Senate Passes Measure to Study Death Penalty

TRENTON – The Senate supported legislation today sponsored by Senate Shirley K. Turner that would create a commission to study the application of the death penalty in New Jersey.

“It was a disappointment to many people of great conscience when Governor McGreevey vetoed this same piece of legislation two years ago,” said Senator Turner, D-Mercer. “In the time that has passed, the evidence of the significant flaws with the death penalty system has only mounted. Fortunately, in Governor Codey we now have a Governor who recognizes the need to study these flaws and fix the system so that we have a fair criminal justice system.”

Senator Turner’s bill, S-709, would establish a commission to assess the fairness, costs, and value of maintaining capital punishment in the State of New Jersey. The 13-member Commission would convene within 45 days of the effective date of the bill and issue a report to the Governor and the Legislature on its findings and recommendations no later than November 15, 2006. During the commission’s deliberations, the State would be prohibited from conducting an execution. This “death penalty moratorium” would expire 60 days after the issuance of the report.

“Nationally, there is documented bias in the death penalty system in terms of race and economic status. Additionally, there are questions as to whether the effectiveness of capital punishment as a deterrent is worth the considerable social and economic costs of maintaining the program. The finality of the death penalty is far too severe to allow even the slightest of imperfections in the system. This commission will address these concerns as they apply to New Jersey and help the Legislature determine if the continued existence of the death penalty is in the best interest of our state,” explained Senator Turner.

Senator Turner sponsored an identical bill last session, S-1112, which received wide support in both chambers. The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 34 to 0 in December 2003. The Assembly passed it several days later by a vote of 70-8. Governor McGreevey subsequently vetoed the measure.

“With a majority the New Jersey public now supporting life without parole over capital punishment and the fact that we have not executed a single death row inmate in the 23 years since we reinstated the death penalty, it seems like the death penalty is not a good fit for our state. This commission will help take the anecdotal evidence and boil it down to real facts that can help us make an informed decision,” explained Senator Turner.

The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 30-6. It now awaits consideration by the Assembly