TRENTON – Senator Shirley K. Turner today welcomed Senate Judiciary Committee approval of her bill to end the use of the death penalty in New Jersey and replace it with a sentence of life in prison without parole, saying that, “The Legislature can not move quickly enough to get the death penalty ban on the Governor’s desk.”
“The death penalty is not only barbaric, but it’s wasteful and ineffective. I am proud that New Jersey is quickly moving forward to end the chance of this senseless punishment being used in our state,” said Senator Turner, D-Mercer.
Senator Turner was the Senate sponsor of legislation last year creating the Death Penalty Study Commission to explore the effectiveness of the death penalty in New Jersey. In January, they released recommendations that the State end it’s use of capital punishment and replace it with life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“The evidence is clear – the death penalty is fatally flawed and beyond repair,” said Senator Turner. “Whether you look at the $240 million dollars the State has spent on capital cases over the last 15 years without any results or the growing number of cases where death row inmates have been found innocent by new evidence, it’s abundantly clear that there is a better way of punishing our most heinous criminals.
Senator Turner’s bill, S-171, would amend current law to abolish the death penalty for individuals who are convicted of capital murder after the effective date of the bill. Current inmates who are on death row, would be given 60 days to motion the Superior Court for a commutation of their sentence to life in prison without parole.
“Too many people on death row have been exonerated to make the death penalty a viable punishment in this day and age,” added Senator Turner. “Death is all too permanent and I doubt many of us could stand it if New Jersey were to ever execute an innocent individual.”
Life in prison without parole also would be imposed in traditional “capital murder” cases, i.e., certain homicides that include aggravating factors which would have made the defendant eligible for the death penalty in the past. These aggravating factors include the murder of a police officer, individuals committing acts of terrorism, murder of a minor and murder while committing a sex crime. If the convicting jury found that any of the aggravating factors existed, then the judge would be required to impose a sentence of life without parole.
“Hopefully, this bill will encourage us to move beyond the natural feelings of revenge we have when facing the murder of one of our own and allow us to focus more resources on providing relief and support to the families of the victims of these deplorable crimes,” said Senator Turner.
Senator Turner’s bill was approved by the committee by a vote of 8-2 and now goes to the full Senate for their approval.