Maryland, like many other states, is reviewing its death penalty laws for purely cost-cutting reasons. However, there’s something to be considered in the current media coverage of the Maryland debates – which are going on right now.

Why are the Maryland arguments so interesting to consider?

This is a particularly interesting jurisdiction to ponder since Maryland has the second-highest murder rate in the nation – due in large part to the homicide rates for the metropolitan area making up Baltimore, Maryland.

In other words, the argument can be made that these homicide rates suggest that there would be more opportunities for imposing the death penalty in Maryland than in other locations where violent crime rate are much lower (say, Montana).

What’s happening this week?

The Maryland lawmakers are hearing testimony and tinkering with language as they consider enacting new Maryland law on capital punishment.

With this background, consider these high profile arguments being made:

Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley made his position clear to the nation on Monday, by writing a post for the Huffington Post blog, where he made an emotional and aggressive argument to abolish the death penalty.

In summary, Governor O’Malley argues that the death penalty is too expensive; the death penalty is racially-biased in Maryland; and that money used for capital punishment in the State could be put to better use elsewhere.

Coming alongside, and testifying directly after Governor O’Malley, Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien told the House of Delegates Judiciary Committee hearing in Annapolis, Maryland that he came before the Maryland lawmakers to support abolishing the death penalty on moral grounds, quoting Pope John Paul II’s position that the dignity of human life should never be taken away by the state, regardless of the evil that has been done by a particular individual.

What’s the status of the Maryland death penalty legislation?

The latest legislative stance is the state’s House of Representatives Bill (Bill 316) – which proposes to repeal the Maryland death penalty statute – is being countered with a state Senate Bill (Bill 279) which would instead keep the death penalty, but impose certain evidentiary standards before capital punishment could be imposed.

In the Senate amendment, Maryland would have to have DNA evidence or a videotaped confession before it could execution someone for a capital crime.

What Do Archbishop O’Brien and Governor O’Malley Say About the Senate Version?

The Archbishop also supported the Senate amendment in his legislative testimony: he opined that it was a “small step” toward the goal of abolishing capital punishment, and that it may help “prevent the execution of an innocent person.” (His position has also been made clear in the latest issue of The Catholic Review.)

And, yesterday, Governor O’Malley told the House Judiciary Committee that the Senate Amendment ” …represents progress over a very flawed status quo,” and asked the House to pass the amended bill without further amendments so that it would not be sent back to the Senate, and the revised statute could thereafter be finalized into law. (Quote as reported by The Washington Post.)

Bottom Line, Maryland Will Still Have a Death Penalty – The Legal Change Apparently Will Be in Changing the State’s Burden of
Proof in Capital Punishment Cases

Will this effectively abolish the death penalty in Maryland?

Or will it just make prosecutors in Maryland much more amenable to videotaping?