Thursday, March 5, 2009

Maryland Compromise on Capital Punishment

Maryland's much-storied recent efforts to abolish the death penalty have been tempered into compromise legislation that cleared the state Senate yesterday.

ANNAPOLIS — A legislative effort to repeal Maryland’s death penalty appears all but over for this year, as the Senate on Wednesday approved a compromise measure that preserves capital punishment but would impose strict evidentiary requirements before it could be handed down.

Under the amended bill, SB 279, the death penalty could be imposed only if the murderer’s conviction is based on DNA evidence; a videotaped, voluntary confession; or a video recording that conclusively links the defendant to the murder. The death penalty could not be imposed for convictions based solely on eyewitness testimony. A final vote on the bill is scheduled to be held on Thursday.

Following the Senate’s action, attention shifts to the House of Delegates, which will use the Senate measure as its starting-off point in considering the death penalty’s fate this year, said House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel. In light of the Senate’s actions, a repeal effort in the House will presumably not succeed this year, he said.
The bill is laudable for a few reasons. For one, the bill elevates DNA to its rightful place in policy making: serving as an ultimate probative test, with unparalleled certitude. Conversely, the bill dramatically undercuts the myth of witness identification accuracy: the Senate has admitted that enough doubt surrounds that form of evidence that a person's life should not rest on another's faulty memory. Third, it requires videotaping of confessions.

Unfortunately, it looks unlikely that the death penalty will be abolished this year in the state, as had been hoped, but I am content with the progress represented by this bill.

See the Maryland Daily Record's article here.

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