The Foundation Of Islam It is sometimes suggested that abolishing capital punishment is unfair to the taxpayer, on the assumption that life imprisonment is more expensive than execution. If one takes into account all the relevant costs, however, just the reverse is true. The death penalty is not now, nor has it ever been, a more economical alternative to life imprisonment.56 A murder trial normally takes much longer when the death penalty is at issue than when it is not. Litigation costs – including the time of judges, prosecutors, public defenders, and court reporters, and the high costs of briefs – are mostly borne by the taxpayer. A 1982 study showed that were the death penalty to be reintroduced in New York, the cost of the capital trial alone would be more than double the cost of a life term in prison.57 In Maryland, a comparison of capital trial costs with and without the death penalty for the years 1979-1984 concluded that a death penalty case costs approximately 42 percent more than a case resulting in a non-death sentence.58 In 1988 and 1989 the Kansas legislature voted against reinstating the death penalty after it was informed that reintroduction would involve a first-year cost of more than $11 million.59 Florida, with one of the nation’s most populous death rows, has estimated that the true cost of each execution is approximately $3.2 million, or approximately six times the cost of a life-imprisonment sentence.60 A 1993 study of the costs of North Carolina’s capital punishment system revealed that litigating a murder case from start to finish adds an extra $163,000 to what it would cost the state to keep the convicted offender in prison for 20 years. The extra cost goes up to $216,000 per case when all first-degree murder trials and their appeals are considered, many of which do not end with a death sentence and an execution.61 From one end of the country to the other public officials decry the additional cost of capital cases even when they support the death penalty system.
Wherever the death penalty is in place, it siphons off resources which could be going to the front line in the war against crime .. . Politicians could address this crisis, but, for the most part they either endorse executions or remain silent.62 The only way to make the death penalty more cost effective than imprisonment is to weaken due process and curtail appellate review, which are the defendant’s (and society’s) only protection against the most aberrant miscarriages of justice. Any savings in dollars would, of course, be at the cost of justice: In nearly half of the death-penalty cases given review under federal habeas corpus provisions, the murder conviction or death sentence was overturned.63 In 1996, in response to public clamor for accelerating executions, Congress imposed severe restrictions on access to federal habeas corpus64 and also ended all funding of the regional death penalty resource centers charged with providing counsel on appeal in the federal courts.65 These restrictions virtually guarantee that the number and variety of wrongful murder convictions and death sentences will increase. The savings in time and money will prove to be illusory.
CAPITAL PUNISHMENT IS IRREVERSIBLE Unlike all other criminal punishments, the death penalty is irrevocable. Speaking to the French Chamber of Deputies in 1830, years after having witnessed the excesses of the French Revolution, the Marquis de Lafayette said, I shall ask for the abolition of the punishment of death until I have the infallibility of human judgment demonstrated to me.37 Although some proponents of capital punishment would argue that its merits are worth the occasional execution of innocent people, most would hasten to insist that there is little likelihood of the innocent being executed. However, a large body of evidence from the 1980s and 1990s shows that innocent people are often convicted of crimes – including capital crimes – and that some have been executed. Since 1900, in this country, there have been on the average more than four cases each year in which an entirely innocent person was convicted of murder. Scores of these individuals were sentenced to death. In many cases, a reprieve or commutation arrived just hours, or even minutes, before the scheduled execution.
These erroneous convictions have occurred in virtually every jurisdiction from one end of the nation to the other. Nor have they declined in recent years, despite the new death penalty statutes approved by the Supreme Court.38 Consider this handful of representative cases: In 1985, in Maryland, Kirk Bloodsworth was sentenced to death for rape and murder, despite the testimony of alibi witnesses. In 1986 his conviction was reversed on grounds of withheld evidence pointing to another suspect; he was retried, re-convicted, and sentenced to life in prison. In 1993, newly available DNA evidence proved he was not the rapist-killer, and he was released after the prosecution dismissed the case. A year later he was awarded $300,000 for wrongful punishment. In Mississippi, in 1990, Sabrina Butler was sentenced to death for killing her baby boy.
She claimed the child died after attempts at resuscitation failed. On technical grounds her conviction was reversed in 1992. At retrial, she was acquitted when a neighbor corroborated Butler’s explanation of the child’s cause of death and the physician who performed the autopsy admitted his work had not been thorough. In 1985, in Illinois, Rolando Cruz and Alejandro Hernandez were convicted of abduction, rape, and murder of a young girl and were sentenced to death. Shortly after, another man serving a life term in prison for similar crimes confessed that he alone was guilty; but his confession was inadmissible because he refused to repeat it in court unless the state waived the death penalty.
Awarded a new trial in 1988, Cruz was again convicted and sentenced to death; Hernandez was also re-convicted, and sentenced to 80 years in prison. In 1992 the assistant attorney general assigned to prosecute the case on appeal resigned after becoming convinced of the defendants’ innocence. The convictions were again overturned on appeal after DNA tests exonerated Cruz and implicated the prisoner who had earlier confessed. In 1995 the court ordered a directed verdict of acquittal, and sharply criticized the police for their unprofessional handling of the case. Hernandez was released on bail and the prosecution dropped all charges. In Alabama, Walter McMillian was convicted of murdering a white woman in 1988. Despite the jury’s recommendation of a life sentence, the judge sentenced him to death. The sole evidence leading the police to arrest McMillian was testimony of an ex-convict seeking favor with the prosecution.
A dozen alibi witnesses (all African Americans, like McMillian) testified on McMillian’s behalf, to no avail. On appeal, after tireless efforts by his attorney Bryan Stevenson, McMillian’s conviction was reversed by the Alabama Court of Appeals. Stevenson uncovered prosecutorial suppression of exculpatory evidence and perjury by prosecution witnesses, and the new district attorney joined the defense in seeking dismissal of the charges. Another 1980s Texas case tells an even more sordid story. In 1980 a black high school janitor, Clarence Brandley, and his white co-worker found the body of a missing 16-year …