Capital punishment is one of the most debated topics in the world. Human rights groups and several other opponents constantly question how another human being’s life can be taken in the name of justice. Several of these also claim that capital punishment incurs a lot of expenses, which is borne by taxpayers. While the execution itself is not expensive, there are several other costs that are incurred by the administration when a convicted criminal is sitting on death row.
Due to the requirements laid down by the US Supreme Court, cases where the capital punishment is sought are often more expensive when compared to cases where the death penalty is not sought. All potential jury members have to be painstakingly questioned about their views on the death penalty. During the course of this questioning, which takes a few days, there are additional costs associated with paying the prosecutors, court staff defense lawyers and the presiding judge. Jury selection can be a long drawn process in capital punishment cases if the opposing lawyers are unhappy with the jury panel selection.
Furthermore, the defendant is allowed to bring in experts and character witnesses. The testimonies of these experts and witnesses are important, as it could help the defendant beat the death penalty and get a lesser sentence. So, this also adds burden to the trial cost.
If a person is sentenced to death, he/she can appeal the sentence. This means that more costs are incurred due to the long appealing process. The average length of a appeal process in case of capital punishment is around 15 to 20 years. The Urban Institute’s study revealed that due to long appeal process, in the state of Maryland, state prosecutors spend $1.9 million more to get death penalty in a case compared to a case where the punishment is incarceration in prison.
During the time that a death row inmate is appealing his/her sentence, incarceration is mandatory. This increases the basic cost of housing the prisoner in a prison. Furthermore, prisoners on death row are more likely to harm themselves or others, and hence, they are housed in a separate prison compared to the general population in the prison. This also costs additional expenditure, which is borne by the state.
Costs associated with capital punishment are immense and at times because of this, many state governments prefer abolishing death penalty, as incurring this expense could adversely affect other law enforcement measures. In fact, the money spent on capital punishment cases could be better utilized to improve the general law and order situation in a state.