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The Cost of the Death Penalty in Maryland

Key Findings

“The Cost of the Death Penalty in Maryland” was commissioned by The Abell Foundation from researchers at The Urban Institute, a national, nonpartisan economic and social policy research organization. The report analyzed 1,136 Maryland capital murder cases adjudicated between 1978 and 1999 and developed an estimate of how much more was spent on those cases compared to non-death penalty cases. The report covers only cases in which the murder occurred before January 1, 2000.

What the study found:

  • The death penalty has cost Maryland at least $186 million. This is state spending over and above what Maryland would have spent had there been no death penalty.

  • The cost of a single death sentence in Maryland is approximately three times higher – or $1.9 million more – than the costs of a comparable non-death penalty case, even taking into account the costs of long-term incarceration.

  • The cost for prosecutors to seek but not get a death sentence is $670,000 more ($1.8 million total) for a single case than for a comparable non-death case – for the same outcome of a life or long-term prison sentence.

  • When the death penalty is imposed, the court costs alone jump to almost seven times higher ($1.7 million compared to $250,000).

  • Data not included in the study’s analysis include more than 20 death-noticed cases and three additional death sentences, all since 2000, and cases that resulted in an acquittal or that were not ultimately prosecuted. These cases would only increase the cost to taxpayers beyond the $186 million reported here

What the study means for Maryland taxpayers:

  • Marylanders have paid for five executions at a price tag of $186 million. That means each of the state’s five executions since 1978 has cost the state at least $37.2 million.

  • The 106 cases in which a death sentence was sought but not handed down cost the state an additional $71 million. That $71 million in costs incurred simply to seek the death penalty where the ultimate outcome was a life or long-term prison sentence.

  • Prosecutors chose to seek the death penalty in 162 cases from 1978-1999, and succeeded in securing a death sentence in about a third of them – 56 cases. The vast majority of these death sentences were ultimately reversed, meaning that Maryland’s death penalty system is, in effect, a drawn-out, expensive path to life or life without parole sentences.

The study includes the following data from Maryland:

  • Between 1978 and 1999, prosecutors filed a death notice, meaning they would seek the death penalty, in 162 cases.

  • Of those 162 death notices, juries or judges imposed a death sentence in 56 cases, although the vast majority of these sentences were ultimately reversed.

  • In the other 106 cases, the death penalty was sought but not imposed.

  • Five men have been executed in Maryland since 1978.

  • Five men are currently sentenced to death in Maryland.

Read the full report at