Over at Sentencing Law and Policy, Doug Berman has an interesting analysis of the effects of aggressively deploying the federal death penalty in Buffalo, New York. Berman’s analysis discusses a news story that begins in the following way:
It’s hard to find a federal prosecutor anywhere in the nation who has filed as many potential death penalty cases as William J. Hochul Jr., the U.S. attorney for Western New York.
So far, none of those cases has led to an execution.
But they have cost taxpayers a bundle of money — more than $661,000 in the past year.
Berman argues, contrary to some of those quoted in the article, that these prosecutions are a sound use of taxpayer money. Here’s a taste, but as they say, read the whole thing:
If and whenever a capital prosecution prompts a murderer to plead guilty, the cost savings from avoiding a full-blown federal trial and appeals are significant and save many times more than gets spent at the outset of a federal capital prosecution. (Though federal capital trials surely cost millions more than non-capital trials, a full-blown non-capital trial in just one big federal criminal case is likely to cost much more than the $661,000 figure being stressed here.)
In addition, it is important to keep in mind that USA William Hochul’s decision to seek a federal capital prosecution in these 24 cases results in the defendants receiving a “Cadillac” defense which should help ensure (1) there is no wrongful prosecution/conviction of an innocent defendant, (2) that prosecutors do not engage in any misconduct, and (3) that all relevant mitigating evidence is discovered as early as possible. In other words, the extra money being spent on defense costs because of USA Hochul’s capital charging decisions likely benefit not only defendants, but also the entire federal criminal justice system, in lots of ways. Defendants receiving a great defense from the very outset of their prosecution are far less likely to be wrongfully convicted or over-punished, which can and should save significant federal resources in the long-run.