Maryland Commission Recommends Abolition of Death Penalty in Final Report

The legislative commission established to examine the death penalty in Maryland has recommended abolition of the punishment by a vote of 13-9.  The Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment released its final report on December 12, detailing the reasons for its recommendation.  "There is no good and sufficient reason to have the death penalty," Chairman Benjamin R. Civiletti said at a news conference. Regarding the commission's recommendation of repeal rather than reform, he said, "There are so many faults, so many flaws within the system that we could not imagine ... ways in which to cure it."

According to their final report, the Commission presented the following findings:

Racial disparities exist in Maryland’s capital sentencing system.
Jurisdictional disparities exist in Maryland’s capital sentencing system.
• The costs associated with cases in which a death sentence is sought are substantially higher than the costs associated with cases in which a sentence of life without the possibility of parole is sought.
• 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. The Commission recommends an increase of the services and resources already provided to families of victims as recommended by the Victims’ Subcommittee.
• Despite the advance of forensic sciences, particularly DNA testing, the risk of execution of an innocent person is a real possibility.
• While 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.
• The Commission finds that there is no persuasive evidence that the death penalty deters homicides in Maryland.
Ultimate Recommendation: The Commission recommends abolition of capital punishment in the state of Maryland.

The statute passed by the General Assembly during the 2008 Legislative Session called for the Commission to be comprised of 23 appointees representing a broad diversity of views on capital punishment, as well as the racial, ethnic, gender, and geographic diversity of the State.  It included police officers, correctional officers, family members of murder victims, prosecutors and defense attorneys, an innocent Maryland man sentenced to death who was later exonerated, and other members of Maryland’s community.

The Commission heard 35 hours of testimony during 5 public hearings.  The Commission also held five additional meetings where the testimony and evidence presented to the Commission was discussed and later voted upon.

Detailed vote counts on each of the findings of the Commission are contained in the final report. Votes on many of the findings in the report were nearly unanimous.  The final report and minority report are available for view at the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment Web site, http://www.goccp.maryland.gov/capital-punishment/index.php

(J., Bykowicz, "Commission votes to recommend Md. death penalty repeal," Baltimore Sun, December 12, 2008).  See Recent Legislative Activity and Studies.