Saturday, 15 December 2007

News Coverage of New Jersey Abolition

News Coverage of New Jersey Abolition

AP has, "Death Penalty Foes Rejoice After NJ Vote."

New Jersey reinstated the death penalty in 1982, six years after the U.S. Supreme Court allowed states to resume executions, but nobody has been executed in the Garden State since 1963.

New Jersey has been barred from executing anyone under a 2004 court ruling that declared invalid the state's lethal injection procedures.

A special state commission found in January that the death penalty was a more expensive sentence than life in prison, hasn't deterred murder, and could kill innocent people.

The New York Times has, "New Jersey Moves to End Its Death Penalty."

The New Jersey General Assembly approved a bill eliminating capital punishment on Thursday, clearing the way for Gov. Jon S. Corzine to sign the measure as early as Monday.

Mr. Corzine said he would act quickly. “It will be very, very prompt,” he said at a news conference on Thursday. “I’m sure it will be within the next week.”

Once he signs the bill, New Jersey will become the first state in the modern era of capital punishment to repeal the death penalty.

The measure has moved at an unusually fast pace through the Legislature. In the last week, it passed a Senate committee, an Assembly committee and both houses, leading many Republicans to accuse the Democratic leadership of trying to rush the bill through a lame-duck session.

The Washington Post's Keith Richburg reports, "N.J. Approves Abolition of Death Penalty; Corzine to Sign."

Richard C. Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, hailed the New Jersey vote as "a first" but noted that it "is coming at a time when there is a reexamination of the death penalty going on." Dieter added, "It does give other legislatures the chance to say, 'Is this working in our state?' "

In some states, governors have blocked executions or state supreme courts have declared effective moratoriums. Several states legislatures this year -- including in Maryland, Montana, New Mexico and Nebraska -- have debated abolishing capital punishment, but none so far has done so. Only in 2000, in New Hampshire, did the state legislature vote to repeal capital punishment, but the bill was vetoed by then-Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D).

The U.S. Supreme Court has effectively declared a moratorium on executions since it decided to take up in this term the question of whether lethal injection constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. In recent decisions, the high court has narrowed the use of capital punishment, ruling that it is unconstitutional to execute the mentally retarded or those who committed crimes as juveniles.


Public opinion across the United States still remains solidly in favor of capital punishment, with 62 percent supporting the death penalty for murderers and 32 percent opposed, according to January polling figures from the Pew Research Center in Washington. And in New Jersey, the most recent poll this week, released by Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, showed that New Jersey residents oppose abolishing the death penalty 53 percent to 39 percent.

Where there is a discernable shift underway -- and what has partly driven the repeal in New Jersey -- is when residents are offered an alternative; the death penalty, or life in prison without parole. Given the choice, New Jersey residents backed life without parole over the death penalty, 52 percent to 39 percent.

"People want justice, not revenge," said Clay F. Richards, the Quinnipiac institute's assistant director. He said that when the concept of a life penalty without parole was first introduced some years ago, "people didn't trust it, because they saw so many murderers being paroled."


In the end, the most compelling case for New Jersey lawmakers was the economic one. Keeping inmates on death row costs the state $72,602 per year for each prisoner, according to the commission. Inmates kept in the general population cost $40,121 per year each to house. The corrections department estimates that repeal could save the state as much as $1.3 million per inmate over his lifetime -- and that figure does not include the millions spent by public defenders on inmates' appeals.

The Chicago Tribune's Steve Mills has, "N.J. passes bill to ban executions."

But the effect on Death Rows across the country is less certain. While the move is historic, New Jersey's Death Row is tiny compared to those of such busy death penalty states as Texas or Virginia, or those states with large Death Row populations, such as California or Florida.

Instead, it may prompt states with small Death Rows that rarely carry out executions -- and that have considered similar legislation -- to take the step and also ban capital punishment.

"It's highly unlikely that active death penalty states ... will follow the lead of New Jersey any time soon," said David Dow, a professor at the University of Houston Law Center who also represents Death Row inmates. "I don't think this is the beginning of legislative abolition. It may be the beginning of the beginning of legislative reconsideration."

Indeed, as the death penalty debate has changed over the last decade, fueled by a growing number of Death Row and DNA exonerations and media investigations that have suggested innocent people have been executed, many states have reconsidered their death penalty laws. Illinois declared a moratorium in 2000, while several other states have conducted extensive studies of their death penalty laws.

The Tribune also carries "Ex-Death Row inmate: 'About time' capital punishment ended," from AP.

Henry Weinstein in the Los Angeles Times reports, "New Jersey lawmakers vote to end death penalty."

Austin Sarat, a professor of jurisprudence and political science at Amherst College and the author of two books on the death penalty, said New Jersey's action was a sign that the nation was "in a period of national reconsideration of the death penalty." He noted that both death sentences and executions had dropped in recent years.

Sarat predicted executions would be outlawed state by state but acknowledged that it was "likely to be a long road to abolition."

At a news conference in Trenton, N.J., Corzine said, "We would be better served as a society by having a clear and certain outcome for individuals who carry out heinous crimes. And that's what I think we are doing -- making certain that individuals will be in prison without any possibility of parole."

On Bloomberg, it's "New Jersey's Corzine to Sign Death Penalty Repeal Within Days."

``We are walking away from a policy that has failed us for 25 years,'' said Celeste Fitzgerald, director of New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. ``This was a wonderful vote of conscience.''

The legislation to replace the state's death penalty with a sentence of life in prison without parole passed the 80-member Assembly yesterday on a 44-36 vote. Earlier this week, the 40- member Senate gave its approval, 21-16.

Guardian America has, "New Jersey to become first state in four decades to abolish death penalty."

It comes as the debate over the application of the death penalty intensifies in the US. While 1,099 people have been executed since the supreme court reauthorised the death penalty in 1976, the rate of executions has slowed in recent years as concerns have been raised about whether the procedure most frequently used, lethal injection, violates the constitution's ban on "cruel and unusual punishment".

Executions have been on hold across the US while the supreme court considers the issue. New Jersey will become the 14th state without a death penalty; 36 states and the federal government and the US military retain it.

The abolition index is here.

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