ACLU Responds to the Release of the University of Maryland's Death Penalty Study on the Impact of Race and Geography

January 7, 2003 12:00 am

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Statement of Diann Rust-Tierney, Director ACLU Capital Punishment Project


WASHINGTON — A new University of Maryland study about the disturbing impact of race and geography in Maryland’s administration of the death penalty conclusively demonstrates why the state’s moratorium should continue and other states should suspend executions as well.

The University of Maryland study pointed out a number of disturbing facts: prosecutors in different jurisdictions vary greatly in the extent to which they use the death penalty. For instance, Baltimore County is 13 times more likely to seek the death penalty in an eligible case than is Baltimore City.

The ACLU believes that the problems in Maryland are not unique. This new Maryland study is the latest evidence of serious flaws in the nation’s capital punishment system and must be taken seriously by lawmakers across the country.

The new University of Maryland study also found that while prosecutors are significantly less likely to seek the death penalty when both the victim and defendant are black, they are substantially more likely to seek the death sentence when the homicide involves a black defendant and a white victim. These problems occur not only in the prosecutors’ initial charging decisions, but continue throughout the entire judicial process, including during defendant sentencing. The study confirms the systemic nature of these problems and demonstrates that the moratorium should remain in place until they can be adequately analyzed and solutions implemented.

The Maryland study further demonstrates what we have long known about the bias and error inherent in the death penalty. For example, a study completed by Columbia University in 2002 showed that the death penalty is flawed both in Maryland and nationally.

The study showed that in Maryland, state courts overturned capital convictions or changed sentences on appeal more than 50 percent of the time.

Fairness and justice require that we “get it right” far more frequently than half the time where the ultimate sanction is in play.

We applaud Governor Parris Glendening for instituting the Maryland moratorium, and urge that the moratorium be maintained pending a thorough review of the University of Maryland study and implementation of its recommendations. Finally, we call upon all states that practice capital punishment to institute moratoria in until they have rigorously examined how the death penalty is applied in their respective jurisdictions and appropriate reforms implemented.

To read the University of Maryland study please go to:

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