Edward Johnson is a former FBI Agent who currently oversees investigative work for the Union County (NJ) Prosecutor’s Office. He recently expressed his personal opinions about the state’s death penalty. He concluded that in New Jersey public opinion may now have moved to the point where the death penalty will be abolished. He noted, in part:

Quite frankly, it’s the time lag between conviction and execution that militates against any deterrent effect. Even in states with an active death penalty, it’s probably about 15 or 20 years from conviction to execution. By that time, most of the public has forgotten about the original crime that warranted the death. We get neither deterrence value or closure for the victim’s family, just endless legal wrangling.

Most murder cases hinge on eyewitnesses and confessions. Sometimes they rely on the more questionable evidence of informers and jail-house snitches. Most of those wrongly convicted have been sentenced on just these types of evidence. Eyewitnesses have tremendous jury appeal, but they are fallible. Confessions, properly obtained, are great evidence. Coerced confessions aren’t worth the paper they’re written on, but they are compelling. In fact, that’s why many jurisdictions now video or audiotape the entire interview process. We’ve seen that despite the best efforts of police, attorneys and courts, the guilty are not always punished and the innocent are not always set free.

These issues and the mistaken convictions we’ve seen are the driving forces against the death penalty nationwide, and rightly so.

(Home News Tribune, Oct. 10, 2006). See New Voices.