Thank you for visiting our website

Featuring breaking political news and commentary on local, state, and national issues.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Repeal of Maryland Death Penalty Yet Again Out of Reach

Ann-Marie Luciano Bio

Ever since the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled in December 2006 that the state's procedure for administering executions by lethal injection was not adopted properly -- which effectively imposed a death penalty moratorium in the state — abolitionists and civil rights advocates believed that it was only a matter of time before Maryland repealed the death penalty once and for all. With the election of Governor O'Malley, who, as a Catholic, is personally against the death penalty, these hopes seemed realistic. But the failure this week of Governor O'Malley's repeal bill demonstrates again how quickly and easily politics can transform the terms of the debate.

In 2007, a senate bill to repeal the death penalty fell short by just one, single, solitary vote. Although Governor O'Malley spoke to the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee in support of the bill, his statements at the time were based on statistics about the death penalty's cost and its ineffectiveness as a deterrent.

This time around, Governor O'Malley spoke from the heart about the moral issues involved with the death penalty, from the question about the risk of wrongful convictions (the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment found that for every 8.7 Americans sent to death row, there has been one innocent person exonerated), to the broader moral question as to the type of society we want to build for our families and communities.

The Governor's impassioned plea for the repeal of the death penalty didn't resonate with the Senate, however. Yesterday the Maryland Senate voted 34 to 13 on a compromise bill that will tighten evidence standards in death penalty cases — presumably to reduce the possibility of executing an innocent person – while still allowing the death penalty in egregious cases. The bill prohibits death sentences based solely on eyewitness testimony and would require either biological or DNA evidence, videotaped confessions or videotaped crimes to proceed with capital cases.

What is discouraging to the abolitionists, including myself, is that the changes in the political climate – with an anti-death penalty Democratic Governor in a heavily Democratic state – have not translated into a repeal of the death penalty or any real changes in its administration. Indeed, according to the Washington Post, a poll released in January by Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies shows that 41 percent of Marylanders oppose the death penalty and as many as 65 percent said life in prison without the possibility of parole was an acceptable alternative to the death penalty as punishment for murder. Why, despite this changing political climate, are the elected representatives still unwilling to muster the courage for a repeal?

If the vast majority of Marylanders find that life without the possibility of parole is an acceptable alternative to the death penalty, why is the death penalty still on the books? Instead of focusing on the details as to how to pass a compromise bill that differentiates between the type of evidence that would be sufficient to support the death penalty, why doesn't the Maryland legislature draft a simple bill repealing the death penalty and providing for a sentence of life without parole for "capital" crimes?

Although all of the stars appear to be aligned for a repeal, Maryland legislators still are not willing to stick their necks out. During times like these when voters are preoccupied with keeping or finding a job, staying in their home and picking up the pieces from their shattered 401(k), it is understandable that the public will focus more on bread and butter issues that affect their daily lives rather than the death penalty. My fear, however, is that the voice of the abolitionist and civil rights community will either be shut out by all of the other competing voices or that they will lose the will to fight for a repeal after so many disappointments in the Maryland legislature.

If the compromise bill passes and is signed into law, it will be interesting to watch and see how the bill works in application and whether its success or failure will affect the possibility of another repeal bill for 2010.


To receive "Daily Email Updates" from Air-it-Out with George Wenschhof, click on "Subscribe to this feed" below.

No comments: