Maryland is set to become the 18th state in the nation to ban the death penalty. A week after the state Senate approved legislation repealing capital punishment and replacing it with life in prison without parole, the House of Delegates passed the bill Friday by a vote of 82-56.
The news serves as a victory for Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley, who has been trying to repeal the state’s death penalty for years. He urged the passage of a bill to abolish the death penalty back in 2009, but the measure ultimately failed.
“Evidence shows that the death penalty is not a deterrent, it cannot be administered without racial bias, and it costs three times as much as life in prison without parole. What’s more, there is no way to reverse a mistake if an innocent person is put to death,” O’Malley said in a statement Friday.
Maryland becomes the sixth state in six years to put an end to the death penalty, after New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Illinois, and Connecticut.
The state has five people on death row, and O'Malley will make a decision on the future of each of them on a case-by-case basis. A prisoner has not been executed in Maryland since 2005. The death penalty has been on hold there since 2006 when the state’s top court ruled that lethal injection rules were not properly approved.
This time around, proponents of the legislation have been making their case partly in economic terms, rather than focusing solely on the moral and social issues involved in capital punishment.
In 2008, the Urban Institute published a comprehensive study on the costs of one death sentence in Maryland. The report suggested that a case seeking the death penalty could cost taxpayers nearly three times as much as a case that never pursued it.
As opponents of capital punishment celebrate, it’s still possible that the debate in Maryland could continue. The state’s constitution includes an article that allows citizens to petition for a ballot referendum on recently-passed laws (the same provision used on same-sex marriage last year).
It’s unclear how a statewide ballot measure on the issue would fare. A Washington Post poll last month found that 60% of adults believe the death penalty should be allowed, while 36% supported making the maximum penalty a life in prison without parole.