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Did You Know?

Death penalty cases may not save taxpayer money in the long run

I grew up assuming that the death penalty reduced government spending by sparing the state the expenses of a lifetime of incarceration for defendants. There is an ongoing debate about this specific aspect of death penalty cases, but I’ve recently picked a side. I now believe that death penalty cases are a bit more expensive in spite of whatever savings they might bring from discontinued inmate expenses.

One of the more prominent attorneys in Arkansas, who defended death penalty cases on appeal for more than twenty years, explained why. He walked me through the various laws pertaining to the trial and appeals. At the trial level, death cases get at least two or three highly qualified attorneys on each side, paid for by the state. The government also pays for the defendant’s own investigator and mitigation specialist. Prosecutors and police forces work harder, and in turn, judges and juries spend more of their time working as well.

Further, there are up to fifteen different kinds of appeals that could play out afterwards. These range from the Arkansas Supreme Court, back to the trial courts, the federal trial courts, and all the way back to the United States Supreme Court, sometimes back again all over. And then there are clemency petitions. These post-trial appeals also involve specialized, expensive attorneys and sometimes expert witnesses for issues such as DNA testing.


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