New Study Shows Costs of Colorado’s Death Penalty Far Outweigh Benefits


Authors of a new study analyzing the cost of Colorado’s death penalty concluded, “Our findings are unequivocal: Colorado’s death penalty imposes tremendous costs on taxpayers and its benefits are, at best, speculative, and more likely, illusory.”

University of Denver law professor Justin F. Marceau and Denver attorney Hollis A. Whitson measured the cost of capital punishment in Colorado by court days. They compared the number of days in court and the actual length of time from charges until sentencing in capital prosecutions and in first-degree murder cases with similarly egregious facts. Death-penalty prosecutions require substantially more days in court and take substantially longer to resolve than non-death-prosecuted first-degree murder cases that result in a sentence of life imprisonment without parole, they found.

Published in the University of Denver Criminal Law Review, the study found that life-without-parole cases required an average of 24.5 days of in-court time, while the death-penalty cases required 147.6 days. Selecting a jury in a life-without-parole case takes about a day and a half, compared to 26 days in a capital case. From charge to final sentencing, life cases took an average of 526 days to complete, while death cases took 1902 days – almost four calendar years longer. The study found that even when a death-penalty case ends in a plea agreement and a life sentence, the process takes a year and a half longer than a life-without-parole case with a trial.

The study further found that the costs far outweigh any benefit, because the threat of the death penalty at the charging stage does not save costs by resulting in speedier pleas nor is there reliable evidence of any deterrence benefits of the death penalty.

“In short,” the authors concluded, “by compiling and analyzing original data, we show that Colorado’s death penalty imposes a major cost without yielding any measurable benefits.”