Oregon’s Death Penalty:
A Cost Analysis
The primary goal of this study was to estimate the economic costs associated with aggravated murder cases that result in death sentences and compare those costs to other aggravated murder cases, the majority of which resulted in some form of a life sentence, in the state of Oregon. Importantly, Oregon law does not require the prosecution to file a formal notice indicating whether or not the state will seek the death penalty in aggravated murder cases. Therefore, all aggravated murder cases are treated as death penalty cases, likely inflating the average cost of aggravated murder cases that do not result in a death sentence. In order to provide a bit more context, we include costs for non‑aggravated cases where defendants were charged with a lesser charge of murder, in categories where data were both available and reliable. The following are the main findings from the study, presented by total (includes all cost categories), then by individual cost category.
The information contained within this research report reflects a thorough analysis of data collected from hundreds of aggravated murder and murder cases over 13 years in Oregon, from 2000 through 2013. We also examined the appeals process of aggravated murder cases that resulted in death sentences between 1984 until 2000. The economic findings below are limited because no cost data were available or provided by district attorneys or the courts. We were able to get cost‐‑related information from local jails (costs associated with incarceration during trial), Department of Corrections (DOC) (incarceration costs), Office of Public Defense Services (OPDS) (trial, appeals, and all stages of post‐‑conviction costs), and the Department of Justice (DOJ) (Oregon’s Attorney General’s Office) (costs related to appeals and all stages of post-‐‑conviction). Although these categories make up a great deal of the overall costs related to aggravated murder cases, they only represent a portion of the total costs for pursuing the death penalty in Oregon. We approached all data and cost estimations from a conservative standpoint, meaning the costs are intentionally underestimated.
- Main Findings
We provide economic cost findings by case category and cost subcategory. Because of the complex nature of aggravated murder cases — for example, that some death penalty cases had original death sentences reversed and resentenced as true life/life without the possibility of parole (LWOP) — we provide two separate sets of analyses based on each main case category. First, we provide findings based on whether the case was designated as a death penalty case, meaning there was a conviction and original sentence of death, but in some cases, that initial sentence was reversed. Those findings are marked “A” below. Second, we provide an analysis based on final (to-‐‑date) case categories. Those findings are marked “B” below. Cost subcategories include jail costs, OPDS costs, DOC costs, and DOJ costs. For both, we compare the death penalty cases to death-‐‑eligible but not sentenced to death cases, most of which resulted in true life/LWOP sentences. Similar to the non-‐‑enumerated analyses above, where appropriate (only jail and OPDS costs could be reliably calculated) we bring in non-‐‑aggravated murder as an additional point of comparison.i With that context in mind, here are our main findings:
- The average cost difference between aggravated murder cases that
(A) begin or
(B) result in the death penalty,compared to those aggravated murder cases that result in either true life/LWOP, ordinary life, or shorter sentences is (not including DOC costs):
A= $802,106 (3.55);
B= $1,056,093 (4.16).
- The average cost difference including DOC costs:
A= $918,896 (1.69);
B= $887,385 (1.53).
- The average cost of pursuing the Death Penalty has increased significantly over the last few decades. This continuing trend can be seen in Chart 2, below.
- A total of 62 individuals have been convicted and sentenced to death in Oregon since 1984.Twenty-eight of those individuals are no longer on death row.Of those 28 cases, just two cases have resulted in death (both individuals dropped their appeals and “volunteered” to be executed), four people died of natural causes while in prison, and 22 people, or roughly 79%, have had their sentences reduced.One person had his case dismissed on direct appeal and another person pled to manslaughter—both were released. The remaining 20 people had their sentences changed from death to either true life/LWOP or ordinary life.
(Note: above, ratios are presented in parentheses; in Table 1.e below, A= Original Death Sentence, B= Current Sentence Status)
(i The prosecution and courts could not produce any reliable per‑case cost estimates. For all adjustments, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Main Economic Indicators (complete database, base year 2010, Consumer Price Index – Total All Items for the United States) were used to adjust nominal values into 2010 dollars. The findings are then presented in real 2016 dollars.
Table 1.e. Total Average Differences by Cost Category and Case Category, in 2016 Dollars.
w/o DOC Costs
Agg Mur 313 $315,159 DP 61 $1,117,265 $802,106* 3.55 Set A.
with DOC Costs
Agg Mur 313 $1,354,883 DP 61 $2,273,779 $918,896* 1.68 Set B.
w/o DOC Costs
Life 219 $334,522 DP 41 $1,390,616 $1,056,093* 4.16 Set B.
with DOC Costs
Life DP 219
Note: Case Category: Set 1 = all death penalty designated cases; Set 2 = current sentence death penalty compared to life sentences. *p< .001 (t-‐‑tests for set 1 and F, ANOVA for set 2).
B. Death Penalty Post-Conviction Findings
Since 1984, when Oregon reinstated the death penalty, juries have sentenced 62 people to death. Of the 62 sentenced, 34 (54.84%) people remain on death row today and their cases are still active and at some stage in the appeals process. Of the remaining 28, two people were put to death after voluntarily dropping their appeals and four people have died in prison of natural causes. One person had his case dismissed on direct appeal and was released from prison, and another person, after multiple appeals pled to manslaughter and was released after serving his sentence. The remaining 20 people had their sentences changed from death to either true life/LWOP or ordinary life. For all of the effort to pursue death, so far just two out of 62 death cases have concluded with an execution.
Table 2.e. Death Penalty Post-‐‑
Conviction Details (n=62).
n % total w/in group%
DP since 1984 62 100
Still in Process 34 54.84
Total Completed 28 45.16
Death (vol) 2 3.23 7.14
Death (nat) 4 6.45 23.04
Off Death Row 22 35.48 78.57
Notes: “Completed” means that the case has come to a conclusion: “vol” = voluntary “nat” = natural causes.
C. Additional Findings
The vast majority of aggravated murder cases, whether death penalty or non-‐‑death penalty, are complicated and time-‐‑consuming cases. Death penalty cases, however, outpaced all others in the average number of hearings and defense and prosecution court filings. We include the following analysis to shed light on these complexities. Additionally, because we had reliable data for a sample of non-‐‑aggravated murder cases, we include averages here to provide an additional point of comparison.
- Average number of hearings: Aggravated Murder Death Penalty= 20.93, Aggravated Murder non‑Death= 9.79, Average Difference= 11.14 (ratio= 2.138).
- Non-aggravated Murder= 8.13; Average Difference when compared to Aggravated Murder Death Penalty = 12.8 (ratio= 2.574), and when compared to Aggravated Murder non-‐‑Death= 1.66 (ratio= 1.204).
- Average number of defense court filings: Aggravated Murder Death Penalty= 39.21, Aggravated Murder non-‐‑Death= 19.58, Average Difference= 19.63 (ratio= 2.003).
- Non-aggravated Murder= 5.63; Average Difference when compared to Aggravated Murder Death Penalty= 33.58 (ratio= 6.964), when compared to Aggravated Murder non-‐‑Death= 13.95 (ratio= 3.478).
- Average number of prosecution court filings: Aggravated Murder Death Penalty= 25, Aggravated Murder non-‐‑Death= 10.31, Average Difference= 14.69 (ratio= 2.425).
- Non-aggravated Murder= 3.2; Average Difference when compared to Aggravated Murder Death Penalty= 21.8 (ratio= 7.813), when compared to Aggravated Murder non-‐‑Death= 7.11 (ratio= 3.222).
D. Geographic Analysis for Sample Cases
Table 3.e., below, provides a breakdown of the geographic location of the original sentence and current sentence or outcome, in total, of the cases included in this study (N = 374). The majority of the cases are concentrated in six counties, beginning with Multnomah, followed by Clackamas, and then Washington, Lane, Marion, and Umatilla counties.
Table 3.e. Database Case Frequency (f),
by County and Sentence Outcome (B) (N = 374).
Other Total f (%) **Multnomah
Total 36 (54) 182 88 307 (82.1)
Notes: *Under Death Column, numbers in (parenthesis) are counts of original death sentences. The following counties had fewer than 9 cases (both AggM and DP, respectively) and were not included above: Klamath (7,1); Benton (6); Clatsop (6); Jackson (6); Josephine (5); Curry (3,1); Polk (3,1); Yamhill (3,1); Columbia (2,1); Grant (3); Lincoln (2,1); Malheur (3); Tillamook (3); Harney (2); Union (2); Wasco (1,1); Baker (1); Crook (1); Hood River (1); Total in notes: Death: 5, Life: 37, Other: 25, Total = 67 (17.9%), 307 (82.1%), 374 total (313 agg murder; 61original DP). **Multnomah also contains one acquittal case, not counted in the columns, but counted in the row total.