The costs and consequences of the death penalty are irreversible.
Legislators and advocates from all sides of the political spectrum agree that the death penalty is a bloated government system that is fiscally irresponsible and fundamental flawed by error and racial bias. It targets the most marginalized, stigmatized, and traumatized people in our society and degrades the integrity of the criminal legal system. Police, prosecutors, murder victim families, and all those affected by the death penalty system agree that it does not work as a deterrent or make society safer.
Scroll down to read more about policy issues on the death penalty.
People of color, especially Black people, are more likely to be prosecuted for capital murder, receive death sentences and be executed. For years, state and nationwide reports have found that a pervasive racial prejudice in the application of the death penalty exists. From evidence of prosecutorial misconduct, discriminatory jury practices, and disproportionate amounts of death sentences given to Black defendants, race plays a central role in capital punishment – it is a statistical reality in this country, one which requires immediate action.
The death penalty is a direct descendent of lynching and slavery. In 2020, Death Penalty Information Center released the foremost report on racial discrimination and the death penalty, Enduring Injustice: Racial Injustice in the U.S. Death Penalty.
The 2015 Baumgartner Report found this pattern of racial bias especially true in Missouri: 81% of individuals executed in Missouri were convicted of killing white victims, even though white victims are less than 40% of all murder victims in the state and 60% of all homicide victims are Black. In Missouri, white women represent 12% of all homicide victims but 37% of victims in execution cases, while Black men represent 52% of all homicide victims but only 12% of victims in cases resulting in an execution. Executions are seven times more likely in cases involving white victims than in cases involving Black victims. And homicides involving white female victims are nearly fourteen times more likely to result in an execution than those involving Black male victims.
The death penalty carries the inherent risk of executing an innocent person. Since 1973, more than 170 people who had been wrongly convicted and sentenced to death in the U.S. have been exonerated. Missouri death row exonerees include: Clarence Richard Dexter. Missouri Conviction: 1991, Charges Dismissed: 1999; Eric Clemmons. Missouri Conviction: 1987, Acquitted: 2000; Joseph Amrine. Missouri Conviction: 1986, Charges Dismissed: 2003; Reginald Griffin. Missouri conviction: 1983, Charges Dismissed: 2013. In these four cases, there is a disturbing pattern of prosecutorial misconduct and false witness testimony.
Missouri has executed innocent people. Larry Griffin was executed on June 21, 1995. Griffin’s execution has been considered one of the top 5 most wrongful executions. He was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1981 shooting murder of Quintin Moss. Griffin maintained his innocence until the end.
To view a complete list of US exonerations, visit The National Registry of Exonerations.
Intellectual Disability and Mental Illness
The death penalty was reinstated by the Supreme Court in the United states in 1976. At the time, this reinstatement was supposed to be reserved for the "worst of the worst". Over time, this error in judgement has resulted in the courts creating exceptions and rules for certain groups who are not culpable enough such as those with Intellectual Disability (IDD), Severe Mental Illness (SMI), and children.
Stigmatization negatively affects people with Intellectual Disabilities (IDD). Stereotyping, a first step in the process of stigmatization, has been insufficiently explored for those with IDD. In the death penalty system, these studies are left up to the state to decide and occur per case, costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars more in litigation. Constitutional protections for people with various forms of mental illness that are not classified as insanity, are minimal and people have been executed despite suffering from Severe Mental Illness (SMI). In 2005, the Supreme Court decided Roper v. Simmons, barring the execution of children because “juvenile offenders cannot with reliability be classified among the worst offenders.” When Roper was decided, 71 people were on death row for juvenile crimes.Two-thirds were people of color, and more than two-thirds of the victims were white.
A recent report from Death Penalty Information Center showcases that defendants of color and who are intellectually disabled are disproportionately likely to be sentenced to death.
Costs of the Death Penalty
The death penalty is a bloated government system that is inefficient and fiscally irresponsible. The idea that the death penalty costs less than life imprisonment is misguided, delays justice for victims, and wastes valuable resources that could save lives and keep our communities safe. Contrary to the assumption that the death penalty is widely practiced across the country, it is actually the domain of a small percentage of U.S. counties in a handful of states that cannot afford it.
The burdens created by this narrow but aggressive use, however, are shifted to the majority of counties that almost never use it. The death penalty diverts resources from genuine crime control measures, and does not add safety to communities. A Kansas cost study pointed out that cases without the death penalty cost an average $740,000, while cases where the death penalty is sought typically cost $1.26 million.
Many states across the country have completed cost studies of the death penalty. Missouri has done a few small and incomplete audits in the past, but the state has not audited it’s death penalty costs with an emphasis on notating that the hidden costs of the death penalty are itemized, ensuring taxpayers are not saddled with the death penalty's extra costs.
Spending money on the death penalty system means:
Reducing the resources available for crime prevention, mental health treatment, education and rehabilitation, meaningful victims’ services, and drug treatment programs.
Diverting it from existing components of the criminal justice system, such as prosecutions of drug crimes, domestic violence, and child abuse.
Emergency services, creating jobs, and police & crime prevention were the three highest rated priorities for use of fiscal resources from a survey of those in law enforcement. Schools/libraries, public health, and roads/transportation also ranked higher than the death penalty.
The greatest costs associated with the death penalty occur prior to and during trial, not in post-conviction proceedings. Even if all post-conviction proceedings (appeals) were abolished, the death penalty would still be more expensive than alternative sentences. Trials in which the prosecutor is seeking a death sentence have two separate and distinct phases: conviction (guilt/innocence) and sentencing. Special motions and extra time for jury selection typically precede such trials. More investigative costs are generally incurred in capital cases, particularly by the prosecution. When death penalty trials result in a verdict less than death or are reversed, taxpayers first incur all the extra costs of capital pretrial and trial proceedings and must then also pay either for the cost of incarcerating a person for life or the costs of a retrial, which often leads to a life sentence.
These costs rarely appear in line items in budgets. Instead these costs are buried in unchecked legal proceedings and hours spent by judges, clerks, prosecutors and other law enforcement agencies. The time it takes for one death penalty case can take up to three weeks just for jury selection, and over one month for a trial. This delays justice for victims, prolonging their exposure to trauma, and creates more victims.
The death penalty takes away valuable resources for crime prevention. There is no reliable evidence showcasing that the death penalty acts as a deterrent to crime, and studies claiming that the death penalty has deterrent effects are fundamentally flawed. States that have abolished the death penalty have lower rates of homicide. Conservatives concerned about the death penalty across the country often lead the movement for death penalty Abolition due to the death penalty being an expensive government program that is ineffective at deterring crime.
Only 2% of counties in the U.S. have been responsible for the majority of cases leading to executions since 1976 and only 2% of counties are responsible for the majority of today’s death row population in the U.S.. Of the 114 counties in the state of Missouri, the majority of death sentences that have led to executions come from just three counties, Jackson, St. Louis County, and St. Louis City where homicide rates in the state continue to rise.
Above all, the death penalty diminishes effective public safety policies. It also distorts elections of those within the criminal legal system such as judges, prosecutors, attorney generals, and governors. A nationwide survey of police chiefs put the death penalty last among their priorities for reducing violent crime—below increasing the number of police officers, reducing drug abuse, and creating a better economy. Surveyed law enforcement officials said they did not believe the death penalty is a deterrent to murder, and they rated it as one of most inefficient uses of taxpayer dollars in fighting crime.
I think that the only purpose for the death penalty, as I see it, is vengeance – pure and simple vengeance. But I think vengeance is a very personal feeling and I don’t think it is something that civilized government should engage in .…
Janet Reno, Former Attorney General of the United States
One of the most important factors in determining whether a defendant will receive the death penalty is the quality of legal representation they are provided. The death penalty is mostly imposed on poor people who cannot afford to hire effective attorneys. In many cases, the appointed attorneys are overworked, underpaid, or lacking the trial experience required for death penalty cases. It is essential that the attorney be experienced in capital cases, be adequately compensated, and have access to the resources needed to fulfill their obligations to their client and the court.
Inadequate defense lawyers contribute to wrongful convictions and death sentences, and by failing to object at trial, or provide mitigation to their clients, they make it harder to correct errors on appeal. After the first appeal, there is no right to counsel.
The impact of the death penalty on families of murder victims is complex. This 2012 study by the Marquette Law Review found that families of victims in Minnesota who had judicial closure more quickly experienced “higher levels of physical, psychological, and behavioral health. ” This was in comparison to a group of survivors in Texas, where “the finality of the appeals process… was drawn out, elusive, delayed, and unpredictable. It generated layers of injustice, powerlessness, and in some instances, despair.”
Homicide victims of color, especially Black homicide victims, have the lowest rate of case clearance by law enforcement.
Those who have practiced execution often develop psychological stress and trauma. In Missouri, persons on death row who are set for execution are transferred to a different corrections facility in order to shield the staff and correctional officers who may have worked with them for decades from the execution process.
"When I found out they had some innocent people on death row that came almost hours before I had to take their life, then I knew we had to change. That would be on me for the rest of my life." - Jerry Givens, the former Executioner for the state of Virginia and Death Penalty Abolition Activist