Defense Costs Emerging As Key Death Penalty Issue


Georgia Judge Hilton Fuller Jr.’s delay of the capital murder trial of Brian Nichols, accused of killing a judge and three others, revolves around an issue more states are being forced to confront – the rising cost of an adequate defense in death-penalty cases, says the New York Times. Experts predict that the cost issue will have far broader implications for the future of the death penalty than will the current controversy over lethal injections.

States unwilling to pay the huge costs of defending people charged in capital cases may be unable to conduct executions. For Brian Nichols, the costs have already reached $1.2 million. Last month, the New Mexico Supreme Court suspended the case of two prison inmates accused of killing a guard, saying their lawyers' pay was so low it was unlikely they could be effective. In Utah, a judge asked if he can force a lawyer to represent a convicted killer on appeal because, at fees amounting to less than $10 an hour, no one wants the job. In California, a federal judge complained that death row inmates were waiting more than three years to get a lawyer because the state would not raise the hourly rate. Arizona, Texas and Louisiana are having similar troubles.


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