“Make no mistake: the choice to pay for the death penalty is a choice not to pay for other public goods like roads, schools, parks, public works, emergency services, public transportation, and law enforcement. So we need to ask whether the death penalty is worth what we are sacrificing to maintain it.”
~ Judge Boyce F. Martin Jr., Wiles v. Bagley
This is the truth about the death penalty: It costs far more to execute a person than to keep them in prison. From the very beginning of the process, everything about a capital case is more complicated and costly. For good reason, people facing the death penalty receive extra resources such as a team of two attorneys, a mitigation specialist, a fact investigator, and a variety of experts. They also get a second trial phase, in which they try to persuade juries to spare their lives, as well as a complex appeals process.
Death penalty trials often stretch for weeks or months, costing exponentially more than other murder trials, and the appeals process after a trial frequently lasts more than a decade. Almost always, the state receives no return on its investment in death. In the past decade, 85 percent of capital trials have ended with life sentences instead of death sentences. And of the more than 450 people who have received death sentences in North Carolina since the 1970s, less than 10 percent have been executed. Twelve of them proved their innocence and were exonerated, sometimes after decades on death row.
At NCCADP, we typically focus on the moral and human costs of the death penalty. But for those who like to think in dollars and cents, the death penalty is a horrible bet.
Right now in North Carolina:
- A 2017 study from Oklahoma found that on average, each death sentence costs taxpayers $700,000 more than life imprisonment.
- The average defense costs in a NC death penalty case are four times as much as a first-degree murder trial in which the defendant faces life in prison.
- A 2009 Duke study offers the only comprehensive look at the total costs of the NC death penalty. It found that death penalty prosecutions cost North Carolina at least $11 million a year.