Utah

Utah

Death Penalty Now Rarely Used in Utah

An analysis of the death penalty in Utah shows how rarely it has been used in recent years. Prosecutors have sought it in only 7 cases in the last 5 years, and none has resulted in a death sentence. Utah has had only 1 execution in the past 13 years. Experts have offered several reasons for the declining use: the alternative sentence of life without parole is now avaialble; the appeal of a death sentence is costly and slow; and many victims' families wish to see a more timely end to the criminal case. Salt Lake County District Attorney Sam Gill said the death penalty should be used sparingly, and only with great consideration: "What you want is a prosecutor who struggles with the death penalty, because it's a decision to take somebody's life. It shouldn't be something we do arbitrarily. It's not something that we should be cavalier about. It is not something we should reach to with indiscretion." Prosecutors also said they consider the wishes of the victim's family when deciding whether to seek a death sentence. Mark Anderson, whose cousin was murdered, said he believed life without parole was an appropriate punishment in that case. "When you have a crime that's committed, you need to protect two entities. You need to protect the victim and the public in general, and in both of those situations justice was satisfied," Anderson said.

COSTS: In Utah, Each Death Penalty Case Costs $1.6 Million Extra

According to Gary Syphus of the Legislative Fiscal Analyst's Office in Utah, seeking the death penalty costs the state an additional $1.6 million per inmate from trial to execution compared to life-without-parole cases. Syphus offered this estimate to the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee of the Utah legislature on November 14. Republican state representative Steve Handy had asked for an examination of the state and local government costs associated with implementing the death penalty in Utah.  Although he has not proposed any legislation, Handy said that the comparative costs of life without parole and capital punishment should nevertheless be examined. Ralph Dellapiana, a defense attorney and the director of Utahns for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, said the cost estimate offered did not adequately capture the full expense incurred by the state, since it did not include costs such as those associated with cases in which the death penalty is sought but not ultimately imposed.

NEW VOICES: Former Supporters Rethinking the Death Penalty Because of its High Costs

According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, some long-time supporters of the death penalty have recently shifted their positions, questioning whether the occasional execution is worth the costs incurred by taxpayers at a time when budgets are strained.  Gil Garcetti (pictured), the former district attorney of Los Angeles County, which is responsible for roughly one-third of California's 727 death-row inmates, recently remarked, “I was a supporter and believer in the death penalty, but I've begun to see that this system doesn't work and it isn't functional. It costs an obscene amount of money." A study of the death penalty in California in 2011 showed that the cost of housing a death-row inmate was $100,000 per year more than the cost of housing someone sentenced to life without parole. The same study concluded that just picking a jury in death penalty cases costs $200,000 more than the amount for non-capital cases. In Montana, a group called Montana Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty has joined the movement to repeal capital punishment because of its cost. Steve Dogiakos, the group’s director, said, “The death penalty is another institution of government that is wasteful and ineffective.” In Utah, Republican State Rep. Stephen Handy recently asked for a fiscal review of how much the state is spending on capital cases: "I don't have any illusion that either the Utah legislature or the people are ready to overturn the death penalty. But I want to start the dialogue," he said.

NEW VOICES: Growing Concerns in Utah About High Cost of the Death Penalty

Legislators and other officials in Utah are expressing concerns about the high costs of the death penalty and its lack of deterrent effect. Speaking before the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee, Republican State Representative Steve Handy (pictured) said, “In today’s world, the death penalty is so infrequently used that I don’t believe it is any kind of a deterrent."  The Davis County prosecutor, Troy Rawlings, a proponent of the death penalty, nevertheless agreed that replacing the death penalty with life without parole "would remove some of the significant complications of cases and expedite them, as well as save money." According to legislative fiscal analyst Gary R. Syphus, it costs county governments $460,000 annually to defend and prosecute a capital murder case. The Law Enforcement Committee has ranked the death penalty the number one policy issue to study this year, and a committee at the University of Utah is also researching the costs of death penalty cases in the state. 

DPIC RESOURCES: New State Pages Now Available

DPIC is pleased to announce the completion of our State Information Pages for all 50 states and the District of Columbia.  These state profiles provide historical and current information on the death penalty for each state, including famous cases, past legislative actions, and links to key organizations and state officials.  For frequently updated information, such as execution totals, the size of death row, or the number of exonerations, see our State-by-State Database.  Readers are encouraged to send additional information, pictures, and links to organizations in their state.  You can reach the State Information Pages through the "State by State" button at the top of every page on our website or under the "Resources" tab in our main menu.

NEW RESOURCES: States Ranked by Executions Per Death Sentence

DPIC has updated its Executions Per Death Death Sentence page to reflect data through 2010.  This page lists states in order of the percentage of death sentences resulting in an execution since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.  If every death sentence resulted in an execution, the state would be at 100%, or a rate of 1.00.  Using this ratio of executions per death sentence, the first five states are Virginia (.725), Texas (.498), Utah (.368), Missouri (.347), and Delaware (.311).  Of those states that have carried out at least one execution, the five states with the lowest rate of execution are Pennsylvania (.008), California (.015), Idaho (.025), Oregon (.028), and Tennessee (.035).  Four states with the death penalty during this time period had no executions: Kansas, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and New York.  The latter two have abandoned the death penalty.  Nationally, about 15% of death sentences have resulted in an execution (a rate of .150).  Another measure of state execution rates is executions per capita (population).  Under this standard, Oklahoma and Texas are the leading states.

NEW VOICES: Utah Religious Leaders Express Concerns about the Death Penalty in Anticipation of Firing Squad Execution

The upcoming execution of Ronnie Lee Gardner, who has opted to be killed by a firing squad in Utah on June 18, has attracted the attention of many people of faith in the state. Hours before Gardner's execution, prominent religious leaders will gather for a vigil to protest the execution. Religious leaders from groups often associated with being supportive of the death penalty have recently voiced concerns about the practice.  The Mormon Church has moved from a position of support for capital punishment to one of neutrality, with some leaders opposing it.  Philip Barlow, who holds the Arrington Chair of Mormon History and Culture at Utah State University said, "I can't imagine Jesus Christ participating in that sort of justice."  State representative Greg Hughes, R-Draper and a Mormon, agreed with Barlow's opposition for other reasons .  "I don't want to give government the right to execute citizens, period," he said. "Inevitably, you're going to kill innocent people."  Shuaib-ud Din, imam of the Utah Islamic Center believes that the Quran and Prophet Muhammad's sayings support the death penalty, but he has reservations about how well the system works and whether innocent people have been executed. He said, "The judicial system has to be near perfect for capital punishment to take place."