Opponents: Penalty costly, rarely imposed

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Summary of findings in 2004 report "Washington's Death Penalty System: A Review of the Costs, Length, and Results of Capital Cases in Washington State," by Mark A. Larranaga, director of Washington Death Penalty Assistance Center, and Donna Mustard, legal intern.


Death penalty cases are more complex, more detailed, and procedurally more involved than non-capital cases.

On average, a death penalty trial costs more than double the amount spent on a non-death penalty trial. Under one review, an average death penalty trial from 2000 to 2003 cost $432,000, compared to $153,000 for a non-death penalty trial.

Death penalty trials and appellate review take longer than those for non-death penalty cases. An average non-death penalty trial lasted 15 months, whereas a death penalty trial lasted 20 months. Appellate review for non-death penalty cases lasted an average of two years; death penalty review lasted seven.

Since 1981, the year Washington's current death penalty law was enacted, there have been 31 death sentences imposed. (U-B editor's note: This number includes one defendant whose sentence was reversed because he was a juvenile at the time of his offense.)

Twenty-one (now 22) death sentences have completed their appellate review.

Seventeen (now 18) death sentences (81 percent of completed reviews) have been reversed and none, after remand, have resulted in a sentence of death.

The reversals demonstrate the presence of systemic error leading to the death sentences being reversed rather than a single identifiable factor.

Four resulted in executions; three executed defendants effectively waived their federal appellate review. Only one case resulted in an execution after all review was exhausted, which took 11 years.

Nine (now eight) sentences are still pending review.

Since 2000, death notices and sentences have decreased while the number of reversals for previous death sentences has increased.

After 23 years under the current death penalty statute, we have spent millions of dollars, numerous years, and a significant amount of resources on a system that has netted one involuntary execution, three volunteers executed, and nine men who are still working their way through the appellate system with the likelihood that they, if they do not become volunteers, will end up serving a life sentence --- like most of the persons upon whom the death penalty was originally imposed.

(U-B editor's note: Eight men currently are on death row. The death sentence for the ninth man referred to in Larranaga's report has since been overturned by the state Supreme Court. The man is awaiting retrial on whether he will again be sentenced to death.)

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