Death Penalty
The Costs of the Death Penalty in the United States Capital punishment has
existed in the US since colonial times. Since then, more than 13,000 people have
been legally executed. Today, there are only twelve states which do not have the
death penalty: Alaska, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota,

North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia and Wisconsin, as well as

Washington D.C. The locations of these states are important because they
illustrate the lack of ideological homogeneity usually associated with
geographical regions of the US. The methods of execution are as varied as their
locations. The word "capital" in capital punishment refers to a person's
head, as, historically, execution was performed by cutting off the head. Today,
there are generally five methods of execution used in the US. Hanging, the gas
chamber, lethal injection, the electric chair and the firing squad are all used,
some notably less than others. In 1930, the Bureau of Justice Statistics began
keeping stats on capital punishment nationwide. From 1930 until 1967, 3859
people were executed in the US, 3334 for murder (www. uaa). That's an average
of almost 105 people per year, three out of five of which were executed in the

South. By 1967, all but ten states had laws for capital punishment. Nationally,
strong pressure was steadily placed on the federal government by those opposed
to capital punishment which resulted in an unofficial moratorium on executions
until 1976. Officially, the Supreme Court ruled capital punishment
unconstitutional in 1972. In Furman v. Georgia,408 U.S. 238 (1972), a 5-4

Supreme Court decision ruled that CP laws in their present form were"arbitrary and capricious" and constituted cruel and unusual punishment in
violation of the Eighth Amendment as well as due process of the Fourteenth

Amendment (www.aclu). In its decision, the Court voted that the death penalty
statutes were vague and ambiguous, providing little guidance to juries in
deciding whether to apply the death penalty. This caused states which still
wanted the death penalty to revise their legislation to satisfy the Supreme

Court's objection to the arbitrary nature of execution. State governments
tried two new strategies to be more specific and direct in death penalty trials:
guided discretion and the mandatory death penalty. In Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S.

153 (1976) among others, the Supreme Court gave sentencing courts the right to
impose sentences of death for specific crimes and allowed a two-stage
("bifurcated") trial (www.cpa). In the first stage, the guilt or innocence
of the defendant is established, while in the second stage, the jury or the
judge (depending on the state) determines the sentence. Mandatory death penalty
for specific crimes, on the other hand, was deemed unconstitutional because of
cases such as Woodson v. North Carolina, 428 U.S. 280 (1976). These rulings lead
to the modification of each state's statutes regarding the death penalty (www.uaa).

The moratorium ended and executions resumed in January 1977. Capital punishment
remains, as it ahs always been, controversial and heavily debated on both
philosophical (moral) grounds as well as on a strictly financial basis. Both
sides, however, seem to be able to crunch the numbers and make their arguments
in a way which supports their claims. Today, one of the major points of debate
about the death penalty is that of cost. Some of those who support the death
penalty defend it as a cost-effective alternative to life in prison. Those who
oppose capital punishment conversely say that it costs a significant amount more
to kill someone than to incarcerate them for life. What tends to occur is that
advocates of the death penalty focus the debate on post trial costs,
particularly incarceration, while opponents focus on the trial cost itself. Time

Magazine (as of 12/95) found that, nationwide, the average cell cost is $24,000
per year and the average maximum-security cell cost is $75,000 per year (www.prodeathpenalty).

Illustrating how statistics are made to fit the agendas, the Death Penalty

Information Center (DPIC), a leading anti- death penalty organization, claims
that, in Texas, a state known for its liberal use of the death penalty, it would
cost three times as much to execute someone than to incarcerate them for forty
years at the maximum cell cost (www.essential). The DPIC cites a cost of $2.3
million to execute in Texas. $75,000 per year for maximum-security costs
multiplied by forty years equals $3.0 million. This use of numbers and math add
to the controversy by enabling both sides to give strong, if somewhat wrong,
arguments. Capital trials are much larger, more tedious, and much more expensive
at every step than other murder trials. Pretrial motions,