Capital punishment; the death penalty
Abolition of the death penalty
in New Jersey:
2007-DEC: The first state to do so in forty years
The last person executed in New Jersey was killed in 1963. The U.S. Supreme
Court re-authorized the execution of convicted murderers in 1976. In 1982, the
state reauthorized the death penalty. Since then, over four dozen people have
been sentenced to death; none have been executed. The vast majority of death
sentences were overturned on appeal.
In 2004, the state appeals court 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
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 in the state. 1
Although the New Jersey public strongly supports
the death penalty, a bill was drafted to abolish executions in favor of life
imprisonment with no chance for parole.
A bill to abolish the death penalty passed the Senate and
General Assembly during 2007-DEC. The vast majority of Democrats voted in favor;
most Republicans voted against it.
New Jersey Governor Jon S. Corzine (D) signed the
bill into law on 2007-DEC-17. 2 New Jersey 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. 3
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 factors and any mitigating factors and decide whether adult
murderers should receive the death penalty.
All convictions resulting in a death sentence were automatically
appealed to the state Supreme Court. 4
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. Yet they are never prosecuted.
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 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, Public Defender|
|Various Attorneys General or their designee;|
|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 committee issued their report on 2007-JAN-02. 1
They determined that:
- "There is no compelling evidence that the New Jersey death penalty
rationally serves a legitimate penological intent.
- The costs of the death penalty are greater than the costs of life in
prison without parole, but it is not possible to measure these costs with
any degree of precision.
- There is increasing evidence that the death penalty is inconsistent with
evolving standards of decency.
- The available data do not support a finding of invidious racial bias in
the application of the death penalty in New Jersey.
- Abolition of the death penalty will eliminate the risk of
disproportionality in capital sentencing.
- The penological interest in executing a small number of persons guilty
of murder is not sufficiently compelling to justify the risk of making an
- 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.
- Sufficient funds should be dedicated to ensure adequate services and
advocacy for the families of murder victims."
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."
A bill to end executions:
Leaders of the Senate and General Assembly decided after the November
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.
|Senator 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." |
|Diann 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'."|
|The 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."
Also on DEC-09, the General Assembly’s Law and Public Safety Committee
approved the bill by a 5-1 vote.
On 2007-DEC-12, the General Assembly voted 44 to 36 in favor of the bill.
Three Republicans voted in favor of the bill; 9 Democrats voted against it.
8 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.
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'?" 7
Governor Corzine signed the bill into law:
Governor Jon S. Corzine 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." 7
- "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:
- Tom Hester, Jr., "Some Decry N.J. Death Penalty Abolition," Associated
Press, 2007-DEC-18, at:
- "UN General Assembly passes worldwide death penalty moratorium," Jurist
Legal News & Research, 2007-DEC-18, at:
- Op Cit, report: Pages 121 to 125.
- Ibid, Page 1.
- Ibid, Page 2.
- Jeremy W. Peters, "Death Penalty Repealed in New Jersey," New York times,
- "Death penalty: NJ Senate and Assembly roll call," NewsDay.com, 2007-DEC-13,
- "NJ Senate budget committee approves death penalty abolition!" Amnesty
International USA, 2007-DEC-03, at:
Copyright © 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2007-DEC-26
Latest update: 2007-DEC-26
Author: B.A. Robinson