O'Malley Testifies in Favor of Death Penalty Repeal


ANNAPOLIS (Feb. 19, 2009)—Gov. Martin O'Malley urged lawmakers to repeal the death penalty Wednesday, calling a bill he sponsored "the only and best way forward."

"It is our time in Maryland for a deeper dialogue on the question of what kind of society we want to be," he said.

O'Malley testified before the same Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee that heard his arguments for a similar bill in 2007. That year, the bill stalled in the committee and never made it to the Senate floor.

O'Malley cited the findings of the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment, which voted 13-9 in favor of repeal, as providing the basis for a different result this time around. He highlighted several findings of the commission, including racial bias, the risk of executing innocent people and the increased costs required to conduct capital cases.

He also dismissed the argument that the death penalty serves as a deterrent, referring to his seven years as mayor of Baltimore.

"In the entire time that the city of Baltimore slipped into becoming one of the most violent and drug-addicted cities in America, the death penalty was on the books and ... did absolutely nothing to prevent these awful crimes that plagued a proud and great American city," O'Malley said.

Several opponents of the bill, including former Gov. Marvin Mandel, cited deterrence as the most important reason to keep the death penalty on the books. Some argued that it was the only way to guarantee that a killer wouldn't kill again.

Percel Alston Jr., a retired police officer from Prince George's County who was representing the Maryland State Lodge Fraternal Order of Police, felt that even if the death penalty only deterred one person, it was worth it.

"A deterrent of one is worth saving that one life," he said.

Jurisdictional differences were also cited during the testimony. Decisions to file capital cases lie in the hands of Maryland's 24 elected state's attorneys, who represent a broad range of opinions on capital punishment.

"There ought to be a reasonable uniformity throughout the state and that ought to be the least of the equal justice afforded to the citizens of the state," said former U.S. Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti, who chaired the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment.

Scott Shellenberger, state's attorney for Baltimore County and lead author of the minority report of the commission, referred to these jurisdictional disparities as "minority local rule."

"That is local state's attorneys enacting the will of the people that they represent," he said.

Shellenberger said that Maryland had already addressed many of the issues raised by the commission.

"We are more careful," he said, citing advances in DNA technology and procedures.

Even with O'Malley's support, the repeal bill faces major hurdles, the first being that the committee has the same members that it did two years ago. No member has indicated a change in position since then.

Without a majority vote from the committee, several options remain. The committee could send the bill to the floor without a recommendation, or the bill could be brought there via a petition, which would require the sponsorship of 16 senators.

Former Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. said his time as chair of the Judicial Proceedings Committee provided an example that the present committee should follow.

In 1978, Curran, who is now O'Malley's father-in-law, delivered an unfavorable report on a bill to reinstate the death penalty to the Senate, but allowed a motion to pass that replaced it with the original bill.

"It was done as a courtesy to other people who had different views," he said.

Curran, who was and still is against the death penalty, argued that it was the right thing to do, despite the fact that it ultimately reinstated the death penalty.

"The right thing to do was to bring it to the floor and let everybody have a say," he said.

Wednesday morning, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert, told senators that the bill shouldn't be brought to the floor unless there were enough votes to override a filibuster.

"If you're going to vote that the body has a right to decide this issue, then you've got to give them that right to decide the issue," he said.

To read the entire text of Governor O’Malley’s prepared testimony, go to http://www.governor.maryland.gov/speeches/090218c.asp

Capital News Service contributed to this report.

Based on the recommendations of the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment, Governor O’Malley’s proposed legislation (Criminal Law – Death Penalty- Repeal, HB 316, SB 279), would seek the repeal of the death penalty in the State of Maryland.

The Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment was created by an act of the Maryland General Assembly in the 2008 legislative session. The 22-member Commission’s membership represented a broad diversity of views on capital punishment, as well as the racial, ethnic, gender, and geographic diversity of the State. The law required the Commission to make recommendations to address: racial, jurisdictional, and socio-economic disparities; the risk of innocent people being executed; a comparison of the costs and effects of “prolonged court cases involving capital punishment” versus cases involving life imprisonment without the possibility of parole; and “the impact of DNA evidence in assuring fairness and accuracy in capital cases.” Chaired by former U.S. Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti, the Commission reviewed testimony from experts and members of the public, relevant Maryland laws and court cases, as well as statistics and studies relevant to the topic of capital punishment in Maryland, and submitted a final report on its findings and recommendations to the General Assembly in December 2008. After a thorough review of this information, the Commission recommended that capital punishment be abolished in Maryland.

In particular, the Commission found that:

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

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

3. 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.

4. While both life without the possibility of parole and death penalty cases are extremely hard on families of victims, 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.

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

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

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

Source: Gov. O'Malley's Office

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