Cost of the Death Penalty

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Updated: Apr 30, 2024
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The death penalty costs more than life in prison. According to Fox News correspondent Dan Springer, the State of California spent 4 billion dollars to execute 13 individuals, in addition to the net spend of an estimated $64,000 per prisoner every year. Springer (2011) documents how the death penalty convictions declined due to economic reasons. The state spends up to 3 times more when seeking a death penalty than when pursuing a life in prison without the possibility of parole. In the year 2000, the number of death penalties declined to 112 from 224.

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Although experts state the decline is attributed to better defensive teams, fewer death sentences being pursued by district attorneys and skeptical juries. Another reason for the decline of the death penalty includes the amount of money spent during investigations.

Springer (2011) notes that defense attorneys are employing the services of mitigation specialists who conduct lengthy investigations exploring mental illnesses, abuse or any other life experience that would explain the murderer’s behavior. The death penalty is costlier compared to life in prison since a lot of money goes into the judicial process as well as the imprisonment of death row inmates who often have a different section of the jail to themselves and correctional officers who attend to their every need as they await their execution.

Case Study: Todd Willingham

In 2004 Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in the state of Texas had been accused for starting a fire that resulted in the death of his three young children in 1991. Although he had always maintained his innocence, Gerald Hurst, an arson scientist who was enlisted by Willingham’s supporters, after going through the investigation report on the fire stated that it was a flashover fire which means that combustible material in the room was instantly ignited resulted in natural patterns on the floor which the original arson investigators misidentified it as a pour pattern from a liquid accelerant hence labeling the fire an arson.

The Role of Socioeconomic Status on Punishment

Jessie Deeter in the film Death by Fire documents how socioeconomic status played a central role in Todd’s punishment. Just like race and class play a role in how an individual is treated in the justice system, poverty can be a handicap to individuals who need adequate representation. Poverty is all about money, and without money, an individual cannot get the best defense. A critical look into Todd Willingham’s case it is evident that as an indigent defendant facing a capital crime charge, his lawyers were either undercompensated, undertrained or uninterested resulting in their inability to present a defense that would challenge the prosecutor’s witnesses. Take for example, Johnny Webb, a jailhouse informant, Todd’s attorney failed to unearth the motivation behind Webb’s testimony even after it became apparent that John Jackson, a District Attorney in Navarro County had offered a deal to Webb in exchange for his testimony the defense team failed to incorporate this new evidence in Todd’s defense.

Legal Representation: Todd Willingham’s Defense

Rob Dunn and David Martin were Todd Willingham’s defense attorneys appointed by the court. Of the two lawyers, Martin is the most vocal and from the way he speaks it seems that his defense was more of an empty formality. First, the attorneys failed to challenge the introduction of Johnny Webb as a witness; it is quite strange that a prisoner would confess to a stranger, Webb’s contributions to the case were mere hear-say which did not have a basis. Additionally, Webb was a troubled man with a long history of felony charges and arrests. His credibility as a witness should have been challenged by the defense lawyers. Additionally, the mindset required to investigate arson and two extinguish a fire is different; the defense lawyers did not enlist the services of arson scientists who would have challenged the prosecutor’s expert witnesses’ theories. The defense counsel failed to investigate and present evidence suggesting that the combustible materials in the room could combust by itself and the jailhouse informant was not a credible witness. Therefore, they did not effectively represent Todd Willingham.

Death Penalty Deter Crime

The ability of the death penalty to deter crime but it is a distraction from other criminal cases that are left unsolved are the law enforcement authorities focus on handful execution. According to Conservatives Concerned, the death penalty diverts resources that are already scarce from the prevention of crimes. Additionally, it is not an effective tool for the enforcement of laws or prevention of crimes since resources are spent on the death penalty rather than on the investigation of unsolved criminal cases, expanding of effective crime prevention programs and modernizing of crime laboratories. The question on whether or not the death penalty deters crime prevention is important because if the state is going to kill a man for a crime legally, then it has to have a great impact on the country.

Race and the Death Penalty

Race affects the death penalty because race severely affects black defendants, black victims and black jurors within the death penalty systems. According to the Death Penalty Information Centre in Philadelphia during District Attorney Ronald Castile’s first term in office, there were 135 prisoners on death row, and 113 were African Americans. Since 1997 of all the individuals sentenced to death in Philadelphia, 95.7 percent are of African American descent. Compared to white defendants, black defendants are more likely to be sentenced to execution while those who commit a crime against people of color are less likely to be punished as severely as a black defendant.

Works Cited

Conservatives Concerned. About the Death Penalty. Equal Justice USA. 2018. Retrieved from

Death Penalty Information Centre. DPIC Analysis: The Decline of the Death Penalty in Philadelphia. 2010. Retrieved from

Deeter, Jessie. Death by Fire. PBS, 2010. Retrieved from

Springer, Dan. Death Penalty Convictions Decreased in Broke Counties Nationwide. Fox News, 2011. Retrieved from   

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Cost of the Death Penalty. (2020, Apr 17). Retrieved from