Circumstances limit death sentences

February 06, 2005|by PEPPER BALLARD

The decision of a Maryland jury to sentence a defendant convicted of first-degree murder to death must be weighed on the law - whether the offense meets the seriousness qualifications and whether the defendant is a serious threat to society.

First-degree murder is defined as a deliberate, premeditated and willful killing; committed by lying in wait; committed by poison; or committed in the perpetration of or an attempt to perpetrate first-degree arson, first-, second- or third-degree burglary, carjacking or armed carjacking, kidnapping, mayhem, rape, robbery, first- or second-degree sex offense or sodomy, according to the Annotated Code of Maryland, Criminal Law Article, section 2-201.

A first-degree murder conviction is punishable by death, life imprisonment without the possibility of parole or life imprisonment, according to Maryland law.


Aggravating and mitigating factors must be taken into consideration before prosecutors can push for the ultimate sentence and before a jury can sentence the defendant to death.

According to the Annotated Code, Criminal Law Article, section 2-303, a jury may sentence a defendant to death upon conviction of first-degree murder if the facts of the case match any of the following aggravating circumstances:

· The murder is committed by someone confined at a correctional facility.

· A law enforcement officer is murdered during the course of duty.

· The victim was abducted or kidnapped.

· The defendant hired a killer.

· The defendant was serving a life sentence or was on death row at the time of the murder.

· The defendant committed more than one first-degree murder in the same incident.

· The murder was committed during the commission or the attempt to commit first-degree arson, carjacking, first-degree rape, robbery or first-degree sex offense.

If the court or jury do not find that at least one or more of the aggravating circumstances exist, then a death penalty may not be imposed.

If the court or jury finds that the case meets the criteria, they then must look at mitigating factors.

The jury must consider the following about the defendant before they decide to sentence the defendant to death for a first-degree murder conviction:

· The defendant previously has not been found guilty of a crime of violence.

· The defendant entered a guilty plea or a no-contest plea to a crime of violence charge.

· The defendant received probation before judgment for a crime of violence.

· The victim participated in the conduct of the defendant or consented to the act that resulted in the victim's death.

· The victim acted under substantial "duress, domination or provocation of another, but not so substantial as to constitute a complete defense to the prosecution."

· The victim was substantially impaired by emotional disturbance, mental disorder or mental incapacity and may not have appreciated the criminality of the defendant's actions.

· The defendant was "a youthful age" at the time of the murder.

· The defendant's actions were not the sole, proximate cause of the victim's death.

· It is unlikely that the defendant will engage in further criminal activity that would be a continuing threat to society, according to Maryland law.

The jury must find that the aggravating circumstances outweigh the mitigating circumstances before a death sentence is imposed, the law states.

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