For immediate release: Nov 15, 2010
Posted by: [Attorney General]
Contact: Bryan Corbin
Phone: (317) 233-3970

AG Zoeller: Costs of capital punishment merit hard look by policymakers

Academic study on fiscal considerations of death penalty discussed at Criminal Justice Summit

SOUTH BEND, Ind. - With courts and the criminal justice system facing unprecedented funding burdens during the recession, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said policymakers should take a hard look at the costs and fiscal impact of capital punishment cases in Indiana.

Speaking today at the Criminal Justice Summit at the University of Notre Dame, Zoeller noted that the expenses involved in conducting a lengthy trial in a capital murder case can be exorbitant for a county government, including the costs of death-penalty-qualified defense lawyers, expert witnesses, courthouse security and lodging for sequestered jurors. And the costs to taxpayers continue to accumulate during the appeals process that can take 10 years or more to play out.

Public defenders represent the offender in seeking to overturn the conviction or death sentence in appellate courts, while the Attorney General's Office represents the State in seeking to prevent them from being overturned.

"Each day that the condemned prisoner's case is up on appeal gives some daily purpose to his existence. The years on death row must undoubtedly be filled with anxiety, and hopefully remorse. Meanwhile, the interminable delay prolongs the agony for the victim's family, leaving them in perpetual limbo and sometimes preventing them from completing the grieving process," Zoeller said in his remarks to the summit.

But at a time of shrinking revenues when the judicial branch has little flexibility to cut budgets, Zoeller said legislators and policymakers also should look carefully at cost structures driving the public expense of death penalty cases at the trial level and appellate level.

"So it is time that we in the criminal justice system have a candid conversation about the economic impact of capital punishment in Indiana," Zoeller added. "I don't claim to know the answers; but as state government's lawyer sworn to uphold the laws of Indiana, I hope we can trigger a frank discussion of these questions. We serve the crime victims and our constituents - the taxpayers - best if we confront a problem directly and objectively."

The Indiana Attorney General's Office, which conducts several educational and training events for the legal community each year, organized the Criminal Justice Summit today at the University of Notre Dame.

One panelist, economics professor Dr. Anne Morrison Piehl of Rutgers University, presented her recent academic study on the fiscal considerations of the death penalty in Indiana. She noted that the Indiana Public Defense Fund reimburses 50 percent of the defense costs from the trial phase of capital cases and prioritizes those reimbursements, leaving less funding potentially available to reimburse local costs for non-capital cases. Among her study's suggestions: Indiana could develop stricter limitations on reimbursement for trial expenses -- perhaps by limiting the number or type of expert witnesses or capping their fees - or develop more aggressive audit procedures after the fact.

Other panelists elaborated on death penalty costs and described the procedural safeguards built into the criminal justice system, including Indiana Supreme Court Associate Justice Frank Sullivan, Vanderburgh County Prosecutor Stan Levco, Clark County Prosecutor Steven Stewart, St. Joseph County Prosecutor Michael Dvorak and Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council Executive Director Stephen Johnson.

Also providing perspective were Rick Malone, executive director of the Georgia Prosecuting Attorneys Council, State Senator John Broden, D-South Bend, State Senator Joe Zakas, R-Granger, Notre Dame Law School Professor Stephen Smith and Deputy Attorney General Steve Creason, chief counsel of the AG's Appellate Division.

Approximately 75 people, mainly attorneys and law students, registered for the Criminal Justice Summit. Attorneys receive 6.25 hours of free continuing legal education (CLE).

"Part of my duty as Attorney General is representing the state in criminal appeals and, more broadly, representing the criminal justice system. In that capacity I have the opportunity to bring together some of the best legal minds in our state as a catalyst to discuss approaches to the challenges we face," Zoeller said.

The law education event at the University of Notre Dame continues Tuesday with a Civil Justice Summit that focuses on another topic in the news: the economic, legal and social impacts of mortgage foreclosures in Indiana. Speakers include Zoeller, Deputy Attorney General Gabrielle Owens of the AG's Homeowner Protection Unit, Notre Dame Law School Professor Judith Fox and Valparaiso University Law School Professor Alan White.

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Here is a link to the Executive Summary of Professor Anne Morrison Piehl's study on the financial impact of the death penalty.

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