Seeking the death penalty? Better get out the checkbook

Killing people ain’t cheap. Clark County spends an average of $250,000 on each death penalty case it tries, compared to $50,000 for murder cases in which the death penalty is not sought.

That figure, $250,000, doesn’t come from District Attorney David Roger—he was unable to say how much it costs to try death penalty cases. That didn’t impress the county commissioners, who were also disheartened to learn that Clark County has 80 pending death penalty cases (compared to, say, Los Angeles County, which has 33). A month ago, the commissioners told Roger to cut 9 percent from his budget, and he said no.

Can you blame him? I mean, aren’t death penalty trials supposed to be expensive and time-consuming?

Death penalty defendants include the worst of the worst that humanity has to offer, so we should give the district attorney all the resources he needs to assemble his cases and make effective arguments. On the other hand, with a penalty so steep, we must give the public defenders the resources they need do their jobs effectively, because the No. 1 worst thing the Judicial Branch can do is execute the wrong guy.

Sometimes we do just that. The Innocence Project, a nonprofit group that proves the innocence of the wrongly convicted, most of whom are on death row, has already exonerated 268 Americans using DNA testing. Eyewitness testimony is often unreliable, and jurors are prone to biases and whim. So even though the American legal system is the best in the world, it’s far from perfect.

If we’re going to have the death penalty in Nevada, we’ve got to take it seriously. And that means spending some serious time and money on death penalty trials. This is no place to skimp.


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