RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - One of the major developments in this year's legislative session was a significant expansion in the state's death penalty statute. Virginia, which is second only to Texas in the number of criminals it executes, will now have more crimes punishable by death.
Joining us to discuss this expansion, and the costs of capital punishment is Professor Corinna Lain from the University of Richmond's Law School.
Q: Do you think people are surprised by just how expensive it is to execute criminals?
A: Oh, sure, sure. I think most people think you execute them and so you're done quickly. And so I think intuition tells you that would cost less than the life without the possibility of the parole sentence. Actually the exact opposite is true. Capital cases are breathtakingly expensive. They're expensive to investigate, they're expensive to litigate, and they're expensive to effectuate. As far as the investigation, the most recent national study put the costs at about 3 times for a capital case to just investigate the case. Because even where the perpetrator's culpability is clear, the question really comes down to whether this particular individual is the worst of the worst.
Q: And deserves to die?
Q: In many other states, it's a relatively long process. Here in Virginia, we're relatively efficient with it, but it's still very expensive.
A: Yes, exactly. Nationally, I mean, the cases cost more, and Virginia is right in this. They cost more to try the case, to actually litigate the case, and that runs at about 10 to 16 times more just to litigate the case because capital cases are extremely complicated and you have to death qualify the jury. But then even if you get the conviction, if you get the death sentence, nationally it's about 21 times as much to carry out the death penalty.
Q: So now we're talking here in Virginia about the expansion of death penalty, making more crimes punishable. How much more is this going to cost taxpayers?
A: Interestingly enough, the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission has to do an investigation and write a report every time there is new legislation on the death penalty. They did, I took a look at it. They said it will cost nothing, absolutely no more. When I looked at it, I was, very surprised, and the reason was they said, well, we execute people within about six years, and of course, six years is a much shorter period of time than a life sentence, and so what they essentially did was say, look - the beds will be freed up sooner, and that's all they looked at, was a bed; how much money is it going to cost to maintain the bed. They didn't look at the investigation or the litigation, or the appeals process, which is where all the money is spent.
Q: Would you say that we probably won't know the full accounting to this until we actual actually applied this law?
See the video at right for the full interview.