May 13, 2007
Time for capital punishment to die
Home News Tribune, Editorial
Astate Senate committee's decision last week to move a bill abolishing the
death penalty to the floor for a full vote was a courageous and welcome act,
and we hope both the full Senate and the Assembly can gather the strength to
pass this groundbreaking, and long overdue, legislation.
Like many in the state, this page has long been morally opposed to the death
penalty; and we continue to embrace the standards of decency explicitly and
implicitly at work in a society that refuses to kill even its worst
There is no question, however, that the most important foes of the death
penalty have been those who have no moral opposition to it; some of them
were members of the state task force that issued a January report
recommending abolition to the Legislature. There is nothing idealistic about
these folks' position; they are pragmatists. And their conclusions are
devastating precisely because they are bound up in the cold, hard realities
of the law itself.
Scores of these men and women - many prosecutors and policemen among them -
have determined that the law is unworkable; like the human beings who
control it, it is arbitrary and capricious; it makes mistakes. And no law
that extracts the ultimate punishment can afford to be less than perfect.
In New Jersey, the system designed to guard against error and passion
extracts its own price: years of appeal and delay. Although the state
Legislature reinstated the death penalty in 1982, no one has been executed
here since 1963. The overwhelming majority of those sentenced to death in
the 25 years since the reinstatement have had their sentences overturned on
one or other of the numerous appeals guaranteed by the sentence. A handful
remain on death row, still working through appeals. Regardless, there has
been a moratorium in the state since 2005.
These necessary checks in New Jersey's law are most grinding on the
relatives of the victims. A sentence of life in prison without parole would
effectively end things; as it stands, years go by without closure. The
appeals are also expensive. It costs far more to try to put someone to death
than it does simply to allow him to live out his life behind bars. And there
is no evidence that a death penalty deters murderers.
In the end, regardless of how one feels about the death penalty on a
philosophical level, the imperfections in the law, and the impossibility of
finding a workable balance between constitutional protections and victims'
rights, leave the law fatally flawed. It simply can not be made to work
Others disagree. Still, it is somewhat jarring to read the screed put out by
Sen. Joseph Kyrillos, R-Monmouth,Middlese
committee's vote on Thursday. Tying the vote to the arrest of the would-be
terrorists at Fort Dix, the senator said the death penalty was needed to
defend against future terrorist attacks.
Let's be clear about would-be terrorists: most of them are obsessed with
death; many choose to commit suicide as part of their terrorist act. Arguing
that the death penalty would deter them is ludicrous. Indeed, we already
have seen that for those who escape death in the act itself, the threat of a
death sentence in court is simply a way for them to embrace martyrdom.
New Jersey, which would become the first state to overturn its reinstated
death penalty, has a chance to lead the country toward a more humane system
of punishment. Weakness in this case lies with failing to act, not with
overturning an unjust and senseless law.
Source : Home News Tribune, Editorial