The End of Maryland's Death Penalty Is Certainly Not the End Everywhere Else

The Atlantic Wire

Earlier today, the Maryland legislature voted to make it the 18th state to ban capital punishment. While good news for the men currently on the state's death row, the move is mostly symbolic for any push to end the practice globally.

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States allowing capital punishment are in blue.

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Today's 82-56 vote in the House of Delegates approved a bill that already passed the state Senate. And there's no question Governor Martin O'Malley will sign it into law. In January, on Martin Luther King Day, the governor called for precisely such a ban, saying:

The Commission [on Capital Punishment] 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.” It determined that no administrative fixes could end these disparities.

And it found that the cost to taxpayers of pursuing a capital case is three times as much as the costs of pursuing a non-death penalty homicide conviction, where a person receives a life sentence without parole.

To O'Malley's point, four of the five men currently on death row in the state are black.

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That the number of doomed convicts is so low suggests why this step will make only a modest difference in curbing the number of executions around the world.

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Since 1923, Maryland has executed 85 prisoners — not including those killed through lynching. The practice has waned significantly over the past few decades, even since the 1972 national ban on capital punishment was lifted in 1976.

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Data via State of Maryland.

But that number pales in comparison to, say, Texas, which has executed more than 85 people since 2008 — almost 500 since 1982. (Note the scale difference here jumps from the previous chart.)

Texas data via TXExecutions.

And Texas pales in comparison to other places in the word. Texas executed 30 people in 2010 and 2011. Saudi Arabia executed 109. Iran, 612. The number of prisoners executed by China is unknown, listed by Amnesty International as simply, "thousands."

International data via Guardian.

None of which is meant to detract from the vote in Maryland. It is merely to suggest that, for opponents of the practice, there are much, much bigger battles in the future.

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