The High COST of New Jersey’s DEATH PENALTYThe complexity, length, and importance of death penalty trials drive their cost through the roof – drawing critical and scarce resources away from law enforcement and driving up local taxes – while creating a more error-prone process.
A sentence of life in prison without parole is more swift, more certain, more fair, and preserves resources for crime prevention and victims’ services that actually work.
Capital Punishment Costs Far More Than Life in Prison Without Parole
- A 2005 report by New Jersey Policy Perspective revealed that New Jersey has spent $253 million on a death penalty system that has executed no one. Read the report here
- The capital trial process is more complicated because a life is on the line. The United States Supreme Court requires two separate trial stages for every capital case: in the first trial a jury decides if the person is guilty and in the second trial a jury decides what the appropriate punishment should be.
- It is harder, and takes longer, to find a jury that can sit on a death penalty case because the law says only those willing to send someone to die are qualified to serve.
- Death penalty law is more complex than many other areas of law, requiring special legal expertise and more time for trials, more money for experts, and more lawyers.
- Every death penalty verdict is automatically appealed, which adds more costs.
- Most death penalty trials are found to be badly and significantly flawed and must be re-done, sometimes more than once.
- And when the wrong person is sentenced to death – which has happened 119 times as of June 2005 – they can sue the state and win massive damage awards.
- The extra costs involved in a capital prosecution are incurred even when the jury acquits, convicts of a lesser offense, or returns a life sentence. In 1988, none of the twenty New Jersey capital juries returned a death sentence.(1)
State Studies Consistently Demonstrate The High Cost of Capital Punishment
- In New Jersey, sentencing one person to death has been estimated to cost about $7.3 million – and that figure is 15 years old.(2)
- Since reinstating the death penalty in 1995, New York spent in the neighborhood of $160 million on its capital punishment system and, like New Jersey, hasn’t executed anyone. As of 2005, estimates reached $200 million.(3)
- A 2004 study by the Tennessee Comptroller found death penalty trials cost an average of 48% more than the average cost of trials in which prosecutors seek life imprisonment.(4)
- A study by Indiana's Criminal Law Study Commission found the total cost of the death penalty is 38% greater than the total cost of life without parole sentences.(5)
- The most comprehensive death penalty cost study in the country – conducted by Duke University in 1993 - found that the death penalty costs North Carolina $2.16 million more per execution than the a non-death penalty murder case with a sentence of life imprisonment.(6)
- Florida would save $51 million each year by punishing all first-degree murderers with life in prison without parole, according to estimates by the Palm Beach Post.(7)
- A recent Dartmouth Study found that death penalty trials are very costly relative to county budgets and that the costs are borne primarily by increasing taxes and decreasing expenditures. The study noted, “…counties bear the large and unexpected burden of capital convictions in part by raising taxes and in part by decreasing expenditures on police, on highway spending…”(8)
– Sterling Goodspeed, former Warren County, NY District Attorney (9)