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.
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 Over the previous generation, only the legislature in New Hampshire had repealed capital punishment.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
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
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:
|Creating "...a grave risk of death to another person in addition to the
|The murder "...involved torture, depravity of mind, or an aggravated assault
to the victim."|
|The murderer was a contract killer who murdered for profit.|
|The murder was committed to escape detection, arrest, trial, etc.|
|The murder was committed during a serious crime.|
|The victim was a public servant on duty.|
|The victim was murdered because he was a public servant.|
|The murderer was a leader of a narcotics trafficking network who ordered the
|The victim was less than 14 years of age.|
|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.
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 Rev. M. William Howard, Jr. of Bethany Baptist Church in Newark, NJ was
The rest of the committee consisted of:
|Eddie Hicks, a member of Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation;
|Kathleen Garcia, a member of the New Jersey Crime Victims' Law Center;
|Rabbi Robert Scheinberg of the United Synagogue of Hoboken; |
|The Honorable James H. Coleman, Jr., a retired justice of the New
Jersey Supreme Court; |
|The Honorable John F. Russo, former President of the New Jersey State
|James P. Abbott, West Orange Police Chief; |
|Kevin Haverty, an attorney in private practice; and|
|Ocean County Prosecutor Thomas F. Kelaher.|
The ex officio members of the Commission were:
||Yvonne Smith Segars, a Public Defender;|
||Various Attorneys General or their designees;|
|Miles S. Winder, III who was selected by the President of the New
Jersey State Bar Association; and |
|Edward J. De Fazio, Hudson County Prosecutor who represented the
County Prosecutors Association of New Jersey. |
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.
- "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:
- Keith B. Richburg, "N.J. Approves Abolition of Death Penalty; Corzine to Sign," The Washington Post, 2007-DEC-14, at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/
- Tom Hester, Jr., "Some Decry N.J. Death Penalty Abolition," Associated
Press, 2007-DEC-18, at: http://ap.google.com/
- "UN General Assembly passes worldwide death penalty moratorium," Jurist
Legal News & Research, 2007-DEC-18, at: http://jurist.law.pitt.edu/
- Op Cit, Commission Report: Pages 121 to 125.
Copyright © 2007 to 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2007-DEC-26
Latest update: 2015-MAY-22
Author: B.A. Robinson