The Maryland House of Delegates has today passed a bill, approved by the State Senate on March 6, that replaces capital punishment with the sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Governor Martin O’Malley is expected to sign the bill.
Hooray for Maryland!
This would make Maryland the 18th state in the US to ban capital punishment, and the sixth state in as many years to bring a repeal. In the last six years, Connecticut, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York and Illinois have repealed the death penalty. (The District of Columbia has also rejected capital punishment.)
As a former resident of Maryland, I am thrilled that the state has chosen to reject this barbaric punishment.
Maryland currently has five men on death row, though the measure makes it clear the governor can commute their sentences to life in prison. The state last executed someone in 2005.
Capital punishment has been on hold in Maryland since a December 2006 ruling by the state’s highest court that the lethal injection protocols had not been properly approved by a legislative committee.
Many of us hoped that last November California would become the latest state to see the light and decide to get rid of capital punishment, but instead 52 percent of California voters cast ballots to keep the death penalty. Nevertheless, this slim majority indicates that Californians are growing increasingly concerned with the costs and unfairness of the death penalty.
But with today’s Maryland news, we can hope that the tide is really turning, and the US is no longer embracing the death penalty. In recent years, the number of government-ordered executions has fallen: there were a total of 43 executions nationwide in 2011 and again in 2012, compared with 85 executions in 2000. In addition, death sentences have declined by 75% and executions by 60% since the 1990s.
Along with China, Iran, North Korea and Yemen, the United States currently leads the world in carrying out the most death sentences. What great company we are in.
Yet worldwide there seems to be a general trend toward the abolition of capital punishment. Over the past decade, 31 countries have eliminated the death penalty in law or practice. The US should be the next country.
And indeed, legislatures in several other states are considering getting rid of death sentences: Colorado and Delaware will be seriously considering death penalty repeal bills in the coming weeks.
Mona Cadena, state strategist for Equal Justice USA declares today’s vote in Maryland to be a “decisive victory.”
“This is a thrilling day,” she states, “and a victory that has been many years in the making.” She continues, “Things are definitely changing in this country. So many states are asking critical questions now, like ‘Is the death penalty worth our time, given all the problems with racism and errors?’ And the bottom line is asking whether it’s OK to execute an innocent person. One by one, states are saying ‘No’ to the death penalty.”
In Maryland, as in the rest of the country, there have been significant racial disparities; four out of the five men on the state’s death row are African-Americans whose victims were white.
Deliberately taking another person’s life is not justice, but nothing more than a crude instrument of revenge. It is a cruel and degrading punishment, and the US should banish the death penalty now.
Congratulations to Maryland for doing the right thing.
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