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Friday, April 11, 2008

The End of the Death Penalty in MD?

Ann-Marie Luciano

Maryland has been sitting in death penalty limbo since December 19, 2006, when the state Court of Appeals ruled that Maryland did not follow the proper policies when creating procedures to administer lethal injections. Since that time, lethal injections have been suspended until new protocols could be developed. Gov. Martin O'Malley, an opponent of the death penalty, has not created any such new proposals.

The last attempt to abolish the death penalty occurred earlier this year, but the bill stalled in a Senate committee. As a result, on Monday the Maryland legislature passed legislation to create a commission to study the death penalty in Maryland. Opponents of the death penalty hope that the findings of the commission will serve as an impetus for later legislation to abolish the death penalty.

The legislation calls for the commission to make recommendations that address the following areas: (i) racial disparities; (ii) jurisdictional disparities; (iii) socio-economic disparities; (iv) the risk of innocent people being executed; (v) a comparison of the effects of prolonged court cases involving capital punishment and those involving life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, as well as a comparison of the costs; and (vi) the impact of DNA evidence in assuring fairness and accuracy in capital cases. (S.B. 614; H.B. 1111).

The Maryland death penalty system has been studied before, and the criticisms are many. Professor Raymond Paternoster of the University of Maryland and Robert Brame of the University of South Carolina issued a Final Report, An Emprical Analysis of Maryland's Death Sentencing System With Respect to the Influence of Race and Legal Jurisdiction, which studied the possible effects of geography, race of the victim and race of the defendant as variables in the administration of the death penalty in Maryland. Their Final Report concluded that these variables play an "important role" in the Maryland system and exert their greatest effects at the death notice and death notice retraction decisions.

As a general matter, many of reasons death penalty proponents have often cited in support of the death penalty have been debunked. The biggest myth is the deterrence myth - that the death penalty is needed to deter the most heinous crimes. The statistics, however, show that states without the death penalty have had consistently lower murder rates than states with the death penalty. The difference in murder rates ranges from 4% to 46%. The Death Penalty Information Center's website shows various charts illustrating the statistical difference.

The other myth is that it is cheaper to execute defendants than it is to keep them in prison for life without parole. Again, the statistics show otherwise. The Death Penalty Information Center's website lists numerous studies that have analyzed the costs of the death penalty compared to the cost of life without parole. For example, a Washington State Bar Association study found that at the trial level, death penalty cases are estimated to generate roughly $470,000 in additional costs to the prosecution and defense over the cost of trying the same case as an aggravated murder without the death penalty and costs of $47,000 to $70,000 for court personnel. On direct appeal, the cost of appellate defense averages $100,000 more in death penalty cases than in non-death penalty murder cases. According to Maryland Citizens Against Executions, it costs Marylanders $2 million a year to litigate a single capital case.

There are many other reasons to oppose the death penalty, too many to address in this one post (and therefore they will be addressed in other posts). Although controversial, a serious discussion about whether to abolish the death penalty is long overdue.

1 comment:

Jim French said...

We have to unseat Alex Mooney, the embarrassment of Frederick County, in order to make any progress in this important regard. He made national news when he single-handedly prevented the bill from getting to the Senate floor last year. This year was simply a repeat of the same simplistic approach.