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Governor Corzine's Remarks on Eliminating Death Penalty in New Jersey

NEWS RELEASE
Governor Jon S. Corzine
December 17, 2007

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Governor Jon S. Corzine
Remarks as Delivered
December 17, 2007

Good morning everyone.

Thank you all for being here. Today, December 17th 2007, is a momentous day - a day of progress - for the State of New Jersey and for the millions of people across our nation and around the globe who reject the death penalty as a moral or practical response to the grievous, even heinous, crime of murder.

Today, through my signature on this bill, New Jersey abolishes the death penalty as a policy of our state.

For the people of New Jersey, I sign this legislation with pride.

I want to thank so many of those who join us today for their thoughtfulness and courage in making today a reality.

First let me cite the Death Penalty Study Commission, chaired by Reverend Bill Howard, pastor of Bethany Baptist Church in Newark, a group that was made up of a diverse set of individuals representative of prosecutors, law-enforcement, victims, religious groups and others.

Let me just note, five of the Commissioners were directly impacted by the violence of murder in their families, directly.

The state legislature showed courageous leadership.  I must say, incredible leadership not just by Senator Lesniak and Senator Martin, the sponsors or Assemblyman Caraballo, or Assemblyman Bateman, the leaders Roberts & Codey – but for all those that voted yes.

This is one of those conscience votes that individuals must actually weigh and balance their own sense of morality and I am very, very grateful to all of you.   A number of you are here today who voted yes, Senator Gil, Senator Turner. I look forward to joining with all of you as I sign this bill.

It should be noted that because of the action of the legislature, this is the first state to legislatively end the death penalty since the U.S. Supreme Court reauthorized capital punishment in 1976.

I also want to thank advocacy groups, particularly New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, which have created a fundamental grass roots groundswell that put pressure on those of us in public service to stand up and do the right thing. The New Jersey Catholic Conference, the ACLU and there are many other groups that joined in this process and I am eternally grateful.

I also want to recognize that other good people will describe today's actions in quite different terms - in terms of injustice – particularly for those who carry heavy hearts, broken hearts from their tragic losses.

While no one can imagine their pain, I will sign this law abolishing the death penalty because I and a bipartisan majority of our legislature - and I congratulate Senator Bateman and Senator Martin in particular for their leadership on this - believe a nonviolent sentence of life in prison without parole best captures our State's highest values and reflects our best efforts to search for true justice, rather than state-endorsed killing.

As Reverend King implored all mankind while accepting his Nobel Peace Prize - "Man must evolve, for all human conflict, a method of resolution which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation."

Today, New Jersey is truly evolving.

We evolve, if you believe as I do, that government cannot provide a foolproof death penalty that precludes the possibility of executing the innocent.

Society must ask - Is it not morally superior to imprison 100 people for life than it is to execute all 100 when it is probable we execute an innocent?

We evolve, if you believe as I do, that because New Jersey has not executed anyone in 44 years, there is little collective will or appetite for our community to enforce this law and therefore the law has little deterrence value.

That is, if you ever accepted there was a deterrent value.

We evolve, if you believe as I do, that the loved ones of victims may be more deeply hurt by long delays and endless appeals than they would be if there were certainty of life in prison with no possibility of parole.

Our debate has brought forth victims' voices on both sides of this perspective.

We evolve, if you believe as I do, it is economic folly to expend more State resources on legal processes in an attempt to execute an inmate than keeping a criminal incarcerated for life.

It is estimated that it cost the State of New Jersey more than a quarter-billion dollars, above and beyond incarceration, to pursue the death penalty since it was reinstated in 1982 – a significant sum that could have effectively be used in supporting and compensating victims' families.

Finally, we evolve, if you believe as I do, that it is difficult, if not impossible, to devise a humane technique of execution - one that is not cruel and unusual.

These are all thoughtful and logical arguments, and there are others, to abolish the death penalty - the Commission and the legislature gave weight to these arguments - but for me, the question is more fundamental.

I believe society must first determine if its endorsement of violence begets violence - and - if violence undermines our commitment to the sanctity of life.

To these questions, I answer "Yes," and therefore I believe we must evolve to ending that endorsement.

Now, make no mistake: by this action, society is not forgiving these heinous crimes or acts that have caused immeasurable pain to the families and brought fear to society.

The perpetrators of these actions deserve absolutely no sympathy and the criminals deserve the strictest punishment that can be imposed without imposing death.

That punishment is life in prison without parole.

The only exception, of course, is the determination that a convicted felon is in fact innocent beyond the shadow of a doubt.

Let me repeat: this bill does not forgive or in any way condone the unfathomable acts carried out by the eight men now on New Jersey's death row.

They will spend the rest of their lives in jail.

And to that end, last night, I signed an order commuting to life without parole the death sentences of the eight persons currently on death row.

This commutation action provides legal certainty that these individuals will never again walk free in our society.

These commutations, along with today's bill signing, brings to a close in New Jersey the protracted moral and practical debate on the death penalty.

Our collective decision is one for which we can be proud.

Thank you.

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AMERICAN BAR ASSOCIATION RENEWS CALL FOR NATIONAL MORATORIUM ON EXECUTIONS

The American Bar Association (ABA) renewed its call for a nationwide halt to executions following a series of state studies that found serious problems in their death penalty systems.

"After carefully studying the way states across the spectrum handle executions, it has become crystal clear that the process is deeply flawed. The death penalty system is rife with irregularity," said Stephen F. Hanlon (pictured), chairman of the ABA Death Penalty Moratorium Implementation Project.

During the past three years, the ABA has issued death penalty assessment reports in eight states: Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee. The studies were conducted by independent teams of former judges, attorneys, and academic researchers. The reports revealed ways that each state failed to meet some of the basic standards established by the ABA to ensure fairness and to minimize the risk that innocent persons could be executed.


The ABA's call for a nationwide moratorium on executions was contained in a press release accompanying their report detailing the findings of the state assessments. Among the key problems cited by the ABA were the following:

  • Spotty collection and preservation of DNA evidence, which has been used to exonerate more than 200 people, including many who were on death row
  • Misidentification by eyewitnesses
  • False confessions from defendants
  • Persistent racial disparities that make death sentences more likely when victims are white.

(Associated Press, October 29, 2007). Read the ABA State Assessment Reports. See also Studies, Innocence, Arbitrariness, Race, and Representation.


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NEW VOICES: Florida League of Women Voters Calls for Halt to Executions

The League of Women Voters of Florida is urging Governor Charlie Crist to continue the moratorium on executions and to consider alternative sentences. In a letter from Florida League President Dianne Wheatley-Giliotti to Governor Crist, the organization noted that concerns about fairness, innocence, costs, and public safety have led them to question the value of capital punishment. In their call for a moratorium, the League stated:

Dear Governor Crist:

The League of Women Voters of Florida was greatly heartened when Florida followed the lead of other states in declaring a moratorium on the death penalty.

We believe, as do many in the developed world, that the death penalty is a violation of human rights, and our state should not participate in this process.

The Florida moratorium was primarily adopted due to reports that the methods used to execute the prisoners are not humane and that individuals actually suffer during the ordeal. Other facts, however, should be considered concerning the overall efficacy of capital punishment in Florida:     First, there exists a possibility that the person sentenced to death is innocent. Too often, those executed are from poor families, under-educated, or from a minority group.

In addition, studies have shown that states without the death penalty have murder rates as low or lower than states with the death penalty.

Furthermore, other studies have shown that the death penalty does not deter criminal behavior.

Finally, studies have shown that the cost to the state for a prisoner sentenced to life imprisonment is less than the cost of a prisoner sentenced to death.

We respectfully request that you as Governor declare a permanent moratorium and make use of other sentencing methods to ensure public safety.

Sincerely,
Dianne Wheatley-Giliotti,
President

(League of Women Voters of Florida, Letter to Governor Charlie Crist, May 28, 2007). See

New Voices

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Innocence

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Deterrence

, and

Costs

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NEW VOICES: Victims Organizations Issue Joint Statement for National Victims' Rights Week

Three organizations whose memberships include family members of murder victims recently issued a joint statement in conjunction with National Crime Victims' Rights Week, which takes place April 22 - 28, 2007. The statement, issued by the leaders of Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights, Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation, and Journey of Hope, called for governmental policies that serve the true needs of family members. The groups called for an end to the death penalty, noting that alternatives to capital punishment "provide the certainty and punishment that many families need while keeping our communities safe."

Their statement read:

April 22 – 28, 2007 is National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. The theme for this year is “Victims’ Rights: Every Victim, Every Time.” As victims, and survivors, we strongly support efforts to ensure that the needs of victims’ don’t fall through the cracks or fall prey to politics.

The death penalty does not serve victims’ families. It draws resources away from needed support programs, law enforcement and crime prevention. And the trials and appeals endlessly re-open wounds as they are beginning to heal, and it only creates more families who lose loved ones to killing.

Alternatives to the death penalty provide the certainty and punishment that many families need while keeping our communities safe. Critically, alternatives ensure attention is cast where it is needed most – on the survivors – and not on sensational trials or suspects.

As murder victim family members we also share the same concerns as other Americans with the death penalty. We are concerned about innocent people being sentenced to death, about racial and economic disparities and about arbitrariness. But for us the stakes are higher because an innocent person might be executed in a misguided attempt to give us justice. Losing one innocent life to murder is one too many, the taking of another innocent life because of the first is beyond comprehension.

Those who argue for the death penalty often claim to do so on behalf of us, the victims’ families. They say it will give us “closure.” We don’t want the death penalty, and closure is a myth. Every victim, every time needs help, understanding, resources, and support. We don’t need more killing.


Since 1981, the Justice Department's Office for Victims of Crimes has helped lead communities throughout the country in their observances of

National Crime Victims' Rights Week (NCVRW)

. Rallies, candlelight vigils, and a host of commemorative activities are held each year to promote victims' rights and to honor crime victims and those who advocate on their behalf.



(MVFHR, MVFR, and Journey of Hope Statement, April 19, 2007). See

Victims.
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NEW RESOURCE: Religion and the Death Penalty Web Page

The Death Penalty Information Center's new Religion and the Death Penalty Web page is now available online. In recent years, a growing number of religious organizations have participated in the nation's death penalty debate. The purpose of this new Web page is to provide access to information regarding the efforts of these faith groups and to highlight recent developments related to religion and the death penalty. The page features official religious statements on the death penalty from nearly 20 denominations, including a dozen branches of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam. It also includes polling information and a broad spectrum of articles and opinions concerning the death penalty from a religious point of view. Visit DPIC's new Religion and the Death Penalty Web page in our Resources Section. Comments and suggestions are welcome. (Posted Feb.  26, 2007).

 

 


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Maryland Governors call for Abolition of the Death Penalty Florida Commission
Recommends Changes to
Lethal Injection Process

MARYLAND GOVERNORS CALL FOR ABOLITION OF DEATH PENALTY

Maryland Governor
Martin O'Malley

Notwithstanding the executions of the rightly convicted, can the death penalty ever be justified as public policy when it inherently necessitates the occasional taking of wrongly convicted, innocent life? In Maryland, since 1978, we have executed five people and set one convicted man free when his innocence was discovered. Are any of us willing to sacrifice a member of our own family -- wrongly convicted, sentenced and executed -- in order to secure the execution of five rightly convicted murders? And even if we were, could that public policy be called "just"? I do not believe it can.

...

And what of the tremendous cost of pursuing capital punishment? In 2002, Judge Dale Cathell of the Maryland Court of Appeals wrote that, according to his research, processing and imprisoning a death penalty defendant "costs $400,000 over and above . . . a prisoner serving a life sentence." Given that 56 people have been sentenced to death in Maryland since 1978, our state has spent about $22.4 million more than the cost of life imprisonment. That's nearly $4.5 million "extra" for each of the five executions carried out. And so long as every American is presumed innocent until proven guilty, the cost of due process will not go down.

If, however, we were to replace the death penalty with life without parole, that $22.4 million could pay for 500 additional police officers or provide drug treatment for 10,000 of our addicted neighbors. Unlike the death penalty, these are investments that save lives and prevent violent crime. If we knew we could spare a member of our family from becoming a victim of violent crime by making this policy change, would we do it?

...

Human dignity is the concept that leads brave individuals to sacrifice their lives for the lives of strangers. Human dignity is the universal truth that is the basis of ethics. Human dignity is the fundamental belief on which the laws of this state and this republic are founded. And absent a deterrent value, the damage done to the concept of human dignity by our conscious communal use of the death penalty is greater than the benefit of even a justly drawn retribution.

(Washington Post, February 21, 2007).


Former Maryland Governor
Harry Hughes

Today, Maryland's lawmakers face their own life-or-death decision. I urge them to take the only logical path and put an end to Maryland's system of capital punishment.

I stand with Gov. Martin O'Malley in saying it's time to give up on this failed policy. My opinion is that executions demean us as a society. I also join with the majority of Marylanders who believe that on a practical level, the system is rife with problems that cannot be solved.

...

The legislation pending at the State House would replace the death penalty with a sentence of life without the possibility of parole, a harsh punishment that would keep murderers off the street and keep us safe without undue burdens on law enforcement or victims' families.

...

Finally, and most important, we must acknowledge that in any human system there is room for error. Again and again, we hear about prisoners freed from death row after being exonerated of their alleged crimes -- at least 123 across the country in the past 34 years.

...

To those lawmakers who have supported capital punishment in the past, please consider all that we have learned in recent years about how drastically it fails in practice. Around the country, Americans are moving away from the death penalty. A recent New Jersey commission recommended replacing the death penalty with life without parole because it simply could not come up with a way to make the system work both fairly and effectively.

It's time for Maryland to take heed and end capital punishment here.

(Washington Post, February 18, 2007).

See Recent Legislative Activity.



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Third World Congress Against the Death Penalty



The Third World Congress Against the Death Penalty took place in Paris from February 1-3, 2007. During this time, Paris welcomed hundreds of death penalty experts and activists from around the world, including numerous U.S. representatives who provided a broad overview of capital punishment trends in the U.S. Among the American panelists who participated in the Congress were:

  • George Kendall, Special Counsel, Holland & Knight, LLP
  • Richard Dieter, DPIC Executive Director
  • Frank Baumgartner, Political Science Professor & Researcher, Penn State University
  • Hugo Bedau, Professor Emeritus, Tufts University
  • Renny Cushing, Murder Victims Families for Human Rights
  • Dr. Jonathan Groner, Professor of Clinical Surgery, The Ohio State University
  • Robin Maher, Capital Representation Project Director, American Bar Association
  • Sam Millsap, Former Bexar County (TX) District Attorney
  • David Bruck, Director of the Virginia Capital Case Clearinghouse at Washington & Lee School of Law and Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel
  • Rick Halperin, Professor, Southern Methodist University and Amnesty International

In addition to addressing topics related to the U.S. death penalty, the Paris gathering focused on the Maghreb and the Middle East, where countries have been slow to abandon or reform capital punishment.

Ensemble Contre la Peine de Mort (ECPM) and the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty coordinated the Congress. This was the third world gathering in recent years. Earlier gatherings took place in Strasbourg and Montreal.

Read Richard Dieter's presentation and see the visuals from his address.

Read the Final Declaration of the Third World Congress Against the Death Penalty
Visit the Official Web site of the Third World Congress

 

 

 

 

 


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The Rabbinical Assembly

Resolution on Capital Punishment

Whereas, the Torah teaches that all human beings are created in God's image;

Whereas, Jewish tradition upholds the sanctity of life;

Whereas, both in concept and practice Rabbinic leaders in many different historical periods have found capital punishment repugnant;

Whereas, no evidence has been marshalled to indicate with any persuasiveness that capital punishment serves as a deterrent to crime;

Whereas, legal studies have shown that as many as 300 people in this century have been wrongly convicted of capital crimes;

Therefore, be it resolved that The Rabbinical Assembly oppose the adoption of death penalty laws and urge their abolition in states that have already adopted them;

That the Rabbinical Assembly urge the enactment of laws that mandate that some capital crimes be punishable by life imprisonment without parole;

That the Rabbinical Assembly offer support and speak out on behalf of the victims of violent crime and their families;

That the Rabbinical Assembly encourage its members to send this resolution to their appropriate elected officials.

*referred from 1995 Convention Plenum

The Rabbinical Assembly

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New York, NY 10027

(212) 280-6000

http://www.rabbinicalassembly.org


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