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January 26, 2007

Maryland to offer huge wet kiss for murderers

Maryland has got many things going for it, but a low violent crime rate is not one of them. In the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports for 2005, the most current year-end statistics, Maryland is fourth in violent crime rate, with 703.0 violent crimes per 100,000 population, trailing only South Carolina, Tennessee, and (narrowly) Florida. Washington, D.C., which wants to be a state but is not, has a rate of 1,459.0.

For murders, it's even worse. From that same chart, the UCR shows Maryland with a murder rate of 9.9 per 100,000 population, which is tied for first in the nation, with Louisiana. And not to be too crude about it, but we may have lost a few murder statistics with the post-Katrina flooding. (Again, D.C. takes the lead with 35.4 per 100,000, but it's not a state.)

Our new Governor, Mr. O'Malley, used to be Mayor of Baltimore, which had a violent crime rate of 1,754.5 in 2005, quite a bit higher than our nation's capital. Baltimore's 2005 murder rate was 42.0, again beating out Washington, D.C. (I computed the rates myself from the table: crimes x 100,000 / population.)

I've given this to you as background. Today's Baltimore Sun reports:

Gov. Martin O'Malley said yesterday that he would sign a repeal of the death penalty if a bill reaches his desk, weighing in on the contentious issue hours after a coalition of legislators and activists renewed their push to strike Maryland's execution law from the books.

"Now that it's salient, and we have to deal with it, I'm certainly not going to try to duck or hide. I would like to see us repeal the death penalty," O'Malley said during an interview in his State House office. "I think the dollars could go to better use and could be invested in things that actually save lives. I don't believe the death penalty saves lives."
A bill is being introduced by two Democratic legislators. The Sun says that O'Malley announced he would lobby for the bill but didn't include it in his own legislative agenda.

The Washington Post notes: "The bill is likely to meet resistance, with some Democrats joining minority Republicans in opposition." One Democrat said he was opposed because (in the Post's words) "he had a gun held to his head three years ago." I guess there's nothing like being mugged by reality.

Capital punishment in Maryland is in legal limbo right now. The Court of Appeals (our highest court) issued a decision in December holding that the Maryland Division of Corrections protocol for executions is equivalent to a regulation, which must be formally promulgated under Maryland's Administrative Procedure Act. (Disclaimer: I'm not admitted to practice in Maryland. But I know how to read a news article if I feel like it.) The linked article explains:
Maryland uses three drugs during executions. Sodium pentothal makes the inmate unconscious, pancurium bromide paralyzes the inmate's breathing and potassium chloride stops the heart.

In its ruling, the Court of Appeals concluded that the current protocol is consistent with state law. However, the court also concluded that a legislative committee charged with reviewing the protocol "may have a different view." The ruling also pointed out that even if the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative, Executive, and Legislative Review agrees that the protocol is consistent, "it may wish to object to it and direct DOC to consider some other one."
The Court of Appeals rejected other arguments offered by the murder, however, including a racial bias claim and a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel in the earlier sentencing proceeding.

So let's review the bidding. Maryland has the fourth highest violent crime rate in the U.S., and is tied for the highest murder rate. And high on the agenda of the state legislature, supported by Gov. O'Malley, is abolition of the death penalty.

We may be less safe, but at least we'll feel good about ourselves.