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. 5
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
3 years ago, an effort to abolish the death penalty narrowly failed in the
General Assembly, which instead restricted it to cases where there is DNA
evidence, a videotaped confession or video linking the suspect to a murder. But
the legislature’s reform fixed nothing; if anything, it codified a system even
more arbitrary than the one it replaced. Now the nature of the evidence, rather
than the barbarity of the crime, is the critical factor. So a murder conviction
based on DNA evidence might result in a death sentence, but not a Virginia
Tech-style killing spree whose perpetrator is identified by multiple witnesses.
Nor did the changes in the Maryland law address the racial and jurisdictional
disparities in the death penalty’s application. And there is no evidence that
the death penalty is more effective at deterring murders than is a sentence of
life without parole.
The broken system is particularly burdensome for the families of murder
victims, who face years, even decades, of litigation. 3 of the state’s 5
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.
(source: Editorial, Washington Post)