It’s Official! Death Penalty Now Abolished In Maryland

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).

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.


In Maryland: Victims, Not Vengeance?

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley

Maryland Governor O’Malley Joins Pastors’ March on Annapolis to repeal the death penalty in Maryland in 2009.

Passage of Maryland’s death penalty repeal bill in 2013 would be historic, and not only because it would ban capital punishment in that state.  Though of course ending executions in Maryland would be great, the 2013 repeal bill would be more historic because of what it does for the families of victims.

Since capital punishment costs more in Maryland than the alternatives (as it does in California, or any other state where the question has been studied), savings are to be had, and Maryland’s death penalty repeal bill appropriates some of those savings to support the real needs of victims’ families.  Many families who lose a loved one (often times a breadwinner) to murder simply can’t afford the bare necessities like counseling, travel to court dates and hearings, or even funeral costs.

Redirecting funds wasted on capital punishment to provide for these basic needs respects both the rights the prisoner (who will not be subjected to the ultimate cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment) and the rights of the victim (whose loved ones will be supported in ways that truly matter).  Here’s hoping Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley will lead his state to passing this groundbreaking legislation, invigorating the USA’s march to abolition, while setting a new standard for how criminal justice can be more humane and do more for victims’ families.

40 Years Ago the US (Briefly) Outlawed the Death Penalty

thurgood marshall

In 1972 Thurgood Marshall was one of five Justices who ruled the death penalty was unconstitutional.

Thurgood Marshall, civil rights leader and our country’s first African American Supreme Court Justice, is one of the most distinguished people ever to come out of Maryland. The BWI airport is named after him, and a statue of him stands in the midst of the state capitol complex in Annapolis.

Forty years ago today on June 29, 1972, Marshall was one of the five Justices who ruled, in a case called Furman v. Georgia, that the death penalty was unconstitutional and commuted all the country’s death sentences.

He wrote:

In recognizing the humanity of our fellow beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute. We … join the approximately 70 [now 141] other jurisdictions in the world which celebrate their regard for civilization and humanity by shunning capital punishment.

Sadly, this Furman decision didn’t last, and by 1977 the U.S. was back in the execution business.


Maryland: Will Death Penalty Repeal Follow Marriage Equality?

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley speaks ©AFP/Getty Images

Yesterday, marriage equality became the law in Maryland with Governor Martin O’Malley’s signature.  Death penalty repeal is another issue the Governor says he feels strongly about, and he should push for the chance to sign that into law too.

In 2009, Maryland legislators tried to create the perfect death penalty law, one that would not risk executing the innocent.  Of course, human beings are still running Maryland’s capital punishment system. Mistakes will be made, and that awful risk remains. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Is it worth the risk, Maryland?

When testifying before state lawmakers in 2007, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley asked “Can the death penalty ever be justified as public policy when it inherently necessitates the occasional taking of wrongly convicted, innocent life?” 

According to Michael May, a former military and Baltimore City police officer, the answer is no.  In an op-ed in today’s Baltimore Examiner, May writes that he originally supported the death penalty, certain that all opponents of capital punishment were just “muddleheaded, knee-jerk liberals.”  But it was the risk of executing an innocent person that changed his mind, and he now advocates for repeal of the death penalty in Maryland.   

We know that 130 people have been exonerated from death rows across the country after evidence of their wrongful conviction emerged.  And we know that the first person to be exonerated by DNA evidence, Kirk Bloodsworth, was sentenced to die in Maryland.  The Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment recently voted to recommend repeal of the death penalty, and it is time for the legislature to follow their lead – but in order to do so they need to hear from their constituents!  Find out how you can get involved and help repeal Maryland’s death penalty today!