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March 7, 2012

Washington Post calls for Maryland to end its "broken death penalty"

This morning's Washington Post has this editorial headlined "Maryland’s broken death penalty." Here are excerpts:

On paper, Maryland courts are empowered to impose the death penalty in certain murder cases. In practice, the state’s death penalty is in remission.  Five convicts remain on death row, and defendants can be prosecuted for capital murder and sentenced to death, but the state lacks any legal method of carrying out executions.  No one has been put to death in Maryland since 2005.

That status quo seems acceptable to the power brokers in Annapolis, who would rather not add to a list of controversies that now includes legalizing same-sex marriage and subsidizing higher education for illegal immigrants.

But by ducking the issue, they are leaving in place a costly, inefficient, unjust and dysfunctional system that exacts a terrible toll on the families of murder victims. Rather than legislating and leading, state lawmakers are in denial....

The broken system is particularly burdensome for the families of murder victims, who face years, even decades, of litigation.  Three of the state’s five death-row prisoners were sentenced nearly 30 years ago; the others were sentenced in the mid-1990s.

Whatever moral convictions one holds about capital punishment — and we think it is wrong — Maryland has failed to find an evenhanded, just and fair-minded way to apply it.  As a recent report by some of Maryland’s most prominent attorneys concluded, the state’s current law “is likely to increase the arbitrariness of the imposition of the death penalty because persons who commit the most heinous crimes — the ‘worst of the worst’ — are not necessarily the same people who will be eligible for the death penalty.”

A majority of the Maryland General Assembly favors an end to capital punishment in the state. Still, legislative leaders are reluctant to allow consideration of a bill that would repeal the death penalty and shift the anticipated savings in the state budget to programs to benefit victims’ families.  The leaders would rather leave in place a system that is a disgrace to justice, and to Maryland.

March 7, 2012 at 08:42 AM | Permalink


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Nice to see some movement in the direction of decency, rationality, and enlightenment on this issue.

Posted by: Calif. Capital Defense Counsel | Mar 7, 2012 10:10:27 AM


Do you think the SCOTUS decided Martel v. Clair correctly?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 7, 2012 10:49:40 AM

1. "A Baltimore Sun poll said 57 percent of Maryland voters asked said they like having the death penalty available.
Some 33 percent said they support abolition of the death penalty".@ upi.com

"The will of the people is the only legitimate foundation of any government"—T. Jeff
Movement ought be in favour of the will of the majority, and the will of the Almighty,
not toward "He that justifieth the wicked".

2. "families of murder victims, who face years, even decades, of litigation...[& it's] costly."
Why is that, perchance?
"Costs too much (because [abolitionists] drive up its costs).
It takes too long (because they spend years filing frivolous motions)".—C & C 2-21-12

Posted by: Adamakis | Mar 7, 2012 10:59:47 AM

Adamakis --

As you correctly imply, the whole Post editorial is a shell game. Abolitionists have failed to eliminate the DP in Maryland, but have succeeded in making it difficult, time consuming and expensive to apply in practice. Having thus done everything they could to "break" the DP, they then turn around and exclaim, "Oh my goodness, look, the DP is broken!!! Must be time to end it!"

But for as cynical as this strategy is, it's even more dishonest. Note, for example, two things the editorial never mentions: First, specifically how it came to pass that the DP got so complicated in Maryland; and second, that right across the river in Virginia, it operates just fine.

The only way the editorial works, to the extent it works, is by deep-sixing these facts.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 7, 2012 11:11:17 AM

Dishonest and cruel. The crimes for which Maryland death row inmates are sentenced are beyond heinous. Certainly, victims' families, who after all did not ask to be the family members of a murder victim, have a right to expect that the state will follow the law. By slow-walking regs etc., O'Malley is being appallingly cruel to these people. In my view, that makes him a loathesome human being.

Posted by: federalist | Mar 7, 2012 11:28:54 AM

From the pool of 1,311 homicides that were identified as death eligible, prosecutors filed a notification to seek the death penalty in 353 cases (27%).
Out of these 353 death notifications initially filed, state’s attorneys withdrew 140 (40%) and retained the death request in 213 cases (60%).
In the 213 cases where a notification to seek death was filed and not withdrawn, prosecutors advanced 180 (84%) to a penalty phase hearing.
Of the 180 penalty phase hearings, 76 resulted in a sentence of death (42%).
These seventy-six death sentences were imposed on fifty-eight different offenders.

The probability of a death sentence during this time period was .06 for all death eligible cases (76/1,311), .22 those cases where there was a notification to seek the death penalty filed (76/353), .36 for those where the death notification was filed and not withdrawn (76/213), and .52 for the subset of cases that were advanced to a penalty trial (76/180).

Posted by: claudio giusti | Mar 7, 2012 3:14:32 PM

Is by deep-sixing these facts .

Posted by: Thomas Sabo Ireland | Mar 7, 2012 9:32:39 PM

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