Three Cheers for Martin O’Malley

Three Cheers for Martin O’Malley January 2, 2015

Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland is leaving office shortly after two terms and in one of his last acts as governor, he commuted the sentences of the four men on death row in that state to life sentences without parole. The death penalty has already been outlawed for future convicts.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) will commute all remaining death sentences for those in the state’s prison system to life without parole, he announced Wednesday. Maryland’s General Assembly repealed the state’s death penalty in 2013 for all future convictions.

In a statement, O’Malley said, “In a representative government, state executions make every citizen a party to a legalized killing as punishment.” He noted that the legality of executing the four remaining death row inmates was in question and argued that “leaving these death sentences in place does not serve the public good of the people of Maryland — present or future.”

Bravo, governor. The former governor of Illinois did the same thing a few years ago. The death penalty should be abolished nationwide. My argument against it is not so much moral as practical. Given the manifestly unjust nature of our criminal justice system at every level, we simply do not have any good reason to believe that we could avoid executing innocent people and many good reasons to believe the opposite. Carrying out an irrevocable punishment is unconscionable under such circumstances.

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  • ZOMG!! Soft one crime!! Hates cops!! Willie Horton!! The Joker!!1111 Benghazi!!11!!1

  • Now if the pro-death penalty folks (ironically many of whom call themselves “pro-life”) are correct, Maryland will now become the murder capital of the USA.

  • pixiedust

    As a Marylander, I give him two cheers at most. He could have done it 18 months ago when we abolished the death penalty. And his action had almost no practical effect because, per the Attorney General’s opinion, those folks couldn’t be executed anyway.

    He is likely running for president and this action was pure politics.

  • Abby Normal

    Maryland will now become the murder capital of the USA.

    It wouldn’t take much. It’s already 4th, behind only Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi.

  • D. C. Sessions

    Which just goes to show how important the death penalty is in reducing crime. If Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi were to institute it, Maryland would be #1.

  • fmitchell

    Technically, the argument to abolish the death penalty to avoid executing the innocent is a moral argument. Which is why the morally bankrupt Texas political machine all but applauded Rick Perry’s rush to execute death row inmates despite mounting evidence that they had committed no crime or that they were mentally incompetent. It matters not if justice is actually done just like it doesn’t matter if the total monetary cost of death sentences exceeds the cost of life imprisonment. What matters is that conservative voters believe justice is done.

  • Technically, the argument to abolish the death penalty to avoid executing the innocent is a moral argument.

    Good point. Of course, what Ed is saying is that even if one doesn’t oppose the death penalty itself on moral grounds, more widely endorsed* notions of justice are violated because of practical failures to identify the guilty. Those practical failures may or may not entail moral failings. But you’re still right about this being a moral issue for Ed because his implicit qualm is the inevitability of grave injustice.

    *When I say widely endorsed, I mean relative to blanket rejection of capital punishment. And endorsement doesn’t translate into genuine concern, as we see when capital punishment enthusiasts who claim to believe in justice swat away concerns about executing the innocent. Personally, I prefer to just go with the idea that we should consider it immoral to kill people who don’t need to be killed, i.e, when containment of any serious threat they pose is possible by other means, but I also realize that my view is utterly uncompelling for death penalty salivators,

  • lorn

    Irony is that eliminating the death penalty could mean few people convicted in non-death penalty cases. As it stands now death penalty cases soak up a huge proportion of all state, local, and legal defense organization dollars. This drastically reduces the dollars available for defense on charges of lesser crimes.

    One of the major causes of widespread dissatisfaction and charges of racism is the perceived inadequacy of the defense available to poor people. The phrase: ‘PD (public defender) is a joke’ get bandied about a lot. There is a lot of truth to that. The office of Public Defender is massively underfunded and the lawyers are typically given far too many cases at one time and fewer funds to bring in witnesses or experts or undertake forensic analysis that might exonerate their client than prosecutors. This is made much worse as a huge chunk of funding is dedicated to capital crimes.

    A good article on the problems with public defense:

    Elimination of the death penalty won’t fix that system but reallocation of funds from death penalty cases to less critical ones will help.

  • Nick Gotts

    He is likely running for president and this action was pure politics. – pixiedust

    I don’t get that. If he runs for President, he’ll surely be relentlessly attacked as “soft on crime” because of this action.

  • colnago80

    Re Nick Gotts @ #9

    Another problem that O’Malley has is that his putative successor, his lieutenant governor, was defeated by the Rethuglican last November. This in one of the bluest states in the nation. Pretty hard to make a case for yourself when you can’t even get your candidate elected to succeed you.

  • pixiedust

    Nick Gotts @ 9:

    The “soft on crime” attacks would come from Republicans in the the general election. O’Malley’s first concern would be securing the Democratic nomination. If he runs, I expect him to position himself to the left of Clinton.