According to The Dayton Daily News, Ohio death penalty cases average at least $3 million compared to $1 million for life without parole.
The majority of the death penalty’s high costs are buried in the thicket of legal proceedings and hours of time spent by judges, clerks, prosecutors and other law enforcement agencies.
The death penalty is at least three times more expensive than other sentencing options for the following reasons:
- Additional experts, investigation, and evidence are necessary for the sentencing phase
- A death sentence requires multiple appeals that can last years or decades.
- Housing on death row is more expensive than a maximum security prison cell.
According to a two-year study by the Ohio Associated Press, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and officials in smaller counties across the state feel the death penalty squeezes their budgets. Vinton County’s entire court system was shut down for three weeks during the death penalty trial of Gregory McKnight.
In April 2019, the Ohio House passed a piece of legislation to grant financial assistance to Pike County to seek death sentences for those involved with the Pike County Murders in 2016. Pike County’s budget is $10 million per year, and for the trial alone, the cost is expected to run over $4 million. Smaller counties simply cannot afford to carry out capital cases, and if the state assists smaller counties like Pike consistently, Ohio will start going down a financial black hole.
The cost of adjudicating a murder case is far more complex than it may appear on the surface.
Death penalty cases are more expensive at every stage of the judicial process, racking up exorbitant costs even before a single appeal is filed. Compared to non-death cases, death penalty cases involve:
- More pre-trial preparations
- More pre-trial motions
- More experts hired by both the prosecution and the defense
- Two defense lawyers instead of one
- A much longer and more complicated jury selection process
- A two-phase trial – the first phase to determine guilt or innocence, and the second phase for sentencing.
The enormous costs involved in today’s death penalty cases also raise issues about whether the funds used to seek executions can be more effectively spent to achieve some of the goals that the death penalty allegedly seeks, such as providing help for families of homicide victims or implementing more effective ways to reduce rates of criminal violence.