Senate Votes to Repeal Maryland Death Penalty

Legislation is expected to pass House in coming days; Maryland would become 18th state to end the death penalty

(ANNAPOLIS, MD.) – The Maryland Senate took a stand for a more effective criminal justice system today, passing legislation to repeal the death penalty by a margin of 27 to 20.  The bill, which won bipartisan support in the Senate, moves to the Maryland House of Delegates, where passage is expected.

“Today’s Senate vote brings Maryland one step closer to fixing a broken justice system,” stated Benjamin Todd Jealous, President and CEO of the NAACP. “We are optimistic that the House of Delegates will also vote to repeal and that capital punishment will be relegated to the history books of this state."

"There is no longer a place in Maryland for this immoral, ineffective, racially biased and fiscally wasteful practice," continued Jealous. "We must repeal the death penalty and replace it with life without the possibility of parole.”

"With the passage of the Death Penalty Repeal, the Maryland State Senate continues to demonstrate the leadership that citizens expect when we vote," stated Maryland NAACP President Gerald Stansbury. "While the African American Community has been disproprtionately affected by the death penalty, families of all races are affected and believe the death pealty has no place in our society. Today, they can be hopeful that the great state of Maryland, once again, will be on the right side of equality and justice, and history."

“This vote marks a major milestone for the state of Maryland,” said Jane Henderson, executive director of Maryland Citizens Against State Executions. “I’m proud of the Senate for recognizing that the only way to strengthen our criminal justice system is to eliminate this ineffective death penalty.”

The legislation would replace the death penalty with a maximum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. It was the Senate’s first vote on whether or not to have the death penalty since 1978.

“This is not a moral issue of whether or not the worst criminals deserve capital punishment. This is about an arbitrary practice that is racially biased, costly and has a detrimental impact on murder victims’ families,” said Henderson. “This new legislation maintains a severe punishment of life in prison without the possibility of parole.”

The legislation has received the strong support of Governor Martin O’Malley, who has made its passage a priority this session. The governor and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown both testified in favor of repeal during recent committee hearings.

The Senate vote follows the recommendation for repeal advanced in 2008 by the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment. Led by former U.S. Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti, the commission found that there was a real possibility of executing an innocent person in spite of advances in forensics, that there are racial disparities in how the death penalty system works in Maryland and that the pursuit of capital cases is harder on victims’ families than non-capital prosecutions.

A recent poll from Gonzales Research shows strong support for the legislation. Among Maryland voters surveyed, 62 percent agree that they support repealing the death penalty, replacing it with a maximum sentence of life without the possibility of parole, and using some of the savings this would produce to support services for family members of murder victims. The poll found that 32 percent “strongly” agree and 30 percent “somewhat” agree, while 30 percent disagree.

A broad coalition of national and state groups have been working to repeal the death penalty and advocating for more funding towards resources for murder victims’ families.  Although a provision allocating money for such services was stripped from the legislation last week, advocates are still hopeful murder victims’ family members will not be forgotten.

“Support for victims’ services is still a priority for us,” said Henderson. “Maryland does not provide adequate services to those who have been affected by severe crime and we will continue to press legislators to allocate money for these necessary resources. We urge the governor and legislature to make sure there is more money to fund these critical programs.”

Maryland would be the sixth state to abandon the death penalty in recent years, following New York (2004), New Jersey (2007), New Mexico (2009), Illinois (2010) and Connecticut (2011). Seventeen states, plus the District of Columbia, do not have the death penalty.

Members of the coalition to repeal the death penalty in Maryland include: Maryland Citizens Against State Executions (CASE); CURE National; CURE -MD; CURE Women Incarcerated; Maryland Catholic Conference; MomsRising.Org; People of Faith Against the Death Penalty; National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NCADP); NAACP National Office; Maryland State Conference of Branches of the NAACP; NAACP Baltimore City Branch; NAACP Prince George's County Branch; Equal Justice USA; ColorOfChange.Org; ACLU-MD; CASA De Maryland; Amnesty International; the League of Women Voters; Equality Maryland; Progressive Maryland; the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland; and the Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of Maryland.

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