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A Bald-Faced Lie on the Cost of the Death Penalty v. LWOP

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Update:  See follow-up post.

I have been battling the opponents of the death penalty for a very long time.  In that time, I have found that the intentionally misleading half-truth is their weapon of choice, and I spend a lot of time correcting the mistaken impressions they intentionally create.

However, the opponents are not above outright lying when they think they can get away with it.  A whopper has just come to my attention from the state of Nebraska, where the people are going to vote on whether to abolish or retain the death penalty.

Ernest Goss, Scott Strain, and Jackson Blalock have released a paper titled The Economic Impact of the Death Penalty on the State of Nebraska: a Taxpayer Burden?  The paper is sponsored by the anti-death-penalty campaign.  On page 23 we find this:

According to Scheidegger,48 "There is no credible evidence that replacing the DP with LWOP will result in significant added trial costs to the state due to defendants refusing to plead guilty and forcing prosecutors to meet their burdens at trial. The few studies that have been completed support the proposition that the threat of the DP does not increase plea bargain rates."

48Kent S. Scheidegger, The DP and Plea Bargaining to Life Sentences, Criminal Justice Legal Foundations, Feb. 2009, p. 10.
Note the quotation marks.  The authors are not saying that this is their interpretation of my results.  They are saying that these are my exact words and my interpretation.  This is a bald-faced lie.
Here is what I actually said on the cited page:

The results of the county tallies are listed in Table 1. The results of the ANOVA are listed in Table 2. There are 33 counties in the sample: 27 from states with the death penalty and 6 from states without it. Overall, 48.8% of the cases resulted in a sentence of 20 years or greater. This figure is 50.7% in counties with the death penalty and 40.5% in those without. The difference is not statistically significant, p = .233. Of the total homicide convictions in crimes originally charged as murder, 53.9% are obtained by guilty plea in counties with the death penalty and 42.6% in those without. With p =.133, this difference does not reach the traditional criterion for "statistical significance" of p<.05, but that criterion is a rule of thumb and not something to be sanctified (Cohen, 1990). The result tells us that more likely than not there is a real difference in total plea bargain rates between states with the death penalty and those without it. Murder convictions with sentences of 20 years or more were obtained by plea in 18.9% of the cases in counties with the death penalty and 5.0% in those without. This difference is also statistically significant, p = .043.

Not only did I not say what the authors attribute to me, I said the opposite.

The reference cited for the proposition that "statistical significance" is a mere rule of thumb and not Revealed Truth is Jacob Cohen (1990) Things I have learned (so far). American Psychologist, 45, 1304-1312.  It is a classic in the field and quite witty, in a nerdy way, for a paper on statistics.  I highly recommend it.

Here is a summary of my paper and of the only other study on the subject I know of, from an independent source:

"It is not difficult to find circumstantial evidence of the effect of the death penalty on the willingness of defendants to plea-bargain before or during their own trials.  In U.S. Federal death penalty cases recommended for trial since 1988, plea bargains are almost as common as convictions.  In a formal research design Kuziemko (2006) reported on a natural experiment created by the reinstatement of capital punishment in New York State in 1995.  In addition to obvious before-and-after differences, the treatment only applies to those charged with murder after 1995, because those charged with other violent felonies were not affected by the change.  Plea bargains among this control group are unchanged over time but increased after 1995 for those charged with murder.  The increase in probability of pleading guilty after 1995 was 26%.  Furthermore, the fraction of those pleading guilty who received a reduced charge decreased, indicating that the threat of the death penalty generally increased the bargaining power of the prosecutor, resulting in increasing pleas and a lower fraction of these with reduced charges.  Both Kuziemko (2006) and Scheidegger (2009) tested a cross-section of large urban counties to determine whether the death penalty increased the fraction of murder cases that result in a plea-bargain for a life or a very long sentence.  Scheidegger found that, on average, counties with the death penalty disposed of 18.9% of murder cases with a plea and long sentence compared to 5.0% for counties with no death penalty."

Anthony M. Yezer, Economics of Crime and Enforcement 300 (2013), citing Kuziemko, Does the Threat of the Death Penalty Affect Plea-Bargaining in Murder Cases? Evidence from New York's 1995 Reinstatement of Capital Punishment, 8 American Law and Economic Review 116 (2006) and Scheidegger, The Death Penalty and Plea Bargaining to Life Sentences (2009), http://www.cjlf.org/publications/papers/wpaper09-01.pdf

The author's bio:

https://elliott.gwu.edu/yezer

"Anthony M. Yezer directs the Center for Economic Research at The George Washington University. He teaches courses in regional economics, urban economics, and the economics of crime. He has been a Fellow of the Homer Hoyt School of Advanced Studies in Real Estate and Urban Economics since 1991."

3 Comments

In my opinion, you should demand a correction. Misrepresenting someone's views is bad enough (and one of the reasons I abandoned commenting on SL&P). Using quotation marks around someone's purported exact words when the person did not write them is flat-out dishonest.

Not that I am surprised by dishonesty from DP opponents. It's been rampant with them for years.

C & C Staff,

Why not let the ACLJ, Heritage Foundation, FRC, Breitbart, FRC, CNN, Fox, &ct. know about this?

It would be at least a drastic error to a progressive mind, and to truth-tellers, something far worse.

I did a quick bit of research and found that the authors of the Nebraska study got the quote from this 2012 law review article, "Costs of Capital Punishment in California: Will Voters Choose Reform this November?"

http://digitalcommons.lmu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2803&context=llr

See page S22.

In the original article, the authors did not present the statement as a quote, but rather footnoted your article as a source. The direct quotation is an attribution error made by the authors of the Nebraska study. It's sloppy and inexcusable, but not necessarily a malicious attempt to fabricate a quote. Still, it's worth bringing it to their attention and demanding a correction. Same with the original law review article, if you diagree with its use of your source material.

- Victor

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