Trenton - By a 55 - 21 vote, the New Jersey General Assembly today approved S-709/A-2347, legislation calling for an immediate moratorium on all executions in New Jersey and creating a study commission that will examine the flaws in the State's current death penalty system. The bill passed the Senate with a 30-6 vote on December 15, 2005. Today's Assembly action means New Jersey moves one step closer to becoming the first State in the nation to legislatively impose a moratorium on the death penalty.
"By its action today, the Assembly joins the Senate in signaling deep concern that the State's death penalty system isn't working," said Celeste Fitzgerald, Director of New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, a statewide organization that advocates replacing the death penalty with life without parole. "By any measure, the death penalty has failed the people of New Jersey, who have come to know that it risks executing the innocent, is unfairly applied, fails victims' families and law enforcement, and wastes millions of taxpayer dollars."
"The independent and bipartisan commission proposed in this legislation will address those serious issues in our State's first comprehensive study of the death penalty," said Fitzgerald, who also noted that polls show the moratorium bill enjoys widespread public support.
An April 2005 public opinion survey by the Rutgers Bloustein Center for Survey Research indicates that fully two-thirds of state residents (63%), including a majority of those who say they support the death penalty, favor a temporary suspension of executions.
As required by S-709, the new study commission shall be composed of 13 members and will submit its findings by November 15, 2006. It will examine critical issues such as racial and geographic bias, cost, risk of wrongful execution, and whether alternatives exist that will both ensure public safety and address the needs of victims' families.
New Jersey's action comes amidst a growing chorus of concern about the death penalty across the country. Cases have been re-opened in Missouri and Texas because of evidence that those states may have executed innocent men. A Virginia death sentence was commuted to life in prison without parole after DNA evidence was destroyed in the case. And voices including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the editorial board of Alabama's largest newspaper, and the President of the Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention have recently expressed concerns about capital punishment.
New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (NJADP) is a statewide grassroots organization with over 10,000 members that since 1999 has campaigned for an end to the death penalty in New Jersey. It is the core group of more than 200 New Jersey organizations, representing interests such as labor, justice, education, business, human rights, and virtually every religious denomination in the state.