Oregon

Oregon

New Study Finds Oregon Death Sentences Are Significantly More Costly Than Life Sentences

A new study by Lewis & Clark Law School and Seattle University that examined the costs of hundreds of aggravated murder and murder cases in Oregon has concluded that "maintaining the death penalty incurs a significant financial burden on Oregon taxpayers." The researchers found that the average trial and incarceration costs of an Oregon murder case that results in a death penalty are almost double those in a murder case that results in a sentence of life imprisonment or a term of years. Excluding state prison costs, the study found, cases that result in death sentences may be three to four times more expensive. The study found that 61 death sentences handed down in Oregon cost taxpayers an average of $2.3 million, including incarceration costs, while a comparison group of 313 aggravated murder cases cost an average of $1.4 million. Excluding state prison costs, the difference was even more stark: $1.1 million for death sentences vs. $315,159 for other cases. The study also found that death penalty costs were escalating over time, from $274,209 in the 1980s to $1,783,148 in the 2000s. (See chart. All costs are in 2016 dollars.) The study examined cost data from local jails, the Oregon Department of Corrections, the Office of Public Defense Services, and the Department of Justice, which provided information on appeals costs. Prosecution costs were not included because district attorney's office budgets were not broken down by time spent on each case. Among the reasons cited for the higher cost in death penalty cases were the requirement for appointment of death-qualified defense lawyers, more pre- and post-trial filings by both prosecutors and the defense, lengthier and more complicated jury selection practices, the two-phase death penalty trial, and more extensive appeals once a death sentence had been imposed. Professor Aliza Kaplan, one of the authors of the study, said, "The decision makers, those involved in the criminal justice system, everyone, deserves to know how much we are currently spending on the death penalty, so that when stakeholders, citizens and policy-makers make these decisions, they have as much information as possible to decide what is best for Oregon." Oregon has carried out just two executions since the death penalty was reinstated, both of inmates who waived their appeals. The state currently has a moratorium on executions.

Voters Oust Prosecutors in Outlier Death Penalty Counties, Retain Governors Who Halted Executions

Prosecutors in three counties known for their outlier practices on the death penalty were defeated by challengers running on reform platforms, while voters in Oregon and Washington re-elected governors who acted to halt executions. In Hillsborough County, Florida, Democrat Andrew Warren defeated Republican incumbent Mark Ober (pictured, l.). Warren pledged to seek the death penalty less often and establish a unit to uncover wrongful convictions. In Harris County, Texas, incumbent Devon Anderson (pictured, r.) was defeated by Democratic challenger Kim Ogg. Ogg ran on a platform of broad criminal justice reform and had received support from the Black Lives Matter movement. Harris County leads the nation in executions and is second only to Los Angeles in the number of people on its death row. Ogg had said that the death penalty had created "a terrible image for our city and our county" and pledged that, "[u]nder an Ogg admninistration, you will see very few death penalty prosecutions." Brandon Falls, District Attorney of Jefferson County, Alabama, lost his seat to Charles Todd Henderson, who does not support the death penalty and said he plans to “bring about real criminal justice reform.” Hillsborough, Harris, and Jefferson all rank among the 2% of U.S. counties responsible for a majority of death row inmates in the U.S., and were among the 16 most prolific death sentencing counties in the U.S. between 2010-2015. “People are scrutinizing their local criminal justice systems, and people are realizing how much power state attorneys have, and they are seeing elections as a way to change those results,” Deborrah Brodsky, director of the Project on Accountable Justice at Florida State University, said. In gubernatorial elections, voters re-elected governors who had halted executions in their states. Washington voters re-elected Governor Jay Inslee, who imposed a death penalty moratorium, and Oregon voters gave a full term to Governor Kate Brown, who had extended her predecessor's moratorium and pledged to keep the moratorium in effect if elected. In North Carolina, voters defeated incumbent Governor Pat McCrory, who had supported efforts to repeal the state's Racial Justice Act. 

NEW VOICES: Effects of the Death Penalty on Those Who Carry It Out

Four retired death-row prison officials - two wardens, a chaplain, and an execution supervisor - recently described the effect that carrying out executions has had on them. Frank Thompson (pictured), who served as a warden in Oregon and Arkansas, said he believed in capital punishment until he thought "about those flaws in the back of my mind that I knew existed with capital punishment. It’s being administered against the poor; it lacks proof that it deters anything." He trained his staff to carry out executions, but, "I realized that I was training decent men and women how to take the life of a human being. In the name of a public policy that after all these years couldn’t be shown to increase the net of public safety." Terry Collins spent over 32 years working in corrections, including time as the director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. He said seeing exonerations gave him concerns about the death penalty: "[T]the system does make mistakes. I don’t think you can make a mistake when you’re talking about somebody’s life." Jerry Givens, who oversaw 62 executions in Virginia, raised similar concerns, "I knew the system was corrupted when we exonerated Earl Washington Jr. from death row...You have two types of people on death row. The guilty and the innocent. And when when you have the guilty and the innocent, you shouldn’t have death row." Rev. Carroll Pickett was a chaplain on Texas's death row for 15 years and during 95 executions. He commented, "Standing by the gurney almost 100 times, and watching innocent men killed, watching repentant men killed, and seeing the pain among families and men and my employee friends, cannot leave my memories."

NEW VOICES: Another Oregon Chief Justice Questions the Death Penalty

Three former Chief Justices of the Oregon Supreme Court have recently called for an end to the death penalty in their state. Retired Chief Justice Wallace P. Carson, Jr. (l.), was the most recent Justice to call for a change: "In my opinion, the exceptional cost of death penalty cases and the seemingly haphazard selection of which cases deserve the death penalty outweigh any perceived public benefit of this sanction," Carson said. "The fairly recent addition of a 'true life' (no parole) penalty should reasonably substitute for any deterrence value that some may claim that the death penalty provides. It is time for a change." In 2013, former Chief Justice Paul J. DeMuniz, said, "The death penalty is getting a 'pass' from legislative scrutiny, when looking for ways to trim Oregon’s budget to fund starving schools and public safety. We currently have fewer state police today than we did in 1960." Retired Chief Justice Edwin J. Petersen also spoke out against the death penalty in 2013, saying "Under our system, fairness is difficult to achieve. Mistakes are made. The  system sets up the possibility of a fatal mistake--killing an innocent person."

NEW VOICES: Former Oregon Chief Justice Recommends Repeal of Death Penalty

Edwin J. Peterson, who served as the Chief Justice of Oregon's Supreme Court for many years, recently recommended ending the state's death penalty. Judge Peterson voted as a citizen to reinstate the death penalty in Oregon in 1978 and in 1984, but he now believes the capital punishment system is broken: "We have an inefficient, ineffective, dysfunctional system," he said. "There is widespread dissatisfaction.... Our system has failed. Recognize it and repeal Oregon’s death penalty." He noted that taxpayers are supporting a system that yields no results: "There is little reason to believe that any defendant now on Oregon’s Death Row will ever be executed. [Yet] we taxpayers pay nearly all of the expenses of prosecuting and defending death-penalty cases." Read the full op-ed below.

Oregon Supreme Court Affirms Governor's Halt to All Executions

The Oregon Supreme Court ruled that Governor John Kitzhaber may delay the executions of the state's death row inmates during his term of office. In 2011, Kitzhaber instituted a moratorium on all executions in the state, saying, "I refuse to be a part of this compromised and inequitable system any longer; and I will not allow further executions while I am Governor." That decision was challenged by death row inmate Gary Haugen, who had waived his appeals in order to speed up his execution. Haugen argued that the reprieve was invalid because he refused to accept it, but the Court rejected that argument, ruling that the governor's clemency power is not dependent on the inmate's acceptance and noting that the reprieve will come to an end when the governor leaves office. Kitzhaber has urged the state legislature to allow a statewide vote on the death penalty. Because Oregon's death penalty was instituted by popular vote, it can only be repealed by a ballot measure. Oregon has had 2 executions since the death penalty was reinstated, both involving inmates who waived their appeals.

NEW VOICES: Oregon Leaders Speak Out About the Death Penalty

At a recent event at Willamette University in Oregon, various state leaders in the fields of law and criminal justice spoke critically about the state's death penalty. Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul De Muniz (pictured) said the death penalty was "bad public policy," almost never resulting in an execution. He spoke of having defended a murderer sentenced to death in 1988. Twenty-five years later, the Justice noted, he is now retired after a full career in the law, while the inmate is still in the midst of his appeals on death row. Noting the $28 million spent annually on the death penalty, Justice De Muniz said, “The death penalty is getting a ‘pass’ from legislative scrutiny, when looking for ways to trim Oregon’s budget to fund starving schools and public safety.” The former Superintendent of the State Penitentiary, Frank Thompson, who presided over the last executions in the state, called the current system a “failed public policy.” Thompson said that he was concerned about his staff, who had the responsibility of carrying out executions, and about the risk that some innocent people have been executed in the U.S. Retired Supreme Court Justice Edwin Peterson also announced at the sold-out event that he would begin speaking out publicly against the state’s death penalty.

LAW REVIEWS: "Oregon's Death Penalty: The Practical Reality"

A recent article by Professor Aliza Kaplan (pictured) of the Lewis & Clark Law School examines Oregon's death penalty in light of the action take by the state's governor, John Kitzhaber, to halt all executions. The article explores the history of Oregon's death penalty, the risk of wrongful convictions, and the costs associated with maintaining capital punishment. Kaplan found that executions are carried out very rarely, and, since 1976 only in instances where the inmate waived his appeals. According to one estimate cited by Kaplan, 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. For example, 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. Kaplan concludes, "While capital punishment remains on the books in Oregon, it is carried out rarely and only for volunteers; it moves at a snail's pace and is absorbing millions of dollars. Oregon's death penalty is long overdue for an examination as a public policy; its problems and alleged benefits should be weighed."

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