Amnesty International activists with Governor Martin O’Malley as he signed the death penalty repeal bill, making Maryland the 18th U.S. state to abolish capital punishment (Photo Credit: Amnesty International USA).
Maryland’s death penalty repeal bill has now been signed into law. Governor Martin O’Malley today made it official, but there is still work to do. There are still 32 states with capital punishment laws on the books, and there is the federal and military death penalty.
But while the U.S. will not be joining the ranks of abolitionist countries any time soon, the trend is certainly in the right direction, and more individual states will be repealing the death penalty in the near future, perhaps maybe even later this year.
The death penalty has gone from a third-rail political issue to one that is openly debated and hotly contested. As DNA technology has exposed the shortcomings of our judicial system, the public has become increasingly uncomfortable with the irreversible punishment of execution. Five Governors have now signed repeal bills since December 2007, and others, from states like Arkansas, Oregon, New Hampshire and Virginia, have publicly expressed a willingness to do so.
The state of Delaware is known as the “Small Wonder”, but it has a surprisingly large death row. With 17 men (10 of them African American) facing execution, Delaware’s death row is more than twice as big as Virginia’s, and more than 3 times the size of Maryland’s. And Delaware has the third highest per capita execution rate of any state in the U.S. (behind Oklahoma and Texas).
But now, a bill making its way through the state legislature may mean than no one else will be sent to Delaware’s death row. A death penalty repeal bill has already cleared the Delaware Senate, and will be taken up by the House on April 24.
Today the Maryland House of Delegates followed the lead of the state Senate and passed the death penalty repeal bill. The bill now goes to Governor Martin O’Malley who almost certainly will sign it, making Maryland the 18th state to abandon capital punishment (Photo Credit: Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Today the Maryland House of Delegates followed the lead of the state Senate and passed the death penalty repeal bill. The bill now goes to Governor Martin O’Malley who almost certainly will sign it, making Maryland the 18th state to abandon capital punishment, and the 6th state in 6 years to join the abolition club.
This culminates a decades-long campaign, stretching back to the 1980s, in which Amnesty International – in coalition with other groups – has always played an integral part. For me personally, it caps 6 years of thoroughly meaningful and rewarding work with a terrific collection of Amnesty staff and activists and coalition partners.
Today is the 10th World Day Against the Death Penalty, an annual October 10 event created by the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty of which Amnesty International is a founding member. Since that first World Day on Oct. 10, 2003, executions are on the wane both here in the U.S. and around the world.
It is surely a sign of progress for the death penalty abolition movement that such a success could occur in the midst of contentious and escalating election year politics. Previous legislative repeal victories have occurred during the more sedate odd-numbered years (New Jersey, 2007; New Mexico, 2009, Illinois, 2011).
Overcoming a major hurdle, death penalty repeal in Connecticut has passed in the state Senate by a vote of 20-16. The bill, with the endorsement of 179 murder victim family members, would remove the death penalty as an option for all future crimes. It now goes to the House and, if it passes there, to Governor Dannel P. Malloy, who has said he will sign it.
Connecticut would become the 17th state to abolish the death penalty, meaning that more than one-third ofU.S. states would no longer have capital punishment. Connecticut would also be the 5th state in 5 years to get rid of the death penalty. In 2007, New York’s last death sentence was commuted, officially ending that state’s association with capital punishment. In December 2007, New Jersey legislatively repealed its death penalty. New Mexico did likewise in 2009, and Illinois in 2011.
As Amnesty International reported in March, two-thirds of the world’s countries no longer use capital punishment. This vote in Connecticut is yet one more sign that the death penalty, both around the world and here in the U.S., is on its way out.
Three states have abolished the death penalty legislatively in recent years: New Jersey in 2007, New Mexico in 2009, and Illinois in 2011. Inevitably, more states will follow; but can a state or states abolish the death penalty in an even-numbered (read: election) year? We will find out in 2012.
As Politico reported on Friday, states that are poised to end their experiment with capital punishment next year include Connecticut, Kansas, Maryland, and Ohio, as well as California (through a ballot initiative). This is quite a diverse collection of states, ranging from small to large and from conservative to liberal, which goes to show how mainstream an issue death penalty abolition has become.
In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned all U.S. death penalty laws, declaring them unconstitutional. Public support for capital punishment was low back then, but by 1976, the death penalty had made a comeback and, 1,200+ executions later, here we are.
Earlier this summer, California State Senator Lori Hancock introduced a death penalty repeal bill (SB-490), after a study found that her state spends the exorbitant amount of $184 million dollars annually to keep capital punishment on the books.
On July 5, speaking before the Assembly Public Safety Committee was former prosecutor Donald Heller, who authored California’s death penalty law back in 1978. He said: “I fervently believe that capital punishment should be abolished,” and he called for savings from death penalty repeal to be used to support law enforcement.
A former warden of San Quentin State Prison, Jeanne Woodford, testified that the death penalty in California is “wasteful”, “counterproductive to public safety” and “terribly unfair to the victims’ families”.