Today, the death penalty was abolished in New Jersey. A bill, previously approved by the New Jersey legislature and signed into law this morning, replaces capital punishment with a sentence of life without parole. The decision in New Jersey raises questions about the death penalty in Alabama.
In January 2006, the New Jersey Death Penalty Study Commission began a comprehensive investigation of the state’s use of capital punishment, and held extensive public hearings that culminated in a report calling for an end to the death penalty. The 13-member commission includes New Jersey’s Attorney General, two county prosecutors, a Chief of Police, and a representative of a crime victim’s advocacy group.
The commission found that capital punishment had not deterred homicides in the state, the risks of executing an innocent person remained unacceptably high, and the cost of the system could no longer be justified.
The New Jersey decision may be seen as part of a state-by-state movement away from the death penalty. New York and Kansas’s death penalties were declared unconstitutional in 2004. Illinois is in its eighth year of a death penalty moratorium, which was established in 2000 due to concerns about wrongful convictions. Currently, legislative studies of the death penalty are underway in California, North Carolina, and Tennessee.
In Alabama, the death penalty was analyzed by The Birmingham News in 2005. It found that the system was “broken,” its application often depending on the status of the accused, the victim’s race, or the prosecutor of the county in which the offense occurred. A survey from that year found that almost 57% of Alabamians favored a moratorium until issues about the fairness and reliability of the death penalty were resolved.
After today, 36 states remain with death penalty statutes on the books. Since the beginning of 2007, only eleven states have carried out executions. Of those, Alabama is one of only three states that has executed more than two people.