Death penalty bill sought by Md. Senate president seems derailed
Death penalty opponents appear to have derailed a bill sought by the Maryland Senate president that would have loosened rules passed last year on prosecuting capital cases.
Under the year-old law, prosecutors can now seek the death penalty only when at least one of three kinds of evidence are available: biological or DNA evidence; a videotaped confession; or a video recording linking the defendant to the crime.
A bill co-sponsored this year by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), at right, would add fingerprints and photographs to the categories of acceptable evidence. Death penalty opponents have fought the bill, saying it was a step in the wrong direction after Maryland adopted some of the tightest restrictions in the nation.
During a Judicial Proceedings Committee voting session late last week, Chairman Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery), above left -- an opponent of capital punishment -- successfully added an amendment to the bill that would change the standard juries use when imposing the death penalty.
Under current law, juries must conclude by a "preponderance of the evidence" that aggravating factors (such as committing murder while committing another felony or murdering multiple people) outweigh mitigating factors (such as a defendant's history of abuse as a child). Frosh's amendment, which passed the committee 6 to 5, would raise that standard to "beyond a reasonable doubt."
With Frosh's "poison pill" amendment attached to the legislation, few on the committee wanted both parts of the bill. A vote on the entire bill, whose primary sponsor is Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr. (D-Baltimore County), failed on a 9 to 2 vote.
The Judicial Proceedings Committee is planning to report its "unfavorable" recommendation to the Senate floor Tuesday night. At that point, it would take a rarely used parliamentary maneuver to resurrect the legislation for the full Senate to consider it.
March 23, 2010; 3:15 PM ET
Categories: General Assembly , John Wagner
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