U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

COST OF THE DEATH PENALTY

NCJ Number
43994
Journal
Criminal Law Bulletin Volume: 14 Issue: 1 Dated: (JANUARY-FEBRUARY 1978) Pages: 69-80
Author(s)
B NAKELL
Date Published
1978
Length
12 pages
Annotation
THE ARGUMENT THAT A JUDICIAL AND CORRECTIONAL SYSTEM WITH THE DEATH PENALTY IS MORE COSTLY THAN A SYSTEM WITHOUT THE DEATH PENALTY IS SET FORTH.
Abstract
THE ANALYSIS IS PERFORMED IN THE CONTEXT OF PROCEDURAL REQUIREMENTS UNDER THE U.S. SUPREME COURT'S 1976 DEATH PENALTY DECISIONS. IN A CAPITAL PUNISHMENT SYSTEM, BOTH THE TRIAL PROCESS AND THE APPEAL PROCESS ARE EXPENSIVE. IN CONTRAST TO NONCAPITAL CASES, ALL CAPITAL CASES REQUIRE JURY TRIALS. SUCH TRIALS GENERALLY ARE LONGER, MORE COMPLEX, AND MORE EXPENSIVE THAN TRIALS IN OTHER CASES, INCLUDING OTHER MURDER CASES. PRISONERS SENTENCED TO DEATH EXHAUST ALL AVENUES FOR RELIEF, SEEKING REVIEW IN THE U.S. SUPREME COURT, FILING POSTCONVICTION PETITIONS IN STATE COURTS, FILING HABEAS CORPUS PETITIONS IN FEDERAL COURTS, ASKING GOVERNORS FOR COMMUTATION, AND FILING OTHER STATE AND FEDERAL APPLICATIONS FOR REVIEW. THE COSTS OF DEFENSE, PROSECUTION, AND COURT REVIEW MUST BE INCLUDED IN COMPUTING THE FINANCIAL COSTS OF THE DEATH PENALTY. THE CORRECTIONS PROCESS ALSO SUFFERS IN A CAPITAL PUNISHMENT SYSTEM, LARGELY BECAUSE OF SECURITY PRECAUTIONS IMPOSED BY SUCH A SYSTEM. ALTHOUGH IT MAY COST LESS TO EXECUTE A PARTICULAR OFFENDER THAN TO MAINTAIN THE OFFENDER IN PRISON FOR LIFE, IT COSTS FAR MORE TO FINANCE A SYSTEM IN WHICH THE DECISION IS MADE TO EXECUTE SOME PEOPLE, ALL OF WHOM ARE PROCESSED THROUGH THE ENTIRE SYSTEM, AND SOME OF WHOM MUST STILL BE MAINTAINED FOR LIFE. THERE IS NO RELIABLE BASIS FOR BELIEVING THAT THE DEATH PENALTY SERVES EITHER A DETERRENT OR A RETRIBUTIVE PURPOSE. THOSE WHO ARE NOT CONVINCED BY LOFTIER ARGUMENTS AGAINST THE DEATH PENALTY SHOULD BE PERSUADED BY THE COST-BENEFIT VIEW THAT CAPITAL PUNISHMENT IS A BAD INVESTMENT. NO SUPPORTING DATA ARE INCLUDED.