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February 26, 2013

New poll indicates most Maryland citizens do not support death penalty repeal efforts

This new article, headlined "Washington Post poll finds most Marylanders in favor of death penalty," reveals that the on-going effort by many elected Maryland representatives to repeal the state's death penalty runs contrary to current public opinion in the state. Here are the basic (which includes a link to the poll data):

A majority of Marylanders want to keep the death penalty on the books despite widespread skepticism across the state about whether capital punishment is a deterrent to murder or is applied fairly, a new Washington Post poll has found.

Sixty percent of adults in the poll say that Maryland law should allow for the death penalty, while 36 percent support replacing it with life in prison without the possibility of parole....

Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) has made repeal of the death penalty a top priority in the 90-day legislative session. Debate could begin in earnest on the issue later this week in the Senate, where a narrow majority of members are on record supporting O’Malley’s repeal bill. Prospects in the House of Delegates are also considered strong.
Some of the arguments O’Malley is making appear to resonate among Marylanders. By nearly 2 to 1, those polled say that the death penalty is not a deterrent to murder and does not lower the murder rate.  And most who respond that way say they feel strongly about their view.  Moreover, nearly one-third of Marylanders — including nearly a half of African Americans — say capital punishment has been applied unfairly in the state. That’s another argument O’Malley has advanced in a state where five men sit on death row but no executions have taken place since 2005.
Yet even when those arguments are stated explicitly, as well as questions that critics have raised about the morality of capital punishment, support for repeal is tepid among the public — which could ultimately decide the issue.  If a repeal bill passes the General Assembly, opponents are expected to take advantage of a provision in the state Constitution that allows citizens to petition new laws to the statewide vote.  If enough signatures are collected, the issue would appear on the ballot in November 2014....
There are deep divisions over the death penalty based on party affiliation, race, gender and other demographics.  More than half of Democrats oppose capital punishment, while three-quarters of Republicans support it.  About six in 10 men support the death penalty, while women are nearly evenly divided. Whites support capital punishment by a margin of about 2-to-1, while a majority of African Americans are opposed....
The Post poll was conducted Feb. 21-24, among a random sample of 1,156 adult residents of Maryland. The results from the full survey have a margin of error or plus or minus 3.5 percent.

February 26, 2013 at 10:13 PM | Permalink

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Maryland presents, as I understand it, a common problem in the disparity of application of the death penalty in fairly stark form. Quite a high percentage of the state's homicides take place within the city limits of Baltimore, which is an independent jurisdiction (i.e. not part of any county). As I understand it, prosecutorial discretion in Baltimore City is exercised by the locally-elected State's Attorney (who I must say from a quick scan of his website has a fairly impressive and non-political-hack-looking resume), who is politically accountable to the city's electorate, not to the rest of the state's electorate. The city's electorate (being majority black and overwhelmingly Democratic) is probably substantially more anti-death-penalty than that of the state as a whole. But if his office declines to seek the death penalty in circumstances where prosecutors in other parts of the state (who are accountable to electorates with different preferences) would seek it, there will be predictable disparities in the statewide statistics. Similarly, back during New York's brief experiment with a toothless and ultimately judicially-invalidated DP statute in the '90's, the elected DA in the Bronx basically publicly announced that he was never going to seek it under any circumstances, and one can appreciate the honesty and his willingness to put that policy approach out there for his county's electorate to consider when deciding whether or not to vote for him, but if the system had ever really gotten up and running that approach would no doubt have generated some disparities in the statewide stats which opponents of the death penalty could have latched onto. I don't know what to do with this, other than be willing accept disparities in statewide stats caused by regional differences in voter policy preferences as constituting a feature rather than a bug.

Posted by: JWB | Feb 27, 2013 1:13:30 PM

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