"18th-century Italian nobleman makes waves in death penalty case," is Ian Duncan's report in today's Baltimore Sun.
Attorneys challenging a death sentence before the state's highest court last week dug deeply into online historical documents to divine the intention behind what they think is a never-before-interpreted part of the state's constitution.
Public defender Brian Saccenti and a team of lawyers rested their argument in part on a once-famous 18th century book by a young Italian nobleman named Cesare Beccaria, who suggested that capital punishment should be reserved for treasonous criminals.
Charles Carroll of Carrollton, who helped draft the Maryland constitution, wrote to a friend that he approved of Beccaria's "Just & Judicious observations", Saccenti's team wrote in a brief. Carroll was also a signer of the U.S. Declaration of Independence.
And a version of Beccaria's argument appears in the state's Declaration of Rights in an often-overlooked clause which reads, "sanguinary Laws ought to be avoided as far as it is consistent with the safety of the State."
Saccenti rolled out the argument on Thursday before the Court of Appeals on behalf of Jody Lee Miles, who was convicted of a 1997 Wicomico County murder.
Imposing sanguinary laws, that is the death penalty, on murderers is illegal, Saccenti said, because people like Miles do not threaten the stability of the state if they are imprisoned.
Saccenti said in an interview that appeals against capital punishment since the 1960s have tended to focus on the federal constitution. He began to poke around in obscure parts of Maryland's founding documents in search of new approaches.
Striking on the sanguinary laws wording, which Saccenti said is unique to Maryland, his team turned to Google Books and other historical databases to see what it meant to 18th century Americans and bolster their case.
"Lawyer taps Google Books, finds 18th century argument against death penalty," by Michael S. Rosenwald for the Washington Post.
Lawyers for convicted murderer Jody Lee Miles scoured Google’s wayback book machine and other Internet archives, stumbling upon an Italian nobleman named Cesare Beccaria, who according to The Sun suggested in a very old book “that capital punishment should be reserved for treasonous criminals.”
"Maryland Court of Appeals hears death penalty arguments," by Matt Connolly for the Washington Examiner.
Maryland's highest court heard oral arguments Thursday in a case that could decide the future of the state's death penalty.
The challenge comes from attorneys for Jody Lee Miles, who was convicted of robbery and murder in 1997. He was sentenced to death the next year, and his continued appeals have failed to get him off death row.
The latest appeal, however, aims high -- Miles' lawyers are arguing that Maryland's death penalty should be illegal under the state Constitution. The reading is based on Article 16 of the state's Declaration of Rights, adopted in 1776, which says that "sanguinary laws ought to be avoided as far as it is consistent with the safety of the State."
"We don't use the term 'sanguinary laws' much today, but at the time of its enactment, its meaning was clear and unambiguous," argued Brian Saccenti, an attorney for Miles. "It meant a law authorizing the imposition of the death penalty."
Saccenti told the Maryland Court of Appeals that the framers of Maryland's constitution meant "the safety of the State" to mean "the safety of the state government."
"There was a need for the death penalty possibly in times of insurrection," he said. "Safety of the state is not synonymous with public safety."