It's official. Yesterday Governor Corzine signed the legislation outlawing the death penalty in my state of New Jersey, which now joins 13 other states (and the District of Columbia) in not having the death penalty on the books.
According to the Star Ledger,
"New Jersey became the first state to repeal its capital punishment law since the U.S. Supreme Court, which had struck down the death penalty in 1972, allowed its reinstatement in 1976." (New Jersey had reinstated it in 1982).
Of course, the death penalty in New Jersey was "de jure" only - no one had actually been executed here since 1963. But outlawing the death penalty shows a dedication to the moral principle that the state should not be in the business of killing people.
I realize not everyone agrees with this decision. Many people who are in favor of the death penalty cite situations where a heinous crime has been committed: Child abuse and murder; rape, abduction, torture, etc. "Surely," they say, "these people MUST deserve the death penalty?"
Yes, I know it feels right to put these people to death. It is natural to want revenge for such terrible crimes. But for those of us who oppose the death penalty, that is not the point. Two wrongs do not make a right. Just because these people murdered does not mean the State should be murdering in revenge.
"What about the victims' families," they then ask. "For their sake, these people should be killed."
Sure, if someone had killed or tortured one of my loved ones, I'd want them killed. Heck, I'd like to see animal abusers killed! But am I right to want them killed? No. It's not my right to have someone killed. Besides, would this act bring back the dead? No.
Others say "Why should we taxpayers pay for keeping these criminals alive in jail for the next 30 or 40 years?"
Although there are many opinions about this, it is clear that with our current system, trying to put someone to death costs a lot more than life in prison without parole. Some will say that is because we "coddle" the murderers too much by allowing "too many" appeals. I say that if there is any doubt about someone's guilt, they deserve all the appeals they can get.
Some people say that the death penalty should exist to keep people from committing such terrible crimes.
But it has been shown time and again that the death penalty is not a deterrent to those who commit capital offenses. Many of these people have subnormal IQs, have had horrible upbringings that have left them mentally warped, or are born sociopaths and would not have changed their actions no matter what punishment were threatened.
Beyond the moral - or religious - sense that some of us have, that we do not have the right to put someone to death ("Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord"), there are two other big reasons not to support the death penalty: inequity and mistakes.
The poor and minorities are much more apt to be given a capital sentence than others. They can't afford good lawyers and they are more apt to be convicted than other more fortunate people.
As a result, there are likely to be many people who are put on death row mistakenly, when they didn't even do the crime. And if the death penalty is carried out, these mistakes are irreversible. Please see The Innocence Project website for more information.
I applaud my state for reversing this inhumane and immoral penalty.