Should the Cost of a Criminal Sentence Matter?

October 28, 2010

A Connecticut judge has refused to admit evidence regarding the comparative cost to the state of life imprisonment versus the death penalty. The decision came prior to the penalty phase of the trial of Steven Hayes, the first of two individuals scheduled to be tried for a much-publicized 2007 multiple murder. According to reports of the decision, the judge surveyed other cases on the issue and concluded that:

“The courts have unanimously ruled that economic arguments along these lines are inadmissible regardless of whether they are made by prosecutors or defense counsel.”

To view some of the cases the judge likely considered, try the following searches. An All State & Federal search on WestlawNext for: evidence of the cost of incarceration versus the cost of a death sentenceshould get you in the ballpark, as should the following search in the ALLCASES database on Westlaw.com: (sentenc! penalty /3 phase) jury juror mitigat! /s consider! hear! eviden! factor! /s cost dollar money /s (death /3 penalty sentenc!) execut! /s incarcerat! imprison! prison!.

Interestingly, there is now at least one state that allows judges to take the cost of particular sentences into account. As noted here and here, the Missouri Sentencing Advisory Commission recently approved the use of cost as a factor in criminal sentences.

Submitted by
Todd D.
West Reference Attorney