The death penalty has caused much debate in this country. Does the death penalty deter crime? Should the government have the power over life and death? Is the death penalty appropriate if even one innocent person is executed? These are questions that typically surround the debate, but there is one I would like to cover: does the death penalty cost more than life in prison? This was a question the state of Nevada's Legislative Auditor seemed to answer in its audit released recently.
Looking at 28 death penalty cases in Nevada, the average death penalty case costs $532,000 more than a case when the death penalty is not sought (p. 10), which is nearly twice as much as a murder case for life without parole. Although incarceration costs were less for cases that sought the death penalty (Exhibit 7), what caused the death penalty cases to supersede the non-death penalty cases was average case costs (Exhibit 5). Most of the costs are racked up even before the trial begins (Exhibit 10), which is all the more damning since most cases in which the prosecutor seeks the death penalty does not actually impose the death penalty (Exhibit 2). For death penalty cases, they require more lawyers, more preparation, more investigators, more special motions, more witnesses, more experts, a longer jury selection, not to mention a longer appeals process (Exhibit 6).
Many other states, such as California, Indiana, Maryland, Louisiana, New Jersey, Montana, Connecticut, North Carolina, Ohio, and Kansas, have attempted to capture the costs and have come to the same conclusion: the death penalty costs way more than life without parole. The money that was spent on the death penalty could have been spent on real crime control measures, such as solving, preventing, or prosecuting other crimes. The evidence is clear. If one wants to make an argument for the death penalty, trying to make the argument based on cost savings is not the way to go.