The Maryland legislature’s vote last week to repeal the death penalty was the right decision for our state. It puts an end, for now, to a law that has proven itself to only be about vengeance and fails in any way to deter violent crime.
It is doubtful that any family member of a victim of a heinous crime is given an ounce of closure due to the execution of a murderer and the fact that many of those put on death row in America have been found to be innocent of their crimes due to advanced DNA technology or the recanting of remorseful witnesses, further puts in doubt the rationale behind capital punishment.
But lest proponents of the death penalty repeal think this debate ends with Governor Martin O’Malley’s signature, don’t get a head of yourself.
Just like same sex marriage and the Dream Act, both passed by the General Assembly and signed into law by the governor, opponents of the repeal are gearing up for a petition drive to put the new law to a referendum vote by Maryland residents.
The death penalty, like the laws around marriage and the status of children of illegal immigrants, is a controversial social issue that divides our state, and many families. The issue is often cast in terms of religion and law enforcement, two difficult issues to put in simple black and white terms.
But we have come to a point in our society where we can no longer risk the execution of innocent people. It is simply not right.
Maryland has done more than most states to ensure the law is applied in a fair and just manner. In 2009, the state enacted some of the nation's strictest standards for applying the death penalty. Prosecutors can only seek it in cases where a suspect is linked to the crime with DNA or other biological evidence; provides a voluntary, videotaped confession; or is recorded in a video that conclusively links him or her to the murder. But even with these hurdles, the possibility remained that the state could sentence an innocent person to death.
There is also a disturbing undertone of racial bias in the application of the death penalty. Most of the murders in Maryland involve both black victims and black perpetrators. But statistics bear out that most of those sentenced to death in this state have been black men with white victims. Supporters of the repeal also made a strong case that being sentenced to death in Maryland had a great deal to do with where your crime took place. The prosecutors in Baltimore City and Prince George’s County rarely seek the death penalty but their counterparts in rural counties in Maryland pursued capital punishment whenever possible.
It can take decades to actually bring a death row inmate to the point of execution and some have argued that instead of bringing justice for the families, it can mean years of frustration and disappointment.
On the point of morality, one must ask if it’s appropriate for Maryland to kill people for committing murder? Many people obviously support the death penalty, but some believe that it is a stark point of hypocrisy.
And an even broader question is as the only superpower nation in the world, should the United States be in the company of Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Iran, China and Syria as some of the remaining nations that allow government sanctioned executions for crime?
That question will not be answered by this state’s repeal. However, regardless of what ultimately happens with the referendum effort, we support ending capital punishment in Maryland.