The Jodi Arias trial is a masterpiece of courtroom manipulation that has cost the state of Arizona well over $1.7 million so far. The question is whether states can even afford to have the death penalty option. Should the state provide a millionaire’s defense or should the death penalty be eliminated? It turns out that only high profile death penalty cases cost anywhere near $1.4 million, but Arizona is not the only state that is questioning whether having a death penalty is worth it. A May 10 Omaha.com article questioned the costs of holding death penalty trials saying, “Capital punishment cases in Nebraska are appealed nearly five times more and take more than twice as long to litigate as cases in which life in prison is the maximum sentence.”
North Carolina has a declining number of death penalty verdicts according to a Feb.13 study (PDF). The study found the highest costs were $64,000 and expert fees were about $5,000 if high profile cases are excluded. Three factors that lowered costs were requiring defense counsel to set trial budgets, lowering hourly rates in capital cases and setting pre-trial spending limits. The report said,
“The average cost of defending cases that are proceeding capitally is four times higher than the average cost of defending cases where the maximum possible punishment is life imprisonment without parole.”
A 2010 study by Indiana’s Legislative Services Agency confirmed that death penalty trials cost many times more than cases where the verdict could be life without parole. In six capital cases, the average cost was $449,887. Life without parole cases cost an average of $42,658, according to a November 12, 2012 WSBT News article.
The U.S. will see more high profile death penalty cases than ever before. The costs for trying Boston bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will make Arias trial costs pale in comparison. This is mostly because of heightened security and battles between the government and the defense for access to evidence. Ariel Castro will generate a very emotional climate as Cleveland’s next high profile case. Crowd control and security will be major issues.
Arias is a high profile convicted murderer because she is a woman and juries have been reluctant to put women on death row. That may change as more women are proving to be capable of committing crimes in cruel, heinous or depraved ways. Along with premeditation, those are the aggravating factors that mean the difference between a death sentence or life in prison.
After an Arizona jury found her guilty of first degree murder with premeditation, Arias pulled the stunt of the century. She prearranged an interview with a local television station before she knew the verdict. She held the interview minutes after hearing the verdict. In that interview, she repeated a threat she has made many times before: to commit suicide. She said she welcomed the death penalty and circled around the issue with mention of “death as the ultimate freedom.” The defense seized on that opportunity and had her moved to the Pima County jail’s psychiatric unit, where she remains on suicide watch. Of course, court was delayed until next Wednesday.
During the trial, the defense pulled every trick in the book to keep witnesses on the stand for days longer than necessary. Defense attorneys were allowed to repeat questions that had been asked several times before. Every mistrial motion, sidebar, court-ending migraine headache and delay made taxpayers wince after they were told the trial surpassed the $1.4 million mark.
Many blame the judge for allowing the defense to take over her court. Others wanted to see extreme caution in a death penalty trial. Still more people resent the sexism of treating a woman with far more care and caution than a man would get under the same circumstances. The defense tactics rightfully exploit every opportunity to keep their client off of death row, including a motion to prevent the public from knowing about the costs of the trial.
The next phase of Arias’s trial will be the aggravation phase where cruelty will be questioned in a “mini trial”. If the jury finds that she killed victim Travis Alexander in a cruel manner, the jurors can sentence her to life in prison or death.