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J. Mijin Cha on December 13, 2007 - 8:00am
This week, the New Jersey Senate voted to abolish the death penalty in the state, moving closer to becoming the first state to do so since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated it in 1976. The bill now moves to the Assembly, where it is expected to pass, and Governor Corzine, a staunch opponent of the death penalty, has said he would sign the measure into law.
New Jersey is not the first state to recently move towards repealing the death penalty. Last year alone legislatures in Maryland, Montana, Nebraska and New Mexico have debated bills to repeal death penalty statutes, but each measure failed. In 2004, the New York Supreme Court struck down the state's death penalty as unconstitutional and the Kansas Supreme Court voided its death penalty laws. In 2000, Illinois' then Republican Governor George Ryan imposed a moratorium on the state's death penalty, which continues today. Maryland's Governor also imposed a moratorium on executions in 2002, but just days after his inauguration, Governor Erlich lifted the moratorium in 2003 and Maryland executed its first individual after six years in 2004.
Death penalty cases are far more expensive than sentencing people to life without parole. A recent report found that New Jersey spends about $253 million on its death penalty while not executing a single individual since 1976, when the death penalty was reinstated. New York has spent more than $200 million on its death penalty system, also without any executions. Florida would save $51 million per year by punishing all first-degree murderers with life in prison without parole.
Not to mention that to date, according to the Innocence Project, several people on death row have been exonerated by post-conviction DNA evidence. And, a recent report analyzing polling results, found that the public is losing confidence in the death penalty due to the risk of executing the innocent, the fairness of the process, and the inability of capital punishment to act as a deterrent. In New Jersey, by a margin of 52 to 39%, voters say they would prefer to drop the death penalty in favor of life in prison without parole for those who are convicted of first degree murder.
The U.S. bears the dubious distinction of being the only developed country that still kills people for committing crimes. Maybe it's time we gave up that title.