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AG holds first criminal justice summit on death penalty costs

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In what was the first of its kind in Indiana, the state Attorney General’s Office held a criminal justice summit at the University of Notre Dame this month to examine the critical issues the legal system faces from capital cases where the death penalty is utilized.

The day-long session at the South Bend campus was held Nov. 15. The following day, part two of the AG’s program focused on mortgage foreclosures. The criminal justice summit theme brought law students, attorneys, judges, academics, and policymakers together to consider how Indiana is impacted by the costs of capital punishment cases.

With the trial stage often taking a couple years or more, the appellate process in state and federal courts can stretch 10 and beyond, Attorney General Greg Zoeller said. Though the Indiana Public Defender Commission reimburses counties half of the dollars spent adjudicating these cases, the high cost of death penalty cases has the potential to severely burden cash-strapped counties – especially those outside the larger urban areas of the state.

“So it is time that we in the criminal justice system have a candid conversation about the economic impact of capital punishment in Indiana,” Zoeller said. “I don’t claim to know the answers; but as state government’s lawyer sworn to uphold the laws of Indiana, I hope we can trigger a frank discussion of these questions. We serve the crime victims and our constituents – the taxpayers – best if we confront a problem directly and objectively.”

About 75 people attended the seminar that doubled as a free Continuing Legal Education session, and brought in prosecutors and defense attorneys as well as lawmakers and other states’ criminal justice officials to discuss the issues. Indiana Supreme Court Justice Frank Sullivan spoke about his experience handling death penalty cases since the early 1990s, while a Rutgers University economics professor discussed a grant-funded study on the fiscal consideration of the death penalty in Indiana.

You can read more in-depth coverage on this topic in future issues of Indiana Lawyer.

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