Missouri’s Death Penalty: A Financial Analysis of Capital Punishment in the Show-Me State

April 19, 2024

Is Missouri a Death Penalty State?

The death penalty, also known as capital punishment, is a controversial and hotly debated topic in the United States. It refers to the legal process by which a person convicted of a serious crime, usually murder, is sentenced to death by the state. Each state in the U.S. has its own laws and regulations regarding the death penalty, and Missouri is one of the states that still actively practices capital punishment. In this article, we will explore the status of the death penalty in Missouri, including its history, current laws, and its impact on the state’s finances.

History of the Death Penalty in Missouri

The death penalty has a long history in Missouri, dating back to the early days of statehood. The first recorded execution in Missouri occurred in 1810, and the state has carried out numerous executions since then. Over the years, methods of execution have evolved from hanging to the use of the gas chamber to lethal injection, which is currently the primary method used in the state.
In recent decades, the constitutionality of the death penalty has been debated and challenged in Missouri and across the country. However, Missouri has consistently upheld the legality of the death penalty, and the state has continued to execute individuals convicted of capital crimes.

Current laws and procedures

In Missouri, the death penalty is authorized for certain crimes, including first-degree murder, treason, and the murder of a law enforcement officer or corrections officer in the line of duty. The decision to seek the death penalty is usually made by the prosecuting attorney in each case, and a jury determines the guilt or innocence of the defendant and, if convicted, the sentence.

Missouri follows a bifurcated trial process for capital cases, meaning that the guilt and penalty phases of the trial are conducted separately. Once a defendant is found guilty of a capital offense, a separate penalty phase is held to determine whether the death penalty should be imposed. During this phase, the jury considers aggravating and mitigating factors in making its decision.

Financial Impact of the Death Penalty in Missouri

The death penalty has significant financial implications for states that practice it, including Missouri. One of the primary arguments against the death penalty is its cost, as capital cases can be significantly more expensive than non-capital cases. The high costs are primarily due to the complex and lengthy legal processes involved, including the need for specialized defense attorneys, extensive investigations, and multiple appeals.

A 2016 study conducted by the Missouri State Public Defender System found that death penalty cases cost, on average, approximately $4.4 million more than non-capital cases. These costs include expenses related to the trial, appeals, and incarceration on death row. The study also found that the likelihood of a death sentence varies depending on factors such as the race of the defendant, the county in which the trial takes place, and the quality of legal representation.

Public Opinion and the Death Penalty in Missouri

Public opinion on the death penalty in Missouri, as in the rest of the country, is divided. Proponents argue that the death penalty serves as a deterrent to crime, provides justice for victims and their families, and allows society to express its outrage at the most heinous crimes. On the other hand, opponents of the death penalty question its effectiveness as a deterrent, raise concerns about the risk of executing innocent people, and argue that it perpetuates a cycle of violence.

Over the years, public support for the death penalty in Missouri has fluctuated. However, polls conducted in recent years indicate that a majority of Missourians still support the death penalty. This support has been a significant factor in the state’s continued use of the death penalty and its resistance to calls for abolition or a moratorium on executions.


Missouri remains a death penalty state, with a history of carrying out executions and a legal framework that allows for the death penalty in certain cases. The financial impact of the death penalty is significant, with the cost of capital cases far exceeding that of non-capital cases. Public opinion in Missouri is divided on the issue, with a majority still supporting the death penalty. The debate over capital punishment continues, and its future in Missouri and throughout the United States remains a topic of ongoing discussion and controversy.


Is Missouri a death penalty state?

Yes, Missouri is a death penalty state. It allows for the use of capital punishment as a sentencing option for certain crimes.

What methods of execution are used in Missouri?

In Missouri, the primary method of execution is lethal injection. However, if lethal injection is deemed unconstitutional or unavailable, the state allows for execution by lethal gas.

What crimes are eligible for the death penalty in Missouri?

In Missouri, the death penalty can be imposed for various crimes, including first-degree murder with specific aggravating factors, murder of a law enforcement officer, murder committed by an incarcerated offender, and murder committed during the commission of another serious offense.

How many executions have taken place in Missouri?

Since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, Missouri has carried out a significant number of executions. As of my knowledge cutoff in September 2021, the state had executed over 90 individuals.

Does Missouri have any alternatives to the death penalty?

Yes, Missouri provides an alternative sentencing option known as life without parole. It allows for the imposition of a sentence where the convicted individual will spend the rest of their life in prison without the possibility of parole.