Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler. (Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler said Thursday that the state does not have the legal authority to execute the four men who remain on death row following the legislature’s decision last year to abolish capital punishment.

The legislation, championed by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), did not apply to people sentenced to death before its passage. That has left the legal standing of the four men in limbo.

Gansler (D) said he has concluded that it is a “legal and factual impossibility” to execute the prisoners because Maryland no longer has regulations in place on how to administer lethal injections. With the death penalty no longer on the books, the state cannot develop new regulations on carrying out executions, Gansler said. Keeping the men on death row, he argued, therefore violates their due-process rights.

The state’s position is included in a brief filed Thursday in response to an appeal by death-row inmate Jody Lee Miles, who is seeking a new sentence. The state is asking an appellate court to resentence Miles — who was convicted in the 1997 robbery and murder of a musical-theater director in Wicomico County — to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

“Mr. Miles should no longer be a death-row inmate,” Gansler said at a news conference in his Baltimore office.

Technically, the stance announced Thursday by Gansler applies only to Miles. But Gansler said it opens the door to similar legal motions by the other death-row inmates.

To date, one other inmate has petitioned O’Malley to commute his sentence, but O’Malley has not announced a decision. O’Malley’s office declined to comment Thursday on the governor’s deliberations.

Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg (D-Baltimore), a longtime opponent of the death penalty who joined Gansler at the news conference, said he is hopeful that “the governor would take action.”

Gansler’s announcement comes two days after Maryland elected a Republican governor who has voiced support for the death penalty in heinous cases. Gov.-elect Larry Hogan has said, however, that he does not intend to ask the heavily Democratic legislature to reinstate capital punishment. A spokesman for Hogan did not return a call for comment Thursday.

Matthew A. Maciarello, the state’s attorney for Wicomico County, issued a statement urging Gansler to reconsider his position, adding that “one must wonder how much politics, rather than the law, had to do with the decision to concede to the new sentencing.”

Maciarello said legislation could be introduced that would explicitly allow the executions of those still on death row.

Gansler said his announcement’s timing was driven by the legal process and had nothing to do with the gubernatorial election.

The attorney general, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in the Democratic primary, had previously advocated for leaving the death penalty on the books. He said the state’s position is based on the law, not his own views.

Gansler said that two former state attorneys general and Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery), who was elected Tuesday to succeed him, concur with the position he drafted for the state.

He also told reporters that life in prison without the possibility of parole is not a lenient sentence.

“People should understand life without parole is a death sentence,” Gansler said. “You’re dying in jail.”