Karl Keys points us to an OpEd in yesterday's local edition of the New York Times by Peter G. Verniero, "Appealed to Death." Verniero is a former state attorney general and former state supreme court justice.
A RECENT report by the New Jersey Death Penalty Study Commission has recommended that the state abolish the death penalty and replace it with a life sentence in a maximum security prison, with no possibility of parole. Although I might not agree with all of the commission’s reasoning — I don’t, for example, interpret public sentiments as leaning against capital punishment to the extent that the commission does — I concur in its recommendation.
That was not always my view. As state attorney general, I supported the death penalty and worked to enforce it. Later, as a member of the New Jersey Supreme Court, I voted to affirm and overturn death sentences when legal standards required either result.
But from a policy perspective, I now believe that the current capital punishment system, which has spawned elaborate litigation that includes several layers of appeal, is ineffective.
Instead of revising the system yet again, we should accept the conclusion that New Jersey simply lacks the collective will to carry out capital punishment. Whether it’s fear of an erroneous execution, as DNA evidence has shown is possible in other states, or a combination of other factors, the elected branches appear ready to alter course. In that context, substituting a sentence of life without parole for the death penalty makes sense. In the absence of executions, such sentences essentially already exist.
I cannot fathom the pain felt by the families of murder victims. I can only assume that their grief and sense of loss are perpetual. Understandably for some, a feeling of justice will result only from the execution of the persons responsible for such unspeakable crimes.
Still, as a practical matter, New Jersey’s death penalty exists merely on paper. Despite the law on the books, this state has never really embraced capital punishment. We should acknowledge that reality and replace the death penalty with a punishment that is real.