Brooklyn Judge Urges U.S. to Stop Seeking Death Penalty

A recent order by the Hon. Jack B. Weinstein, Senior Judge of the Federal District Court in Brooklyn and former Adjunct Professor of Law at BLS, describes the high financial costs of a death penalty case in the federal courts. The order dealt with scheduling and jury selection in the case of a defendant charged with capital murder after he had confessed to a grisly double homicide of two fellow drug dealers. Judge Weinstein, after reciting the substantial judicial effort of the case involving 11 separate rulings, stated:

“To date, more than $769,000 has been spent on defense costs alone in this capital case. It is likely that the prosecution has expended an equal amount. Thus, from its inception until today — before trial has even begun — the insistence of the government on a death sentence has cost over $1.5 million. With 500 or more jurors and an extensive two-phase trial taking months, an additional amount equal to what has already been laid out will probably be required. These sums are typical of those expended in other capital cases in this district… Based on the history of the cases tried in metropolitan New York, the chance of Pepin receiving the death penalty is virtually nil.”

An article in today’s New York Sun describes the U.S. Courthouse in Brooklyn as the hub of death penalty prosecutions in the Northeast where other local federal judges have asked the Justice Department to reconsider decisions to seek the death penalty. The requests to the Justice Depart to review pursuing capital punishment are based on the monetary and manpower costs of holding capital trials rather than opposition to capital punishment. Judge Weinstein’s order shows that the monetary and ideological arguments are interwoven when he states:

“From an analysis of other capital cases brought in the Eastern District of New York…the killing of two colleagues over a drug trafficking disagreement [is] not likely to result in a jury verdict of death. Apparently, the only death penalty judgment imposed in New York federal courts in the last fifty years was one where the defendant deliberately killed, under terrible circumstances, two policemen.”

Source: New York Law Journal, Mark Fass, Judge Urges U.S. to Stop Seeking Death Penalty News Briefs dated March 3, 2008