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Capital punishment; the death penalty:

Part 1: 2007-DEC: Executions abolished in New
Jersey -- the only U.S. state to do so in 40 years.

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Summary, 1963 to 2007:

The last person to be executed by the state of New Jersey was killed in 1963. The U.S. Supreme Court re-authorized the execution of convicted murderers in 1976 after a long moratorium. In 1982, the state reauthorized the death penalty. Since then, over four dozen people had been sentenced to death; none had been executed. The vast majority of death sentences were overturned on appeal and replaced with long jail sentences or life imprisonment.

By 2007, the possibility of abolishing the death penalty in New Jersey appeared bleak. The public was strongly in favor of retaining capital punishment. Over the previous generation, only the legislature in New Hampshire had repealed capital punishment. That bill had been vetoed by their Governor during the year 2000.

In 2004, the New Jersey appeals court had ruled that the state's procedures for executing people by lethal injection could be cruel and unusual punishment, and thus were unconstitutional. The state revised its procedures so that it could resume executions.

In New Jersey, the main factor favoring abolition was that the Legislature was controlled by Democrats.

The New Jersey Death Penalty Study Commission was created to study all aspects of the death penalty and to report their findings to the Governor and Legislature. The issued their report on 2007-JAN-02, recommending that the death penalty be abolished. 1

During 2007-DEC, while a bill to end capital punishment was being debated in the state legislature, the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, released polling data. It showed that New Jersey residents were strongly in favor of retaining the death penalty for murderers by 53% to 39%. However, Quinnipiac also determined that when New Jersey residents were given the choice between executing convicted murderers or sentencing them to life imprisonment with no chance of parole, they favored life imprisonment over execution by 52% to 39%! The bill debated by the Legislature would sentence those convicted of aggravated 1st degree murder to life imprisonment with no parole. 2

Supporters accused the legislators of rushing the issue through a lame-duck session before a new legislature was installed early in 2008.

The bill to abolish the death penalty was passed by the New Jersey Senate on 2007-DEC-09. It was then debated and passed by the Democratic-controlled General Assembly on 2007-DEC-13 by a vote of 44 to 36. The vast majority of Democrats voted in favor of abolition; most Republicans voted against it. Gov. Jon S. Corzine (D), an opponent of the death penalty, had promised to sign the legislation.

New Jersey Governor Jon S. Corzine (D) did sign the bill into law four days later on 2007-DEC-17. 3 New Jersey then became the first U.S. state to abolish the death penalty in 40 years.

By coincidence, the United Nations passed a non-binding resolution on the next day calling for a worldwide moratorium of the death penalty. 4

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The death penalty statute in New Jersey as of 2007-JAN:

Section "2C:11-3. Murder" required that a person convicted of first degree murder receive a sentence of at least 30 years to life with no possibility of parole for 30 years. Life imprisonment or the death penalty was required, if there were aggravating factors involved in the crime that overbalanced any mitigating factors.

Aggravating factors included:

bullet Creating "...a grave risk of death to another person in addition to the victim."
bullet The murder "...involved torture, depravity of mind, or an aggravated assault to the victim."

bullet The murderer was a contract killer who murdered for profit.

bullet The murder was committed to escape detection, arrest, trial, etc.

bullet The murder was committed during a serious crime.

bullet The victim was a public servant on duty.

bullet The victim was murdered because he was a public servant.

bullet The murderer was a leader of a narcotics trafficking network who ordered the killing.

bullet The victim was less than 14 years of age.
bullet The murder was committed during a terrorist act.

A separate sentencing proceeding was held to weigh any aggravating and/or mitigating factors and decide whether convicted adult murderers should receive the death penalty.

All convictions resulting in a death sentence were automatically appealed to the state Supreme Court. 5

Curiously, the statute has no exclusions. Yet the state hires people to engage in contract murder of prisoners on death row. If the statute were strictly followed, these employees would themselves be guilty of premeditated, first degree murder with a major aggravating factor -- money. Of course, none have never been prosecuted.

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Activities of the New Jersey Death Penalty Study Commission:

This Commission was created on 2006-JAN-12 when Governor Richard J. Codey signed into law P.L.2005, c.321. The group was charged with studying all aspects of the death penalty in the state and to report their findings to the Governor and Legislature, along with any legislation that they recommended for adoption by the state.

The Rev. M. William Howard, Jr. of Bethany Baptist Church in Newark, NJ was selected chairperson.

The rest of the committee consisted of:

bullet Eddie Hicks, a member of Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation;
bullet Kathleen Garcia, a member of the New Jersey Crime Victims' Law Center;
bullet Rabbi Robert Scheinberg of the United Synagogue of Hoboken;
bullet The Honorable James H. Coleman, Jr., a retired justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court;
bullet The Honorable John F. Russo, former President of the New Jersey State Senate;
bullet James P. Abbott, West Orange Police Chief;
bullet Kevin Haverty, an attorney in private practice; and
bullet Ocean County Prosecutor Thomas F. Kelaher.

The ex officio members of the Commission were:

bullet Yvonne Smith Segars, a Public Defender;
bullet Various Attorneys General or their designees;
bullet Miles S. Winder, III who was selected by the President of the New Jersey State Bar Association; and
bullet Edward J. De Fazio, Hudson County Prosecutor who represented the County Prosecutors Association of New Jersey.


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This topic continues in the next essay

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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. Keith B. Richburg, "N.J. Approves Abolition of Death Penalty; Corzine to Sign," The Washington Post, 2007-DEC-14, at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/
  3. Tom Hester, Jr., "Some Decry N.J. Death Penalty Abolition," Associated Press, 2007-DEC-18, at: http://ap.google.com/
  4. "UN General Assembly passes worldwide death penalty moratorium," Jurist Legal News & Research, 2007-DEC-18, at: http://jurist.law.pitt.edu/
  5. Op Cit, Commission Report: Pages 121 to 125.

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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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