After a 5 year fight, Maryland lawmakers vote to abolish the death penalty.
Legislation to abolish the death penalty in Maryland was approved by the Maryland House of Delegates on Friday, and has been sent to Governor Martin O’Malley, a longtime supporter of repealing the death penalty, to sign into law. According to the Associated Press, the new legislation represents a “major victory” for the governor, who has fought for over five years to ban the death penalty in his state. O’Malley said, “We have a moral responsibility to stop doing the things that are wasteful and do not work and, that I would argue, run contrary to the deeper principles that unite us as Marylanders.” Under the new law, the most severe sentence allowed would be “life without the possibility of parole.”
Opponents of the repeal insist that the sentence of capital punishment is a “necessary tool in punishing those who commit the most egregious crimes.” Delegate Michael McDermott, who voted against the legislation said, “This bill is wrong-spirited. It’s a shame that we will not allow future generations to have the option of putting the absolute worst of the worst to death.” However, supporters assert that capitol punishment is, “costly, racially biased, a poor deterrent of crime and sometimes wrongfully applied.” Many of Maryland’s lawmakers chose to support the bill based on the concern that an innocent person could be wrongly convicted and put to death, and many agreed that is not acceptable. Delegate Luiz Simmons said, “I can live with putting to death criminals who committed what are truly grievous and wicked acts … but what I am opposed to, and what I can no longer live with, is using the death penalty to accidently put to death an innocent man or woman.”
There are currently 5 men on death row in Maryland, and this new bill does not apply retroactively to those who have already been sentenced. However, the legislation is very clear in that the governor has the power to “commute their sentences to life in prison without the possibility of parole,” if he so chooses. O’Malley has said he will be evaluating each of the 5 cases individually before making a decision as to whether he will commute the sentences. Diann Rust-Tierney, the Executive Director of the National Coalition To Abolish The Death Penalty said,
We see Maryland as the bellwether for the direction the rest of the country is headed in. There was an effort, early on, to try to address some of the problems with the death penalty, especially the possibility of executing an innocent man. Maryland has gone the full gamut trying to fix it and realized it can’t be fixed.
Once the new legislation is signed into law, Maryland will be the 18th state in the US to ban the death penalty.