Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment Examines State Death Penalty

On July 28, 2008, the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment held the first of several public hearings to assess whether Maryland death penalty procedures meet basic standards of fairness and avoid bias and error. Established earlier this year by Maryland’s General Assembly, the 23-member commission is examining issues including racial disparities in the application of the death penalty, the costs of litigating prolonged capital cases as compared to life imprisonment, and the risk of executing the innocent. Following the hearings, the Commission will submit a final report of its findings and recommendations by December 15, 2008.

Excerpts from Testimony:

“To be meaningful, justice should be swift and sure. Life without parole, which begins immediately, is both of these; the death penalty is neither. Capital punishment drags victims’ loved ones through an agonizing and lengthy process, holding out the promise of one punishment in the beginning and often resulting in a life sentence in the end anyway.”

- letter to Commission from murder victims’ families read by Lisa Delity, sister of murder victim, 8/19/08


“I left the state’s attorney’s office more than ten years ago, but I still remember the agony of attempting to make the fundamental decision of whether to ask a jury or judge to condemn someone to death. Our system invests an individual prosecutor with unfettered discretion to make that decision. I now believe that to do so rationally and fairly is beyond human capabilities.”

- Judge Andrew L. Sonner, former MD state prosecutor, 8/19/08


“It is difficult to sympathize with a cold-blooded killer, but it makes no sense that a murderer in one county is subject to the death penalty when an identical crime would be treated in an entirely different way, if it were committed in another county.”

- Deborah Poritz, former Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court, 7/28/08


“We elect our trial-level prosecutors by county so that local people have local control over how the discretion of the office is exercised. If the voters of suburban Baltimore County choose to elect a prosecutor who seeks the death penalty frequently, while the voters

of downtown Baltimore City elect one who seeks it rarely, that is their choice.”

- Kent Sheiddegger, “Smoke & Mirrors on Race and the Death Penalty” - report presented to Commission, 7/28/08


“The death penalty is a bankrupt policy that wastes increasingly scarce state and federal resources. Our state desperately needs to invest more in caring for those traumatized by violence, particularly youth, if we are ever going to break the cycle of violence in of our communities. Our tax dollars would be much more effectively invested in education, mental and physical health care, childcare – and other essential ingredients of opportunity, equality and public safety.”

– Meldridge James, NAACP, 7/28/08

See Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment. See also Studies.