The Financial Cost of

New Jersey’s Death Penalty

Executive Summary

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:

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:

These costs have an impact on county and state budgets, and place a huge strain on the judicial system in general. The Cumberland County prosecutor’s office, for example, faced such a financial burden from the seven death penalty cases it is currently pursuing that it filed an application with the state administrative judge for additional funds from the county budget.

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.