Dixon Tries Once Again To Get His Legislation Enacted

Bill Would Limit Free Counsel In Death-penalty Cases

February 05, 1992|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff writer

ANNAPOLIS — Capital punishment is an ineffective penalty in Maryland since convicts are seldom executed, Del. Richard N. Dixon told the House Judiciary Committee yesterday.

"To execute a man in Maryland is almost impossible. This is not right," said the Carroll Democrat in support ofhis bill, which would repeal the current automatic right to free counsel enjoyed by death-row inmates upon a first petition to set aside their sentence.

"We need to execute people on death row instead of letting them file appeal after appeal after appeal," Dixon said.

Dixon's bill, which was defeated by the committee last year, is intended to save taxpayers' money and the courts' time by establishing more stringent limits on the appeals process for those sentenced to death. The bill would require the court to determine whether a convict filing a first petition for "post-conviction relief" should be entitled to counsel.

Convicts sentenced to lesser penalties also have the right to counsel upon a first petition.

Two state public defenders and another from Anne Arundel County opposed the bill, saying it could have an effect opposite what Dixon intends. The public defenders said caseloads for trial attorneys and court hearings actually could increase becausejudges most likely would grant the petitioners counsel.

Public defenders currently review the often frivolous legal petitions brought by "jailhouse lawyers." They often advise the inmates that their cases have no legal merit, and often the inmates do not pursue the case further, said the public defenders.

If the public defender were notobligated to screen the petitions, "I believe the courts would be inundated with people requesting post-conviction assistance with convoluted arguments, citing cases with no relevance," said Carol Chance, chief attorney of the state's inmate services division. "It would be adisservice to the courts."

Dixon argued that the judicial system is too lenient for those sentenced to death and that Maryland citizens want the tough penalties carried out.

"I'm sure people in my district don't understand why someone ruled guilty by a jury can appeal again and again and have taxpayers pay their room and board for the rest of their lives, or worse yet, be paroled," he said.

He cited Singapore and Hong Kong as places where there is "little crime becausethey execute people."

"Some say the death penalty might not prevent crime, but it will prevent that person from committing another crime," he said.

Sen. Walter Baker, D-Cecil, chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, has introduced several bills to tighten procedures that allow death penalty cases to linger for years.

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