Shellenberger and Vatz make a weak case for the death penalty

Shellenberger and Vatz make a weak case for the death penalty.

Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger and Towson University professor Richard Vatz present the oft-heard argument in favor of reinstating capital punishment in Maryland ("Maryland should reinstate the death penalty," Jan. 6). They do not, however, present a compelling argument because they fail to address several key issues.

Messrs. Shellenberger and Vatz argue that the death penalty deters people from committing capital crimes. But they offer no hard evidence, only the anecdotal example of Singapore, which is a place that in no way compares to Maryland.

Moreover, they argue that "chances of executing an innocent person are near zero" because of advances in DNA evidence and other contemporary technological advances. But they fail to acknowledge the 150-plus death row inmates who have been exonerated over the past decade. Nor do they seem to understand that not all capital crimes leave DNA evidence behind. Indeed, studies have shown the high error rates among death-qualified juries in handing down the ultimate penalty (see Columbia Law Professor James S. Liebman's classic study, "A Broken System: Error Rates in Capital Cases, 1973-1995").

Finally, the authors do not consider the racial characteristics of death penalty cases: studies have proved that defendants who kill white people have a far greater chance of receiving the death penalty as opposed to when the victim was non-white (see the study by Raymond Paternoster of the University of Maryland School of Law, "An Empirical Analysis Of Maryland's Death Sentencing System With Respect To The Influence Of Race And Legal Jurisdiction").

Until these issues are fairly and objectively and fully addressed and resolved, Maryland, like 17 other states and the District of Columbia, ought to maintain the status quo.

Jack Fruchtman

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