Maryland Senate Passes Death Penalty Repeal Bill by a Vote of 27-20
Washington DC (3/6/13)—Today Maryland is one step closer to ending capital punishment and becoming the 6th state in 6 years to abandon this controversial practice. The Senate vote to send the measure to the House for consideration is likely the last significant hurdle that the bill will face before becoming law. The Maryland Senate voted 27 to 20 to pass Senate Bill 276: Death Penalty Repeal-Substitution of Life Without the Possibility of Parole. The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty applauds the Senate on its thoughtful consideration of the measure and urges members in the House to swiftly follow suit.
After grappling with the death penalty for years, the state of Maryland took a definitive step in the direction of abandoning it altogether. “This process has been a great example of democracy at work,” stated National Coalition Executive Director, Diann Rust-Tierney, “The Senate has finally acted on the recommendation of the 2008 Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment to end the death penalty.”
The Commission was comprised of death penalty supporters and opponents, and included death row exoneree, Kirk Bloodsworth, who now serves as Advocacy Director for Witness to Innocence. Together they studied the system and held hearing after hearing with a broad cross-section of Maryland citizens including law enforcement officers and surviving family members of murder victims. They concluded that “there are so many faults, so many flaws in the system that we could not imagine…ways in which to cure it.” Their report cited racial disparities, jurisdictional disparities, risk of innocence, the negative impact on victims’ families, and the lack of any persuasive evidence that the death penalty deters homicide. It has taken until today for the full Senate to affirm the findings of the Commission that the death penalty in Maryland is not a viable public policy.
When the public and policymakers have the opportunity to take a detailed look at the death penalty in their states, they conclude simply that it is not worth the trouble. Once this legislation passes in Maryland, it will be the first state below the Mason-Dixon Line to abolish the death penalty. However, this change of attitude is not limited to Maryland.
Repeal efforts are underway in Delaware, Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Washington and Oregon (where a moratorium is in place). Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe recently announced he would sign a bill to repeal the death penalty if presented one by the state legislature. In Virginia we have seen expansion efforts defeated in each of the last seven sessions and no expansion bill was introduced this year. In Ohio, use of the death penalty is increasingly isolated to only a small number of counties, and in 2011 the Ohio Supreme Court created the Death Penalty Task Force in conjunction with the Ohio Bar Association to review concerns about whether the death penalty is being administered in a fair and balanced manner.
Even in states that are still using the death penalty, regardless of whether the legislature is controlled by Republicans or Democrats, we are seeing changes. In Missouri, for example, where 68 people have been executed since 1976 (fifth most in the country), nine bills have been introduced this session to study, curb, reform, or end the death penalty and other criminal procedures. The Missouri Governmental Accountability and Fiscal Oversight Committee recently passed Senate Bill 61 out of committee which calls for a targeted cost analysis of the death penalty and alternative sentences.
In this era of limited resources people are looking for policies that work, and we expect the repeal of the death penalty in Maryland to continue the momentum away from this deeply disturbing and arcane practice in the increasingly few jurisdictions where this form of punishment is still practiced.
The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty is the nation's oldest organization dedicated to the abolition of the death penalty. We are comprised of an extensive network representing more than 100 state and national affiliate organizations and thousands of advocates and volunteers. Our members include families of murder victims, people across the political and religious spectrum, past and present law enforcement officials and prominent civil and racial justice organizations working to end the death penalty forever.
In January 2014, the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty launched the 90 Million Strong Campaign to partner with and mobilize a growing number of national organizations and individuals who believe that it is time for the death penalty to end.