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Capital punishment; the death penalty:

Part 2: 2007-DEC: Executions abolished in New
Jersey -- the only U.S. state to do so in 40 years.

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This topic is continued from the previous essay.

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Content of the New Jersey Death Penalty Study Commission's report:

The Committee issued their report on 2007-JAN-02. 1 They determined that:
  1. "There is no compelling evidence that the New Jersey death penalty rationally serves a legitimate penological intent. That is, having the death penalty on the books does not decrease the murder rate.

  2. The costs of the death penalty are greater than the costs of life in prison without parole. However, it is not possible to measure these costs with any degree of precision.

  3. There is increasing evidence that the death penalty is inconsistent with evolving standards of decency.

  4. The available data do not support a finding of invidious racial bias in the application of the death penalty in New Jersey.

  5. Abolition of the death penalty will eliminate the risk of disproportionality in capital sentencing.

  6. The penological interest in executing a small number of persons guilty of murder is not sufficiently compelling to justify the risk of making an irreversible mistake.

  7. The alternative of life imprisonment in a maximum security institution without the possibility of parole would sufficiently ensure public safety and address other legitimate social and penological interests, including the interests of the families of murder victims.

  8. Sufficient funds should be dedicated to ensure adequate services and advocacy for the families of murder victims." 2

The Commission recommended:

"... that the death penalty in New Jersey be abolished and replaced with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, to be served in a maximum security facility. The Commission also recommends that any cost savings resulting from the abolition of the death penalty be used for benefits and services for survivors of victims of homicide." 3

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2017: A bill to end executions is debated, passed, and becomes law:

Leaders of the Senate and General Assembly decided after the 2007-NOV elections to process the bill before year end. It took less than two weeks for the bill to pass the Senate and General Assembly.

On 2007-DEC-03, the Senate Budget Committee approved the death penalty abolition bill by a vote of 8 to 4.

On DEC-09, the Senate passed the bill 21 to 16 with three abstentions. This is the minimum number required to pass. Four Republicans voted for the bill; three Democrats voted against it. The rest voted according to party lines with the remaining Republicans opposed and Democrats in favor. 4

bulletSenator Robert Martin, one of the few Republicans to vote in favor of the bill said: "Today New Jersey can become a leader, an inspiration to other states."
bulletDiann Rust-Tierney, executive director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, said: "The New Jersey Legislature did the right thing. And we think we’ll be seeing more state legislatures saying, 'We don’t want the death penalty'."
bulletThe Senate president, Richard J. Codey, said that said the death penalty law on the books plays a cruel hoax on murder victims’ families by giving them the false hope of an execution. He said:

"The best thing to do for us as a society to do is to be honest with them. Don’t tell someone that we’re going to execute somebody when the reality is it’s not going to happen — at least here in the state of New Jersey. Maybe in Texas. Maybe in other states. But it’s not going to happen here in New Jersey, and we’ve got to accept that." 5

Also on DEC-09, the General Assembly’s Law and Public Safety Committee approved the bill by a 5-1 vote.

Death penalty supporters criticized the Legislature for rushing the bill before a new legislature is installed in early 2008. Robert Blecker, a New York Law School professor and death penalty advocate said:

"It's a rush to judgment."

But Richared C. Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington DC commented that it:

"... is coming at a time when there is a reexamination of the death penalty going on. It does give other legislatures the chance to say: 'Is this working in our state'?" 5

On 2007-DEC-12, the NJ General Assembly voted 44 to 36 in favor of the bill. Three Republicans voted in favor of the bill; 9 Democrats voted against it. The rest voted according to party lines with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed.4 The Washington Post speculated that a major factor in the bill's passage was that it costs more to keep a prisoner indefinitely on death row than incarcerated for life. This is because of the numerous and expensive court appeals that must be completed before a person can be executed.

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Governor Corzine signed the bill into law:

Governor Jon S. Corzine (D) signed the measure into law on 2007-DEC-17. He also issued an order commuting the death sentences of the eight men on New Jersey's death row to life imprisonment with no possibility of parole. He said that this law could be a model to other states to end:

"... state-endorsed killing. ... Today New Jersey is truly evolving. I believe society first must determine if its endorsement of violence begets violence, and if violence undermines our commitment to the sanctity of life. To these questions, I answer yes." 5

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2015-MAY: Update: The status of the death penalty in the U.S. after 2007:

During the next eight years, various states passed legislation to end the death penalty at the rate of one state per year.

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2015-MAY: What effect has the abolishment of the death penalty had on the homicide rate in New Jersey?

Many people believe that the death penalty acts as a deterrant to homicides; abolishing it will cause the murder rate to increase. Others feel that if the death penalty is abandoned, then the public will develop the attitude that human life is so precious that the state is not allowed to end a person's life even if that person has committed aggravated murder.

This argument has continued for decades and has yet to be resolved.

During the 21st century, the murder rate per 100,000 persons in New Jersey gradually increased from 21 during the year 2000, to 37 during 2006 & 2007. During 2008, the first full year that the death penalty had been abolished, the homicide rate dropped suddenly to 24. Since then, it has resumed its gradually increas to 34 in 2012. Whether the drop in the homicide rate during 2008 was due to the abolition of the death penalty at the end of 2007 is anyone's guess. Many U.S. states and countries do experience a reduction in the homicide rate after executions are discontinued. However, these reductions cannot be statistically proven to be due to the ending of capital punishment.

Hopefully, over time, as more states abolish the death penalty, its impact on the murder rate will become clear. One factor is abundently clear: New Jersey will never execute a person who is innocent of committing murder.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today. Many years have passed since the article was first written.

  1. "New Jersey Death Penalty Study Commission Report," 2007-JAN, at: http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/ This is a PDF file. Software to read these files can be obtained free from:
  2. "UN General Assembly passes worldwide death penalty moratorium," Jurist Legal News & Research, Page 1, 2007-DEC-18, at: http://jurist.law.pitt.edu/
  3. Ibid, Page 2.
  4. "Death penalty: NJ Senate and Assembly roll call," NewsDay.com, 2007-DEC-13, at: http://www.newsday.com/
  5. Jeremy W. Peters, "Death Penalty Repealed in New Jersey," New York times, 2007-DEC-17, at: http://www.nytimes.com/

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Copyright © 2007 to 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2007-DEC-26
Latest update: 2015-MAY-22
Author: B.A. Robinson

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