April 02, 2013

Maryland Legislature Votes to Repeal the Death Penalty

On March 15, 2013, Maryland's legislature passed a bill to repeal the death penalty. After a 27-20 vote for repeal in the Senate, the House of Delegates approved the bill by a vote of 82 to 56. The repeal bill now heads to Governor Martin O'Malley, who introduced the legislation in January and has pledged to sign it into law.

Since taking office in 2007, Governor O'Malley has been a vocal opponent of the death penalty and has characterized it as "inherently unjust." To introduce the legislation to Maryland's General Assembly, Governor O'Malley worked with Maryland Citizens Against State Executions (CASE), a coalition that included various Catholic and faith groups; the NAACP; and former death row prisoner Kirk Bloodsworth, who was the first death-sentenced individual to be exonerated through the use of DNA evidence. By the time of his release, Mr. Bloodsworth had spent nine years in prison in Maryland, including two years on death row.

Maryland has executed only five prisoners since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976 and carried out its most recent execution in 2005. In 2009, when Governor O'Malley last pursued a repeal of the death penalty, Maryland's legislature instead enacted a law limiting the use of the death penalty to cases in which DNA or videotaped evidence exists.

Following the 2009 amendment to the law, Governor O'Malley and other lawmakers argued that the death penalty was still failing to deter violent crime. Lawmakers also expressed concerns about the death penalty’s high cost, the risk of executing innocent individuals, and the influence of racial bias on capital cases. As Lt. Governor Anthony Brown explained on the day the House of Delegates voted on the bill, "We saw . . . a long history of racial bias, inaccuracies, injustices, and today, we decided that as a state we could do better."

Maryland currently has five individuals on its death row, making it one of the smallest death rows in the country. Governor O'Malley will decide on a case-by-case basis whether or not to commute those prisoners' sentences, according to a statement from the governor's office.

Maryland is the sixth state in six years to repeal the death penalty, following New Jersey, New York, New Mexico, Illinois, and Connecticut. Governor O'Malley said that his dedication to repealing the death penalty stems from his desire to end a practice that does not adequately deter crime and to instead focus on other ways of preventing it. "We . . . have a moral responsibility to stop doing the things that are wasteful, and that are expensive, and do not work, and do not save lives," Governor O’Malley stated. "Let us do the things that work to save lives."