Rationale for an Execution Moratorium

By Lee, Andre M. | Corrections Today, October 2003 | Go to article overview

Rationale for an Execution Moratorium


Lee, Andre M., Corrections Today


Since the creation of mankind, cultures, societies and civilizations have used various methods to inflict the ultimate punishment for crime: death by execution. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Baltimore Branch, is cognizant of the need for a safe, crime-free society. We are also painfully reminded of the horrors associated with violence in our community, and we support the rights of victims of crime.

Our membership is faced with several fundamental issues as they relate to equal justice under the law. We find it necessary to pause and ask the question: "Why are eight of the 12 men on Maryland's death row black?"

Former Gov. Parris Glendening commissioned University of Maryland criminologist and professor, Raymond Paternoster, to conduct a study of Maryland's use of the death penalty. His findings indicate that defendants who kill white people in death penalty-eligible cases are two to three times more likely to receive a death sentence than those who kill nonwhites, and that blacks killing whites is the "lethal racial cocktail" that would most assuredly lead to execution. The study suggests that the primary culprits in the perpetuation of this racial disparity are the prosecutors who decide to seek capital murder charges.

Paternoster proposes several ideas that could ensure a more equitable system of justice: create uniformity in the standards that prosecutors use to analyze death-eligible cases; reinstate the use of the "proportionality review," which would allow the Maryland Court of Appeals to compare each death sentence with punishments for similar offenses; and maintain a constant system of monitoring.

The use of capital punishment has been historically affected by race. The NAACP, Washington Bureau, has maintained a portfolio of data that reflect the racial disparity in the use of the death penalty in America. The following is a brief outline of that data:

* Blacks account for 42 percent of the nation's death row population, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics; however, they only consist of 13 percent of the nation's civilian population.

* Blacks are disproportionately over-represented among those who have been sentenced to death and later found innocent. Thirty-eight percent of the death row inmates freed since 1973 were black and were released as a result of new evidence. …

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