Justice by Geography and Race: The Administration of the Death Penalty in Maryland 1978-1999

By Robert Brame / Raymond Paternoster / Margins Law Journal / Sarah Bacon / Andrew Ditchfield, on 1 January 2004

Since July 1978, when Maryland’s capital punishment statute took effect, the State has been plagued by charges that the imposition of the death penalty is influenced by the race of the defendant and the legal jurisdiction in which the homicide occurred. Most critics use the characteristics of condemned inmates on Maryland’s death row, which reveal possible racial motivations. However, the authors argue that simply relying on the characteristics of condemned inmates reveals little about the underlying mechanisms of the imposition of the death penalty. The recent history of capital punishment in Maryland is reviewed, followed by a brief description of the legal structure of capital punishment under Maryland law. In order to empirically measure whether the imposition of capital punishment in Maryland is discriminatory, the authors examined 1,311 death eligible cases in Maryland from July 1, 1978 to December 31, 1999. Death eligible cases were defined as those cases in which the State’s attorney filed a notice of intention to seek a death sentence, the facts established that first degree murder was committed, the defendant was the principle in the first degree murder, the murder included at least one statutory aggravating circumstance, and the defendant was eligible for capital punishment at the time of the offense. The statistical strategy focused on determining the influence of race of victim, race of defendant, and geography on the imposition of the death penalty. Findings suggest that race and geography indeed play an important role in the Maryland justice system. Race and geography exert their most influence at the death notification and death notice retraction stages of the process. Thus, it is prosecutorial discretion that is the most apparent in the possible discriminatory application of capital punishment in Maryland. The findings from this study are unsurprising and are in line with similar studies from other States. The author cautions that overt racism is not necessarily the reason beyond the disproportionate application of capital punishment.

  • Document type Article
  • Countries list United States
  • Themes list Networks,