Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Reaching Abolition Through County Strategy

Want to do more to abolish the death penalty in PA? Take this opportunity to
Spring into Action through our new County Level strategy!
County strategy – Most of the cost of the death penalty is borne by Pennsylvania's counties, not the state, yet most county commissioners and almost all county residents have no idea how much more expensive a capital trial is compared to a trial where the maximum possible sentence is life without parole or a sentence of years. I’m asking that each of you contact your county commissioners and ask some tough questions about the cost of capital trials. If there is a current case where the District Attorney is considering seeking the death penalty or has already announced that he or she will seek the death penalty, please ask for the cost estimate for that case.

Last summer, I contacted one of the commissioners for York County. He had no idea of how much more a death penalty trial costs as opposed to one where death is not being sought. He also had no idea of how I might find out. He suggested that I look at the county’s budget. I did. Of course, those costs are not captured separately. The way the process works here is that when the court needs funding, a request is sent to the commissioners who then approve it without questioning it.

I went to the District Attorney’s Office and asked about the cost differences. I got the typical answer that since all of the staff are paid a salary and not by the hour or day, it doesn’t cost any more to put on a death penalty prosecution than it would to put on a prosecution where the maximum sentence is not death. This is patently untrue. Even if we are unable to capture the dollar amount, there is still an opportunity cost. What other cases might be prosecuted without the long delays that are delaying justice?

It will help us to abolish the death penalty if residents of many counties asked the same question of the district attorneys. While you may not receive a straight forward answer, your inquiry sends a clear message that residents are watching and are concerned about how their tax dollars are being spent.

Your experiences, whether they include attending a capital trial or a portion of it, meeting with county commissioners, District Attorneys, and the Chief Public Defender, would all make for powerful letters to the editor, blogs, facebook posts, tweets and more. If you’d like help with composing your letters or blogs, or social media messages, please let me know at

Last, but certainly not least, if you are able, please attend court proceedings of capital cases. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania often conducts these cases as quickly and cheaply as possible. For example, I attended one trial where jury selection began on Monday and the defendant was sentenced to death on Friday afternoon.

Check back here soon for observation tips and a form that will make sharing your insights with the PADP office even easier. give you tips on observing and writing what you see and hear.

Thanks again for all that you do.


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