Opposition to SB 404: Death Penalty Evidence

Statement in Opposition to SB 404: Death Penalty Evidence

By Mary Ellen Russell, Executive Director

Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee (03/10/2010)

This statement in opposition to Senate Bill 404 is offered on behalf of the Maryland Catholic Conference, which represents the public policy interests of the Roman Catholic bishops who serve Maryland from the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington.

The Catholic Church’s advocacy for laws that respect all human life from conception to natural death is longstanding and consistent, embracing advocacy even on behalf of the life a criminal convicted of murder. In the words of Pope John Paul II, "the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil. Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform."

In keeping with that advocacy, we supported legislation passed by the General Assembly last year to impose strict evidentiary requirements on the application of the death penalty in Maryland. It is our belief that this compromise measure addressed one of the most disturbing findings of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Capital Punishment: the conclusion that a “real possibility” exists of executing an innocent person in Maryland. While our opposition to the death penalty goes far beyond the very compelling concern about that risk, it is a risk that should give pause to even the most convinced supporter of capital punishment.

By introducing the use of fingerprint or photographic evidence as acceptable evidence in death penalty proceedings, Senate Bill 404 reverses a minimal level of progress last year’s legislation achieved in reducing the risk that an innocent person could be executed in our state. The conclusive reliability of fingerprints or photographic evidence has been credibly contested; the use of either as a factor in death penalty proceedings injects a possibility of error that should not be tolerated in deliberations of such magnitude.

We urge the Committee to respect the result of last year’s extensive deliberations on Maryland’s death penalty statute by opposing Senate Bill 404.