Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley argues capital cases cost three times as much as homicide cases where the death penalty is not sought, says the New York Times. “And we can't afford that,” he said, “when there are better and cheaper ways to reduce crime.” Legislators in Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, and New Hampshire have made the same argument in recent months as they try to repeal the death penalty. Experts say such bills have a good chance of passing in Maryland, Montana, and New Mexico.
Efforts to repeal the death penalty are part of a broader trend in which states are trying to cut the costs of being tough on crime. Virginia and at least four other states, for example, are considering cutting nonviolent offenders’ sentences to reduce costs. The economic realities have forced longtime supporters of the death penalty, like Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, to rethink their positions. Richardson has said he may sign a bill repealing capital punishment that passed the House last week and is pending in a Senate committee. Kent Scheidegger of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which works on behalf of crime victims, called the anticipated savings a mirage. He said that with the death penalty, prosecutors can more easily offer life sentences in a plea bargain and avoid trial costs.