No state has ever done an apples to apples cost review of the death penalty vs life without parole (LWOP).
This is a template for such a cost study.
Previous death penalty cost studies have been incomplete, absurd, deceptive and/or outright fraudulent and everything in between (1).
As a general rule, the prior studies were undertaken as a precursor to asking for death penalty repeal and many chose obvious protocols to increase the cost of the death penalty and/or to decrease the cost of LWOP, as detailed (1).
DEATH PENALTY COSTS VS LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE COSTS STUDY
a) The costs of a maximum death penalty sentence trial, resulting in a death penalty sentence, with pre trial, trial, appellate and incarceration costs, until execution or other death; and
b) Plea Bargains: Only a death penalty option can result in a LWOP plea bargain. Therefore, any LWOP plea bargain costs savings from pre trial, trial and/or appeals accrue as a cost credit on the death penalty side of the ledger;
2) LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE (LWOP) COSTS:
a) Death penalty eligible crimes, with a maximum LWOP sentence trial, resulting in a LWOP sentence, with pre trial, trial, appellate and incarceration costs, until death.
The reason you use death penalty eligible crimes as the standard, is because you are looking at equivalent cases, with two different sentencing protocols. In addition, IF death penalty repeal, all previous death penalty cases will be LWOP cases, depending upon the law at the time of the death penalty crime.
Of course, costs will include geriatric and other medical care.
b) Plea Bargains: Without the death penalty option, it will require more LWOP trials, because
1) Obviously, without the death penalty option, there will be no more pleas to LWOP and
This must be added, as an additional cost, to the LWOP side of the ledger, if one is considering ending the death penalty, as these additional costs will accrue, as a direct result of ending the death penalty.
You can get a reasonable estimate of those costs by counting;
1) all previous death penalty trials, resulting in either death or life;
2) all previous plea bargains to LWOP; and
3) all previous cases taken to a LWOP maximum trial.
All three of those categories of cases, by their prior handling, indicate that life WITH parole is not acceptable and, therefore, they MAY all require LWOP trials, if the death penalty were repealed.
NOTE: The cost benefit of the plea bargain, always goes to the greater sanction, as reviewed, just as it would if comparing costs of life without parole, the greater, to life with parole, the lesser.
3) Policy issues: Death Penalty - Saving Costs
a) Time for appeals:
In the modern death penalty era
Nevada's first 11 executions occurred after about 5 years of appeals, on average. All those cases were, intentionally, left out of Nevada's deceptive death penalty cost review (1).
Virginia's first 111 executions occurred after 7 years of appeals, on average, the last October 1, 2015 after 5 years of full appeals.
Nationally, the first 60 executions occurred after about 5 years of appeals, on average.
From 1984-1988, nationally, the first 5 years of double digit executions, the average time of appeals, prior to execution was 6.6 years (2).
In 1996, the US Congress passed the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, part of which was to speed up death penalty appeals.
In 1996, the average time on death row, prior to execution, was 10 years.
From 2009-2013, nationally, the 5 year average time of appeals, prior to execution, was 15 years (2).
THE JUDICIAL PROBLEM
State and federal legislatures, attorney generals, district attorneys, defense counsel and state and federal judges need to have open meetings to discuss why judges have allowed 1) appeals to take over 16 years, on average, in some years, prior to execution, with 2) a great many cases taking 20, 30 years, and longer, prior to executions, 3) with many death row inmates, still, languishing on death row, for over 12, 20, 30 years, and more.
The judges are the case managers and set the schedules, on a case by case basis, pre trial, at trial and on appeal and are in charge of both timing and costs.
There is no legal nor rational reason that appeals, prior to execution, should take longer than 9 years, on average: 2-3 years at the state supreme court level, 2-3 years at the federal district court level and 2-3 years at the federal circuit court level.
Cases accepted at the US Supreme Court level are, relatively, rare. However, there are issues, which can effect all death penalty cases.
Some judges are responsible for grossly uneven executions, demonstrating dictatorial like contempt for the law in those states where it is impossible, or nearly so, to execute confirmed murderers (3).
b) Execution method:
Put corrections in charge of all execution methods, as corrections are, currently, in charge of implementing all other sanctions.
This will avoid time and money loss with changing the law through the legislature. It becomes a matter of procedural policy, not change in the law, just as most other procedural changes, within corrections. Give broad powers, such as "Any execution methods found constitutional and/or any other method of execution, that is, reasonably, considered to be constitutional."
Nitrogen Gas, for example.
c) Death Row:
A death row is not required. Neither Kansas nor Missouri have one.
THE NULL EFFECT
If prosecutors, defense/appellate counsel, attorney general's offices, judges and corrections all say that they would not be cutting any staff, if considering death penalty repeal, that might suggest that there will be no cost savings in getting rid of the death penalty, a result which occurred in Nebraska, when three legislative fiscal notes, regarding death penalty repeal, showed no cost savings.
1) Read California and Nevada, first
Saving Costs with The Death Penalty
2) Capital Punishment 2012, Bureau of Justice Statistics, NCJ 245789, last revised 11/3/14,
http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/cp12st.pdf, accessed 6/10/15
3) Judges Responsibly for Grossly Uneven Executions