WHY WE FUNDED THE OREGON COST STUDY

Oregon's death penalty system is complex, involving a two-phase trial and years of appeals. Unsurprisingly therefore, death sentences typically have a higher financial cost than alternative sentences for the same crime such as life without the possibility of parole. It is possible to assess the financial cost of a death penalty case through a cost analysis. Such analyses have been carried out in other states in recent years and all have shown a significantly higher cost for death cases versus other sentences. We have funded a similar "cost study" here in Oregon because we recognize the importance of increasing the quality of information available to Oregonians about the death penalty.

OREGON'S DEATH PENALTY: A COST ANALYSIS

Professor Aliza Kaplan from Lewis & Clark Law School, Professor Peter Collins from Seattle University, Seattle, Washington, and law student Venetia Mayhew are the authors of the Oregon death penalty cost study. All decisions about their research, analysis, and conclusions were made by them; our role was simply to fund their work. The cost analysis includes data on hundreds of aggravated murder cases in Oregon from 2000-2013 as well as examining the appeals process of aggravated murder cases resulting in death sentences from 1984-2000. To add more context, the report includes costs of non-aggravated murder cases where defendants were charged with murder (a charge that cannot result in a death sentence.)  Data were supplied by stakeholders in the criminal justice system who are involved in death penalty cases including local jails, the Oregon Department of Corrections, the Office of Public Defense Services and the Oregon Department of Justice. Cost data were not available or were not provided by district attorneys and courts.  

OJRC press releaseS

PRESS RELEASE: 11/18/16 Oregon Justice Resource Center calls on Governor to commute death sentences (PDF)

LEGAL MEMO: Oregon Governor's Powers of Clemency (PDF)

PRESS RELEASE: 11/16/16 New academic study shows Oregon death penalty cases cost as much as a million dollars more than comparable non-death penalty cases (PDF)

MEDIA COVERAGE

3/30/17 The Conversation: The death penalty is getting more and more expensive. Is it worth it?

12/28/16 The Oregonian: Bold action needed on Oregon's death penalty

12/14/16 Statesman Journal: It's time for Oregon conservatives to end the death penalty

12/14/16 The Bulletin: Letter: Gov. Brown should commute all death sentences

12/6/16 The Oregonian: We're wasting money on Death Row: Letter to the Editor

11/30/16 Gazette-Times: Editorial: Cost of theoretical punishment wasteful

11/29/16 Portland Tribune: My View: Abolish the death penalty in Oregon

11/28/16 Mail Tribune: Another View: Oregon's death penalty doesn't pencil out

11/24/16 East Oregonian: Other views: Oregon needs to have a conversation about the death penalty

11/23/16 The Skanner: Portland news and events: Nov. 23-30 2016

11/23/16 The Portland Observer: Call to end death penalty cases

11/23/16 Daily Kos: Oregon prosecutors spend millions on death penalty convictions despite moratorium

11/23/16 Catholic Sentinel: Archbishop voices support for execution moratorium; Death penalty's costs studied

11/22/16 The Portland Observer: Our broken and wasteful death penalty system

11/22/16 Death Penalty News: Study: High price for Oregon's death penalty

11/22/16 News-Review: Cost to keep death penalty merits debate in Oregon

11/20/16 The Oregonian: Cost to keep death penalty merits debate in Oregon: Editorial

11/17/16 KGW: Price is high in Oregon for death penalty, study says

11/16/16 Death Penalty Information Center: Costs of the death penalty: Oregon

11/16/16 Statesman Journal: Study: High price for Oregon's death penalty

11/16/16 OPB: Study: In Oregon, Death Sentence Quadruples Cost of Case

11/16/16 The Oregonian: How much does the Oregon death penalty cost? New study examines 100s of cases

MAIN FINDINGS of the cost analysis

Death is one of three available sentencing options for the crime of aggravated murder in Oregon. (The others are life without parole and "ordinary" life.) The main focus of the study is a comparison of the costs of death penalty cases against the costs of non-death aggravated murder cases. Due to the nature of Oregon's death penalty law, aggravated murder cases do not neatly divide into two groups: death and non-death. There is a larger group of cases that started as death penalty cases and, within that, a smaller group that are still death penalty cases today. The others have had their initial sentences reversed. 

The study shows that death penalty cases cost between $800,000 and more than $1,000,000 more per case when compared to similar non-death penalty cases.

The first set of findings (A) are for cases where there was a conviction and original sentence of death, but in some cases the initial sentence was reversed. The second set of findings (B) are for final case categories. These would only include as death penalty cases those which still today include a death sentence. Cost totals are given with and without DOC costs.

 

Cost Category

Case Category

N

Mean

Mean Diff

Ratio

A without DOC costs

Agg. murder

313

$315,159

$802,106

3.55

DP

61

$1,117,265

A with DOC costs

Agg. murder

313

$1,354,883

$918,896

1.68

DP

61

$2,273,779

B without DOC costs

Life

219

$334,522

$1,056,093

4.16

DP

41

$1,390,616

B with DOC costs

Life

219

$1,682,282

$887,385

1.53

DP

41

$2,569,667

The charts below show the average cost per sentence (without DOC costs) and the growth in the cost of the average death penalty case over the decades.

Average costs per sentence (without DOC n=374)

average cost of death penalty case by decade (n=61)

WHY ARE DEATH PENALTY CASES SO MUCH MORE EXPENSIVE?

Death penalty cases are more expensive because they result in more resources being spent by courts, defense, and prosecution because of greater complexity and more time taken to complete processes and that equals more money. There are many individual drivers of greater cost, but some the report picks up on are:

  • Courts
    • Two-phase trial
    • Much lengthier and more complex jury selection process
    • More than three times as many judicial orders on average
    • Twice as many hearings on average
  • Appeals
    • Much more extensive, 10-part review process
    • High reversal rate sometimes resulting in re-sentencing trials (multiple times for some cases)

 

  • Defense
    • Death-qualified defense lawyers required
    • Twice as many defense filings on average
    • More time-consuming pre-trial motions
  • Prosecution
    • Nearly three times as many prosecutorial filings on average
  • Incarceration
    • Longer time between charge and sentencing so more time in local jail
    • Segregated housing for death row inmates

OUR VIEW

The Oregon cost study shows what many people with knowledge of the complexity of Oregon's death penalty had long assumed: death sentences are substantially more expensive than comparable cases with life sentences. But the scale of the extra expense associated with our death penalty is staggering. It's also important to recognize that the figures contained in the report are, if anything, an underestimate, due to a lack of data from some stakeholders. 

We already knew the death penalty was deeply flawed. It is known to risk executing innocent people (to date, 156 people on death row in the US have been exonerated). It is applied unfairly and arbitrarily with race and class playing a significant role in the likelihood of someone being sentenced to death.

Now we also know that we are spending four times as much on death sentences despite already having an effective alternative available: life without the possibility of parole. So much money on a broken system that has resisted all attempts to fix it. Oregonians need to take a hard look at where their money is going.