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Bill would total death penalty costs

CARSON CITY — Nevada is weighing the cost of the death penalty in a new way.

Proponents of a bill that would calculate the costs of condemning an inmate told a legislative panel on Tuesday that the state’s fiscal crisis makes it an ideal time to understand the true cost of putting a convicted person on death row.

Assembly Bill 501 would require the audit division of the Legislative Counsel Bureau to tally costs for prosecution and post-conviction appeals, as well as incarceration costs and the cost of the execution itself.

Supporters of the bill relied on reports from other states to estimate the possible costs because Nevada has not done such a financial assessment.

No action was taken.

Those who testified before the Assembly Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections used data from the Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit that pools research, such as a 2008 study from the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice.

That report found life sentences without parole cost California taxpayers $11.5 million a year, compared with $137 million per year for those on death row.

Nancy Hart, an attorney with the Nevada Coalition Against the Death Penalty, told lawmakers the cost of pursuing the death penalty for a handful of people is “a small return for the investment of our dollars.”

Hart’s testimony included a 2003 Kansas audit that said capital punishment cases cost 70 percent more than comparable non-capital cases.

Hart said the “cause of public safety may well be better served by diverting these present resources from the death penalty to victim assistance programs and violence prevention programs.”

The Nevada measure would also halt executions until July 1, 2013, while the study is conducted. Prosecutors would be able to seek the death penalty during that time, however.

Opponents told lawmakers the moratorium does not make sense.

Washoe County District Attorney Richard Gammick said Nevadans support the death penalty, and until the law is removed from the books, it should remain in place.

“Doesn’t the jury of the people of this community have a right to sit in judgment of an individual?” he asked.

Gammick added that the death penalty is applied to “the worst of the worst.”

“These are the people who as far as I am concerned have forfeited their right to live in society,” he said.

There are 71 people under an active death sentence in Nevada.

Brett Kandt, executive director of the Advisory Council for Prosecuting Attorneys, also opposed AB501. He said his organization was worried that a moratorium would “negatively impact the safety of the public, even though no executions are imminent.”

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