MONEY FOR NOTHING?
The Financial Cost of
New Jersey’s Death Penalty
New Jersey has spent at least a quarter billion dollars ($253.3 million) on its death penalty system since the state reinstated capital punishment in 1982. Since that time there have been 197 capital trials and 60 death penalty convictions in the state of which 50 were reversed. There have been no executions, and currently 10 men are housed on New Jersey’s death row.
Those costs included:
$7.8 million per year for prosecution costs, or $180 million since 1982
$2.6 million per year for defense costs, or $60 million since 1982
$282,609 per year for identified court costs, or $6.5 million since 1982
$295,652 per year for Department of Corrections costs, or $6.8 million since 1982
The total comes to over $253.3 million since 1982, or $11 million per year, and $4.2 million per death sentence. The $253 million is a net cost to the state as of today - over and above the costs that would have been incurred had the 1982 statute required life without parole instead of death.
The report does not include the costs of jury selection or additional jury costs as a result of longer trials, or the actual costs of executions. Given the difficulty in obtaining precise information from the different state and county entities that play a role in capital cases—and what appear to be decisions by those entities not to keep track of costs—there is considerable reason to believe that the actual figure is much higher.
The death penalty’s finality, as well as the more high-profile, emotional, and politicized nature of death penalty cases, contribute to the more complicated process that increases the death penalty’s costs. Compared to non-death penalty cases, for example, death penalty cases involve:
Two to five times more pre-trial motions (10-25 motions instead of 5-7 in a non-capital cases)
Three to five times longer for pre-trial defense investigation
Up to 80 times longer for jury selection (an average of five and a half days instead of half an hour to two hours)
An average of 30 more court days per trial and $66,000 more per case in court fees alone
10 times greater likelihood that a case will proceed to trial. The vast majority of non-capital cases are resolved through plea negotiations, saving the entire cost of a jury trial, whereas capital trials virtually always proceed through a full trial.
Two defense lawyers instead of one.
A larger jury pool.
Two additional clerks at the New Jersey Supreme Court working almost full-time for mandatory review of death sentences.
Longer and more complicated appeals.
In addition to the actual dollars spent there is the issue of resource diversion. For the cost of pursuing one capital case, the judicial system could prosecute many more non-capital cases. When crimes go unsolved or county prosecutors’ offices are too overburdened to prosecute them, those responsible are free to commit more and increasingly serious crimes. In addition, the costs of capital prosecution and defense are derived from a finite pool of public resources; this report did not attempt to determine which programs were cut or taxes raised to pay the additional costs of capital prosecutions, but the money clearly had to come from either other programs or additional taxes.
From a strictly financial perspective, it is hard to reach a conclusion other than this: New Jersey taxpayers over the past 23 years have paid more than a quarter billion dollars on a capital punishment system that has executed no one.