LAS VEGAS, NV - The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada thanks Dr. Terance Miethe of the Department of Criminal Justice, University of Nevada—Las Vegas, for conducting a study on defense attorney time spent on murder cases in Clark County, and also Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani for having commissioned the study by Dr. Miethe. Dr. Miethe observes that defense costs associated with capital cases are $170,000 to $212,000 higher than in those cases where the death penalty is not sought.

ACLU welcomes the insights provided by Dr. Miethe, but cautions that the information provides only a necessary first step in analysis. It is critically important that the full array of costs associated with the death penalty be examined.

This study, dated Feb. 21 but not obtained by the ACLU of Nevada until April 4, provides an independent reference point for discussions about priorities, staffing, and funding of Clark County District Attorney’s office, and provides some harder numbers in place of estimates given to the Clark County Commission by former District Attorney David Roger in early 2011. However, as concerning as some of these numbers might be—such as the estimate of $20 million to handle 80 pending capital murder cases—the study was based on a survey of only 22 defense attorneys. The study also correctly points out, on page 7, its own substantial limitations: “It is important to note that this statistical extrapolation does not cover the full array of time spent in capital cases by other court officials (e.g. judges, prosecutors, jurors), staff and administrative personnel, mitigation specialists, investigators, and expert witnesses. It also does not take into account the additional costs of capital litigation that are associated with state/federal appeals and the extra costs of imprisonment of death-eligible inmates pending trial and sentencing.”

Thus, Dr. Miethe also states on page 7: “Given these major omissions in the present analysis, a more comprehensive study is required for estimating the overall costs and benefits of capital litigation in this jurisdiction across all groups involved in the criminal processing and adjudication of these cases.”

In the 2011 Nevada Legislature, the commission of a statewide cost study on the death penalty was passed by the Assembly and the Senate, only to be vetoed by Gov. Sandoval, who said he did not think the bill was specific enough to ensure that such a study would be “reliable” and “fair.” This seems to have overlooked the fact that death penalty cost studies have been performed nationwide (Nevada could simply replicate the methodology of the best study[s] performed in other states) and that the state government employs numerous experienced and highly trained accountants, auditors, economists, and attorneys.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada will be back in the 2013 Legislature again advocating for a moratorium on the death penalty in Nevada, which was originally part of the 2011 bill but was amended out, and the kind of comprehensive cost study that now has also been called for by Dr. Miethe.

Additional Resources

Executive Summary for the cost report

- Complete cost report, "Estimates of Time Spent in Capital and Non-Capital Murder Cases: A Statistical Analysis of Survey Data from Clark County Defense Attorneys"