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February 25, 2009

Maryland death penalty debate in the spotlight

The New York Times has an interesting account this morning about the death penalty debate in Maryland and elsewhere. (And by "interesting," I mean I'm not quite sure where they're getting this stuff.) Their take is that Maryland is an example of a national trend of renewed interest in abolishing the death penalty as a cost cutting measure, given data showing that capital cases (with all their appeals and such) are more costly than sending someone to prison for life, even given the cost of feeding and housing the inmates for so long. The Times also says that "experts" consider Maryland to be among several states likely to abolish the death penalty this year. Apparently nobody there read our story last week about how the votes, at the moment, aren't there in the Senate. Of course, The Times is also under the impression that a repeal came up one vote short of passing in 2007, which it didn't.

But looking at their main point, the economic argument has been a part of the death penalty debate in Maryland for years, even before the current economic crisis made budget cutting a more prominent concern. But I have a hard time, knowing the dynamics at work in the Senate, in believing that it would be the factor that pushes the issue over the top this year. None of the key senators who will decide how the issue proceeds have listed economic concerns as foremost in their minds; Sen. Bryan Simonaire of Anne Arundel, for instance, says he's worried about executing an innocent man, not how much it costs.

In general, the economic argument seems a bit limited in that states where the death penalty might be in danger of repeal are those in which it's not used that often anyway. There are so few capital cases in Maryland -- about five or six a year since the penalty was reinstated 31 years ago -- that repealing wouldn't make much of an impact on the budget. Texas, one would imagine, could save a bundle under this argtument, but I kind of doubt the Lone Star state is on the verge of repeal.

And if we need more evidence that cost isn't the primary element of the debate here, I offer this: Gov. O'Malley, Maryland's death penalty opponent in chief, is about to lead a march to the State House in protest of capital punishment. He's making the trek with priests and ministers, not accountants.

Posted by Andy Green at 9:43 AM | | Comments (9)


Spot on with the poorly written NYT story. It looks like they got one side of the story from one person (Gov. O'Malley) and then ignored the rest. The Shellenberger quote makes you wonder why they did not mention how the death penalty is only given to 2/10ths of 1% of all murders in MD. 2/10ths of 1%!

The death penalty should be abolished for two reasons:
1-saves money
2-eliminates the chance of an innocent
person being put to death.

To: Maryland Legislature, Prosecutors and
media throughout the region

From: Dudley Sharp, contact info below

SUMMARY: The cost errors, within the Majority Report, are so substantial that their cannot be considered reliable. Is it possible that a properly managed death penalty system could be less expensive than a true life sentence? Read on.

NOTE: See the hidden "Minority Report", stuck between pages 128 and 129 of the majority report. It is a 23 page rebuttal of the majority report. The Governor made sure that is was well hidden. There is not even a reference to it in the Table of Contents, even though the Minority Report is much, much longer than any section of the majority report. Politics at is worst.

Some observations on the Urban Institute (UI) Cost of the Death Penalty in Maryland (1) as well as on the Majority Report.

The UI conclusion was that the lifetime case cost for the 56 death penalty cases will cost Maryland taxpayers $186 million, or $106 million more than if death wasn't pursued in those cases or about $47,000 per year per inmate, more.

The study found that the average cost of a case where a death notice was not sought was $1.1 million/case, that being $250,000 for adjudication and $860,000 for confinement/prison costs.

Unfortunately, many more cases were used than just those which make up life without parole (LWOP). This, wrongly and totally, skewed the results.

That was inappropriate from a public policy standpoint and the majority should have known it.

The only public policy cost discussion regarding the death penalty, nationwide, is the cost differential between LWOP cases and death penalty cases. This is very well known, If anyone doesn't know it, it would take 10 minutes online to figure it out.

It begs the question, why did the UI muddy the waters with a bunch of cases that didn't get LWOP?

Regardless of UI's reasons, the answer is, they shouldn't have.

Here's why.

1) The public policy debate is concentrated on LWOP as a considered replacement for the death penalty. Sentences less than LWOP are not under consideration in this current debate.

2) By including cases of less than LWOP, within the non death category, UI and the majority has lowered the costs of that category, perhaps substantially, and has misled or confused the public as to the real cost disparities, if any, which may exist between the death penalty and LWOP in Maryland.

3) Had UI only included LWOP cases in that category, the cost disparity would be reduced, perhaps substantially.

Using current data, scenarios exist that could result in a finding that the death penalty may actually be less expensive than LWOP. See below.

What wasn't calculated

4) a) Each case, whereby a plea bargain to a sanction less than death was rendered, the state saves about $250, 000/case for legal expenses, based upon UI estimates.

b) The number is, likely, far above that $250,000/case evaluation, because 1) UI wrongly included non LWOP cases and 2) wrongly credited the cost reduction of those pleas, within the LWOP category, when, instead, 3) a credit of $250,000/case, but likely much larger, should have been placed in the death case data calculations, resulting in an additional increase per case cost within the true LWOP category and a greater reduction in the death case category.

Properly, this credit can happen only when LWOP plea cases are isolated. This is public policy 101. The majority wrongly discounted plea bargains to a life sentence. The cost savings are substantial.

5) For example:

a) Presume the average LWOP case, resulting in LWOP, has adjudication costs of $500, 000, from pre trial to conviction and throughout appeals. If a LWOP sentence was given as part of a plea bargain, prior to a death notice being filed, UI shows that cost as $0 for adjudication, thus lowering the average cost of all cases where death wasn't pursued in potentially capital cases.

That would be improper, from any standpoint.

b) A LWOP plea bargain can only occur because the state has the death penalty. So, instead of lowering the average cost of all LWOP cases, all LWOP plea cases would be removed from the LWOP database and a cost credit of $500,000 would be applied as a cost benefit within death penalty category, because it was solely the presence of the death penalty which allows for a plea bargain to LWOP. Thus, death penalty costs and overall costs to the state, would drop substantially and the average costs of LWOP would rise.

c) That results in two changes:
1) The average cost of LWOP cases will rise, possibly substantially, because a $0 adjudication cost entry will be removed from the LWOP cases; and
2) The average cost of death penalty cases may lower, possibly substantially, because a $500, 000 cost reduction will be made to the death penalty cost basis, for each such LWOP plea.

To state the obvious, UI made an error in reversing the credit in pleas.

6) For an accurate public policy review of death penalty costs vs LWOP costs, Maryland Legislators should:

a) Compare the costs of only the death penalty cases which were pursued and a death penalty resulted and only LWOP cases that were pursued, resulting in a LWOP sentence; and

b) include the proper calculations for credit of LWOP pleas bargains, which are solely the result of the presence of the death penalty.

c) Why exclude the death penalty cases which were pursued, resulting in sentences less than the death penalty? For the same reason we exclude LWOP cases which result in sentences of less than LWOP.

You should be looking , only, at true death cases costs vs true LWOP costs. If UI wants to add a bunch of other cost categories, fine, but these are the two that must be done.

They weren't.

COST SAVINGS - Death Row incarceration

1) The extra $350,000 per case for additional cost for death row incarceration is an unnecessary waste of taxpayer money. Missouri doesn't even have a death row for their death sentenced prisoners.

2) There is no reason that death penalty appeals should take longer than 7-10 years.
a) Both appellate paths, direct appeal and writ, should travel through the appellate process, at the same time.
b) The legislature, trial and appellate courts should work together to establish reasonable time frames for appeals and responses to them.

GERIATRIC CARE - Prisoner geriatric care has recently been found to be about $70,000/inmate/year, on average. Has that been calculated in Maryland?


Maryland must redo their calculations to compare costs of true LWOP cases to death penalty cases, for two reasons.

First, it is the only public policy cost issue which exists, with regard to the death penalty in Maryland

Secondly, what you have, now, cannot be relied upon.

UI: Additional Errors in Judgement

UI's reliance on Donahue and Wolfers (2006), who have been highly critical of some of the recent studies finding for deterrence, was unwarranted and inappropriate.

UI's authors failed to note that Donahue and Wolfers criticisms have been dissected and trashed by those authors whose studies found for deterrence.

I believe all of those replies, heavily critical of Donahue and Wolfers, were published prior to the UI report.
Furthermore, UI failed to mention that Donahue and Wolfers' work was not peer reviewed, but many and most of the studies finding for deterrence were. Had Donahue and Wolfers work been peer reviewed, it is a question if it ever would have been published in a peer reviewed publication.

Both of these points are important and inexcusable omissions by UI.
Instead of mentioning the rebuttals, UI, instead, deferred to Donahue and Wolfers, as a way of neutralizing the importance of the studies finding for deterrence, and then mentioned a study which found against deterrence.

UI wrongly states that studies go either way so we shouldn't bother with them.

Total nonsense. 16 recent studies, including strong rebuttals to criticism, find for death penalty deterrence.

In one reply to Donahue and Wolfers, after their data had been re-run, based upon Donahue and Wolfers criticism:

"I oppose the death penalty. " " But my results show that the death penalty (deters) — what am I going to do, hide them?" "Science does really draw a conclusion. It did. There is no question about it." "The results are robust, they don't really go away" "The conclusion is there is a deterrent effect.".

Prof. Naci Mocan, Economics Chairman, University of Colorado at Denver
"Studies say death penalty deters crime", ROBERT TANNER, Associated Press, June 10, 2007, 2:01 PM ET

Furthermore, one of the deterrence studies found a $70 million cost benefit, per execution, because of the number of lives saved per execution.

Obviously, that would render the death penalty a huge cost benefit in Maryland.

Many other important conclusions of the deterrence studies were omitted from the UI report. If UI didn't wish to give a proper, accurate review of deterrence, stay away from it. Why wrongly muddy the waters?

Public policy makers take note.

Misleading Conclusion

The UI authors stated that:

"Prior research on the costs of capital punishment in other states unambiguously finds that capital cases are more expensive to prosecute than non-capital cases. "

To "prosecute", generally yes, but not always.

And when did the studies ONLY look at prosecution?

In one of UI's included studies, Cook, North Carolina Cost Study (1993), the UI authors seemed to have missed a very important and obvious point.

The study finds that, for two different calculations, that the death penalty costs $163, 000 and $213,000/case more than a life sentence.

But, the calculation for a life sentence is only to 20 years.

For a true life sentence, you would be adding $300, 000 or more to each life case, meaning that a life sentence costs more than the death penalty.

Furthermore, the authors conceded not including geriatric care, recently found to be $69, 000/inmate/yr. meaning lifers cost a lot more than death sentenced prisoners, possibly adding an additional $300,000/case, or more, for a true LWOP sentence.

That could render life cases $600, ooo or more, more expensive than death sentences in North Carolina.

Furthermore, the calculations didn't include the benefit of plea bargains to life, possible only because of the death penalty.

Unambiguous, UI? Not close.

Based upon the UI authors not seeing these very obvious and important facts, or deciding not to share them within their report, one may conclude that UI authors may have made similar errors or omissions in their review of the other included studies.

Reviewers should keep that in mind.


UI, a public policy institution, avoided the only public policy issue which exists in the death penalty cost debate:

"What is the difference in cost between the death penalty and a true LWOP?"

Depending upon the number of plea bargains to LWOP, there may be very little cost difference between the death penalty and LWOP.

Furthermore, if both the presence of the death penalty, as well as executions, saves many innocent lives, as 16 of the recent deterrence studies(1) suggest, then the benefit of the death penalty far surpasses any alleged cost deficit, if any, or is a huge added benefit to any cost benefit of the death penalty, if there is one.

Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
e-mail, 713-622-5491,
Houston, Texas

Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS , VOA and many other TV and radio networks, on such programs as Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, The O'Reilly Factor, etc., has been quoted in newspapers throughout the world and is a published author.

A former opponent of capital punishment, he has written and granted interviews about, testified on and debated the subject of the death penalty, extensively and internationally.

Pro death penalty sites see Death Penalty (Sweden)


The Death Penalty Provides More Protection for Innocents
Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters, contact info below
Often, the death penalty dialogue gravitates to the subject of innocents at risk of execution. Seldom is a more common problem reviewed. That is, how innocents are more at risk without the death penalty.

Enhanced Due Process

No knowledgeable and honest party questions that the death penalty has the most extensive due process protections in US criminal law.
Therefore, actual innocents are more likely to be sentenced to life imprisonment and more likely to die in prison serving under that sentence, that it is that an actual innocent will be executed.
That is. logically, conclusive.
Enhanced Incapacitation

To state the blatantly clear, living murderers, in prison, after release or escape,  are much more likely to harm and murder, again, than are executed murderers.
Although an obvious truism, it is surprising how often  folks overlook the enhanced incapacitation benefits of the death penalty over incarceration.

There are a few absolutes when it comes to Life Without Parole. The legislature can lessen sentences, retroactively, and the executive branch can lessen any individual sentence.
Enhanced Deterrence

16 recent studies, inclusive of their defenses, find for death penalty deterrence.
A surprise? No.
Life is preferred over death. Death is feared more than life.
Some believe that all studies with contrary findings negate those 16 studies. They don't. Studies which don't find for deterrence don't say no one is deterred, but that they couldn't measure those deterred.
What prospect of a negative outcome doesn't deter some? There isn't one . . . although committed anti death penalty folk may say the death penalty is the only one.
However, the premier anti death penalty scholar accepts it as a given that the death penalty is a deterrent, but does not believe it to be a greater deterrent than a life sentence. Yet, the evidence is compelling and un refuted that death is feared more than life.
Enhanced Fear

Some death penalty opponents argue against death penalty deterrence, stating that it's a harsher penalty to be locked up without any possibility of getting out.
Reality paints a very different picture.
What percentage of capital murderers seek a plea bargain to a death sentence? Zero or close to it. They prefer long term imprisonment.
What percentage of convicted capital murderers argue for execution in the penalty phase of their capital trial? Zero or close to it. They prefer long term imprisonment.
What percentage of death row inmates waive their appeals and speed up the execution process? Nearly zero. They prefer long term imprisonment.
This is not, even remotely, in dispute.

What of that more rational group, the potential murderers who choose not to murder, is it likely that they, like most of us, fear death more than life?
Life is preferred over death. Death is feared more than life.
Furthermore, history tells us that lifers have many ways to get out: Pardon, commutation, escape, clerical error, change in the law, etc.
In choosing to end the death penalty, or in choosing not implement it, some have chosen to spare murderers at the cost of sacrificing more innocent lives.
Furthermore, possibly we have sentenced 25 actually innocent people to death since 1973, or 0.3% of those so sentenced. Those have all been released upon post conviction review. The anti death penalty claims, that the numbers are significantly higher, are a fraud, easily discoverable by fact checking.
The innocents deception of death penalty opponents has been getting exposure for many years. Even the behemoth of anti death penalty newspapers, The New York Times,  has recognized that deception.
To be sure, 30 or 40 categorically innocent people have been released from death row . . . (1) This when death penalty opponents were claiming the release of 119 "innocents" from death row. Death penalty opponents never required actual innocence in order for cases to be added to their "exonerated" or "innocents" list. They simply invented their own definitions for exonerated and innocent and deceptively shoe horned large numbers of inmates into those definitions - something easily discovered with fact checking.
There is no proof of an innocent executed in the US, at least since 1900.
If we accept that the best predictor of future performance is past performance, we can, reasonably, conclude that the DNA cases will be excluded prior to trial, and that for the next 8000 death sentences, that we will experience a 99.8% accuracy rate in actual guilt convictions. This improved accuracy rate does not include the many additional safeguards that have been added to the system, over and above DNA testing.
Of all the government programs in the world, that put innocents at risk, is there one with a safer record and with greater protections than the US death penalty?
Full report -All Innocence Issues: The Death Penalty, upon request.
Full report - The Death Penalty as a Deterrent, upon request
(1) The Death of Innocents: A Reasonable Doubt,
New York Times Book Review, p 29, 1/23/05, Adam Liptak,
national legal correspondent for The NY Times
copyright 2007-2009, Dudley Sharp
Permission for distribution of this document, in whole or in part,  is approved with proper attribution.
Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
e-mail 713-622-5491,
Houston, Texas
Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS, VOA and many other TV and radio networks, on such programs as Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, The O'Reilly Factor, etc., has been quoted in newspapers throughout the world and is a published author.
A former opponent of capital punishment, he has written and granted interviews about, testified on and debated the subject of the death penalty, extensively and internationally.
Pro death penalty sites   (Sweden)

Life w/o Parole, and its associated costs, wouldn't be an issue if there weren't so many bloodthirsty people who have to be appeased with it when abolishing execution.

Cheap Jim is right. Life w/o Parole is next in these leftists sights.
IT will be the next cruel and unusual punishment. Bank on it.

I wonder if Kevin Johns got a special invitation from MOM for this rally/photo op? You remember Kevin... he's the murderer who managed to snuff two people, got sentenced to so-called life without parole, and then murdered a third victim. He's probably a real staunch supporter of MOM and his anti-death penalty bill.

I like the headline on the front page of the Baltimore Sun online, next to the picture of MOM and the rally/photo op: "Griffins Guilty of Killing, Abusing 2-Year-Old Son". Maybe MOM can line up the Griffins for his next anti-death penalty rally/photo-op.

Ted Bundy's (30+ murders in the 1970s and 1980s) agent claims Ted is unavailable for any further photo ops. Seems he's been permanently rehabilitated since the time he spent in Florida's electric chair back in 1989. The agent also claims Ted has not committed any additional violent crimes since then either. I guess we can call that permanently rehab'd and permanently deterred -- quick, easy, cheap.

Thanos and a couple of others who were truly evil certainly made the world a better place by being executed. Maryland has all the reviews in place to prevent an innocent person from being administered the death penalty. Hell, its hard enough to get rid of the guilty ones. As for the priests and ministers; the state is only giving these killers the opportunity to meet their maker, their final disposition is up to Him.

Reagan Democrat: Maryland has all the reviews in place to prevent an innocent person from being administered the death penalty.

Wow, I didn't know that the state of Maryland had the ability to do resurrections. That's pretty cool! Must be a Hopkins med program.

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About the bloggers
Annie Linskey covers state politics and government for The Baltimore Sun. Previously, as a City Hall reporter, she wrote about the corruption trial of Mayor Sheila Dixon and kept a close eye on city spending. Originally from Connecticut, Annie has also lived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where she reported on war crimes tribunals and landmines. She lives in Canton.

John Fritze has covered politics and government at the local, state and federal levels for more than a decade and is now The Baltimore Sun’s Washington correspondent. He previously wrote about Congress for USA TODAY, where he led coverage of the health care overhaul debate and the 2010 election. A native of Albany, N.Y., he currently lives in Montgomery County.

Julie Scharper covers City Hall and Baltimore politics. A native of Baltimore County, she graduated from The Johns Hopkins University in 2001 and spent two years teaching in Honduras before joining The Baltimore Sun. She has followed the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pa., in the year after a schoolhouse massacre, reported on courts and crime in Anne Arundel County, and chronicled the unique personalities and places of Baltimore City and its surrounding counties.
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