COSTS: Death Penalty Cases in Nevada Cost $200K Extra, Just for Defense

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. More results below.

- 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."

(T. Miethe, "Estimates of Time Spent in Capital and Non-Capital Murder Cases: A Statistical Analysis of Survey Data from Clark County Defense Attorneys," Department of Criminal Justice, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, February 21, 2012; posted April 16, 2012).  See Costs and Life Without Parole.  Read more Studies on the death penalty.