2008 Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment

Maryland Commission Recommends Abolition of the Death Penalty

On December 12, 2008, the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment issued a final report on the death penalty to the General Assembly following several months of public hearings and meetings during which evidence was presented from experts and the general public. Highlighting problems of racial and geographic disparity, high costs, risk of innocence, impact on murder victims families, and no deterrent effect, the Commission recommended that the death penalty be abolished by a vote of 13-9.


Excerpts from the report:

Racial and Jurisdictional Disparities:

"Race plays such a significant role that it overshadows several of the statutorily required factors in Maryland’s system of guided discretion."

"The geographical variability within the state of Maryland with regard to capital cases renders the process non-uniform, arbitrary and capricious."

Costs:

"The cost of pursuing a capital case is estimated conservatively to be at least three times the cost of a non-death penalty homicide prosecution ($1.1 to $2.9 million)."

"[T]he direct savings [of not using the death penalty] calculated from 1978 to 1999 would amount to $186 million dollars, which is the value of the resources that could be used for other purposes by members of the criminal justice system."

"The Commission agrees [with witnesses who testified] and finds that the vast resources that are currently devoted to an uncertain and arbitrary death sentence system could be better utilized to stop homicides and other violent crimes before they occur."

Victims:

"While both life without the possibility of parole and death penalty cases are extremely hard on families of victims, the Commission finds that the effects of capital cases are more detrimental to families than are life without the possibility of parole cases."

"Many family members of murder victims who came before the Commission asked that the Commission not only recommend repeal of the death penalty, but more importantly, recommend that a portion of the money and resources saved through abolishment of the death penalty be redirected to provide additional services to families of murder victims."

Innocence:

"The reversal rate for capital cases in Maryland outpaces that of many other jurisdictions, totaling eighty percent (80%) for the years 1995-2007. The figures pertaining directly to exonerations, and the high percentage of reversals overall (regardless of the outcome upon retrial), suggest that there are flaws in the system that might allow innocent persons to be executed."

"We do not accept the notion that the high rate of reversals in capital cases means that the criminal justice system will eventually catch all wrongful convictions prior to execution. Rather, the high rate of reversals reflects basic errors in the criminal justice system that at once pose risks to innocent persons and give the guilty repeated chances to escape punishment."

"[W]hile DNA testing has become a widely accepted method for determining guilt or innocence, it does not eliminate the risk of sentencing innocent persons to death since, in many cases, DNA evidence is not available and, even when it is available, is subject to contamination or error at the scene of the offense or in the laboratory."

Deterrence:

"[T]he Commission is convinced by the strong consensus among respected social scientists that sound research does not support the proposition that capital punishment deters murders."

Conclusion:

"For all of these reasons—to eliminate racial and jurisdictional bias, to reduce unnecessary costs, to lessen the misery that capital cases force victims of family members to endure, to eliminate the risk that an innocent person can be convicted—the Commission strongly recommends that capital punishment be abolished in Maryland."

For the entire report, click here.
To see the commission members,
click here.