MD. House Passes Bill Restricting Death Penalty

The Maryland House today passed a bill severely curtailing the use of the death penalty:

The measure will limit capital cases to those with biological or DNA evidence, a videotaped confession or a videotape linking the defendant to a homicide. Those are among the steepest hurdles faced by prosecutors in the 35 states that have a death penalty.

The Maryland Senate has approved it and Gov. Martin O'Malley has indicated he will sign it.

Amid a national debate over executions, Maryland's evidentiary limitations will become the most stringent of any of the 35 states that have capital punishment on the books.

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    While I would have preferred that (none / 0) (#1)
    by Anne on Fri Mar 27, 2009 at 06:50:13 AM EST
    the death penalty here in MD be eliminated altogether, I think the restrictions and limitations may end up having essentially the same effect.

    And I have a feeling that when that does turn out to be the result, there may be enough will - and courage - to take the next and most logical step: eliminate the death penalty and make life without parole the most severe sentence possible.

    What makes you think that? (none / 0) (#2)
    by Bemused on Fri Mar 27, 2009 at 11:16:14 AM EST
      It will eliminate DP prosecutions in cases not fitting criteria.

     It's likely to cause some jurisdictions employ videotapes more often which is a good thing in and of itself.

      But, there are many cases in most states with valid confessions which would be easy enough to videotape and DNA testing is available and likely to be employed in any murder investigation where samples exist.

      Some prosecutors, the cynical side of me suggests, seeking to burnish their tough on crime bona fides, could even to decide to file as a DP case, a case they would not have before precisely because it fits the criteria and some others don't.

       The very common scenario of ample evidence of guilt but a jury finding  "aggravating  circumstances" and/or insufficient mitigating circumstances can still recur quite often under this scheme, if that is what the prosecutors choose.  


    Maryland has been imposing (none / 0) (#3)
    by Anne on Fri Mar 27, 2009 at 11:48:15 AM EST
    limits on the imposition of the death penalty for a number of years.

    In 1987, we excluded juveniles - weel before the Supreme Court did the same thing in 2005.

    In 1989, Maryland excluded mentally retarded offenders; the Supreme cOurt did not catch up until 2002.

    In 1997, the first moratorium bill was introduced - and failed - but in 2002, the Democratic governor put a moratorium on the death penalty; it is reinstituted several months later with the election of a Republican governor.  The state's attorney general came out against the lifting of the moratorium - the first AG in the nation to do so.

    One prisoner is executed under Governor Ehrlich's term, but those opposed to the death penalty do not give up.

    In the last 50 years, there have been 5 executions in Maryland; there were no executions between 1961 and 1994; I think there may be 5 or 6 people on death row currently.

    I think it is only a matter of time before repeal triumphs.


    i hope repeal does win soon (none / 0) (#4)
    by Bemused on Fri Mar 27, 2009 at 12:23:43 PM EST
     but in the meantime, the pace might not be much different than before this bill precisely because Maryland isn't like  Texas.

    Model law (none / 0) (#5)
    by diogenes on Fri Mar 27, 2009 at 08:07:18 PM EST
    Pass this in all fifty states and sites like this will have to address the real issue of straight repeal instead of red herring arguments about how the death penalty should be repealed because some hypothetical innocent person might someday be executed.

    not entirely (none / 0) (#6)
    by Bemused on Mon Mar 30, 2009 at 08:53:22 AM EST
      Confessions, including videotaped ones are not 100% reliable. Videotaping would likely significantly reduce both the admission into evidence of  involuntary (and thus more likely unreliable)confessions and the reliance of juries on confessions that though admissible have other indicia of unreliability that would not be as apparent in the absence of a video/audio recording. It would not, though,  guarantee no "false confession convictions" ever occur.

      It's also important to understand that forensic evidence is circumstantial evidence. DNA and other types of testing can help ensure that evidence offered circumstantailly to connect a defendant to a crime can be connected to that defendant. That is good, but, even if we assume such testing could be 100% reliable, it doesn't mean that cases where a jury draws a false inference from the circumstantial evidence will never occur.

      For example, I have sex with my girlfriend/wife and then we have an argument  and I leave. Then she is killed in a manner suggestive of association with sexual assault or sexual motive, etc.

      A sample is taken and it is confirmed to contain my DNA. the prosecution's theory is that I raped and killed her out of jealousy, etc. The fact my DNA is found is used to buttress that theory. The jury  does in fact draw the circumstantal inference the prosecution argues it should, but i am in fact innocent.

    to make the point (none / 0) (#7)
    by Bemused on Mon Mar 30, 2009 at 09:30:21 AM EST
      These types of reforms should reduce the "error rate" in criminal prosecutions, but they will not likely eliminate the error of individuals being wrongly convicted.

      No system designed and operated by human beings will be perfect. Therefore, the argument that the death penalty should be eliminated because of an unacceptably high risk of a person being wrongly executed is not eliminated, so long as the person making the argument believes that even a single person being wrongly executed is unacceptable.

      An error rate of 1 out of 10,000 is a hundred times better than an error rate of one out of a 100, but when the issue is death many might agree even that isn't good enough.