Nevada audit: Seeking death penalty adds costs
LAS VEGAS — Nevada auditors say a murder case in which a defendant is sentenced to die but not executed costs about $1.3 million, or about $532,000 more than a case in which prosecutors don’t seek capital punishment in the first place.
The finding came in a report commissioned by the Legislature in 2013 and released Tuesday by the Legislative Counsel Bureau’s Audit Division. It was based on an analysis of 28 cases in Washoe and Clark counties that began between 2000 and 2012.
Auditors said most of the additional costs come from the increased rigor of death penalty trials, which require two public defenders for indigent clients, more experienced lawyers and an automatic appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court.
Cases in which a defendant is sentenced to death and executed cost about $1 million — lower than the cost of a defendant who dies naturally while incarcerated because the costs of housing the prisoner are reduced. A case in which prosecutors seek the death penalty, but the sentence is not imposed, cost $1.2 million.
Executions remain rare in Nevada. Department of Corrections officials say there are 81 inmates on Nevada’s death row. But the state hasn’t executed a prisoner since 2006, and it has only carried out 12 executions since 1977.
The audit comes after state legislators passed a bill in 2013 mandating a study of capital punishment. Gov. Brian Sandoval had vetoed a similar bill in 2011, but he signed the 2013 version after saying it addressed concerns he had with the original proposal.
“I think this will be an objective review of the death penalty in Nevada,” Sandoval told reporters at the time.
Backers of the study noted that condemned inmates typically remain on death row for decades as countless appeals wind through the courts. Most die in prison or are executed only when they volunteer for lethal injection.
Some lawmakers opposed the study at the time, saying it was a veiled attempt to get rid of the death penalty.
“I feel that a study is not going to look realistically about cost savings,” Republican Sen. James Settlemeyer said in 2013. He added that if saving money was the true intent, it should include an analysis of “limiting rights of appeals … which could change those numbers.”