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Maryland death penalty is only for treason, lawyers argue

The Maryland Court of Appeals heard a new argument against the death penalty Thursday, when attorneys for a man convicted of a 1997 murder argued that the state's constitution only allows capital punishment in cases of treason.

Public defender Brian Saccenti argued that a clause in the Maryland Declaration of Rights referring to "sanguinary laws" limits the death penalty to crimes that threaten the stability of the state government.

"We have ways to fairly incapacitate people that we lacked in 1776," Saccenti told the judges, arguing that the state can be protected without executions.

James E. Williams, a senior counsel with the Maryland Attorney General's office, argued in reply that the framers of the state's constitution intended for the death penalty to be used in a range of cases — and that one went on to sign death warrants as governor.

"The legislature has determined that a narrowly construed death penalty does serve the safety of the state," he added.

The appeal was brought on behalf of Jody Lee Miles, who was convicted in 1998 of a Wicomico County killing.

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