Eighteenth Judicial District Attorney Carol Chambers wasted no time responding to our February 28 feature examining her unusual cost-shifting approach to three death-penalty cases. Within hours after our article appeared online, she fired off the memo below to her prosecution team, blaming the high cost of such cases on defense attorneys and judges like the one in the current David Bueno trial, in which jury selection alone is dragging out for months.
Chambers’s contention that the death penalty doesn’t have to be expensive fails to address one point made by her adversary David Lane in our article: defense attorneys have to explore every tactic and legal avenue in such cases or be accused of providing inadequate counsel. Judges allow them such leeway for fear of being reversed down the long, winding road of appeals a capital case inevitably takes. To suggest that defense attorneys play dead in court so their clients can be killed more efficiently probably isn’t going to make her any friends among the defense bar. But see for yourself:
From: Carol Chambers To: _All Users Date: 2/27/2008 3:41:12 PM Subject: Fwd: westword article
Please feel free to send this out to as many people as you would like. It is time to have an open discussion of this issue. Carol
>>> Carol Chambers 2/27/2008 3:35:08 PM >>> Below is the link to an article in this week's Westword in which David Lane accuses us and in particular, me, of seeking the death penalty for financial gain. David has and will continue to attack us on any and every level he can; he is completely and ardently opposed to the death penalty. It is his position that I am personally trying to kill these defendants. You will notice that the article does not indicate how much the defense has spent during the same period of time for which they give our numbers; that is because it is so much more than we have spent.
It does cost millions to pursue, obtain, and see a death penalty case through to execution. However, it does NOT have to. In cases where we are "only" seeking life without parole, there are not hundreds of motions filed, it does not take weeks to pick a jury, it does not usually take years to get to trial, it does not take months to hear pre and post trial motions.
It is probably going to take 7 full weeks to pick a jury in the death penalty case currently going on in Lincoln County. It is also going to take 900 jurors. 7 full weeks and 900 jurors to pick 12 fair people (and a few alternates) to decide this case in a community made up of ranchers, farmers and small town Americans. What is wrong with that picture? That is because the judge has placed NO limits on defense questioning of potential jurors.
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That is exactly the problem with the death penalty in Colorado. The defense bar has effectively precluded prosectuors from seeking it because they can and do make it many times more expensive than it needs to be. And the judges do not limit them from doing so. So, criminal defense attorneys are deciding the law in Colorado despite what our legislators and voters have said.
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This issue needs to be vetted in Colorado. Why isn't there any scrutiny of defense costs in these cases? What is it that is costing so much? I think taxpayers would be horrified to see what their money is being spent on by the defense with the approval of judges.
I encourage you to write letters to the editor and to your legislators asking that these records be opened up and reviewed so that we can see why the death penalty is so costly. Only then will we be able to decide whether we should continue to seek it or give up on it because it just costs too much.
Read the Westword article here. -- Alan Prendergast