New Jersey Becomes First State to Abolish Death Penalty In Thirty Years

Even as a native New Yorker, today I'm proud to say my father is a Jersey boy (sorry, Dad, for blowing your cover).

After 1,099 executions in America over the past 31 years (the second highest number in the world), and 741 in just the past decade; after 126 people on death row have been exonerated (including 15 by DNA testing); as some state governments continue trying --- in shame and in vain --- to find a "humane" way to kill people (having moved from hanging to shooting to electrocuting to poisoning); and after the United States, China, Iran, Sudan, Pakistan, and Iraq (not exactly the torch-bearing sextet for human rights) were responsible for 91% of the world's executions last year, yesterday New Jersey became only the first state to abolish the death penalty since it was reinstated by the Supreme Court in 1976.

Governor Corzine, who commuted the sentences of the eight men on New Jersey's death row to sentences of life without the parole the night before, ended executions in the Garden (of Eden, at least for now) State by signing the abolition bill (which last week passed the New Jersey Assembly by a vote of 44-36 and the Senate by a vote 21-16). The last states to legislatively end capital punishment were Iowa and West Virginia, 42 years ago.

New Jersey realized what many states stubbornly deny about the death penalty. It does not deter. It does not lower the crime rate. It does not bring back victims. It is violent. It is cruel. It is as irreversible for the innocent as it is for the guilty. It is expensive. It is not the only means of incapacitating someone (that is why we have prison and lifelong jail sentences). It is morally offensive to a majority of the world's countries, 133 of which are abolitionist in either law or practice. It is applied inconsistently and in a racially discriminatory manner.

A recent Connecticut study led by Yale law professor John J. Donohue III showed that minorities are disproportionately sentenced to die for their crimes, and decisions to seek the death penalty are often arbitrary. Included in the studies' findings are that (1) black defendants receive death sentences at three times the rate of white defendants in cases where the victims were white; (2) accused killers of white victims are charged and prosecuted more severely than people accused of killing minorities; and (3) minorities who kill whites receive death sentences at higher rates than minorities who kill minorities. A recent study by Ohio State University examining death row cases in 16 states also found that blacks convicted of killing whites are more likely than others convicted of murder to be sentenced to death and more likely to be executed.


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