Friday, December 12, 2008

Death Penalty Should Be Abolished in MD, Commission Recommends

ANNAPOLIS, MD – A commission set up to examine the death penalty in Maryland is recommending that the state abolish it.

Here's the full report:

Today, Chairman Benjamin R. Civiletti and the members of the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment presented their final report which, after studying the key factors required by statute, recommended that capital punishment in Maryland be abolished.

“I am honored to have served with such dedicated individuals on this Commission and the citizens of Maryland should be proud of their work,” said Chairman Civlietti. “After hearing from many experts and families who have had the misfortune of going through the process of capital punishment, I am confident that we have examined every angle and come to the conclusion that best serves our fellow Marylanders.”

During the 2008 Legislative Session, The Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment was created by an act of the Maryland General Assembly for the purpose of studying all aspects of capital punishment as currently and historically administered in the State. The Commission presented this recommendation in a final report and a minority report in accordance with §2-1246 of the State Government Article, to the General Assembly.

The Commission’s findings from the final report are as follows:

1. Racial disparities exist in Maryland’s capital sentencing system.

2. Jurisdictional disparities exist in Maryland’s capital sentencing system.

3. Due to a lack of research on socio-economic disparities in Maryland, the Commission does not reach a conclusion on this matter.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. Despite the advance of forensic sciences, particularly DNA testing, the risk of execution of an innocent person is a real possibility.

7. 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.

8. The Commission finds that there is no persuasive evidence that the death penalty deters homicides in Maryland.

9. Ultimate Recommendation: The Commission recommends abolition of capital punishment in the state of Maryland.

The Commission also presented their minority report to the General Assembly which detailed the opposition to the abolition of the death penalty in Maryland and maintained that the State has in place the tools needed to prevent the unfair application of this practice.

“The close vote on the Commission's findings regarding the death penalty in Maryland demonstrates that this is an issue upon which reasonable minds can differ,” State’s Attorney for Baltimore County Scott Shellenberger said as the representative of the views of the minority vote. “It is my strong belief that the death penalty should remain a sentencing option for those prosecutors who wish to seek it.

The statute passed by the General Assembly called for the Commission to be comprised of 23 appointees – 13 Commissioners were gubernatorial appointees and 9 were non-gubernatorial appointees. Further, the Chair was jointly selected by the Governor, the Speaker of the House and Senate President and as the Statute requires, the Commission represents the broad diversity of views on capital punishment, as well as the racial, ethnic, gender, and geographic diversity of the State.

The Commission held five public hearings where testimony from experts and members of the public was presented. The Commission also held five additional meetings where the testimony and evidence presented to the Commission was discussed and later voted upon. The Commission has made a recommendation concerning the application and administration of capital punishment in the State so that they are free from bias and error and achieve fairness and accuracy.

The final vote count on the recommendation to abolish the death penalty was thirteen members in favor of abolishment and nine members in opposition of that view. Secretary Maynard of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services abstained from voting. Detailed vote counts on each of the findings of the Commission are contained in the final report.

Members of the public are encouraged to visit the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment website at to view the progress of the Commission. Once the final report is released, DVD’s of the report will be available by request and will also be posted on the Commission website found at the link above.

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