Report: Hard To Pin Down Death Penalty Costs In Idaho

By Jessica Robinson

Death penalty cases take longer to work through Idaho's court system, but it's hard to put a dollar figure on the extra expense. That's according to a new report released Wednesday. It's unlikely to prompt any drastic changes in Idaho's policy on capital punishment.

Photo: Idaho Dept. of CorrectionTwo recent executions in Idaho after a 17-year pause made lawmakers want to get more information on how much capital punishment costs the state. The legislature’s Office of Performance Evaluations has now come back with an answer: hard to say.

For one thing, researchers say they couldn’t separate out how many hours police, prosecutors, defenders, judges and clerks spent specifically on death penalty cases.

Hannah Crumrine authored the report. She told a legislative panel that capital cases take an extra 7 months to reach a verdict and extend each phase of appeal by a year or more.

Hannah Crumrine: “The longer processes could -- it's reasonable to assume -- cost more money.”

Crumrine says that's what national studies have found.

In a statement released with the report, Republican Gov. Butch Otter said he continues to support the death penalty in Idaho. The governors of Oregon and Washington have both issued a moratorium on executions.

Researchers say the death penalty is rarely carried out in Idaho. Of the 40 people who've been sentenced to death since 1977, only three have been executed. Half the defendants got their sentence changed to life.

Although researchers couldn't come up with a total figure, they did identify certain costs associated with the death penalty. The State Appellate Public Defender's Office spent $477,716 in operating expenses to litigate death penalty cases between July 2004 and December 2013. Staff there average 7,918 hours per death penalty defendant, compared with 179 hours per defendant facing a life sentence. Since 1998, a fund that reimburses Idaho counties for the expense of pursuing capital punishment has paid out $4.1 million. The report also says the Idaho Department of Correction's operating costs for the two recent executions came to $102,567.

Currently, 11 men and one woman are sentenced to death in Idaho. All have an active pending appeal.

Photo: Idaho Dept. of Correction

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