Saturday, January 07, 2006

The Garden State Heads in the Right Direction

On Thursday the New Jersey Assembly Judiciary Committee passed a bill that would suspend the use of the death penalty for a year until a study can be conducted on the practice. The study would be prepared by a new commission charged with examining alternatives to the death penalty, administration of the penalty, its fairness, the expense and the humanity of the act.

In the wake of the highly celebrated case of Stanley "Tookie" Williams in California, the highly questionable death sentence of Cory Maye in Mississippi, the surging use of DNA, the racial component of the penalty, the strong possibility of wrongful convictions and the outright barbaric nature of the act, we applaud the legislative move.

The bill, which has already passed the State Senate on a bipartisan vote, is the proper course for the other 36 states that have enacted the penalty since the Supreme Court re-approved the act in 1976. New Jersey, and the other 12 states reviewing the death penalty, should follow Illinois and Maryland and suspend the practice. It makes sense to postpone the penalty now for a variety of reasons.

From a budgetary standpoint it makes sense. It can cost states in the hundreds of millions of dollars to defend the multilayers of appeals death row occupants retain. However, for states to conduct a substantive study could cost just a few million dollars. It also makes sense from a public safety perspective. Ensuring that the right people are convicted for the most heinous of crimes committed helps to secure the streets of America.

From a moral vista moratoriums and studies also makes sense. While most democratic nations in Europe and Latin America have banned the practice (86 countries and territories in all) America continues to practice the punishment. So if the US is going to continue to engage in this behavior (with the likes of Iraq, China and Iran, dubious and unctuous company to say the least), the least we can do is make sure we are "humane"about the practice and that it is administered in a fair and equitable way.

It makes sense for New Jersey to take this step now and we hope the full Assembly passes the bill on Monday so that it can reach the desk of Acting Governor Richard Codey, who is it believed will sign the legislation, before he leaves office on January 17th.