Saturday, October 25, 2008

Death Penalty Economically Unviable?

Gerry Uelman writes that the benefits of the death penalty don't outweigh its costs (Fall 2008, Santa Clara Law, pps. 10-11):

Because the death penalty is being sought, the prosecution and defense must actually prepare for two trials, one to determine guilt, the other to determine the sentence...those elements added approximately $500,000 to the cost of a homicide trial.

The bottom line: a conservative estimate of the current cost of our death penalty law in California is $137.7 million per year...to total $232.7 million [after implementing commission's recommendations].

I used to be pro-death penalty until I saw how the system works. I am still pro-death penalty in principle, but from an economic perspective, most studies show it's better to have life without parole. The other benefit of life without parole over the death penalty? Humility. The ones that were wrongfully convicted may get a chance to prove their innocence through DNA or some other new method.

3 comments:

dudleysharp said...

Just because California wastes a huge amount of money, doesn't mean that is has to be so.

Cost Comparisons: Death Penalty Cases Vs Equivalent Life Sentence Cases
Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters, contact info below

In comparing the cost of death penalty cases to other sentences, the studies are woefully incomplete.
 
Generally, such studies have one or more of the following problems.
 
1) Most studies exclude the cost of geriatric care, recently found to be $60,000-$80,000/inmate/yr. A significant omission from life sentence costs.
 
2) All studies exclude the cost savings of the death penalty, which is the ONLY sentence which allows for a plea bargain to a maximum life sentence. Such plea bargains accrue as a cost benefit to the death penalty, such benefit being the cost of trials and appeals for every such plea bargain. The cost savings would be for trial and appeals, estimated at $500,000 to $1 million, which would accrue as a cost benefit/credit to the death penalty.
 
Depending upon jurisdiction, this MIGHT result in a minimal cost differential between the two sanctions or an actual net cost benefit to the death penalty, depending upon how many LWOP cases are plea bargained and how many death penalty cases result in a death sentence.
 
3) FCC economist Dr. Paul Zimmerman finds that executions result in a huge cost benefit to society. "Specifically, it is estimated that each state execution deters somewhere between 3 and 25 murders per year (14 being the average). Assuming that the value of human life is approximately $5 million {i.e. the average of the range estimates provided by Viscussi (1993)}, our estimates imply that society avoids losing approximately $70 million per year on average at the current rate of execution all else equal." The study used state level data from 1978 to 1997 for all 50 states (excluding Washington D.C.). (1)
 
That is a cost benefit of $70 million per execution.  15 additional recent studies, inclusive of their defenses,  support the deterrent effect. 
 
No cost study has included such calculations.
 
Although we find it inappropriate to put a dollar value on life, evidently this is not uncommon for economists, insurers, etc.
 
We know that living murderers are infinitely more likely to harm and murder, again, than are executed murderers. There is no doubt that executions do save innocent lives. What value do you put on the lives saved? Certainly not less than $5 million.
 
4) a) Some studies compare the cost of a death penalty case, including pre trial, trial, appeals and incarceration, to only the cost of incarceration for 40 years, excluding all trial costs and appeals, for a life sentence. The much cited Texas "study" does this.  Hardly an apples to apples cost comparison.
       b) The pure deception in some cost "studies" is overt. It has been claimed that it costs $3.2 million/execution in Florida. That "study" decided to add the cost of the entire death penalty system in Florida ($57 million), which included all of the death penalty cases and dividing that number by only the number of executions (18). One could just have easily stated that the cost of the estimated 200 death row inmates was $285,000 per case.
 
5) There is no reason for death penalty appeals to take longer than 7 years. All death penalty appeals, direct and writ, should travel through the process concurrently, thereby giving every appellate issue 7 years of consideration through both state and federal courts. There is no need for endless repetition and delay. This would result in a reduction in both adjudication and incarceration costs.
 
Judges may be the most serious roadblock in timely resolution. They can and do hold up cases, inexcusably, for long periods of time.  Texas, which leads the nation in executions, by far, takes over 10 years, on average, to execute murderers. However, the state and federal courts, for that jurisdiction,  handle many cases. Texas has the second lowest rate of the courts overturning death penalty cases. Could every other jurisdiction process appeals in 7-10 years. Of course, if the justices would allow it.
 
Justice
6) The main reason sentences are given is because jurors find that it is the most just punishment available. No state, concerned with justice, will base a decision on cost alone. If they did, all cases would be plea bargained and every crime would have a probation option.
 
1). "State Executions, Deterrence and the Incidence of Murder", Paul R. Zimmerman (zimmy@att.net), March 3. 2003, Social Science Research Network, http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/delivery.cfm/SSRN_ID354680_code021216500.pdf?abstractid=354680
 
copyright 2003-2008 Dudley Sharp
Permission for distribution of this document, in whole or in part,  is approved with proper attribution.
 
Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
e-mail  sharpjfa@aol.com,  713-622-5491,
Houston, Texas
 
Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS , VOA and many other TV and radio networks, on such programs as Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, The O'Reilly Factor, etc., has been quoted in newspapers throughout the world and is a published author.
 
A former opponent of capital punishment, he has written and granted interviews about, testified on and debated the subject of the death penalty, extensively and internationally.
 
Pro death penalty sites 

homicidesurvivors.com/categories/Dudley%20Sharp%20-%20Justice%20Matters.aspx

www.dpinfo.com
www.cjlf.org/deathpenalty/DPinformation.htm
www.clarkprosecutor.org/html/links/dplinks.htm
www.coastda.com/archives.html
www.lexingtonprosecutor.com/death_penalty_debate.htm
www.prodeathpenalty.com
yesdeathpenalty.googlepages.com/home2 (Sweden)
www.wesleylowe.com/cp.html

Political Colors said...

I always have been an opponent of the death penalty. We live in a civilized nation and we should not subscribe to the archaic doctrine of "an eye for an eye."

Yes, murder is a horrible crime. And I do not condone it under any circumstance. However, taking a murderer's a life is the answer.

The Dallas News which was long time proponent of the death penalty reversed its position last year.

Murder is often a crime of passion, which by definition excludes the faculties of reason. The jealous husband who walks in on his wife and another man is in no position to deliberate rationally on the consequences of killing his rival. The convenience store robber who chooses in a split-second to shoot the clerk has not pondered the potential outcomes of pulling the trigger.

People overtaken by rage, panic or drunkenness should be brought to justice, of course, but they are hardly paragons of pure reason, and it's unreasonable to assert that they consider the possibility of a death sentence when committing their crimes.



http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/opinion/editorials/stories/DN-deterrence_1202edi.ART.State.Edition1.36bbe2f.html



I wholeheartedly agree with the Dallas News' assertion that the death penalty is not a deterrent.

I have to think about a relative who died a long time ago during a a domestic violence dispute. My relative was a mere bystander and he died from bullets fired by a distraught gunman.

There's no way in that scenario the death penalty would have stopped the gunman's action. And when you multiply that scenario by an untold number of crimes that are fueled by passion, it becomes clear that the death penalty is not the answer.

And even if a murder is premeditated, the Dallas News refutes that the death penalty would serve as a deterrent in those cases.

Even premeditated killers don't expect to be executed. And for good reason. Statistics show that a homicidal gangster is far more likely to die at the hands of his fellow thugs than the hands of the state. As economist and Freakonomics author Steven Levitt writes, "No rational criminal should be deterred by the death penalty, since the punishment is too distant and too unlikely to merit much attention."

http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/opinion/editorials/stories/DN-deterrence_1202edi.ART.State.Edition1.36bbe2f.html

In its conclusion, the Dallas News writes the following:

The only murders the death penalty unarguably deters are those that might have been committed by the executed. But we shouldn't punish inmates for what they might do. Besides, society has an effective and bloodless means of protecting itself from those who have proved themselves willing to murder. It's called life without benefit of parole. In a previous editorial, we called this "death by prison."

http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/opinion/editorials/stories/DN-deterrence_1202edi.ART.State.Edition1.36bbe2f.html

I agree that we should strive for life in prison without parole. This is a fair and humane punishment in cases involving murder.

dudleysharp said...

The Dallas Morning News made the same errors in their assumptions, that their same editor did when she was with the Arizona Republic paper.

The Death Penalty: More Protection for Innocents
Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters, contact info below

Often, the death penalty dialogue gravitates to the subject of innocents at risk of execution. Seldom is a more common problem reviewed. That is, how innocents are more at risk without the death penalty.

To state the blatantly clear, living murderers, in prison, after release or escape, are much more likely to harm and murder, again, than are executed murderers.

Although an obvious truism, it is surprising how often folks overlook the enhanced incapacitation benefits of the death penalty over incarceration.

No knowledgeable and honest party questions that the death penalty has the most extensive due process protections in US criminal law.

Therefore, actual innocents are more likely to be sentenced to life imprisonment and more likely to die in prison serving under that sentence, that it is that an actual innocent will be executed.

That is. logically, conclusive.

16 recent studies, inclusive of their defenses, find for death penalty deterrence.

A surprise? No.

Life is preferred over death. Death is feared more than life.

Some believe that all studies with contrary findings negate those 16 studies. They don’t. Studies which don’t find for deterrence don’t say no one is deterred, but that they couldn’t measure those deterred.

What prospect of a negative outcome doesn’t deter some? There isn’t one . . . although committed anti death penalty folk may say the death penalty is the only one.

However, the premier anti death penalty scholar accepts it as a given that the death penalty is a deterrent, but does not believe it to be a greater deterrent than a life sentence. Yet, the evidence is compelling and un refuted that death is feared more than life.

Some death penalty opponents argue against death penalty deterrence, stating that it’s a harsher penalty to be locked up without any possibility of getting out.

Reality paints a very different picture.

What percentage of capital murderers seek a plea bargain to a death sentence? Zero or close to it. They prefer long term imprisonment.

What percentage of convicted capital murderers argue for execution in the penalty phase of their capital trial? Zero or close to it. They prefer long term imprisonment.

What percentage of death row inmates waive their appeals and speed up the execution process? Nearly zero. They prefer long term imprisonment.

This is not, even remotely, in dispute.

Life is preferred over death. Death is feared more than life.

Furthermore, history tells us that lifers have many ways to get out: Pardon, commutation, escape, clerical error, change in the law, etc.

In choosing to end the death penalty, or in choosing not implement it, some have chosen to spare murderers at the cost of sacrificing more innocent lives.

Furthermore, possibly we have sentenced 25 actually innocent people to death since 1973, or 0.3% of those so sentenced. Those have all been released upon post conviction review. The anti death penalty claims, that the numbers are significantly higher, are a fraud, easily discoverable by fact checking.

6 inmates have been released from death row because of DNA evidence. An additional 9 were released from prison, because of DNA exclusion, who had previously been sentenced to death.

The innocents deception of death penalty opponents has been getting exposure for many years. Even the behemoth of anti death penalty newspapers, The New York Times, has recognized that deception.

To be sure, 30 or 40 categorically innocent people have been released from death row . . . (1) This when death penalty opponents were claiming the release of 119 “innocents” from death row. Death penalty opponents never required actual innocence in order for cases to be added to their “exonerated” or “innocents” list. They simply invented their own definitions for exonerated and innocent and deceptively shoe horned large numbers of inmates into those definitions - something easily discovered with fact checking.

There is no proof of an innocent executed in the US, at least since 1900.

If we accept that the best predictor of future performance is past performance, we can reasonable conclude that the DNA cases will be excluded prior to trial, and that for the next 8000 death sentences, that we will experience a 99.8% accuracy rate in actual guilt convictions. This improved accuracy rate does not include the many additional safeguards that have been added to the system, over and above DNA testing.

Of all the government programs in the world, that put innocents at risk, is there one with a safer record and with greater protections than the US death penalty?

Unlikely.

Full report -All Innocence Issues: The Death Penalty, upon request.

Full report - The Death Penalty as a Deterrent, upon request

(1) The Death of Innocents: A Reasonable Doubt,
New York Times Book Review, p 29, 1/23/05, Adam Liptak,
national legal correspondent for The NY Times

copyright 2007-2008, Dudley Sharp
Permission for distribution of this document, in whole or in part, is approved with proper attribution.

Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
e-mail sharpjfa@aol.com 713-622-5491,
Houston, Texas

Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS, VOA and many other TV and radio networks, on such programs as Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, The O’Reilly Factor, etc., has been quoted in newspapers throughout the world and is a published author.

A former opponent of capital punishment, he has written and granted interviews about, testified on and debated the subject of the death penalty, extensively and internationally.

Pro death penalty sites

www.homicidesurvivors.com/categories/Dudley%20Sharp%20-%20Justice%20Matters.aspx

www.dpinfo.com
http://www.cjlf.org/deathpenalty/DPinformation.htm
http://www.clarkprosecutor.org/html/links/dplinks.htm
http://www.coastda.com/
http://www.lexingtonprosecutor.com/death_penalty_debate.htm
http://www.prodeathpenalty.com
http://www.yesdeathpenalty.googlepages.com/home2 (Sweden)
http://www.wesleylowe.com/cp.htm