STUDIES: Death Penalty Costs North Carolina Nearly $11 Million a Year

A recent study published by a Duke University economist revealed North Carolina could save $11 million annually if it dropped the death penalty. Philip J. Cook, a professor at Duke University's Sanford School of Public Policy, calculated the extra state costs of the death penalty during fiscal years 2005 and 2006.  He calculated over $21 million worth of expenses that would have been saved if the death penalty had been repealed. The total included extra defense costs for capital cases in the trial phase, extra payments to jurors, post-conviction costs, resentencing hearings, and the extra costs to the prison system. This conservative estimate did not include resources that would have been freed up in the Office of the Appellate Defender and the North Carolina Supreme Court, the extra time spent by prosecutors in capital cases, and the costs to taxpayers for federal appeals.  Cook concluded that costs are not the only concern, but relevant to the discussion of whether the death penalty should be retained, "The bottom line is that the death penalty is a financial burden on the state and a resource-absorbing burden on the trial courts. That conclusion is relevant to the debate over whether preserving the death penalty is in the public interest…." He also commented, "It's not an ideal use of resources to have so much time devoted to such a small number of cases if your goal is to reduce crime rates."

The two-year costs were summed up as follows:

Extra defense costs for capital cases in trial phase $13,180,385
Extra payments to jurors $224,640
Capital post-conviction costs $7,473,556
Resentencing hearings $594,216
Prison system $169,617
Total $21,642,414

The extra in-kind costs, not included in the total above, resulting from the death penalty were described in the report as follows:

"Abolition would also have freed up resources in the courts and district
attorneys’ offices, as well as the Office of the Appellate Defender and the
North Carolina Supreme Court. These in-kind costs include freeing up the
equivalent of nine assistant prosecutors each year, as well as a 345 days of
trial court time and something like 10% of the resources of the Supreme
Court and the Office of the Appellate Defender."

(P. Cook, "Potential Savings from Abolition of the Death Penalty in North Carolina," American Law and Economics Review, advance access, December 11, 2009; M. Locke, "Study: End death cases, save money," NewsObserver.com, December 28, 2009).  See also Costs and Studies.  North Carolina has not had an execution since 2006; two people were sentenced to death in 2009.