COSTS: Federal Government Spending Millions Pursuing Death Penalty for Inmate with Life Sentence

An expensive federal death penalty trial under way in New York illustrates many of the concerns about such prosecutions.  New York is a state that no longer has its own death penalty.  Nevertheless, the federal government is seeking a death sentence for Vincent Basciano, who is already serving life without parole.  Because the death penalty is being sought, the case has already costs millions of dollars and the final bill will likely be $10 million or more.  Moreover, the chief witness against Basciano is another mob figure, Joseph Massino, himself guilty of at least seven murders but who escaped the death penalty because of his cooperation with the government.  Jim Dwyer, columnist for the New York Times, pointed out, "Before one syllable was heard from the first witness, the judge had approved payments for Mr. Basciano’s defense approaching $4 million; it is likely that similar costs could be attributed to the team of prosecutors. Now that testimony has begun, his publicly paid defense lawyers, plus investigators, were in court on Tuesday; so were four assistant United States attorneys, along with two F.B.I. agents. In addition to the legal costs, there are administrative expenses in running a trial: 1,000 potential jurors were screened for the case; federal marshals are protecting the turncoat mob boss under tight security; and the jurors hearing the case are anonymous and are being provided with protection and escorts to their homes."  In 2010, the judge overseeing Basciano’s trial asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to reconsider seeking the death penalty, given the costs and the fact that the defendant would never be released.  

Although the federal government has sought the death penalty in over 30 cases in New York, only one resulted in a death sentence, and that was overturned.

(J. Dwyer, "A High Cost, to Little Effect, for a Window Into the Mob," New York Times, April 12, 2011).  See Arbitrariness, Costs and Federal Death Penaty.