January 12, 2006 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Celeste Fitzgerald 973-635-6396 or 973-495-5302
Bipartisan legislation imposes nation's first-ever legislative moratorium on capital punishment; requires comprehensive study of State's death penalty system
Trenton - Governor Richard J. Codey today signed S-709/A-2347, legislation requiring an immediate moratorium on all executions in New Jersey and creating a study commission that will undertake a comprehensive examination of the State's current death penalty system. The bill, which passed the Senate by a vote of 30-6 on December 15th, was approved Monday by a vote of 55-21 in the General Assembly. Codey's action marks the first time in the nation's history that a State has enacted legislation imposing a moratorium on its death penalty
"The enactment of this bill demonstrates the State of New Jersey's deep concern that it's death penalty system isn't working," said Celeste Fitzgerald, Director of New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, a statewide organization that advocates replacing the death penalty with life in prison without possibility of parole. "By any measure, the death penalty has failed the people of New Jersey, who have come to know that it risks executing the innocent, is unfairly applied, fails victims' families and law enforcement and wastes millions of taxpayer dollars."
"This commission will be independent and bipartisan, and it will conduct the State's first comprehensive analysis of its death penalty system," said Fitzgerald, who also noted that recent polls show that a large majority of he State's residents support a moratorium and commission to study the death penalty.
An April 2005 public opinion survey by the Rutgers Bloustein Center for Survey Research indicates that fully two-thirds of state residents (63%), including a majority of those who say they support the death penalty, favor a temporary suspension of executions.
As required by S-709/A-2347, the new study commission shall be composed of 13 members and will submit its findings by November 15, 2006. It will examine critical issues such as racial and geographic bias, cost, risk of wrongful execution, and whether alternatives exist that will both ensure public safety and address the needs of victims' families.
New Jersey's action comes amidst a growing chorus of concern about the death penalty across the country. Cases have been re-opened in Missouri and Texas because of evidence that those states may have executed innocent men. A Virginia death sentence was commuted to life in prison without parole after DNA evidence was destroyed in the case. And voices including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the editorial board of Alabama's largest newspaper, and the President of the Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention have recently expressed concerns about capital punishment.
New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (NJADP) is a statewide grassroots organization with over 10,000 members that since 1999 has campaigned for an end to the death penalty in New Jersey. It is the core group of more than 200 New Jersey organizations, representing interests such as labor, justice, education, business, human rights, and virtually every religious denomination in the state.
For more information, see www.njadp.org.