November 20, 2007
Dear members of the New Jersey State Legislature,
We are current and former prosecutors and other members of New Jersey’s law enforcement community writing to you with serious concerns about our state's death penalty. Some of us support the death penalty in principle, others oppose it; some of us have sought it and some of us have not. But we have learned a lot about the death penalty in the last 24 years, and we all agree that the lesson is clear: New Jersey would be better off replacing the death penalty with the swift and severe sentence of life without parole.
Since New Jersey reinstated the death penalty in 1982, our state has pursued 197 death penalty cases. Only 60 of those have resulted in a death sentence. And of those, only 9 people remain on death row today – despite no executions since the death penalty was reinstated. New Jersey citizens have borne the brunt of the costs of those death penalty trials and reversals, diverting precious resources that could have made our jobs easier and kept the public safe.
First and foremost, our goal is to prevent crime and protect New Jersey’s citizens. That is why we have served our state as officers of the law. Given the choice, we would rather see resources used to put more police on the streets, increase our capacity to catch and prosecute lower level crimes so that murderers are stopped before an innocent life is lost, and help survivors of homicide victims as they struggle to heal.
Additionally, conditions are different today than they were in 1982. At that time, New Jersey did not offer juries the alternative of sentencing defendants to life without parole. It was thought that the only way to keep dangerous criminals off the streets was to sentence them to death. Today, states across the country are locking people away for life – with no chance of release – and New Jersey now has that option as well. Replacing the death penalty with life without parole provides our state with a strong and effective punishment alternative that can be carried out swiftly and with less cost and complications.
Finally, we know that sometimes, despite our very best intentions, the system makes mistakes and innocent people are wrongfully sentenced to death. Many more have been exonerated from long prison sentences, including in New Jersey. There are also many questions about uneven or unfair application of the death penalty. These facts have decreased support for capital punishment not only among the general public nationally, but also among the citizens of our state.
Problems in the application of the death penalty, including inaccuracy and disparity, cause the public to lose faith in the criminal justice system, making our jobs more difficult. For the families of murder victims, reversals and delays only serve to add to their trauma and pain.
For all of these reasons, we believe the citizens of New Jersey are better served by gracefully backing away from capital punishment, before an execution takes place and changes our state forever. We urge you to support legislation to replace the death penalty with life without parole.
(Alphabetical list in formation)
List name, law enforcement title, and city
Chief James P. Abbott, West Orange Police Department
Genevieve M. Allard, Esq., Retired Assistant Prosecutor, Bergen County
Charles C. Bennett, Patrolman, Millville Police Department
Daniel J. Carluccio, former Ocean County Prosecutor
Former New Jersey Attorney General
Elizabeth A. Duelly
Former Essex County Assistant Prosecutor/Appellate Section Director
John Fahy, former Bergen County Prosecutor
David J. Foley, Former Executive Prosecutor, Monmouth County
Robert W. Gluck, Former Middlesex County Prosecutor
Gary Hilton, Deputy Commissioner/Chief of Staff (Ret’d), New Jersey Department of Corrections
Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, former Undersheriff of Bergen County
Marian E. Jones, Lindenwold, New Jersey, Captain, United States Army, Military Police Corps; Deputy Sheriff, Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff's Office, New Orleans, LA; State Police Officer, University of New Orleans, New Orleans, LA
John Kaye, Former Monmouth County Prosecutor
Thomas Kelaher, former Ocean County Prosecutor
Michael Murphy, former Morris County Prosecutor
Sharon B. Ransavage, former Hunterdon County Prosecutor
Stephen Raymond, former Burlington County Prosecutor
Carol L. Russell, Police Sargeant, Trenton Police Department
Dr. Andrew Savicky, Licensed Clinical Psychologist #2670
Jeal Sugarman, former Bergen County Assistant Prosecutor
James H. Wells, Jr., National Chairperson of the National Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers, Inc. (NABLEO) and retired police officer for Port Authority NY/NJ.
Captain Frank Woshnack, Collingswood Police Department (RET.), Buena, New Jersey