The tough economy has resulted in budget cuts at all levels of government. Officials in Hinds County are feeling the pinch. Apparently, the budget in Hinds County is so tight that the State can’t afford to seek the death penalty. According to this article in The Clarion-Ledger:
Former Jackson radio icon John Friskillo was beaten in a home invasion robbery and died three months later of injuries he received in the attack.
Tougaloo College students Antoine Reece and Justin Howard were shot to death in their apartment on April 24, 2007. Reece’s Jaguar was stolen, and the suspect fled to Miami.
The Hinds County district attorney’s office had been considering the death penalty against the suspects in the two unrelated cases but now says, because of budget issues and other factors, seeking capital punishment in case of a conviction is now off the table.
“We won’t be doing as many of those (death-penalty cases),” District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith said.
Hinds County cut about 70 jobs, delayed the opening of a jail expansion, denied departments’ requests for new equipment, scaled back on contracted services such as janitors, and left less than $179,000 in reserve for the budget year that began Oct. 1.
The cuts were necessary because the proposed revenue of $56.3 million for fiscal 2010 was outweighed by estimated expenses of $57.2 million, officials said.
Death penalty cases are more expensive than others. When there is a death-penalty case, the jury is sequestered in a hotel and provided meals during the duration of a trial.
Longtime Hinds County Circuit Clerk Barbara Dunn estimates the cost at more than $15,000 for a death-penalty trial, depending on factors such hotel and meal costs. The cost of a non-death penalty case would be significantly lower, she said.
Another additional cost is the use of expert witnesses.
Brothers Joshua and Zachary Mott are charged in the Friskillo case, and Shawn States is charged in the killings of the Tougaloo students.
Earlier this year, the Hinds County public defender’s office filed motions to have taxpayers pay up to $39,000 each for an expert to explain why Joshua Mott and Shawn States shouldn’t receive the death penalty if convicted.
A mitigation expert assists attorneys in gathering evidence of a death penalty defendant’s life history – and presents that evidence during the sentencing phase. With the death penalty no longer under consideration, a mitigation expert wouldn’t be needed.
Death penalty cases are expensive. Jury expenses and expert witnesses for the State are quite costly. On top of that, most defendants in death penalty cases are indigent. That means the State must pay for the defendant’s attorney’s fees, investigator fees and expert witness fees. Add it all up, and the cost of seeking the death penalty is astronomical.
Many prosecutors charge full steam ahead in capital cases, with no regard for whether the county can afford to do it “right.” When the government cannot afford to provide the defendant the resources to which he is entitled under the Constitution, the defendant ends up with a shoddy defense. Further, if the defendant is convicted, the conviction will likely be reversed and the process must start over.
Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith should be applauded for his position on this issue. He recognizes that the County does not have the funds to seek the death penalty in capital cases, and still comply with the constitutional requirements for doing so.
I doubt the public will agree with Mr. Smith’s decision. However, from my point of view, Mr. Smith is acting in a professional, ethical and responsible manner. Hopefully, he won’t take too much heat from the public on this one.