Too Costly

Delaware legislators have to make some serious choices about how state money is spent. There is not enough money to cover all the needs, yet Delaware continues to spend money it doesn’t have on expensive death penalty cases. The information below describes why the death penalty is so expensive. Statistics from seven states that have studied death penalty costs indicate that death penalty cases are significantly more expensive than non-death penalty cases. A cost study in Delaware would determine exactly how much Delaware spends on death penalty cases.

The following financial facts information is excerpted from the Death Penalty Information Center’s series on death penalty issues,

As the economic crisis has put many states in a budgetary freeze, officials must choose between funds needed for a broad variety of safety issues and those needed to prosecute capital crimes. Crime prevention, mental health treatment, education, victim services and drug treatment programs compete for the same funds as death penalty cases.

Why is the death penalty so expensive?

Legal costs
Almost all people facing the death penalty cannot afford their own attorney. The state must assign them two public defenders, and pay for the costs of the prosecution as well.

Pre-trial costs
Capital cases are far more complicated than non-capital  cases. Experts will probably be needed on forensic evidence, mental health and the social history of the defendant.

Jury selection
Because of the death penalty question, jury selection in capital cases is much more time consuming and expensive.

Death penalty trials can last over four times longer, requiring juror and attorney compensation, in addition to court personnel and other related costs.

Most death rows involve solitary confinement in a special facility. These require more security and other accommodations as the prisoners are kept for 23 hours a day in their cells.

To minimize mistakes, every inmate is entitled to a series of appeals. The costs are borne at taxpayers’ expense. These appeals are essential because some inmates have come within hours of execution before evidence was uncovered proving their innocence.

Recent Legislative Activity

In 2009, legislation was introduced to abolish the death penalty in many states, including New Mexico, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Colorado, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Maryland. The high costs of the death penalty were repeatedly cited in these debates.

Republican Senator Carolyn McGinn introduced the repeal measure in Kansas. She said the penalty is too costly, does not benefit the people, and should be replaced with life without parole.

Examples From State Cost Studies

Cases without the death penalty cost $740,000, while cases where the death penalty is sought cost $1.26 million.

Each death row prisoner costs $175,000 more per year than those in general population. There are 678 inmates on California’s death row.

New Jersey
The state’s death penalty has cost taxpayers $253 million since 1983, a figure that is over and above the costs that would have been incurred had the state utilized a sentence of life without parole instead of death.

The costs for a non-death penalty murder case is $1.1 million  ($870,000 in imprisonment, $250,000 in trial), while the costs for a death penalty case are $3 million ($1.3 million in imprisonment, $1.7 million in trial).

Florida would save $51 million each year by punishing all first-degree murderers with life in prison without parole.

Death penalty trials cost an average of 48% more than the average cost of trials in which prosecutors seek life imprisonment.

Total cost of Indiana’s death penalty is 38% greater than the total cost of life without parole sentences.


“Investment in education is about the future, and it is about hope. Investment in prisons and especially in the death penalty is about a final reckoning, an admission of gross failure.” Editorial, The Daily Astorian (Ore.), April 23, 2009.

“There is simply no place for such an enormously expensive government program that accomplishes nothing. And on that criterion alone, the death penalty ought to die.” Jim Oppedahl, former court administrator in Montana, Helena Independent Record, Feb. 2, 2009.