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ePortfolio: Death Penalty

Matt Rytting

Criminal Justice 1010

Professor: John Minichino

April 25, 2017


The cost of death has a hefty price. From emotional torment to the financial

commitment, it makes the right to extinguish the worst of society an obligation that is very

consuming. Capital punishment gives nightmares to those who don't deserve them. Sentencing

a person to death causes chills to run down the spine and causes goosebumps to rise all over the

body. These are the feelings law abiding citizens experience when a person that makes honest

people fear for humanity; when the monsters of society are sentenced to death. Deciding to

punish someone with capital punishment is a concern because the monetary obligations can be

difficult, the appeal process can be arduous, and the heightened stress to society can be


One of the biggest issues every state deals with when someone is sentenced with Capital

Punishment is the cost. The state of California for example spent over $4 billion since 1978 on

capital punishment. California could have saved $170 million per year if the Governor reduced

the capital punishment sentences to life in prison. California could potentially save an additional

$5 billion over the next two decades with the elimination of capital punishment, (Tempest,

2005). Maintaining the death penalty costs significantly more than keeping convicted

murderers in prison for life (Warden, 2009).

States like California are reviewing all options to reduce costs and to stretch taxpayers

dollars. The price to operate a prison is among the highest financial obligation every state has.

States spend more money on running a prison than they do the public educational system, which

is severely underfunded. Governors are starting to educate themselves and are reviewing cost

analysis on how much it takes to keep someone in prison for life vs. the death penalty. Those

sentenced to death on average spend ten years or more appealing the sentence. The cost of the

appeal process takes hundreds of thousands more from taxpayers' dollars for the state to defend

the ruling. Governors are under scrutiny to keep their voters safe, educated and drive a state

culture that befits the states sociocultural norms.

California has 640 inmates on death row, about 20% of the nation's total. But the

state had accounted for only 1% of the country's executions or 11 deaths since

1978 when the death penalty was restored. "What we are paying for at such great

cost, said UC Berkeley law professor Frank Zimring, is essentially our own

ambivalence about capital punishment. We try to maintain the apparatus of state

killing and another apparatus that almost guarantees that it wont happen. The

public pays for both sides. (Tempest, 2005).

Thirty-eight states are willing to use the death sentence to deter future crime.

Unfortunately, criminologists are not able to prove the death penalty deters criminal activity.

Criminologists and politicians alike are trying to determine if taxpayers are getting a return on

their tax dollar investment. When states like California don't end the lives of those on death row,

are taxpayers just getting conned, pun intended, by the multitude of loopholes in the appellate

system that can take decades in some cases.

The appeal process for capital punishment cases can take a decade or more. Those

sentenced to death have the right to appeal their case all the way to the U.S. highest court, the

Supreme Court. They can receive the last ruling available in the appellate system known as a

writ of certiorari. This ruling is the say all be all, the person sentenced to death will have no

other legal options of appeals to overturn the penalty set forth by the state they were sentenced.

The President of the United States does hold the option to pardon any U.S. citizen for crimes

against society, and the Governor can provide Executive Clemency which allows the person on

death row to have their sentence lessened to life in prison with no chance of parole.

Typically, the first stage of the drawn out appeal process is the Direct Appeal. This option is

standard in most states to persons sentenced to death row. The direct appeal helps the convicted

person seek an appeal from the criminal charges and sentencing. The appellate system is

overwhelmed with requests, and the right to a speedy trial no longer exists in this system. It can

take as few as months to a year to get to this first stage of the appellate system.

The second step to appeal the sentencing is State Post Conviction which allows

petitions to be filed and reviewed by the original trial judge and the states highest court if

needed. The convicted person can bring forth new evidence for the states highest court, almost

like a new trial to help expunge or reduce the sentencing. At this stage, questions of incompetent

legal counsel, or any other persons involved in the original trial can be called to question or any

violations by the defense attorney in regards to evidence not being brought to court. Brady

Motions are also filled at this stage.

Brady claims derive from the lack of extensive discovery or file sharing with the

prosecutor and defendants legal counsel. In a perfect legal system, Under the open file system,

defense counsel is permitted to look at the States file on the case, and the prosecutions

discovery obligations are then satisfied (New Felony Defender Training, 2008). Brady claims

are necessary but very time-consuming. These are and have been used to help overturn

sentencing for the few innocent persons that have been incorrectly sentenced with capital

punishment. Most of the time, Brady claims are used as technical oversight to get a conviction

reduced or overturned.

In practice, though, every defense lawyer knows that open file discovery

doesnt work anything like it is supposed to. The files we are shown often do not

contain some police reports, witness statements, and other crucial documents.

Materials that contradict the States case or support a defense are frequently

missing. Evidence that corroborates the defendants story is mysteriously absent.

Items that would impeach the police are nowhere to be found. (New Felony

Defender Training, 2008).

There is a multitude of other appeal options that someone sentenced to death row in a Federal

case can leverage to reduce or overturn the sentence too, again more loopholes. The above is a

very vague outline of the appellate process. After reviewing some of the options available to

persons convicted to capital punishment, it is easy to see why the system of appeal is

overwhelmed. This system is lacking in personnel, financial, and societies support. The appeal

process is a vicious cycle that just keeps adding up! In motions of appeal, and cost to taxpayers,

billions of dollars.

The stress and conflict capital punishment causes states that still uphold this as an option

for punishment is overwhelming. The open debates, rallies, and protests held for those for or

against capital punishment causes a lot of frustration within the states and their residents.

Violence has broken out with persons that typically are law abiding citizens over getting rid of

the death sentence. The feelings that those convicted to death row are taking away from society,

even after being sentenced, are very high. The main issue with capital punishment is the cost,

and the struggles other state-funded systems have, like education. Special interests of the state

and other support offered to citizens of the states are now being underfunded due to the

absorbent amount of money spent on upholding the sentencing of those on death row. The

appeal process is too expensive.

When citizens continue to suffer at the hand of continued support of capital punishment,

tensions get high. In August 2000 for example, a protest was organized called Crashing the

Executioners Ball. This gathering was put together by a group called Refuse and Resist

(R&R). The primary goal was to raise awareness for an up and coming execution of someone on

death row in Philadelphia. The day of the protest, it began as planned, in a well-organized and

civil manner. However, due to the tensions from the participants, and citizens in the area that

began to participate. The overall goal of the protest turned violent, and members began to show

their frustrations by damaging private property and assaulting police officers.

According to Philadelphia Police Commissioner John Timoney, some of the

arrests were provoked by protesters assaults, which resulted in fifteen injured

police officers. Other sources reported that policemen used violent tactics to

suppress protesters, including the use of clubs and tackling protesters as they fled.

By the end of the day, police had arrested more than 250 people. Many of the

protesters who were arrested refused to cooperate by giving fake names to the

police. (John, 2011)

Experiences like this protest add additional strain between citizens and law enforcement. The

culture of the society changes and can take a very long time to repair itself. The price of capital

punishment is more than a nominal cost; it causes the trust and respect between the state and its

citizens to diminish. It only takes one outburst at a protest to reduce state unity for decades. The

tensions in all registered voters are especially felt when tax reforms require more money or

changes to budgets that take away from law abiding taxpayers' pockets with no return on their

hard earned money.

The decision to punish the worst of society with capital punishment is hard because a life has

been sentenced to death. Likely because the person convicted took a life of another, which

landed them in the situation that gave the state the right to choose if they live or die. The price

the person on death row is hefty, having to fight for another day, week, month or year to stay

alive. Playing the appeal game which buys them more time to be alive, all with a hefty price tag

at taxpayers' expense. No matter what sentence this criminal receives, their actions cause a rift in

society, if it is financial, emotional, or burdensome.

Eliminating capital punishment seems to be an obvious move to damper the budget of

each state. Sentencing someone to life in prison with no chance of parole seems more humane

than dragging someone through the emotional rollercoaster of appealing for more time to live.

Society will be better off not having to fight for a better life, with a better educational system,

better resources from the state. Not having to fight over someone who has taken a life, someone

who might eventually receive a lethal injection. What price is too high to uphold the option of

capital punishment?


Ira Mickenberg, New Felony Defender Program, a Practical Guide to Brady Motions,

Pg 1[Training Guide]. Retrieved from


Rob Warden, Reflections on Capital Punishment, 4 Nw. J. L. & Soc. PolY. 329 (2009).

Retrieved from

Rone Tempest, Death Row Often Means a Long Life; California condemns many murderers, but

few are ever executed. Los Angeles Times (2005). Retrieved from

Swarthmore College, U.S. protesters campaign against death penalty in Philadelphia, (2000).

Retrieved from