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March 01, 2009

Impact of the Recession on Indigent Capital Defense

The global economic crisis is having a significant impact on the available funding for indigent capital defense across the U.S.  Many states have imposed across-the-board reductions for staff and funding in all state offices, which have particularly severe effects on indigent defense services because of their existing tight budgets.  The current fiscal emergencies have, without a doubt, created crises for indigent capital defense in almost every death penalty jurisdiction.

The recession has also focused additional attention on the overall costs of death penalty cases.  In the past year, a study from California concluded that each death penalty trial costs $1.1 million more than a non- death penalty case.  Likewise, a study from Maryland found that death penalty trials are nearly $2 million more costly than similar cases where the death penalty is not sought.  These studies are consistent with previous reports evaluating the costs of the death penalty. 

On March 18, 2009, New Mexico repealed the death penalty, in part because of cost.  Lawmakers in several other states, including Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, and Washington, have examined the costs of the death penalty and alternatives in connection with efforts to limit the use of the death penalty or replace it with life without the possibility of parole.  The Project’s insistence on the funding necessary for high quality legal representation for defendants in death penalty cases does not vary with changes in the economic situation. 

We are currently responding to the funding crises by assisting defense counsel who are initiating legal challenges to restrictions upon available funds.  The Project will continue to recruit outstanding pro bono counsel to provide assistance to Death Row prisoners.