Editorial writers are taking notice of the New Jersey Death Penalty Study Commission's recommendation to abolish the death penalty in favor of life without parole.
The New York Times has, "Rethinking the Death Penalty."
New Jersey could take the lead among states in abolishing the death penalty if it follows the recommendation that a legislative commission made this week. It is the right thing to do, and not just because capital punishment is barbaric and a poor deterrent. It has become increasingly clear as the use of DNA evidence has grown that there is simply too great a risk of making an irreversible mistake.
While we would have used stronger language, we applaud the 13-member panel for having the courage to recommend that New Jersey become the first state to abolish the death penalty since states began reinstating it 35 years ago. The commission included two prosecutors, a police chief, members of the clergy and a man whose daughter was murdered in 2000. Only one member, a former state senator who wrote the death penalty law, dissented.
Although it has nine people on death row, New Jersey has had a moratorium on executions since 2005 and has not put anyone to death since 1963. Nevertheless, the panel’s recommendation that the death penalty be replaced with life imprisonment without parole is likely to have significant influence both inside and outside the state. It comes as about 10 of the 38 states with death penalties, including New York, have suspended executions and as recent developments, like DNA exonerations and a botched lethal injection in Florida last month, have created a growing unease about executions.
With Gov. Jon Corzine opposed to the death penalty, and substantial numbers of capital punishment opponents in both houses of the Legislature, there is a reasonable chance the commission’s recommendations will become law. That would make New Jersey’s criminal justice system more civilized and fair. It could also prod other states to abandon their own use of what Justice Harry Blackmun called the “machinery of death.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer has, "Repeal NJ death penalty."
For another, abolishing the death penalty is not about coddling criminals. As the New Jersey Death Penalty Study Commission wisely recommends, jailing death-penalty-eligible killers for life would safeguard citizens. It also would excise a capital punishment system that is broken beyond repair and a costly waste of tax dollars to boot.
Like other authoritative reviews, the commission study found "no compelling evidence" that capital punishment serves a legitimate deterrent purpose and concluded that it goes against "evolving standards of decency." For corroborating evidence, look to the non-death-penalty states that have lower murder rates, and the fact that capital prosecutions and executions are declining dramatically nationally and that death rows are shrinking (with one exception, Texas.)
The Newark Star-Ledger has, "Now end the death penalty."
Eliminating the death penalty is not only morally right but economically sound. New Jersey's complicated appeals process, which has kept those on death row alive, means it costs more to keep the death penalty on the books that to incarcerate someone for life.
Further, resources expended to prosecute these cases can be rerouted to other areas of the criminal justice system. One suggestion made in the latest commission report is to do more for survivors of victims of homicides.
The Trenton Times has, "End the death penalty."
Ending the death penalty in New Jersey will place the state at the forefront of what ought to be a national debate on the death penalty. It also will serve as another example of New Jersey's progressive agenda, one that late last year legalized civil unions for gay couples and authorized spending to establish stem-cell research facilities and programs.
The Daily Record has, "Do away with it."
There are good reasons to follow the study group's recommendation. One, of course, is moral. Death, as the ultimate penalty, should be reserved for a higher authority than the state.
There are also practical reasons to support the study group. Jurors, judges and prosecutors -- all of whom play a role in seeking capital punishment -- are merely human. They can make mistakes, and death is, quite obviously, an error that can not be reversed.
Under current law in New Jersey, the death penalty is very difficult to bring about. That's because jurors must first find a defendant guilty of a capital crime and then weigh a series of aggravating and mitigating factors in deliberating a death sentence. Needless to say, appeals are many. What strikes some as a cumbersome and unnecessary procedure is imperative if capital punishment is to be carried out fairly.
The Bergen Record has, "Inhumane, ineffective."
It's no surprise that this page would agree with the panel's finding. We have opposed the death penalty for decades because it is inhumane and uncivilized, because it is used disproportionately against the poor, minorities and the mentally incompetent, because it has never proved to be a deterrent -- and because it can result in terrible errors.
Charles Paolino, Executive Editor of the East Brunswick Home News Tribune has a column, "Vengeance may be sweet, but that's not a basis for capital punishment."
New Jersey is on the verge of deciding yet again whether it will have a death penalty. Our decision should be influenced by the best, not the worst aspects of our human nature.
The Catholic News Service has an article, "Catholic officials back N.J. panel's advice to end death penalty."
Patrick Brannigan, executive director of the New Jersey Catholic Conference, urged the Legislature to act quickly on the report and pass laws to implement the panel's recommendation.
The conference, the public policy arm of the state's bishops, also applauded Corzine's "announced support" of the commission's recommendation, but Brannigan said more needs to be done. He said abolishing the death penalty would not "be an end or total solution to the issue of capital crimes" and urged state leaders to "continue to seek improvement in our criminal justice system."
New Jersey's bishops have long stated their opposition of the death penalty. In a 2005 statement they said their opposition was formed by their belief "that every person has an inalienable right to life.