Patterico's Pontifications

6/30/2009

L.A. Times Swallows Nonsensical Claim About the Cost of the Death Penalty

Filed under: Crime,Dog Trainer — Patterico @ 7:13 am

The L.A. Times swallows whole the assertion that abolishing the death penalty “could” save the state “up to $1 billion over the next five years.” I don’t buy it.

I hope to analyze this article much more closely when I have more time. For now, let me note that in 2005, the paper claimed that “maintaining the California death penalty system costs taxpayers more than $114 million a year beyond the cost of simply keeping the convicts locked up for life.” In a detailed post, I showed how this claim was indisputably exaggerated. As I noted at the time:

the article relies upon the transparently absurd assumption that defendants sentenced to LWOP [life without the possibility of parole] would never appeal their convictions, thus allowing the state to save the full cost of appealing their convictions. The truth is exactly the opposite: virtually all defendants sentenced to LWOP appeal their convictions at state expense.

In addition, the 2005 article assigned no savings to the plea bargains that prosecutors sometimes obtain by taking the death penalty off the table. With a plea, there is no trial and no appeal. That saves money.

The 2005 article was one of the most shameless pieces of garbage I have ever read in this newspaper. That has not prevented its conclusions from being repeated uncritically by the ACLU (.pdf).

Even the L.A. Times‘s exaggerated and inaccurate figure of $114 million a year yields only $570 million in alleged savings over five years. Where does the other $430 million come from?

The answers appear to lie somewhere inside this document (.pdf), which appears on its face to be a one-sided anti-death penalty (and anti-law enforcement) screed masquerading as an impartial study. The participation of former Los Angeles D.A. John Van de Kamp does not change this impression — look at page 112 to see the one-sided list of materials reviewed for this section of the report. The entire report seems to be an anti-law enforcement crusader’s wet dream, reduced to charts and figures. When I get time I’ll put a microscope to its claims, but for now, let’s just say I’m highly skeptical.

Today’s article is the newspaper’s attempt to seize upon the budget crisis to pursue the editors’ ideologically driven opposition to the death penalty. When ideology comes into play, the facts be damned.

I hope to return to this soon.

39 Responses to “L.A. Times Swallows Nonsensical Claim About the Cost of the Death Penalty”

  1. oh. Is this the same state what is on the hook for over three billion dollars for magic bunny stem cell researchings?

    happyfeet (e8d590)

  2. is there a difference in cost to appeal LWOP as opposed to the big sleep?

    quasimodo (4af144)

  3. Well this is a damning little blog post, isn’t it?

    I always wondered about those anti-death penalty savings claims. Where else is the dollar king in the justice field with the ACLU? When you consider the power of the death penalty in negotiations, it’s obviously extremely helpful.

    Except the ACLU would expect it to be life that is used in negotiations. The trickle down effect would be far shorter sentences for heinous crimes, which is what this is really all about. So why do ACLU supporters want shorter sentences? They must have some core value that is pretty intense to go to all this trouble, but I never see newspaper pieces telling me what this core value is all about. Just twisted logic that supports the same conclusion.

    On the other side, I just want criminals to face as much justice as possible so they are punished and crimes prevented. My core value doesn’t have to hide behind bullshit.

    Juan (c7e552)

  4. Maintaining the Los Angeles Times as an ongoing business costs more than $114 million a year beyond the cost of simply not publishing it any more.

    Official Internet Data Office (d61b83)

  5. I’m opposed in principle to the death penalty because of the distinct possibility of a dishonest prosecutor using it to further a political career. But,my answer to the cost issue is to hand one of the ACLU tools a picture of a victim of one of murderers and ask them to put a dollar value on it. They opened the door.

    glenn (2d382b)

  6. Here’s another angle not covered by the L.A. Dog Trainer…the $114 million a year is due to the fact that it takes CA 20 years to execute these animals. Put in an express lane on death row (as comedian Ron White would say), and I daresay the state would spend far less in housing, feeding, providing conjugal visits and weddings & attorneys for these rejects.

    CarlosG (fa2d90)

  7. I’m personally opposed to the death penalty, but I have never bought these nonsensical arguments that locking people up for 50 years is cheaper than killing them. I don’t need a law degree to see how untrue that is.

    carlitos (84409d)

  8. The argument is mostly just to encourage the oh so revolutionary tired-ass baby boomer comrades of the LA Times to raise the cost of the death penalty as much as possible. It’s a Cloward Piven thing… ask Barack Obama how that works.

    happyfeet (e8d590)

  9. The LAT’s opinion is obviously wrong. The direct costs associated with the death penalty are substantial but limited in comparison to the alternatives. This article is just one more example of the loony left attempting to twist the facts in support of one of their pet nostrums.

    The Left works hard to make sure criminals go free. It undermines one of the nation’s fundamental institutions.

    Ropelight (bb3af5)

  10. As a death penalty prosecutor who spent over a decade handling federal habeas corpus cases for the government, I agree that the LA Times’ claim is pure BS. At the appellate level, there is more scrutiny to capital cases. That said, it is not appreciably more from a cost standpoint. Non-capital prisoners have the same right to challenge their convictions in state and federal court as those on death row.

    Dave N (c615e4)

  11. Patrick, I think you are taking the Times article in the wrong way. The Times is very concerned about cost. Therefore, it is advocating that convicted murderers be locked up for life without parole and without appeals.

    Steverino (69d941)

  12. oh. Is this the same state what is on the hook for over three billion dollars for magic bunny stem cell researchings?

    Comment by happyfeet — 6/30/2009 @ 7:38 am

    6 billion when you tack on the interest, not to mention the lost opportunity. But your point is dead on.

    Chris (a24890)

  13. The legal costs of trials and appeals of dangerous criminals are nothing compared to the costs of keeping them in maximum security for forty or fifty years.

    nk (bef3ab)

  14. I do think that the problem of people being convicted wrongly is a solid reason to oppose DP.

    On the other hand, when we learn a person was wrongfully convicted and then either freed by exculpatory evidence that was hidden or some new DNA evidence, the innocent person was almost never sentenced to death.

    But really, the ACLU fought tooth and nail for all this extra scrutiny. They said it was worth the cost. Now, the cost is a reason to do away with the entire penalty? Sounds circular.

    Juan (c7e552)

  15. But really, the ACLU fought tooth and nail for all this extra scrutiny. They said it was worth the cost. Now, the cost is a reason to do away with the entire penalty? Sounds circular.

    Bingo!

    In addition, note that Europe, having done away with the death penalty, is now in the initial stages of moving away from life imprisonment. Too cruel, they say.

    LarryD (feb78b)

  16. Comment by nk — 6/30/2009 @ 8:59 am

    If you think that’s expensive, look at the costs to society when they’re out and about doing what they love to do.
    Crime ain’t cheap!

    AD - RtR/OS! (e2c6d2)

  17. Oh, BTW, we won’t have this problem under Shariah.

    AD - RtR/OS! (e2c6d2)

  18. “No good crisis should allowed to go to waste.”

    I read that somewhere.

    Mike K (2cf494)

  19. I do think that the problem of people being convicted wrongly is a solid reason to oppose DP.

    On yet another hand, it’s entirely possible that an innocent person be convicted wrongly, sentenced to some penalty less than death, and die in prison. Morally, that’s no different from an innocent being executed. But it’s still not a solid reason to oppose imprisonment.

    Steverino (69d941)

  20. Interesting point about the death penalty used as leverage in plea bargains. I wonder if anyone has attempted to quantify this effect, measuring roughly how much more bargaining power a DA has over threatening LWOP. It would have to take into account variations among states in how likely they are to actually execute death-row inmates.

    While I think there’s a reasonable argument to be made against the death penalty, if it’s true DAs threatening it have demonstrably more leverage in coaxing plea bargains, it further undermines one argument I believe is rather silly: that a sentence of life in prison is to be considered somehow more severe than a death sentence. If that were so, I imagine you’d see a lot more Gary Gilmores actively seeking execution rather than spending any more time in prison. The audience for that argument always seemed to be those decent people who can’t imagine being in either situation.

    sierra (dfb2fa)

  21. You could theoretically get the job done for the price of a machete and a smock, so any discussion about this should start with the question “why is it so expensive?”.

    You’ll find that those who are most responsible for driving up the cost of the death penalty are the ones who always use the cost argument for abolishing it. They would claim that anyone who suggests ways of making capital punishment less expensive, or stands in the way of measures to make it more expensive, is being insensitive and is devaluing human life.

    jcurtis (14bf32)

  22. Steverino,

    The point is that when you execute someone who is innocent there is no chance for vindication. It’s just a core value that most people have… executing an innocent person is simply far worse than any other potential outcome in any court system.

    At any rate, as I said, the scrutiny placed on death penalty recipients is why we usually find innocent convicts were sentenced to something less than the death penalty.

    My seminar paper topic in law school was about how merely making the death penalty available for a crime reduces the conviction rate, makes witnesses take matters more seriously, and other effects like that.

    But you’re right… innocent people being imprisoned is a harm that can’t really be undone either.

    In Lubbock just last year, a man died in prison while serving a rape sentence. The evidence was the victim’s performing a lineup ID. DNA evidence proved he was innocent. This probably happens more than I want to know, and it’s just as bad as shooting the guy on sight. Worse, if in fact the death penalty appeal process would have led to the truth.

    regardless, the ACLUs and LA Times betray an unseriousness and a dishonesty about a very serious thing.

    Juan (c7e552)

  23. In addition, note that Europe, having done away with the death penalty, is now in the initial stages of moving away from life imprisonment. Too cruel, they say.

    Proof?

    You could theoretically get the job done for the price of a machete and a smock, so any discussion about this should start with the question “why is it so expensive?”.

    How much does it cost in China or Iran or Zimbabwe?

    Michael Ejercito (833607)

  24. Ejercito, in 2001, Mexico ruled that life without parole is unconstitutionally cruel for any offense.

    Norway, Greece, and Spain’s max sentences are only a couple of decades.

    Because life without parole is considered cruel in many parts of Europe.

    Juan (c7e552)

  25. How much does it cost in China or Iran or Zimbabwe?

    Comment by Michael Ejercito — 6/30/2009 @ 10:29 am

    You must not have read the second paragraph or you wouldn’t have been in such a hurry to make my case.

    High cost for the sake of…high cost. You obviously feel that the high cost assuages some guilt, but it’s unclear as to whose guilt it’s supposed to assuage. Certainly not the guy being executed. He has to feel guilty about the huge monetary expense his crime has cost society along with the guilt for his crime.

    jcurtis (14bf32)

  26. jcurtis, Ejercito was explaining to you that the cheap cost of justice is associated with places that are barbaric, like Iran and Zimbabwe.

    The high cost of justice is not meant to reduce guilt. It’s because we don’t want innocent people to go to jail. As happens when we don’t have appeals.

    We should punish criminals harshly, but only after we’re sure we’ve got our man. Iran and China don’t really care about that part, and save a lot of money in the process.

    The justice system needs reforms, I know, and some of them could save some money. But appeals are good things much of the time.

    Juan (c7e552)

  27. China doesn’t pay for a defense lawyer, and there are no appeals of note. One day, the guard walks into the cell of the condemned, and tells him/her to kneel down in the center of the cell, and puts a bullet into the back of his/her head. The family of the deceased is then billed for the cost of the burial (private), and the cartridge.

    AD - RtR/OS! (e2c6d2)

  28. 26

    You seem to be under a “the higher the cost, the more thorough the justice” impression. The usual reaction to an expensiveness crisis is to first look at cost saving measures, but that doesn’t even get a glance with this expensiveness crisis. In this matter, there is nowhere on the ledger you could begin looking at price tags that wouldn’t be met with charges of insensitivity because for every item Ejercito will say “yeah, that item costs less for the Iranians too!”.

    jcurtis (14bf32)

  29. Amusingly, the LA Times blog is bemoaning the fact that TMZ scooped the Times on reporting Michael Jackson’s death. Here’s the money quote, entirely berift of any sense of irony:

    Has technology’s ability to deliver information at such a rapid pace corrupted us? It’s one thing to marvel at how social media sites have helped spread Iranian news we might not have attained due to censorship — and with such timeliness; it’s quite another to have become a culture that prizes speed over confirmed facts. Have our standards for accountability dissolved?

    Folks, when it comes to the reportage and editorial policy of the Los Angeles Times, you just can’t make this kind of stuff up.

    trentk269 (086ecc)

  30. That was pretty funny, trent. TMZ was right, and the LA Times has been wrong and rushed many times about many things. For the LA Times to bash new media on the sole basis of it being fallible is stunningly hypocritical and silly.

    Criticize the TMZ because it is worthless pap like the LA Times mostly is.

    Juan (0a6638)

  31. Murder is a highly personal crime. If the State preempts the field – let no moaning over costs be heard. Much cheaper to allow self-help – and let me point out that aiding and abetting a criminal to avoid punishment is a time-tested criminal act. Indeed, comrades, is not the criminal rejecting the very social contract under which we all live by depriving a person of their right to life? Let us not insult the criminal by continuing to force him to live under the oppressive strictures of society. Let his(or her) freedom from societal oppression be complete, and rapid and cheap. Oh, and let that be free from racial influence – death to murderers of any race – just to be equitable.

    The “barbaric” society is the one which allows its poorest citizens to pay the disproportionate price for it’s elite’s purported virtues.

    Californio (6657ce)

  32. Which of course is why so many more blacks are on death row than whites, and so many more poor than rich, because we apply the DP fairly. Not to mention that TX alone holds something like half the inmates on death row in the US, and executes far more than any other state. And since only 10-15% have been found to actually be innocent of the crime they’re on death row for, what’s the big deal?

    I wonder how much all those DP appeals through state & federal courts cost in time and money, anyway…?

    JEA (9f9fc9)

  33. I suppose it can source that asspull on 10-15% of death row inmates have been found to be innocent.

    JD (5e5cad)

  34. “I wonder … ”

    I have a feeling this one spends a lot of time wondering.

    JD (b537f4)

  35. Do you think they allow OJ anywhere near sharp implements?

    AD - RtR/OS! (5fd0fb)

  36. Which of course is why so many more blacks are on death row than whites, and so many more poor than rich, because we apply the DP fairly.

    so what?

    Should we abolish the criminal justice system because it is applied unfairly?

    Not to mention that TX alone holds something like half the inmates on death row in the US, and executes far more than any other state.

    And this is a bad thing, right?

    And since only 10-15% have been found to actually be innocent of the crime they’re on death row for, what’s the big deal?

    Proof?

    Michael Ejercito (833607)

  37. JEA, just making up stuff again, I see.

    SPQR (72771e)

  38. I wish people wouldn’t say ‘Texas’ holds half the people on death row, and just say Harris County, which is a bit more accurate. And Oklahoma has a higher rate of execution per capita. Not that there is anything wrong with that.

    The 15% innocent statistic is complete hogwash. It’s a lot closer to 0% (discovered), though I don’t buy that either.

    Juan (81687c)

  39. [...] paper swallowed whole a ridiculous liberal claim about the cost of the death penalty. (Editors have a history of making [...]

    Patterico's Pontifications » Patterico’s Los Angeles Dog Trainer Year in Review 2009 (e4ab32)


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