Abolish the Death Penalty

December 06, 1993

The Governor's Commission on the Death Penalty did an intelligent and thorough job of analyzing capital punishment in TTC Maryland since 1978 -- the year a new law was adopted after the Supreme Court overturned all state death penalty laws. Maryland mistakenly chose not to abandon the death penalty, though it might as well have. No one has been executed since then, nor, says the commission, is anyone likely to be for the next couple of years (with the possible exception of a "volunteer" like John Thanos).

While the commission report is well done, it is not pleasant reading. In cold, legal, academic language, it defends the indefensible: the taking of human life by the state. The ethical questions involved in capital punishment were not formally before the commission, and some members may personally be opposed to capital punishment. But for the record, the seven-member commission concluded with only one dissent that "the death penalty need not be abandoned for reasons of excessive cost and delay, or unfairness."

Yet the dollar cost of seeking capital punishment is clearly excessive. Hard numbers are impossible to come by, since so many death-row defendants have years of costly appeals and other reviews of sentence ahead of them. The commission suggests in its report that even taking into account the cost of lengthy imprisonments, it would still be cheaper to limit punishment to life without parole. As for delay, the commission gives too little weight to its own belief that the time needed to go from arrest to execution is so long that the public is losing faith in the state's administration of justice.

Also, "geographical discrepancies" are so great in administering the death penalty as be unfair by any standard. Even the commissioners admit this "troubles them." For instance, there were 76 murders in Charles County in the period studied and 75 in Howard. Howard sought the death penalty seven times, Charles, none.

The death penalty is immoral, ineffective, costly and unfair. It can't be reformed. It ought to be abolished.

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