Testimony Before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee
On the Repeal of Capital Punishment in Maryland
February 18, 2009
Members of the Committee, two years ago I came before you to testify on an issue that touches the very soul of who we are as a Republic. Who we are as a people.
The question of whether to replace Maryland’s criminal death penalty with the punishment of life without parole is one for which good people on both sides disagree. I believe it is a question that historians will consider one of the defining moral quandaries of our times as they look back and ask what kind of society we were in 2009.
When you gave me the opportunity to come before you two years ago, I provided facts and figures which demonstrated that the death penalty is an expensive and utterly ineffective tool in deterring violent crime.
Today, this fact has been confirmed by the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment. A Commission which, under the leadership of Chairman and former United States Attorney General Civiletti, held hours of hearings and considered days of testimony. As I said during the State of the State, the Commission acted with dedication, fairness, and a respect for differences of opinion.
The Commission found that for every 8.7 Americans sent to death row, there has been one innocent person exonerated. It was near unanimous in reporting that quote “the administration of the death penalty clearly shows racial bias” and it found no administrative fixes that could end these disparities. It found that the cost to taxpayers of pursuing a capital case was three times as much as the costs of pursuing a non-death penalty homicide conviction ($3 million versus $1.1 million) – funds we otherwise could invest in preventing future crimes or assisting victims’ families.
It is our time in Maryland for a deeper public dialogue on the question of what kind of society we want to be. What kind of society we hope to leave for our children. What kind of society we are choosing to build for our families, for our communities, and for future generations. It is time to ask whether public executions – even of the guilty – are consistent with the future we prefer for our children’s world.
Our free and diverse republic was founded not on fear and retribution – it was born from higher things; rooted in unalienable rights endowed by our Creator. Freedom, justice, the dignity of the individual, equal rights before the law – these are the principals that define our character as a people. And so we must ask ourselves: are these principles compatible with the “civil” taking of human life? Are these principles compatible with the very real risk of erroneously taking the life of an innocent neighbor?
Will we be a society guided by the notion that two wrongs somehow make a right? Or will we be a society guided by the fundamental civil and human rights bestowed on humankind by God?
I submit to you that as the Chief Executive of Baltimore City for 7 years, I was witness to horrendous crimes against humanity, against nature, against our children. Crimes that cried out for justice. Crimes that cried out for vigilance, public condemnation and public grief. Crimes that made all of us want vengeance. And crimes that strengthened our resolve to fight even harder to give our kids safer playgrounds and neighborhoods and a better tomorrow.
In the entire time that the City of the Baltimore slipped into becoming the most violent and drug addicted City in America, the death penalty was on the books and did absolutely nothing to prevent these awful crimes we witnessed.
It did absolutely nothing to save lives. It did absolutely nothing to reduce violent crime or restore our community’s confidence and belief in our system of justice,… the death penalty didn’t do any of this. It was not the death penalty that brought our people together so we could reduce violent crime by 40%.
And last year, when together as One Maryland we were able to achieve the second largest reduction in homicides since 1985, the death penalty had absolutely nothing to do with that life-saving work. Our strength and resolve and will as a people – our innate Revolutionary desire to work and sacrifice for a better tomorrow – is what guided us through our partnerships to save 66 lives last year.
The death penalty did not prevent our State from becoming the 4th most violent State in America; and it was absolutely no help in moving us down that ranking to 8th in these most recent years.
We are a people who are united in our belief in the dignity of the individual and we are a people who recognize that each of us has within ourselves and our communities both a responsibility and an ability to advance the common good. This is who we truly are as a people.
The death penalty is fundamentally and irredeemably incompatible with the most important foundational truths of our Republic.
Mr. Chairman, Members of this Committee I urge you to consider both the empirical evidence and these higher truths. I urge you to give the repeal a fair up-or-down vote before the Senate. And I urge you to vote (and to persuade your colleagues to vote) to repeal capital punishment in Maryland.