of the Oregon Death Penalty I. prepared for testimony at a capital trial, the cost of putting a person to death in Oregon is at least 50% more, and may be up to five times as much as the cost of a life without parole sentence. (See Kaplan. above at 36).

Oregon taxpayers have paid approximately $2.2 million on the case of Randy Lee Guzek, who has been on death row for 24 years and is still not at the end of his appeals. (See Kaplan. above at 39).


Texas death penalty cases cost more than non-capital cases

Each death penalty case in Texas costs taxpayers about $2.3 million. That is about three times the cost of imprisoning someone in a single cell at the highest security level for 40 years. ("Executions Cost Texas Millions," Dallas Morning News, March 8, 1992).

Information on Costs of the Death Penalty From DPIC

DPIC report: Smart on Crime: Reconsidering the Death Penalty in a Time of Economic Crisis regarding costs of the death penalty and law enforcement views on the effectiveness. (October 20, 2009)

"Costs of the Death Penalty and Related Issues" Testimony of Richard C. Dieter, Executive Director, Death Penalty Information Center, before the Colorado Senate Judiciary Committee. (February 7, 2007) This is a comprehensive description of the death penalty process and related costs.

Testimony of Richard C. Dieter, Executive Director, Death Penalty Information Center, regarding the costs of the death penalty to the Assembly and Senate of Nevada, Legislative Commission's Subcommittee to Study the Death Penalty and Related DNA Testing. (April 18, 2002)

See also "Fighting Crime in the U.S. and Internationally: Is the Death Penalty Necessary? A Unique Conversation Between U.S. and European Law Enforcement," A panel of law enforcement officials from the U.S. and Europe discussing the merits of the death penalty in reducing violent crime. The officers also addressed whether capital punishment actually helps to keep citizens safe, assists healing for victims, and uses crime-fighting resources efficiently. (Washington, D.C. October 13, 2010).

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