Myth: We shouldn't waste tax dollars keeping murderers alive in prison.

Fact: At least 350 Americans have been wrongly accused of the death penalty this century.


State studies show that it is far more expensive to execute someone than to give them life in prison, due to the lengthy appeals process designed to avoid executing the innocent. Even under the system of appeals, there have been at least 350 cases this century where people were given the death sentence and were later proven clearly innocent. Therefore, the appeals process cannot be shortened without increasing the percentage of innocent people executed.


The death penalty is not cheaper justice than life in prison. Many states have compared the costs, and found that keeping prisoners on death row is far more expensive than putting them away for life. In "The Case Against the Death Penalty," Hugo Adam Bedau writes: Why is capital punishment so much more expensive? To make sure that innocent people aren't executed, capital cases are given a lengthy appeals process. Many Americans are impatient with this perceived delay of justice, and call for it to be drastically shortened. But it is important to realize that even under the current system, a substantial number of innocent people get executed. The Stanford Law Review has published a famous study documenting 350 cases this century where a person sentenced to death was later proven clearly innocent. Seventy-five of those cases occurred recently, between 1970 and 1985. Although not all of them were executed, most spent decades in prison agonizing over their unjust fate. Without question, shortening the appeals process would increase the already high percentage of innocent people executed.

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1. New York State Defenders Association, Capital Losses (1982).

2. U S. Government Accounting Office, Limited Data Available on Costs of Death Sentences (1989), p. 50.

3. Spangenberg and Walsh, Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review (1989), p. 47.

4. Miami Herald, July 10, 1988.