A flawed system


Jan. 11, 2009, midnight | By Lauren Kestner | 11 years, 8 months ago

Death penalty should be repealed in Maryland


In March of 1985, Kirk Bloodsworth was sentenced to death in Baltimore County for the brutal rape and murder of nine-year-old Dawn Hamilton. He was granted a new trial through the Maryland Court of Appeals due to exculpatory evidence withheld by the prosecution, but his sentence was only reduced to two life terms without parole. Eight years later, with the advent of Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) DNA testing, Bloodsworth was acquitted and released from prison on June 28, 2003. Bloodsworth's eight-year incarceration and near-execution for a crime that he did not commit exemplifies a flawed capital punishment system in Maryland.

The Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment issued a Dec. 12 report to the Maryland General Assembly recommending that the state abolish the death penalty. The 23-member panel, which includes victims' relatives, attorneys, clergy, law enforcement officials and state delegates and senators, voted 13 - 9 in favor of advising a repeal of the death penalty in Maryland. The panel's 132-page report delineates the racial disparities and burdensome costs that render capital punishment in Maryland cruel and ineffective.

The financial burdens of maintaining a system that rarely executes convicted death row inmates is reason enough for the repeal of the death penalty in Maryland. In its report, the commission cited an Urban Institute estimate that capitally-prosecuted cases between 1978 and 1999 are costing taxpayers a staggering $186 million. The study also found that the cost of a capital-eligible case in which the defendant is sentenced to life without parole is $1.1 million, significantly lower than the $3 million expense for prosecuting a case that results in the death penalty.

To justify the exorbitant costs associated with prosecuting death penalty cases, criminal masterminds of particularly heinous crimes should be put to death under the system. But the 30-year history of state executions reveals that the system is woefully cost-ineffective. Sixty-two out of 77 capital-eligible cases prosecuted since 1978 later had a death sentence ruling reversed - an 80 percent error rate. "Public safety might be greatly enhanced if the resources currently being expended on capital punishment were instead invested in law enforcement for improved investigation, especially laboratory and technical investigations, and in victim service programs for counseling and support benefits," wrote members of the commission in their report to the General Assembly.

Capital punishment in Maryland is plagued by much worse than financial burdens. Studies of 1,300 capital-eligible cases between 1978 and 1999 reveal that the murderers of white victims were 2.5 times more likely to be sentenced to death than murderers of black victims, a sure indication that racial disparities compromise the integrity of the Maryland system. A study conducted by law professor David Baldus at the University of Iowa determined that of all the cases resulting in capital punishment in Maryland since 1978, none involved the murder of a black victim. This patent bias in the capital punishment system is especially egregious considering that 43 percent of capital-eligible cases involve a black victim.

Opponents will claim that the death penalty is necessary because it serves as a deterrent to crime, but there is little evidence to support this claim. In 2000, the Maryland Law Enforcement Agency reported that Maryland ranked as the third highest state for murder - with 8.1 murders per 100,000 people annually. Researchers Ronald Akers and Michael Radelet surveyed 70 criminologists and reported that 86 percent believed abolishing the death penalty would not have any significant effects on the murder rate. The testimony of Brian Forst, a professor at American University, sums up the opinion of most criminologists. He confirmed at a commission hearing that, "There is, in short, no convincing evidence that the death penalty deters homicide."

It is incumbent on members of the Maryland General Assembly to vote for the repeal of an inequitable capital punishment system in Maryland. The death penalty does little to deter crime, imposes burdensome costs on taxpayer and compromises the integrity of our justice system with biased rulings. Students should call their local representatives and urge them to vote for a repeal of the death penalty when the vote is raised in the Maryland General Assembly.




Lauren Kestner. Lauren Kestner loves Trader Joe's chocolates, cheesy television soap operas, summer trips to Lake Anna, coffee ice cream from Coldstone Creamery, hikes at Northwest Branch and shopping at Heritage. Playing soccer for Blair or her MSC club team and running at the gym consumes much … More »

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