"The basic question -- does the system accurately and consistently determine which defendants 'deserve' to die? -- cannot be answered in the affirmative... The problem is that the inevitability of factual, legal, and moral error gives us a system that we know must wrongly kill some defendants, a system that fails to deliver the fair, consistent and reliable sentences of death required by the Constitution."
Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun, February 22, 1994
"Nothing is more important in a justice system system than the actual and perceived fairness in its application. Our system of capital punishment has neither. It is time to end the death penalty in New Jersey."
Joseph Krakora Star Ledger, December 20, 2005
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New Jersey's DEATH Penalty:
FAIRNESS AND EQUALITY?
Over the last 20 years, less than 1% of New Jersey's 8,000 homicides resulted in a death sentence. But are those individuals who receive a death sentence truly the "worst of the worst" - or simply those with the worst geographic location?
Who Gets DEATH?
Evidence across the nation demonstrates a pattern of racial bias in death sentencing:
Year after year, statistical reviews in New Jersey have found significant evidence that killers of white victims are more likely to be sentenced to death than killers of black victims. Indeed, African Americans are the victim in 59% of all New Jersey homicides, yet as of July 2005, 70% of the people on New Jersey's death row are there for killing white victims.
Nationally, over 80% of those executed were convicted of killing a white person, even though African Americans are the victims in more than half of all homicides.
According to a 2003 report of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, one third of African Americans on death row in Philadelphia would have received life sentences if they were not African American.
In Maryland, among cases where the death penalty is an option, blacks who kill whites are two and a half times more likely to be sentenced to death than whites who kills whites, and three and a half times more likely than blacks who kill blacks.
Across the nation, at least one out of five African Americans executed since 1977 were tried in front of all-white juries. In 2005, the United States Supreme Court reversed a Texas death penalty because African Americans were excluded improperly from the jury.
In 1990, the U.S. General Accounting Office reviewed available research and found that in 82% of the studies, the race of victim influenced the likelihood of being charged with capital murder or receiving a death sentence, i.e., those who murdered whites were more likely to be sentenced to death than those who murdered blacks.
Though all criminal defendants have the right to an attorney, there is no guarantee in New Jersey or elsewhere that poor defendants will receive a competent one:
Over 90% of those facing capital charges across the nation were too poor to afford their own attorney.
State and federal courts have thrown out multiple New Jersey convictions or sentences because of ineffective attorneys.
New Jersey exoneree Nathaniel Walker spent 12 years in prison for a rape he did not commit because his lawyer never asked to have the semen tested for blood type, a simple test that would have ruled Walker out immediately.
David Shephard's lawyer never even talked to him before Shephard took the stand in his own defense. DNA testing freed him after more than a decade in New Jersey prisons.
A 2002 Columbia University study found that one of the most common problems plauging death penalty cases was "egregiously incompetent" defense lawyers.
The Death Penalty is a Lottery of Geography
Where a crime occurs in New Jersey can play as significant a role as the nature of the crime:
A recent study by the New Jersey Supreme Court attempted to explain away racial disparities in the state's death penalty by pointing to "county variability" - a serious problem in itself. Whether a criminal defendant will be subject to the death penalty should not arbitrarily depend on which side of the country line the murder occured.
Fifty percent of the 16 pending capital cases in New Jersey are from just two counties - Cumberland and Morris.
Fairness in the Death Penalty is a Moving Target
Across the country, states and the federal government have examined the unfair application of the death penalty and attempted to make reforms. Each reform makes a significantly complicated system even more complicated and expensive, while creating a whole new wave of problems in application. With a system that decides who lives and who dies, best faith efforst are not good enough. There is simply too much at stake.