Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Capital-Punishment Cost: Death Penalty and Taxes

Capital-Punishment Cost: Death Penalty and Taxes

Published: Tuesday, February 24, 2009 at 12:40 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, February 24, 2009 at 12:40 a.m.

The high cost of death-penalty cases becomes ever harder to justify asAC = -->
recession threatens basic law-enforcement funding.

Last month, dozens of probation officers and about 100 positions at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement were cut, with others barely escaping the state budget blade. Counties are trimming sheriff's personnel. Many jails are overcrowded.

All of this occurs as violent crime in Florida persists at rates higher than the national averages.
In such a climate, the state should rethink its pursuit of the "ultimate punishment."

Because of heightened constitutional requirements, death-penalty cases are far more expensive than murder trials in which life without parole is sought.

Differentials vary, but last year a major study in Maryland concluded that in that state "an average capital-eligible case resulting in a death sentence will cost approximately $3 million, $1.9 million more than a case where the death penalty was not sought."ADVOCATES: PRICE TAG MOOTAdvocates of execution say, with considerable justification, that a price tag cannot be placed on justice.

To be sure, many death-penalty cases (including some pending in our region) involve heinous crimes that demand severe punishment.

But the No. 1 concern must be public safety, and studies suggest the death penalty contributes little to it.

Florida's budget hole continues to grow, more cuts lie ahead and no one can be sure public safety budgets won't suffer.


Well-staffed crime labs, good police patrols, probation officers who aren't overloaded with cases - these are known strategies for deterring crime and keeping the public safe. Yet these jobs become ever more threatened as Florida and the nation make difficult budget choices.

Because of the tens of millions of dollars spent adjudicating them, death-penalty cases may soon be seen as detracting from - not contributing to - a safer society.

Public defenders and other legal advocates, in Florida and around the country, recommend that a death-penalty moratorium be considered.

We second that call. Desperate times call for sound, cost-effective investments in public safety. The death penalty simply does not fit that description.

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