CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Friday, November 14, 2008

Repeal of death penalty urged

state commission reviewing capital punishment recommended last night an end to executions in Maryland, prompting hope among death penalty opponents that the General Assembly could soon abolish the 30-year practice.

The Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment voted 13-7 to make the recommendation. It found that the death penalty carries the "real possibility" of executing innocent people and may be biased against blacks.

The final report of the 23-member commission is expected to provide additional ammunition to Gov. Martin O'Malley and other death penalty opponents in their uphill fight to stop state executions. Previous repeal efforts have narrowly failed despite high-profile campaigns by O'Malley, a Roman Catholic and ardent opponent of capital punishment.

An O'Malley spokesman said last night that the Democratic governor looks forward to reading the final report, which is due next month. The governor has lobbied for a death-penalty repeal and vowed to sign it if the legislature passes it. [Mark Godsey]

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The pending final report may have some problems.

The report finds that:

1. Innocents are too much at risk of execution, but . . .

INNOCENTS ARE MORE PROTECTED WITH DEATH PENALTY: The evidence is that innocents are more at risk without the death penalty. The death penalty provides enhanced due process, enhanced incapacitation and enhanced deterrence, all of which provide greater protection for innocents.

2. There MIGHT be systemic bias against African Americans, but . . .

The Executive Summary of the Maryland race and the death penalty study found NO BIAS IN SENTENCING: "There is no race of the offender/victim effect at either the decision to advance a case to penalty hearing or the decision to sentence a defendant to death given a penalty hearing." page 30

3) There is no confirmable evidence for deterrence, but . . .

ALL SANCTIONS DETER: 16 recent studies, inclusive of their defenses, found for death penalty deterrence - a deterrent effect higher than lesser sanctions. Not surprising as all prospects of a negative outcome deter some - there are no exceptions. Life is preferred over death Death is feared more than life.

4. The death penalty is too arbitrary, but . . .

THE DEATH PENALTY IS THE LEAST ARBITRARY AND CAPRICIOUS OF ALL SANCTIONS: About 10% of all murders within the US might qualify for a death penalty eligible trial. That would be about 64,000 murders since 1973. We have sentenced 8000 murderers to death since then, or 13% of those eligible. I doubt that there is any other crime which receives a higher percentage of maximum sentences, when mandatory sentences are not available. Based upon that, as well as pre trial, trial, appellate and clemency/commutation realities, the US death penalty is likely the least arbitrary and capricious criminal sanctions in the US.

Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
e-mail, 713-622-5491,
Houston, Texas

Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS , VOA and many other TV and radio networks, on such programs as Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, The O'Reilly Factor, etc., has been quoted in newspapers throughout the world and is a published author.

A former opponent of capital punishment, he has written and granted interviews about, testified on and debated the subject of the death penalty, extensively and internationally.

Posted by: Dudley Sharp | Jan 6, 2009 5:30:04 AM

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