Georgia’s Hall County is encountering the high costs of seeking the death penalty as they prosecute their first capital case in nine years. The county expects the death penalty trial to cost at least four times as much as a regular murder trial. Capital trials are by far the most expensive criminal proceeding that takes place in local superior courts. Estimates put the cost for jurors and bailiffs alone at more than seven times the normal cost for a murder trial without seeking the death penalty, averaging at least $40,000 more for just jury and bailiff pay. The estimated increase does not include additional attorney and expert fees, overtime pay for courtroom deputies, increased postage costs for a questionnaire that was mailed to 500 prospective jurors, or the cost of transportation and lodging for witnesses. Henry County District Attorney Tommy Floyd, Chairman of the Prosecuting Attorney’s Council of Georgia, said of the costs of capital prosecution, “I have heard from other district attorneys in other parts of the state who had pressure with people telling them, ‘you’re going to [financially] break us.’” A University of North Carolina study estimated a cost increase of almost $200,000 for the judge, jury, and attorneys for one capital case compared to a standard murder trial.
County commissioners in Georgia’s Dawson County were faced with the prospect of raising taxes to pay for three death penalty trials for a 1991 murder. Mike Mears, a former director of the Georgia Multi-County Public Defender, remarked, “There was a discussion of actually raising the millage rate to pay for the trials.” Mears added, “I think eventually that’s something that the death penalty’s proponents and opponents could agree on--it’s just too darn expensive.” District Attorney Floyd said that the top priority for the District Attorney’s Association of Georgia will be to push legislation that would permit prosecutors to seek life without parole without needing to seek the death penalty. A similar bill stalled in the Senate this year. Floyd said the bill "would probably reduce the number of murder cases where the death penalty is sought.” Except for certain repeat offenders, the only way under Georgia law for life without parole to be an option is to seek the death penalty.
(S. Gurr, “The high cost of death,” Gainesville Times, August 10, 2008)