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Costs of the Death Penalty

"Every dollar we spend on a capital case is a dollar we can't spend anywhere else.... We have to let the public know what it costs [to pursue a capital case."

-John M. Bailey, Chief State's Attorney, Connecticut


Information on Costs of the Death Penalty From DPIC

  Financial Facts About the Death Penalty

$ 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)

$ 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, January 10, 2002)

$ North Carolina spends .16 million 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 .16 million more per execution than the a non-death penalty murder case with a sentence of life imprisonment (Duke University, May 1993). On a national basis, these figures translate to an extra cost of over $1 billion spent since 1976 on the death penalty. The study,"The Costs of Processing Murder Cases in North Carolina" is available on line at

$ Florida spends million extra per year on death penalty
Florida would save 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 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 deathe sentences are overturned on appeal. (Palm Beach Post, January 4, 2000)

$ California spends million annually beyond ordinary costs of justice system
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 million state of the art death row. (New York Times, January 14, 2003)

$ Each death penalty case costs Texas average of .3 million
That is about three times the cost of imprisoning someone in a single cell at the highest security level for 40 years. (Dallas Morning News, March 8, 1992)

 NY - The estimated costs for New  death penalty, which was reinstated in 1995: million, or approximately million for each person sentenced to death, with no executions likely for many years. (The Times Union, Sept. 22, 2003)

NE - Because of one death penalty case in Nebraska, the Madison County Public Defender Office  have time to meet with their regular clients and prepare adequate defenses, in violation of their code of ethics. Attorneys are withdrawing from all new cases to which they are appointed. (Lincoln Journal Star, Sept. 22, 2003)

OH - In Ohio, the low pay for death penalty representation coupled with the pressure of the cases has meant a shortage of qualified attorneys: In Mahoning County, only 4 lawyers qualify for lead death penalty work; in Trumbull County, 2; in Columbiana County, only 1. (Youngstown Vindicator, Sept. 22, 2003)


$ Partial Costs in the Virginia trials of John Muhammad and Lee Malvo
    An article in the Washington Post reported figures from the Virginia state courts on the costs of the capital prosecutions of John Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo:

Defense Costs

  • Muhammad's attorneys were paid ,726 for their work and expenses.
  • Malvo's attorneys were paid over ,000.

Police and Prosecution Costs

  • Police reported expenses of approxmately ,000 to prosecute Muhammad.  The prosecutors' legal costs were not listed.
  • Police spent ,751 to prosecute Malvo.  Prosecution salary costs were about ,000 of this figure.

Costs do not include appeals.  The jury in Muhammad's case voted for a death sentence; Malvo's jury voted for a life sentence.
(Washington post, February 14, 2004)

$ Former Death Row Inmate Awarded .2 Million Wrongful Conviction Settlement
     The Chicago City Council finance committee quickly approved a .2 million wrongful conviction settlement for former death row inmate Ronald Jones. "I think it is a good deal for the city," said Chicago Alderman William Beavers, indicating that he and other aldermen breathed a sigh of relief that the city will get off so cheaply in its settlement with Jones, who was coerced into a confession to a 1985 rape and murder that he did not commit. Jones spent 14 years on Illinois's death row before DNA tests excluded him as the perpetrator. Former Illinois Governor George Ryan pardoned Jones in 2000. (Chicago Tribune, December 16, 2003)

$ Costly Death Penalty Takes Toll on State Budgets
     A report in the Polk County (Florida) Lakeland Ledger examined the financial impact of costly capital trials on states that are struggling to make ends meet. The report noted that death penalty cases negatively impact county governments because the hundreds of thousands of dollars that is spent annually on capital cases takes away funding from crucial indigent care programs and other important services. As an example, the paper notes, "Take the case of Tavares Wright. The legal bill stands at ,000 and a 3rd murder trial for the Lakeland man is pending after the first 2 ended in mistrials." During the early 1990's, two capital trials in Jefferson County, Florida caused significant debt for the county. The trials were so expensive that they forced significant cuts in the county budget, such as a freeze on employee raises and a 20% reduction in the library budget. The article notes that counties in Texas, Indiana, Georgia, and elsewhere face similar budget challenges. (Lakeland Ledger, December 14, 2003).





This page was last updated on 05-25-04.