Death Penalty

Death penalty is one of the most controversial problems in America. While many nations have abolished it, the United States use the system of capital punishment on the state level. Death penalty as a judicially ordered execution of inmates for the commitment of serious crimes is usually called a capital crime case. Many scholars conduct debates concerning the issue because of the financial problems it causes. The government spends billions of dollars on sentencing offenders to death annually. The reason is the fact that capital cases lead to additional national expenses. The death penalty becomes more expensive with each passing year in comparison with previous decades. Constitutional standards pose additional charges. Defense attorneys and prosecutors require higher fees for making a death sentence a legal case. The adoption of new standards also means costly legal expenditures. Criminals sentenced to life in prison may be released from jail, whereas death row jailers are always housed in solitary confinement and administrative segregation. However, such facilities require high expenditures because of heightened security and extra needs. The current study shows that death penalty in America, specifically the cost of inmates’ housing, is too high. As a result, the execution should take place earlier, or the death penalty should be banned.

Death Penalty in the United States

The practice of the death sentence in the USA has been decreasing at a high rate since the end of the 1990s. The causes are not only a small number of capital sentence verdicts, but also fewer states use the system of punishment. The number of capital sentences in America reached its highest level of 315 executions in 1996. Since that time, the nation has witnessed a rapid decline. The number of death sentences had accounted for 223 cases by 2000, whereas in 2014, it reached the level of only 72 cases. States like Tennessee, Virginia, and Missouri, which have been practicing capital punishment for years, did not have any death sentences in 2014. Dieter reports that the cases of capital punishment have declined “even in states that regularly give the death penalty through sentencing”. For example, Texas sentenced nearly 50 individuals to death in 1999; however, it has issued not more than 12 death sentences annually for the past seven years. North Carolina convicted 34 persons to death in 1995; while in 2014, it did not have any executions. The statistics proves a substantial decrease in the number of cases convicted to death penalty. The first reason is a high cost of housing for death row prisoners. The second aspect is that many innocent people have been sentenced to death penalty by mistake. For example, Minsker states that over 125 individuals have been freed from punishment since 1973. Moreover, poverty and race are aspects that may influence the sentence to death in America. The facts prove the inefficiency of the death penalty system in the United States.


The Cost of Housing for Death Row Inmates

America spends much money on housing inmates who sit on death row. Petersen and Lynch explain it by the fact that capital cases include unique procedures for the completion of pretrial and trial processes. They include the appointment of experienced attorneys and the analysis of offender’s life history that demand the use of expert consultants. It also requires a preliminary examination of a witness, as well as a trial that consists of two parts. As a result, the country faces numerous postconviction expenditures in death sentences because of complex appeal processes. The costs of housing for the convicted person on death row substantially differ from the ones presupposed for the general-population inmates. The researchers explain the situation by the presence of security needs and related spendings. According to Petersen and Lynch, the infrastructure costs linked to the functioning of the courts and the salaries of its workers is significantly higher. As a result, the financial system of the nation undergoes extra spendings.

It especially concerns the state of California that has practiced the capital punishmentfor years. One study shows that “the cost of trying a California capital case was an estimated $201,510 more than a noncapital trial” in the1980s. Approximately four billion dollars had been spent by the federal and state governments on capital punishment cases in California from 1978 to 2010. According to the article published in the Los Angeles Times, the maintenance of the California capital punishment system costs taxpayers about $114 million annually. The figure does not include to the cost of keeping the criminals, who are sentenced to life in prison. It does not also involve the prosecution costs of capital cases and holding post-conviction hearings in federal and state law-courts. Federal and Californian taxpayers have allocated about three million dollars for each of eleven executed since 1978. It proves that the United States spend million of dollars for executing and holding the prisoners on a death row.

Recently, both federal and state courts have enhanced the incentives for specialized defense lawyers to take capital punishment cases. For example, the national Supreme Court demanded $125 per hour or fixed charge varying from $135 to $314 for the defense representation of a capital case in 2005. Federal courts also increased their hourly fees to $150 for defense attorneys in capital cases in 2005. Despite the presence of such high figures, only a small number of all licensed attorneys may agree to devote the years of work for a typical capital case. 

Defense counseling is also an expensive practice. Minsker claims that such costs are “significantly higher than in other cases because of the greater obligations imposed on the defense”. The courts also spend extra money on capital punishment cases as it usually takes years to start the first trial. In addition, the selection of jury is an expensive procedure that requires time. According to Tempest, the Supreme Court of California spends up to $12 million per each year for an appointed defense counsel. Ebert compares the general procedure and costs necessary for hearing capital cases and the ones linked to life in prison without parole or with its possibility. The author states that death penalty cases require longer times for choosing a jury, larger juror pools, as well as a higher number of potential jurors. In addition, the death trials may lead to jury sequestration more frequently than other types of court hearings. Most states that practice the system of death penalty require the defendant to have at least two lawyers with the experience of defending capital cases. The other feature of capital hearings is that they demand the presence of costly expert witnesses, mainly medical, forensic, as well as psychiatric experts. Such standards presuppose substantial spendings. For example, a capital trial costs three times more than a noncapital one. The price of the first case accounts for approximately $1,9 million, whereas the price of the second one constitutes about $630,000. Minsker also found that death row cases cost approximately $1,1 million more than non-death ones. The primary reason for the additional expenses is that death penalty cases require a jury trial to file sentencing after guilt has been defined in the first trial. In general, Minsker discovered that it costs $90,000 more to house a prisoner on death row, where each individual has a private cell and extra security, than the general prison population. Thus, the figure accounts for over $58 million annually. As a result, the capital punishment system requires substantial costs for keeping a criminal in jail until his or her execution, as well as high court and lawyer fees.

Execution Should Be Faster or Death Penalty Should Be Banned

One of the major problems of death penalty cases is that prisoners spend a long time in jail waiting for their execution. As a result, the country spends more money on their housing. Tempest explains the situation on the example of three-time killer Beardslee. In 1981, he killed two young females living in San Francisco. However, the convicted person waited about 21 years for the day of execution. The criminal was 61. It means that he had spent much more time on death row than the whole life span of one of the victims. It is the instance of illogical holding of an offender by a state for more than twenty years.

Californians voted for restoring the death penalty system; however, the state is one of the 38 states that avoid its practice. As a result, it produces relatively small number of executions. The situation causes a debate concerning the enormous cost of capital punishment. The state of California has over 640 prisoners on death row. It constitutes approximately 20% of the country’s total number. Nevertheless, the state accounts for nearly 1% of the national executions. Therefore, California has practiced only eleven deaths since 1978. Thus, Americans argue that capital verdicts should be executed faster or be completely abolished. 

The proponents of capital punishment state that death cases save money as they eliminate state costs of housing the executed offenders. However, rare executions do not produce additional savings for the country. For instance, had Beardslee lived to the average life expectancy of the state, to the age of 77, it would have cost the nation an extra $2 million. It means that America should improve its capital punishment system in order to avoid unnecessary expenditures.

Other states execute inmates more often than California. For example, Texas carried out more than 300 executions from 1978 until 2005. Together with Oklahoma and Virginia, it accounts for nearly 90% of all death penalty implementation. Tempest also investigates the records of the Department of Corrections. According to it, approximately 180 offenders sentenced to death are older than 50 years whereas more than 40 are older than 60 years. In addition, there is a higher probability that Californian death row criminals will die from natural causes than from the hands of executioners. Since 1978, eleven individuals have been executed, twelve committed suicides, 28 died naturally, whereas two have been murdered in jail incidents. High costs and inefficiency of death penalty has probably caused a decline in the number of sentences. 

Dieter argues that capital punishment may become more efficient if the government would guarantee the preservation of due process. According to the author, “The irresolvable tension between the need for finality and protection against fatal error means that the death penalty does not fit well within our constitutional framework”. However, even advocates of the death row cases are not satisfied with the expensive process. As a result, the government should increase the speed of the execution process, make necessary changes to its system, as well as eliminate extra costs of housing inmates. 


The findings of the study show that death penalty in America and the cost of housing inmates is too high. Minsker claims that California spends up to $140 million per year in the pursuit of execution. However, the money could be allocated to the salary of more than 2500 teachers. In addition, such expenditures have a significant influence on local prosecutors and law enforcement. As a result, the government should either speed the execution or ban the death penalty. Researchers argue that it is more expensive for the country to execute an offender than to sentence him or her to life in prison. In addition, opponents claim that the cost of the capital punishment is so expensive, that the American government should choose life without parole. Moreover, the country should improve its capital punishment system and make imperative changes in order to avoid unnecessary expenditures. The fact that capital punishment system requires substantial costs for keeping a criminal in jail until his or her execution explains the need. Addition, high court and lawyer fees contribute to expenses. As most of the spending falls on the local communities, people should receive data that is necessary to assess whether execution is worth its price. Finally, states should not hide actual costs of housing or executing inmate. It would give people the chance to decide whether they should practice the system of legal killing. 

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Jul 15, 2019 in Law Essay Samples