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Feb. 17, 2013

O'Malley wrong to put Maryland's capital punishment on death row

by Aanchal Johri, Online Editor-in-Chief
This month, legislatures may pass a bill that will forever change the Maryland criminal justice system – and most likely for the worse.

Should the state of Maryland abolish the death penalty?
  • Yes
  • No
Discuss this Poll
The Maryland State House and Senate met on Feb. 14 to hear Governor Martin O'Malley's proposition, a bill which proposes abolishing the death penalty in Maryland as well as creating a fund with $500,000 a year to aid crime victims and their families. The bill, which is expected to pass but will face opposition from Maryland voters, hopes to resolve two main issues people have against the death penalty: discriminatory practices and expensive costs. However, rather than blaming the penalty, O'Malley and other opponents of capital punishment should direct their concerns to those who indicted the criminal, as these issues will continue to persist unless the criminal justice system is reformed.

The first concern is that the death penalty is discriminatory and that low-income or minority classes are more likely to receive this sentence than other socioeconomic groups. Others are quick to add that innocent people have been sentenced to death row in the past. By eliminating the death penalty, proponents of O'Malley's bill believe that they will relieve the justice system of these inequitable practices. However, these decisions were not the fault of utilizing the death penalty, but rather the fault of human error. Since our courts hear the criminal's case, declare the criminal guilty and assign his sentence, they should be the ones accountable for the discrimination or mal-sentencing. It is important to realize that the death penalty by itself is the consequence, and not the cause, of discrimination during implementation.

The other principal concern of death penalty opponents is that, on average, the cost of exercising capital punishment is considerably higher than giving a life-in-prison sentence. One of the main reasons why the death penalty is so expensive is because the cost of appeals and DNA sampling is high. The courts want to gather the maximum amount of evidence before they put a person on death row. However, a life sentence in prison arguably causes more suffering to the criminal, indicating that these thorough, expensive investigational procedures should be applied to life-in-prison sentences as well.

The death penalty has been used only five times since 1976, yet lawmakers blame problems on capital punishment rather than on the criminal justice system. Michael Flancia
The death penalty has been used only five times since 1976, yet lawmakers blame problems on capital punishment rather than on the criminal justice system.
In addition, the high costs can be traced back to the criminal justice system once again, since poor lawyers and incompetency in the appeals process prolong court decision and in turn, raise costs. According to a report done for University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, "A reform of this magnitude, the justice department concluded last fall, [would] reduce the time and the cost of a death penalty trial significantly," the report stated.

One positive aspect of the bill is that it vouches for creating a fund to support the victims and their families after a treacherous crime has taken place. Nevertheless, this step forward can be made even without abolishing capital punishment.

Most importantly, capital punishment serves as a symbol for how certain crimes are outrageous and cruel. The capital punishment is reserved for only the most treacherous of crimes and has only been used five times in Maryland since 1976. The punishment does not need to be dealt out often, but the idea that lawmakers are capable of serving proper justice to those who violate our laws is reassuring, and having the death penalty in place sends a message to outsiders that crimes such as murder and rape are intolerable and unacceptable. In an advanced society, we need an equally advanced criminal justice system to handle any forthcomings that may take place. Life-in-prison sentences are simply not powerful enough.

Capital punishment is intentionally reserved for only the most monstrous of crimes. Maryland legislators need to evaluate the criminal justice system instead of directly blaming capital punishment. Just as the crime is severe and final, the punishment for the crime should be as well.



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  • Anonymous on February 17, 2013 at 4:47 PM
    As far as the argument of the cartoon that the death penalty is expensive, isn't housing people in prison for their whole life more expensive?
    • Evan on April 18, 2013 at 2:33 PM
      No, actually.

      From "The High Cost of the Death Penalty," available at www.deathpenalty.org:

      "The death penalty is much more expensive than life without parole because the Constitution requires a long and complex judicial process for capital cases. This process is needed in order to ensure that innnocent men and woman are not executed for crimes they did not commit, and even with these protections the risk of executing an innocent person can not be completely eliminated.

      If the death penalty was replaced with a sentence of Life Without the Possibility of Parole, which costs millions less and also ensures that the public is protected while eliminating the risk of an irreversible mistake, the money saved could be spent on programs that actually improve the communities in which we live... More than 3500 men and woman have received this sentence in California since 1978 and NOT ONE has been released, except those few individuals who were able to prove their innocence."
  • Alumnus on February 17, 2013 at 5:30 PM
    This is poorly constructed, poorly argued, and misses the point. It essentially amounts to a collection of bland, meaningless statements from principle; this is a lousy way of approaching a problem, as policies are not based on principle (or, at least, they should not be); rather, they are based on expected results.

    While the author flails around pointing fingers and explaining away the death penalty's clear negative effects as being the "fault" of problems elsewhere in the system, he makes no effort to argue that abolition of the death penalty would not have the effects that its proponents claim it clearly would. Ultimately, the result is a weak argument that is more apologetic than it is persuasive.
  • Freshman on February 17, 2013 at 6:58 PM
    First of all, your claim that the extremely high cost of the death penalty is due to issues with the criminal justice system is only a very narrow minded view of the problem. There are indeed issues with the criminal justice system, such as poor lawyers and issues with the appeals system, that could be fixed with a major reform of the system, but the main reason for the high cost of capital cases is that the Supreme Court has made it intentionally difficult for the death penalty to be implemented. The Court has separated the portion of the trial in which the defendant declared innocent or guilty of the capital crime in question and the sentencing portion of the trial, so that two different prosecutors, two different judges, and two different juries must be selected. The Court has also added a third mandatory process, which is basically a review of the previous two courts' decisions'. And then the appeals begin, often lasting ten to twenty years, sometimes much more than that.
    I'm not exactly sure I understand your argument about inequitable practices in giving the death penalty. It is obvious you do not care much about these stats, as you basically wrote them off in your article, but I'll recite them just like the anti-death penalty activist I am. It is two and a half times more likely for a black person to be sentenced to death for the killing of a white person, than for a white person killing another white person. The five people that have been put on death row since the 2009 law in Maryland restricting the use of the death penalty have been charged with the killing of a white person. You make the point that proponents of death penalty repeal believe that repealing the death penalty will relieve the justice system of "inequitable practices." This is simply not the case. Proponents of the Governor's bill are not looking to end discrimination, or error in the justice system. They are merely concerned the since 1976, when the restrictions on the implementation of the death penalty were put in place, 142 people were put on death row that had not committed the crime for which they were charged. We are not looking to fix the entire criminal justice system, we are looking to remove a facet of the criminal justice system that is racist, completely arbitrary, and relies on perfection in the criminal justice system (I forgot parallel structure just then, but I'm tired, so whatever). The risk of executing an innocent person can not be alleviated with a simple reform of the system, the only way to completely eliminate that terrible chance of the state taking the life of an innocent citizen is to have perfection in the criminal justice system. Some of the innocent men and women put on death row were in that position due to the smallest of mistakes in the criminal justice system, often mistakes that could not be fixed with reform.
    It is amazing to me that with restrictions on the implementation of the death penalty being so great that capitol cases cost about a million dollars more than non-capitol cases, courts have still implicated 142 men and women for a crime they did not commit. Those 142 men and women served an average of nine years on death row before they were exonerated. Through all of the budget swallowing appeals and lab fees; lawyers and judges and prosecutors; 142 people still made it through the system.
    You make the point in your article that it is basically "not the death penalty's fault" the death penalty is racially biased and overly reliant on human perfection. You say that the people implicating defendants for death should be held accountable, and the criminal justice system should be changed. I completely agree, but, you cant exonerate someone after they have been killed. There will always be human imperfections in the criminal justice system, no matter what reform is put in place, but you can release someone from jail, if they have been given life without parole. You can find new evidence, perhaps fire the lab worker that messed up the evidence, and release the defendant with a sincere apology. The same can not be said for the death penalty. There will always be human imperfection, but if the death penalty is to be repealed, human imperfection could be corrected.
    I find it ridiculous that you think the most important part of the death penalty is to be a symbol for the cruelty of certain crimes. You say that the death penalty serves as a reminder that certain crimes are unacceptable. That reminder is non-existent. Violent crime rates are higher in states with the death penalty than those without it. There are only seven countries that still implement the death penalty. Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Afghanistan, China, among them, countries with some of the worst crime rates in the world. The death penalty is a reminder to no one. Criminals will commit crimes, and the simple argument dthat the death penalty is reassuring is no match for the terrible bias, and reliance on human perfection, which is not a quality of humans, that are a part of the death penalty punishment.
    • To: Freshman on February 18, 2013 at 1:03 PM
      I think the author does a good job in being vague as to whether or not he believes that the penalty should actually be used. He is simply stating that we cannot abolish capital punishment on the grounds that the criminal justice is giving out the wrong sentence, which I find to be highly convincing and interesting.
      First of all, it is clear that “Freshman” gives a high important to statistics when in reality, they are highly inaccurate, misrepresentative, and all-in-all not true at all. If the author cited such statistics in his argument, there would always be a counter statistic and then a counter to the counter statistic. The rest of “Freshman’s” argument pertained to how innocent people were being exonerated, etc. However, I whole heartedly agree with the author when he says that the courts “hear the criminal's case, declare the criminal guilty and assign his sentence, they should be the ones accountable for the discrimination or mal-sentencing.”
      Although it is unrealistic to expect that the criminal justice system will ever be flawless, I could not affirm more that the death penalty should simply EXIST because there may be cases that need it. Someone who injures someone else should NOT receive the same sentence as the sniper shooter or someone who committed 9/11. The Nazis in Germany post World War II were all hung (AKA were given the death penalty) thanks to the Nuremberg trials. Do criminals such as Nazis and 9/11 masterminds who have intentionally taken away thousands of lives deserve to have the same punishment as someone who shot and injured a bank teller? I don’t think so. And this is why we need the death penalty.
      As for the last paragraph, once again, Freshman relies on random statistic to show that areas with the death penalty have more crime than areas without. Who knows what the reason for this could be? Freshman seems to believe that it is because they have the death penalty, these areas have no crime. This is untrue for obvious reasons; there are many other factors involved in crime rate. Also, no where does the article state that the death penalty will serve as a deterrent to crime. In that respect, I agree that having the death penalty in place shows the strength of the criminal justice system.
      • To: To Freshman, From: Freshman on February 18, 2013 at 4:11 PM
        To Freshman! I think you make some extremely valid points, and I agree with a few of them. First of all, I was recently at the Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Hearings on the death penalty, and the opposition to death penalty repeal actually had an extremely limited amount of "statistics" to back up their point, I have done some research on death penalty supporters, and they actually have very little data to respond to proponents accusations of racial bias and the cost of a capitol case. You can call some of my statistics untrue, but there is absolutely no denying these facts: the death penalty costs more than life without parole, there are great restrictions on the death penalty yet many are incorrectly charged, and there is racial bias in the implementation of the death penalty. No numbers, and you would be hard pressed to find anyone that disagrees with those facts. But that was basically a repetition of my earlier argument.

        To one of your first arguments. That the courts should be held responsible for mal-sentencing. Who else would be to blame? The courts should always be to blame in any sort of incorrect sentencing, the difference is that in the case of the death penalty, one cant release an innocent man. If someone is incorrectly sentenced to life without parole, they can be released. The same can not be said for the death penalty. I had the chance to speak with Kirk Bloodsworth, who was incorrectly charged with the brutal rape and murder of a nine year old girl. He spent years on death row, and was only exonerated because of the most lucky of circumstances. Say the man in the lab that discovered the incorrect data in Bloodsworth's case didn't come in that day. He could have been put to death within a few years. If he was given life without parole, data probably could have eventually been found during the course of his life. You say that the system could never be perfect. I completely agree. The author calls for reform in the criminal justice system. I completely agree. But, as you say, the system could never be perfect, leaving the ever-present chance that an innocent person could be killed by the state.

        Now, lets go on to the main reason you believe the death penalty should be in place: as a symbol of the strength of the criminal justice system. I find this argument most disturbing of all. You don't seem to find it important that the death penalty is actually implemented, you simply want it just in case something is to happen that seems ESPECIALLY bad, so we can kill them. You say that the people that masterminded the 9/11 attacks should not get the same sentence as someone that injures a bank teller. First of all, an armed robber would not get life without parole. That is just a bad example. But lets look at two examples of cases that could end in a death penalty sentence. First: an alleged 9/11 mastermind, and example you used. Second: Kirk Bloodsworth, who was charged with the rape and murder of a child. Neither of these two, if convicted, would get the same sentence as an armed assault/ robbery. What is to stop real 9/11 masterminds from paying others to create false testimony or evidence to implicate an innocent in the 9/11 attacks. An innocent person could be put to death in what is considered the worst crime on American soil in the past century, just as Kirk Bloodsworth was implicated in a crime he did not commit. The point I am trying to get at, is that you cant rank killings. If one were to pass a piece of legislation citing certain crimes that could be given the death penalty for, wouldn't conspiring to kill thousands of Americans be at the top of the list? Even if you made it so you had to kill multiple people for the death penalty to be implemented, there is still so much room for mistakes. To whom is the death penalty an example for? The article cites "outsiders." What "outsider" that believes the Maryland criminal justice system is strong is worth the state taking an innocent life? I cited those stats that show the death penalty is not a deterrent because I thought that when the author was citing outsiders, they were referring to criminals. And the argument that places with the death penalty have higher violent crime rates than those without wasn't implying that the death penalty raises crime, it was just another argument that the death penalty is not a deterrent of violent crime. Why are we so concerned about the opinion of "outsiders?" Shouldn't we be concerned about the lives of Maryland citizens? There is no way to make the argument that the death penalty is foolproof, there could be mistakes in giving the penalty to those we believe to have perpetrated the most violent of crimes, and once the state kills a citizen, they can not take it back.
  • Alex B. (View Email) on February 17, 2013 at 8:05 PM
    I itch my social Darwinistic rash by supporting the death penalty, but I have my misgivings. It may be true that many of its detriments are due to issues in the justice system, but I doubt such issues will be resolved that easily.
  • Anon on February 18, 2013 at 10:51 AM
    The part about the death penalty costing more is WAAAY off. According to LA Times, the cost of the newer, more expensive lethal injection (pentobarbital aka Nembutal) is $1286.86 per execution [1]. This means that the cost for the death penalty comes more from the CASE (e.g. trials, litigation) rather than the actual money needed to administer the drug.

    Sorry if I sound like a heartless human, but economically, the death penalty is insurmountably cheaper, if it is not inundated with media hype.

    Thank you for your misinformation.

    Ref: 1.
    • Paul on February 18, 2013 at 12:37 PM
      The death penalty, with the cost of trials and DNA testing, can cost over 3 million dollars per case.

      The article says, "However, a life sentence in prison arguably causes more suffering to the criminal, indicating that these thorough, expensive investigational procedures should be applied to life-in-prison sentences as well." Agreed.
    • Evan on April 18, 2013 at 2:35 PM
      The point is that death sentences ARE surrounded by hype and the cases are millions more expensive for the system because the constitution calls for such scrutiny.
  • Anon on February 18, 2013 at 10:56 AM
    As a response to my other comment, the lethal injections used in Texas in previous years cost only $83.55.
  • NK (View Email) on February 18, 2013 at 11:52 AM
    "Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement."
    ~J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
    • Plum on October 28, 2013 at 12:13 PM
      Tolkien said that?

      Wow. Props.
  • Freshman on February 18, 2013 at 12:07 PM
    Hey Anonymous. It is actually about three times more expensive to implement the death penalty than to house someone in prison for life.
  • Freshman on February 18, 2013 at 12:23 PM
    Anon, no one is suggesting that the monetary value of administering the drug is where the cost lies. While I agree that the article could have been more clear on this matter, the argument that proponents for death penalty repeal are making is that the cost of a capital CASE is much greater than jailing someone for life. This is due to, as I say in my previous comment, the fact that the Supreme Court has held that capital cases are different than non-capital cases, and has created a mandatory, grueling, litigation process that must be implemented before an execution. The death penalty is not insurmountably cheaper than jail for life. Most litigation processes in capital cases are still paid for by the taxpayer, it doesn't matter whether the cost comes from administering the drug, or litigation costs, it still comes out of the tax payer's pocket. And a note: 142 people have been wrongly put on death row even with these stringent, costly, requirements.
  • Symbol on February 18, 2013 at 12:33 PM
    Interesting argument and I find the last two paragraphs to be pretty convincing. I don't know whether or not I think the death penalty should actually be used, but I definitely affirm that we should have it in place to show that we are "capable of serving proper justice." Yes, we have a criminal justice system to be reformed and if we had a perfect criminal justice system, then the death penalty would not even be a controversy since it would always be used correctly. In that aspect, I completely agree.
  • Charles S on February 18, 2013 at 1:21 PM
    I found this article to be highly convincing mainly because of the point that mal-sentencing comes from the courts. Of course people can argue all they want that if there was no death penalty then there would no innocent condemned. But then what about all the other innocent people who have been wrongly convicted and given the life in prison sentence? "Freshman" named a lot of sources that show discrimination in the death penalty, but since this same amount of discrimination exists on life in prison with mo parole, this brings us back to the legitimate argument that the courts, which announce the sentence, should be blamed.

    The cost argument was comvincing to me as well because we waste incredulous amounts of money and the federal/state governments spend millions of dollars a year because of criminal justice System is so corrupt. Our lawyers are more interested in earning money than helping the people which is why cases are prolonged.

    Good article and the point of view opened up some new light. I do think that another point worth mentioning is how some criminals (terrorists behind the sept. 11th attacks, Columbine attackers, etc.) should be given the maximum paenlaty there is: the death penalty.
  • dude on May 9, 2013 at 1:58 PM
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