In a recent op-ed in the Albuquerque Journal, the president of the New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association discussed the high costs of the federal death penalty. In particular, Barbara Mandel detailed the expenses involved in the recent federal trial of John McCluskey. He was sentenced to life without parole, an outcome that Mandel wrote, "occurred years and at least a million dollars later than it should have.” According to the op-ed, McCluskey had been willing to plead guilty in exchange for a sentence less than death early on, and, in February 2013, a senior judge offered to mediate the case. Although then-U.S. Attorney Kenneth Gonzalez rejected the offer, he did acknowledge that federal capital prosecutions inflict logistical and financial burdens on the entire federal system.
In a recent op-ed in the Denver Post, Colorado defense attorney David Lane argued that examples of the state withholding important evidence in capital murder cases should be grounds for reconsidering the death penalty: "The death penalty in Colorado is a fatally flawed government program. The alternative is life with no possibility of parole. Jurors for many years have expressed a preference for that severe sanction, which is actually less costly than the death penalty." Lane cited a recent ruling by the Colorado Court of Appeals affirming the reversal of David Bueno's first-degree murder conviction, in which a death sentence had been sought, because the state failed to turn over evidence about other suspects. (Lane represents one of the co-defendants in the case.) Neither of the prosecutors responsible was disciplined for this breach of conduct, and one has since been elected the District Attorney of El Paso County. Lane also highlighted the cost to Colorado taxpayers: "[B]ecause of the built-in costs for a death penalty case, likely over $1 million was wasted in a failed effort to kill Bueno." Read the full op-ed below.
In an op-ed in the Knoxville News-Sentinel, Tennessean Drew Johnson evoked conservatives' intentions to "protect innocent life, promote financial responsibility and support government programs that really work" in criticizing the death penalty. Johnson, a Senior Fellow at Taxpayers Protection Alliance and founder of the Beacon Center of Tennessee, cited the many exonerations from death row as another reason to challenge capital punishment: "Life is too precious to rely on mistake-prone processes like the death penalty." He noted that the Tennessee Comptroller's Office's found capital trials to be 48% more expensive than life-without-parole trials. Finally, relying on the conservative value of limited government, he concluded, "My view of limited government is not giving the state the power to kill American citizens. There is nothing limited about that authority....It's time that conservative Tennesseans begin to look at the death penalty to consider whether it's consistent with our view of the role of government and decide if retribution and revenge is worth sacrificing our principles, freedoms and liberties." Read the full op-ed below.
Jeff Gerritt is the Deputy Editor of the Toledo Blade, a paper which has supported Ohio's death penalty for years. Disagreeing with the paper's Editor, Gerritt called for repeal of the death penalty in the state, noting the risk of executing the innocent, "Wrongly convicting anyone constitutes a horrible injustice, but executing the wrong person eliminates any chance of reversing the error. Nationwide, more than 140 people awaiting execution have been exonerated. Mistakes are far more likely in cases involving poor defendants, who usually don’t have adequate legal counsel." He also pointed to the racial unfairness of the death penalty: "In Ohio, for example, more than half of the death-sentenced defendants since 1981 have been African-Americans, even though African-Americans make up less than 13 percent of the population. Eighteen African-Americans have been executed in Ohio under the 1981 law — 35 percent of the total." He concluded, "The evidence points to one verdict: Capital punishment should die in Ohio." Read the full op-ed below.
Chase Blasi is on the Board of the Kansas Young Republicans and president of the Colwich City Council. In a recent op-ed in the Witchita Eagle, Blasi challenged the idea that "if you are conservative you must favor the death penalty." Instead he noted, "repeal of the death penalty is an important step for promoting a culture of life. The death penalty is simply not necessary to protect life, given that there are alternatives such as life in prison without parole available to keep society secure." He called the death penalty "an ineffective government program that wastes millions in taxpayer dollars," and concluded, "If we, as conservatives, are serious about cutting costs and promoting a culture of life, then our position on the death penalty is a no-brainer. Repeal it." Read the full op-ed below.
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.
Since DPIC released its new report, The 2% Death Penalty, on October 2, both national and international media have been reporting on its findings. The Washington Post noted, "Two percent of the counties in the country were responsible for [most] 685 of 1,320 executions from 1976, when the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty, to 2012." The Los Angeles Times, quoted DPIC's Executive Director, "'The death penalty is not as American or as widespread as people might assume. It is clustered in a few counties,' said Richard Dieter, the group's executive director." Similar stories have appeared in CBS News, The Guardian (London), U.S. News & World Report, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Columbus Dispatch, The National Journal, and many other outlets. Many stories echoed Stateline's emphasis on the burden that all taxpayers share because of the actions of a few counties: "After a death sentence is handed down, states are on the hook for paying for the prosecution and sometimes defense, as well as housing the inmate. Those costs are borne by the entire state, not just the counties that impose the death sentence." (Click on image to enlarge).
On October 2 the Death Penalty Information Center released a new report, The 2% Death Penalty: How a Minority of Counties Produce Most Death Cases at Enormous Costs to All. The report shows that, contrary to the assumption that the death penalty is widely used in the U.S., only a few jurisdictions employ capital punishment extensively. Only 2% of the counties in the U.S. have been responsible for the majority of cases leading to executions since 1976. Likewise, only 2% of the counties are responsible for the majority of today’s death row population and recent death sentences. The report also noted that aggressive use of the death penalty in relatively few counties produces enormous costs that are shifted to the entire state. “This peculiar exercise of discretion results in enormous expenses being passed on to taxpayers across the state. Moreover, the correlation between the high use of the death penalty and a high rate of error means that courts in these states will be occupied for years with costly appeals and retrials. Some states have recently chosen to opt out of this process, at great savings to their taxpayers.” For a video about the report, infographics, and more information, visit deathpenaltyinfo.org/twopercent.
A recent Boston Globe editorial called on U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder not to seek the death penalty for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the man accused of carrying out the bombing at the Boston Marathon. The editors said the lengthy death-penalty process would put the spotlight on the defendant to the detriment of the victims: "Years of proceedings, and their potential culmination in a death sentence, would also give Tsarnaev what he and his brother apparently sought: publicity and notoriety. Much better to let Tsarnaev slip into obscurity in a federal prison cell," the Globe wrote. In response to the possible use of the death penalty as a bargaining chip, the editorial stated, "Such a strategy raises worries about fairness under any circumstances, since it puts enormous pressure on defendants to give up their right to a trial." Finally, the editorial cited a recent poll finding 57% of Boston residents in favor of life without parole for Tsarnaev if he is convicted. Read the full editorial below.
In a recent op-ed, the co-author of a key study on the viability of California's death penalty analyzed the recent dramatic shift in public opinion on capital punishment in the state. According to Paula Mitchell, adjunct professor at Loyola of Los Angeles Law School, decades of polling showed about two-thirds of Californians supported the death penalty, but the 2012 referendum to repeal the law lost by just 4 percentage points (52%-48%). Moreover, in counties that used the death penalty the most, support for the death penalty was even lower. In Los Angeles County, which has more people on death row than any other American county, 54.5% of voters favored repeal. In Alameda County, ninth among all counties in death row inmates, 62.5% of the votes cast were for repeal. Mitchell said that this drop in support was due to several factors. California's death penalty, she said, "is expensive and structurally broken—probably beyond repair." She also pointed to unfairness in the system, particularly along racial lines: "In addition to concerns over the exorbitant costs associated with capital punishment and the potential for wrongful convictions—issues that were well publicized during the campaign to repeal last year—there are also ever-present concerns over the uneven application of death penalty." African Americans make up over 36% of California's death row, even though they constitute only 6% of the state population. Read full op-ed below.