New Jersey, Global Citizen

by Peggy McGuinness

Governor Corzine’s statement today as he signed the NJ death penalty ban:

Thank you all for being here. Today, December 17th 2007, is a momentous day – a day of progress – for the State of New Jersey and for the millions of people across our nation and around the globe who reject the death penalty as a moral or practical response to the grievous, even heinous, crime of murder.

Today, through my signature on this bill, New Jersey abolishes the death penalty as a policy of our state.
As Reverend King implored all mankind while accepting his Nobel Peace Prize – “Man must evolve, for all human conflict, a method of resolution which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation.”

Today, New Jersey is truly evolving.

We evolve, if you believe as I do, that government cannot provide a foolproof death penalty that precludes the possibility of executing the innocent.

Society must ask – Is it not morally superior to imprison 100 people for life than it is to execute all 100 when it is probable we execute an innocent?

We evolve, if you believe as I do, that because New Jersey has not executed anyone in 44 years, there is little collective will or appetite for our community to enforce this law and therefore the law has little deterrence value.

That is, if you ever accepted there was a deterrent value.

We evolve, if you believe as I do, that the loved ones of victims may be more deeply hurt by long delays and endless appeals than they would be if there were certainty of life in prison with no possibility of parole.

Our debate has brought forth victims’ voices on both sides of this perspective.

We evolve, if you believe as I do, it is economic folly to expend more State resources on legal processes in an attempt to execute an inmate than keeping a criminal incarcerated for life.

It is estimated that it cost the State of New Jersey more than a quarter-billion dollars, above and beyond incarceration, to pursue the death penalty since it was reinstated in 1982 – a significant sum that could have effectively be used in supporting and compensating victims’ families.

Finally, we evolve, if you believe as I do, that it is difficult, if not impossible, to devise a humane technique of execution – one that is not cruel and unusual.

These are all thoughtful and logical arguments, and there are others, to abolish the death penalty – the Commission and the legislature gave weight to these arguments – but for me, the question is more fundamental.

I believe society must first determine if its endorsement of violence begets violence – and – if violence undermines our commitment to the sanctity of life.

To these questions, I answer “Yes,” and therefore I believe we must evolve to ending that endorsement.

The full statement is available here. While there is no mention of international treaties banning the death penalty, it is interesting to note that Corzine thanks, among others, the NGOs and grassroots organizations that put pressure on the Assembly and the Governor’s office to bring about the ban. More discussion of what NJ’s prohibition on the death penalty might tell us, if anything, about transnational convergence toward abolition in my post and comments here.

One Response

  1. This is a significant improvement over the status quo, but let’s not make life without parole the gold standard in the U.S. legal system. It’s still pretty crappy at the end of the day. Baby steps, I guess.

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