OP-ED: “Pursuing Death Penalty is Big Waste of Resources”

By edeleon

In a recent op-ed in the Albuquerque Journal, New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association President Barbara Mandel discussed the high cost of the federal death penalty trial of John McCluskey. Earlier this month, McCluskey was sentenced to life without parole by a New Mexico jury, an outcome, that Mandel writes, “occurred years and at least a million dollars later than it should have.” According to Mandel, McCluskey had been willing to plead guilty in exchange for a sentence less than death since early on, and in February 2013, a senior judge offered to mediate the case. Although then U.S. Attorney Kenneth Gonzalez rejected the offer, he did acknowledge that federal capital prosecutions inflict logistical and financial burdens on the entire U.S. District Court. A 2010 study by the Administrative Office of the Courts concluded that the median cost of a federal death penalty case was nearly eight times greater than a non-death penalty case. The average cost for the defense in federal death penalty trial is $620,932, and that figure does not include the cost incurred by the courts, investigative staff, costs incurred by the jury, and expert witnesses. Mandel also underscores that federal death penalty cases divert resources from other cases. She wrote, “If a government employee must devote 1,000 hours to seek a death sentence but only 100 hours to obtain a life without parole sentence pursuant to a plea agreement, that 900 hours could have been devoted to other cases.” Mandel concludes, “The citizens of New Mexico rejected the death penalty, in part because it requires diverting resources that could be allocated to programs that better increase public safety, health and welfare.”

(B. Mandel, “Pursuing death penalty is big waste of resource,” Albuquerque Journal, December 22, 2013). See Costs. Read editorials about the death penalty.

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