I seem to have a knack for these things. I post about something and the next day there’s some news on that subject (or it could just be coincidence – take your pick). After yesterday’s post on the death penalty, I was but a little surprised to see two interesting news items today. The first is this very thorough and deeply interesting report [pdf] from the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment. A legislatively created body, the Commission was charged in 2008, with evaluating the racial, socio-economic, geographic and other influences on the death penalty and to make a recommendation as to its continued viability.
In a 13-9 vote, the Commission today recommended abolition of the death penalty in Maryland. In preparing this report:
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.
So, let’s cut to the chase. The findings of the Commission are these:
- Racial disparities exist in Maryland’s capital sentencing system.
- Jurisdictional disparities exist in Maryland’s capital sentencing system.
- Due to a lack of research on socio-economic disparities in Maryland, the Commission does not reach a conclusion on this matter.
- 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.
Oddly, a lot of the individual findings were heavily supported, yet the overall recommendation was passed by a vote of only 13-9. For example, the “closest” vote was 16-5 in favor of the finding #7. The deterrence finding was supported 17-4. That goes to show that, for some, there is an inherent bias in favor of the death penalty and an inherent support of the death penalty in face of the many obvious problems associated with it.
Whether the legislature adopts this report and its conclusions remains to be seen. Undoubtedly, though, this is a big win for abolitionists. The momentum’s a-comin’.