America Is Stuck With the Death Penalty for (At Least) a Generation

With Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, the national fight to abolish capital punishment will have to go local.
When the Supreme Court revived capital punishment in 1976, just four years after de facto abolishing it, the justices effectively took ownership of the American death penalty and all its outcomes. They have spent the decades since then setting its legal and constitutional parameters, supervising its general implementation, sanctioning its use in specific cases, and brushing aside concerns about its many flaws.
That unusual role in the American legal system is about to change. With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the court this summer, the Supreme Court will lose a heterodox jurist whose willingness to cross ideological divides made him the deciding factor in many legal battles. In cases involving the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, his judgment often meant the difference between life and death for hundreds of death-row pr…

Idaho: Eight Death Row Inmates Cost Taxpayers Millions

BOISE – Inside the Old Idaho State Penitentiary, you can tour the state’s former death row.

“The Old Pen executed a total of 10 inmates, one was a federal execution and none of them were state executions,” Meghan Anderson, interpretive specialist for the Old Idaho State Penitentiary, said.

Idaho only hanged one man in their gallows before a Supreme Court decision banned executions in the country.

Raymond Allen Snowden was convicted and sentenced to death for murdering a woman in Garden City in 1956.

“His body didn’t drop with the proper weight, so he ended up having to strangle, and it took him about 15 minutes to die,” Anderson said.

Snowden only sat in his cell for about a year before his execution in 1957, a stark contrast to the amount of time Idaho’s eight remaining death row inmates have been awaiting their executions.

“The average length of time between a sentence and an execution is about 16 years,” College of Western Idaho criminal justice professor Stephanie Breach said. “However, there are some states that execute a lot more quickly, so they throw the numbers off.”

In Idaho, the last two executed inmates waited on death row for about 30 years each.

Richard Albert Leavitt was executed in 2012.

Leavitt is one of only three to be executed in the state since the death penalty was officially reinstated in 1976. In comparison, in the time Idaho has put three people to death, Texas has executed more than 500.

“Since they are doing executions a lot, some of the research shows that they are equipped to continually be doing executions,” Breach said.

Keeping inmates on death row is more expensive than letting them serve out a life sentence.

“It’s 44 times more for the appeals on a death penalty case versus a life in prison case,” Breach said.

Taxpayers are footing the bill.

“Some studies show that, on average, it costs $3 million for a death penalty case from the time that the case starts until the time of execution,” Breach said.

Nationwide, that adds up to $25 billion in taxpayer money spent on death row cases since 1976.

Breach said that number does not include the court costs of those who die in prison before their execution.

“We’re paying those costs,” Breach said. “Our taxes are paying the appeals. We’re paying the corrections budget. … It’s very expensive.”

Source: East Idaho News, KIVI (CNN), Marissa Morrison, May 5, 2017

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