Death Penalty in Nevada

Few issues raise the passion of people as much as a discussion of capital punishment. The pro-death penalty crowd starts its argument from a moral base, often quoting the Bible as their source.

The anti-death penalty crowd has always attempted to counter the arguments with – wait for it – quotes from the Bible.

Now, a recently released study may be the pivot on which all future discussions turn – the economics of capital punishment. 


The criminal justice system in Nevada has found that it is almost twice as expensive to handle death penalty cases when compared with murder cases where the ultimate penalty isn’t sought.

A mandated state study that reviewed data from over 25 agencies gives added ammunition to anti-death penalty groups who have found arguing a moral point to be ineffective. 

From a suspect’s arrest through their final days in prison, state officials spend over $1.2 million on murder trials where criminals are condemned to death, but not executed. That’s roughly $530,000 more when compared to murder cases with capital punishment wasn’t sought. 

It may be counter-intuitive that death penalty cases are more expensive, but litigation costs, including the trial and appeals averaged about three times higher for death penalty cases than it did in non-death penalty cases. 

Among all Nevada prison inmates, convicted of murder, the costs are higher for people on death row. 

There are 83 people sentenced to die in Nevada. Prosecutors could have saved an estimated $43 million by not pursuing capital punishment in the first place. 

"The question is whether having that system is worth that kind of money," said Nichols Wooldridge, a criminal defense attorney in Las Vegas.


Death Penalty Rate


Nevada’s death penalty rate, per capita, ranks fourth in the nation and beats Texas and California. But the state’s death chamber is hardly used, and only twelve people have been executed since the US Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. 

Of those, only one person died against his will. 

The last execution in the state occurred over eight years ago. 

Opponents Hopeful

Death penalty opponents in the state are hoping the findings will mean fewer death penalty cases in the state. 

The study’s findings are in line with previous research which examined the economic burden of capital murder cases. That research, released by the Kansas Judicial Council found that defending a death penalty cases costs as much as four times than other murder cases. 

Death penalty opponents hope that Nevada’s study will boost efforts to minimize support for capital punishment. 

"Many people who favor the death penalty believe it is cheaper," said Wooldridge. "Once people understand and they informed, maybe things will change." 

New Death Chamber

Even though Nevada doesn’t have any executions in the immediate future, it still pushed to complete a new death room at Ely State Prison in TK. 

Less than a week after Governor Brian Sandoval signed a capital improvement bill the Public Works Board published an announcement seeking preliminary qualifications statements from potential contractors. 

State lawmakers who had rejected funding for a new execution chamber in 2013 approved the cost this year despite significant reservations about the cost and lingering uncertainty over the death penalty. 

Contained in the bill Sandoval signed is $850,000 to remodel a prison admin building. 

Once executions are scheduled, state officials with the Nevada Department of Corrections plan to use midazolam, the same drug used in Oklahoma executions. 

Death penalty opponents in the state spoke out and said that usage of the potion will generate claims after extremely publicized cases of executions that were botched. 

Three death row inmates in Oklahoma sued after the state initially adopted midazolam last year when executing Clayton Lockett.

Witnesses to Lockett’s death reported that the inmate contorted, heaved and groaned. Prison administrators were horrified and tried to stop the execution procedure.  Lockett died 43 minutes later. 

Midazolam is an anti-anxiety drug meant to place prisoners in a coma before hydromorphone, which will cause death, is administered. 

The drug’s critics argue that it does not guarantee unconsciousness to evade pain from the follow-up drugs. 

Supreme Court Ruling

In a 5-4 decision, the US Supreme Court said using midazolam does not violate constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment. The court also noted that midazolam had previously been used in twelve cases without complications.

 Last Execution

 The last killing in Nevada was in 2006 at the since closed Nevada State Prison in Carson City.

 Daryl Mack’s execution was completed with a combination of pentobarbital, pancuronium bromide, and potassium chloride.

Nevada and additional jurisdictions have been scrambling to find options after death penalty antagonists convinced producers not to sell the drugs for executions. 

About 80 individuals are on Nevada’s death row. 

By the Numbers 

·         Number defendants sentenced to die: 131

·         Inmates permanently removed from death row because of legal action: 25

·         Death row inmates died from natural causes: 11

·         Death row inmates died from suicide: 2

About Face

Donald Heller, who wrote California’s death penalty law, is now advocating for replacing the death penalty with a sentence of life without parole. Heller says now that the law did not have the intended result. 

"At the time, I was under the impression that it would do swift justice, that it would get the murderers through the system quickly and apply the death penalty," Heller said. 

Now Heller says," The cost of our system of capital punishment is so enormous that any benefit that could be obtained is so dollar wasteful that it serves no effective purpose."

Truscott’s conviction was overturned in 2007.

This article was contributed by New York-based criminal attorney Arkady Bukh, a frequent media contributor and published author.  Mr. Bukh served as defense counsel for Azamat Tazhayakov of Boston Bomber Marathon case. 

It has been published here without edit or change as provided by Arkady Bukh, 14 Wall St, New York NY 10005, (212) 729-1632.