Warren Lee Hill Jr.’s execution has been delayed, but not prevented, yet again. Jodi Arias’ second sentencing trial is expected sometime in September. With all this delay and legal wrangling, you may ask if anyone who is sentenced to death is actually executed. You might be surprised in how few actually are, how much money it takes to get there, and how long the process really takes.
In 2011, the average time between sentencing and execution was 16.5 years in the U.S. So far in 2013, 19 people have been executed. Of these, the longest time on death row was 25 years. The idea of shortening this time frame raises significant problems. Since 1973, 138 people have been exonerated and freed from death row. The average time between sentencing and exoneration is 9.8 years, and 68% of death penalty cases are reversed at some point in the appeals process. Even if the appeals process was modified or shortened, the majority of the cost comes during the original trial.
Trial costs in North Carolina made up over 4 times the appeals costs for each death sentence imposed according to a Duke University study. Additionally, unlike a normal case, if a criminal is found guilty of a capital crime, an entire new separate trial is required, with new witnesses and new evidence, in which the jury must decide whether the penalty should be death or life without parole. The death penalty costs North Carolina $2.16 million per execution over the cost of sentencing murderers to life imprisonment.
Even considering plea bargains which result from having the death penalty on the table, it is still more expensive. The average cost of representation in federal death penalty cases that resulted in plea bargains is $192,333. The cost of representation in cases that were eligible for the death penalty but it was not sought was $55,772. Even when there is no question of guilt, the process is expensive. In Georgia, the death penalty prosecution in Brian Nichols’ case cost the state over $2 million in defense costs.
When you consider how much extra money is spent on seeking the death penalty when it is not achieved, the cost per execution is astronomical. In Florida, it cost about $24 million per execution. Before abandoning capital punishment, New York spent $170 million over 9 years and had no executions. In Maryland, whose abolishment of the death penalty takes effect this October, it was costing them $37 million per execution. It isn’t difficult to see that the death penalty is an extremely expensive way to dole out justice to a select few individuals.
WSB Radio, New Execution Set for Warren Lee Hill: http://www.wsbradio.com/news/news/local/new-execution-set-for-warren-lee-hill/nYsKW/
Death Penalty Information Center, Costs of the Death Penalty: http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/costs-death-penalty
Death Penalty Information Center, Executions: http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/category/categories/facts/executions
CNN, Maryland Governor Signs Death Penalty Repeal: http://www.cnn.com/2013/05/02/us/maryland-death-penalty
Yahoo, A Humane Form of Capital Punishment: http://voices.yahoo.com/a-humane-form-capital-punishment-6036810.html?cat=17
The National Law Journal, Warren Lee Hill’s—and the Supreme Court’s—Last Chance: http://www.law.com/jsp/nlj/PubArticleNLJ.jsp?id=1202610403955&Warren_Lee_Hillsand_the_Supreme_CourtsLast_Chance&slreturn=20130618125803#
Cornell University Law School, Felker v. Turpin: http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/95-8836.ZO.html
USA Today, Jodi Arias Retrial Could be in September: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/07/16/jodi-arias-court/2520011/