Star News: Marge Ciardella – The true cost of capital punishment

This editorial is an in depth look into the  many costs tax payers, defense attorneys and prosecutors face throughout often long and drawn out North Carolina capital cases.

In a 2009 study by Duke University Professor Phil Cook, the data presented shows that the state could save $11 million annually by repealing the death penalty. Prosecution and court costs are not included in this number. Arguably, that number would double had the prosecutor’s costs, including in-kind costs, been included.

Editorial available here: Marge Ciardella – The true cost of capital punishment.

The full cost of a capital case can be shown only if all costs incurred by both the defense and the prosecution including the prosecution’s in-kind costs, are included in the discussion. Then the public will know the total costs incurred by the prosecutor’s choice in seeking the death penalty, a choice that rarely results in a death sentence.

digtriad.com: Why Death Penalty Trials Last So Long

“Freedman said an average homicide trial could last a week, while a death penalty trial could last up to five weeks.

Freedman said the difference in time has everything to do with the possibility of a death sentence.

Background checks, psychological testing and several experts add to the cost of a death penalty trial. Freedman said when someone’s life is on the line, everyone goes out of their way to make sure no stone is left unturned.

This will also affect jury selection. Freedman said if a potential juror would automatically give a death penalty sentence, or the person is vehemently against the death penalty, attorneys will more than likely pull them from the jury selection. That adds time and cost to the trial.

If the defendant is found guilty, there will be a second phase for sentencing. Freedman said a death penalty trial is the only time a jury determines sentencing.

Freedman also said a homicide trial is expensive, but you can multiply that by five for a capital case. One reason is because the defendant will automatically receive two attorneys for his defense team. These trials could be upwards of $200,000 when it’s all over.”

Video available here:  Why Death Penalty Trials Last So Long.

Struck by lightning: the vagaries of American execution

It couldn’t have taken more than a two-minute visit to the web site of The Innocence Project to persuade most rational adults that the death penalty is not only cruel and unusual, but a costly and ineffective way to deter murder.

That’s the gist of a new report from the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC). It’s entitled “Struck by Lightning: The Continuing Arbitrariness of the Death Penalty Thirty-Five Years After Its Re-instatement in 1976.” Richard Dieter, DPIC’s executive director, is the report’s author.

To read the rest of a very compelling case concerning the randomness and failure of death sentencing and execution, click here.

Indyweek.com: The Racial Justice Act: GOP could repeal or amend landmark legislation

“The legislation has been heralded nationally as a leap for civil rights, notable especially for the South and a state with a history haunted by racial inequity. But erasing part or all of the statute is on the agenda for the new Republican majority when it takes hold of this legislative session on Wednesday. Although other priorities—balancing the budget and easing unemployment—are expected to take precedence, incoming House Majority Leader Paul “Skip” Stam, R-Wake, has said he’s pushing to repeal the Racial Justice Act.

In many districts, criticism of the Racial Justice Act helped lift Republicans into power. Days before the 2010 elections, the state Republican Party even distributed flyers falsely contending the law would free convicted murderers and rapists.

Opponents also claim the law is clogging courts with new litigation, at taxpayers’ expense. “The intent may have been fine, but the actual operation of this act is one that is essentially… a re-litigation of almost everybody on death row in North Carolina,” said Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake. “And we simply don’t have the resources to give somebody a sixth, seventh, eighth bite at the apple.”

But there’s no logjam to speak of, supporters say. Hearings on the 149 claims filed by death row inmates won’t begin until next week. Only a few cases have cleared the initial filing, but most of the appeals are still awaiting responses from prosecutors, said representatives with the Center for Death Penalty Litigation, whose attorneys are representing 40 of the prisoners. Judges will decide which cases will be heard. Lawyers handling the appeals wanted to consolidate many of the cases, but prosecutors have so far refused.”

Full article here: The Racial Justice Act: GOP could repeal or amend landmark legislation

The Mountaineer: Wong conviction cost more than $1M

“Wong’s case falls among a mere 1 percent of capital cases tracked in the study that cost more than $200,000 and among a mere half a percent that exceeded $300,000.

A review of expenses in the Wong case puts the total cost to state taxpayers at about $800,000 — a number Mark Melrose, one of Wong’s attorneys calls “very misleading. It doesn’t even begin to tell the total expense of a case like this.”

“Melrose said he holds the state responsible for the high costs in the Wong case because of the decision to prosecute it capitally.

“That’s fine if there are aggravating factors, but they are the ones who announced early on they were going to call 100 witnesses. They called it a ‘rush job’ and put this case ahead of everything else. They essentially dropped everything and brought in unlimited resources to expedite and handle this case. They ran every single forensic test for DNA, fingerprints, blood and on and on and on and on, most of which was unnecessary. It was overkill what they were doing,” he said.

Ironically, District Attorney Mike Bonfoey blames defense attorneys for driving up the cost by chasing erroneous rabbit trails and taking on unnecessary expenses, including a trip to Japan to take the deposition of Wong’s brother who was unable to attend trial.”

“The 2007 study conducted by IDS cites death penalty decisions as the paramount factor driving capital case costs. According to the study, it costs three times more to pursue the death penalty than to try a non-capital case where the death penalty is not sought. Between fiscal years 2002 and 2006, the study found that the average cost of a death penalty case was $58,592, compared to $14,170 for a non-capital case.”

Full article: Wong conviction cost more than $1M

Charlotte Observer: Defense of poor runs up state tab

“That didn’t stop court-appointed defense attorneys Duane Bryant of High Point and Bruce Lee of Greensboro. They sifted through thousands of pages of evidence and discovered one set of notes that “didn’t make sense, didn’t sound original.”

At the end of the six-week trial, Montgomery was found guilty of murdering Officers Jeff Shelton and Sean Clark. But he got life in prison – not the death penalty – because his attorneys were able to show those notes were flawed and violated rules of evidence.

N.C. taxpayers have spent about $475,000 – and counting – for attorneys and experts to defend Montgomery. It’s among the 10 most expensive indigent defenses this decade. All told, the state spent more than $126 million this fiscal year defending poor people accused of crimes or involved in certain civil proceedings. Prosecuting the case probably cost at least as much, if not more.”

“Of the $126 million North Carolina spent in fiscal year 2010 defending poor people accused of crimes or involved in certain civil proceedings, $18.3 million went toward potential capital cases at trial, on appeal and in post-conviction cases.

The cost of defending most murder cases is far less than Montgomery’s, according to an Indigent Defense Services study. About one in four capital murder cases had defense bills under $21,500. Three out of four cost less than $76,000.

Less than 5 percent of the 413 cases studied topped $300,000.”

Full article here «Defense of poor runs up state tab

Chapel Hill News: Opinion: Death penalty moratorium is not enough

Guest columnist, Frank R. Baumgartner

“In light of revelations that the State Bureau of Investigation offered false or misleading evidence in hundreds of cases, a moratorium isn’t enough. All 159 of North Carolina’s death row inmates should have their sentences commuted to life in prison without parole.

It’s the only solution that makes sense in the wake of a scandal so messy it may never be fully sorted out. It also would save North Carolina millions of dollars that could go to schools, social services — or cleaning up the SBI’s crime lab.

A moratorium won’t change that. A study this year found that, even though North Carolina has not executed a prisoner since 2006, the death penalty costs the state $11 million a year. Analyzing the role of the crime lab in each of these cases will likely add tens of millions of dollars to this cost, and few people currently on death row will ever be executed.

Even if we don’t care about money, we should care about the truth.”

Full article here: Death penalty moratorium is not enough

The Herald Sun: Editorial: North Carolina’s path to a moratorium

“North Carolina’s death penalty system has finally been exposed as just another failed government program. In light of two recent shocking revelations, the time has come to shut the system down.

First, an independent audit of one unit of the State Bureau of Investigation’s (SBI) crime labs ordered by Attorney General Roy Cooper found that the SBI had cooked the books and misrepresented blood analysis lab results in more than 200 cases, including seven capital cases: four current death row inmates and three executed men. The audit focused only on the SBI’s analysis of blood evidence, one of six units of the SBI lab. We don’t yet know how many cases were contaminated by false reports and findings in other SBI lab sections, such as firearms and DNA evidence.

These stunning SBI findings came on the heels of recent studies documenting racial disparities in the state’s capital punishment system.

North Carolina prosecutors have discriminated against black citizens when selecting juries in capital cases by removing qualified black jurors at twice the rate that they removed other jurors. They were also at least twice as likely to seek the death penalty if the homicide victim was white than if the victim was black. These facts should form the basis of relief under North Carolina’s new Racial Justice Act for scores of death row inmates, such that their sentences should be converted to life without any possibility of parole rather than death.

The question is, where does North Carolina go from here?

In addition to commencing a complete, independent audit of the SBI lab and creating an independent crime lab — things that even the head of the District Attorneys’ Association has acknowledged are needed — the state legislature should repeal our death penalty statute.

Gov. Beverly Purdue should also commute the sentences of all current death row prisoners to sentences of life without possibility of parole.

Merely instituting a moratorium on the death penalty is simply not enough, as that implies the broken death penalty system will be revved up again. If that happens, there will be no protection against future revelations that defendants were unfairly sent to their deaths.

The death penalty needs to be abolished for at least three reasons.

One is that as these recent revelations demonstrate, we simply cannot trust the fairness of the system.

Another is the very real possibility of doing the unthinkable — executing an innocent person. So far, North Carolina has escaped charges of executing the innocent, although we have come too close for comfort. We know that, at a minimum, the state has wrongfully convicted at least seven innocent individuals and sentenced them to death. These men collectively served 52 years on death row for crimes they didn’t commit. One of them literally came within days of his execution.

The third reason is that the state cannot afford its failed capital punishment program. North Carolina faced an $800 million budget shortfall last year and has been forced to make deep cuts across social agencies, including public health, services for the elderly, and education. A 2005-2006 study by an economist at Duke University, completed before the SBI findings were revealed, found that North Carolina could save $11 million a year by ending the death penalty.

In light of the new findings about the SBI, this estimate is certainly low. It will take years of additional expensive court, attorney, and scientist resources to fully investigate and undo the SBI’s slanted work in all death row cases. Rather than wasting millions of dollars on a broken down death penalty system, we would be far wiser spending it on police officers and teachers.

North Carolina should follow the path set out by New Mexico and New Jersey. In those states, the legislatures and governors stepped up to the plate and made the choice to end their expensive, error-filled government experiments in executions. North Carolina should do the same.

Cassandra Stubbs is a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Capital Punishment Project. Jennifer Rudinger is executive director of the ACLU of North Carolina.”

«North Carolina’s path to a moratorium

Citizen Times: Opinion: Death penalty too expensive to pursue as deterrent

“It is clear from your coverage that the state is staking too much on the increasingly long odds against Edwardo Wong ever being executed for the murder of Trooper David Shawn Blanton.

This case already has generated many obvious issues to be appealed, including the prosecution’s refusal to let Wong plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence.

The district attorney’s position is understandable only from a political standpoint. Public opinion likely favors the death penalty; the trooper’s widow has made it clear that she does.

But those factors need to be weighed against the extraordinary cost of pursuing a death case to its eventual conclusion. As you have reported, 82 percent of death sentences nationally are not carried out. At the end of the day, is society any safer than with a sentence of life without parole in a maximum-security prison?

There is no proof that the death penalty itself is a significant deterrent. Its practical value is to encourage plea bargaining such as the state has spurned in the Wong case.

If the prosecutor’s gamble fails, either in the jury room or in an appeals court, it is the public’s money — not his — that will have been wasted.”

«Death penalty too expensive to pursue as a deterrent