Monday, December 17, 2007

 

It's Official: New Jersey Abolishes the Death Penalty


Today, New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine (photo above, Jeff Zelevanksy/Bloomberg News) signed legislation that makes New Jersey the first state to abolish the death penalty in forty years. The eight men on death row in that state have 60 days to decide if they will drop all their appeals and accept sentences of life without parole. The abolition of the death penalty in New Jersey is a great gift to the people of that state, insuring that innocent people will not be executed and that the millions of dollars formerly used on the death penalty system will now be used for programs which actually prevent violent crime and support victims' families. Read more here.

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Based Upon Budget Report, LWOP may increase costs in New Jersey
Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters, contact info, below

SUMMARY

Based primarily upon The Office of Legislative Services (OLS) report(1), the fiscal impact of replacing the death penalty with life without parole (LWOP) may cause a rise in cost for New Jersey, the opposite of what many believe. There is no confirmable cost savings for replacing the death penalty as concluded by the state's budget review.

OLS review

1) The OLS finds that death row incarceration costs $32,481 more per year, than general population prisoners. (1)

First, there is no reason to have a death row. Missouri doesn't. So, the $32, 481 excess goes away. If maximum security is required for some death sentenced inmates, it would be the same maximum security required for some of those given LWOP. No cost differential
Secondly, the OLS says that if NJ starts to execute death sentenced prisoners, there would be an obvious cost savings over a life sentenced prisoner - at least a $32,481 benefit per year for executions. The only thing stopping executions, now, is the Governor and the legislature, thereby raising the costs for NJ.
Thirdly, the OLS failed to note studies that find a $70,000 per prisoner per year cost for geriatric prisoners. Therefore, there would be a huge incarceration cost savings for imposing the death penalty and a huge cost penalty for LWOP cases.
Fourth, the OLS should not be comparing incarceration costs of death penalty cases to general population cases, but to LWOP cases, only, as LWOP is the sentence proposed to replace the death sentence.

Death penalty cost savings for incarceration: Huge.

2) The OLS finds that proportionality review costs $93,000 per death penalty case. (1) The evidence is conclusive that proportionality review has been a huge waste of both time and money. It is not constitutionally required or morally inspired. Get rid of it.

Cost savings for abolishing proportionality review: $93,000 per inmate.

3) Plea bargains: The OLS discussed plea bargains, but, somehow missed a huge death penalty cost benefit. The death penalty is the ONLY sentence possible which allows a plea bargain to LWOP. Therefore, absent the death penalty, to receive LWOP, all cases would have to go to trial and no plea bargains would be possible in such cases. The cost savings of having the death penalty in such cases is likely near $1 million dollars per case, which would reflect the cost saving of not having a trial and not having life long appeals, when plea bargaining to LWOP - an option which only exists when the death penalty is present.

Death Penalty plea bargain for LWOP cost benefit: estimate of $1 million per case, as cost savings of trial and life long appeals. This benefit will go away without the death penalty and all subsequent plea bargains would result in "life" cases with a parole option.

4) Office of the Attorney General - Through interviews with NJ Attorney General personnel, it was concluded that, ending the death penalty and solely implementing LWOP, ". . . "there would be little savings during the trial phase."

Cost differential between death penalty and LWOP: Little. Indeterminate if it will save any money. With actual imposition of the death penalty and geriatric care costs for LWOP, the death penalty would be significantly less expensive.

5) Public Defender's Office (PDO) - Suspiciously, the PDO calculates that it will cost $76,926 per case more to defend death penalty cases than "non death penalty cases". Suspicious because the PDO states that there will be a zero cost for court reporters, appellate attorneys and miscellaneous costs for "non death penalty cases". Of course, everyone knows that is absurd. For death penalty cases, the PDO found those same costs to be $192,000, or about $10, 000 per case. Importantly, the PDO used a category of "non death penalty cases" as opposed to LWOP, which is the alleged "substitute" punishment for a death sentence. A LWOP trial will, of course, require court reporters, appellate attorneys for life long appeals and will incur miscellaneous expenses, which could easily reach an additional $20, 000 per case, or more, or at least $10,000 more than a death case. What is remarkable, is how staggering low the PDO's cost differential is between the death penalty and "non death penalty cases", even with the absurd zero cost nonsense. Even the PDO, which could reasonably be presumed as anti death penalty, has concluded that there is virtually no cost differential between death cases and LWOP cases. Just as remarkable is how the OLS could have allowed this obviously bizarre and inaccurate "cost analysis" into their report, without commenting on the obvious problems.

Cost differential between death penalty and LWOP. Indeterminate. But, based upon the PDO's number, LWOP may be more expensive. But, it doesn't seem reasonable to accept the PDO's numbers.

6) The NJ Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) cannot determine if NJ will spend more or less by replacing the death penalty with LWOP.

So much for any cost savings by abandoning the death penalty.

The Governor's Big Lie

This brings one of the big lies of the Governor, et al, to the forefront. Having the death penalty guarantees a higher probability that murderers will receive a LWOP sentence. Doing away with the death penalty guarantees that there will be less probability of murderers getting LWOP. In fact, with the death penalty gone, it is guaranteed that it will be more expensive to impose a true, LWOP life sentence, as all plea bargains will be done away with, and trials and life long appeals will be the exclusive rule. In addition, the probability rises, that more murderers will be subject to early release because all plea bargains in LWOP cases can only result in parole eligible sentences for murderers.

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Based upon the state's own review, there may be no cost saving for NJ abandoning the death penalty and LWOP may actually increase costs.

This does not include the huge death penalty cost benefit of enhanced deterrence, in terms of the moral and fiscal savings. Priceless.

(1) Legislative Fiscal Estimate: Senate Committee Substitute For Senate, Nos 171 and 2471, State of New Jersey, 212th Legislature, 11/21/07
http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/2006/Bills/S0500/171_E1.PDF

Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
e-mail sharpjfa@aol.com, 713-622-5491,
Houston, Texas
 
No Death Penalty = More Innocents Harmed
Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters, contact info below

Those who say the death penalty puts innocents at risk of execution forget to look at both sides of the equation.

What is the risk to innocents within a life sentence and absent the death penalty? The evidence is that innocents are more at risk without the death penalty.

Living murderers, in prison, after escape or after our failures to incarcerate them, are much more likely to harm and murder, again, than are executed murderers.

This is a truism.

No knowledgeable and honest party questions that the death penalty has the most extensive due process protections in US criminal law.

Therefore, actual innocents are more likely to be sentenced to life imprisonment and more likely to die in prison serving under that sentence, that it is that an actual innocent will be executed.

That is. logically, conclusive.

16 recent studies, inclusive of their defenses, find for death penalty deterrence.

Is this a surprise? No.

Life is preferred over death. Death is feared more than life.

Some believe that all studies with contrary findings negate those 16 studies. They don't. Studies which don't find for deterrence don't say no one is deterred, but that they couldn't measure those deterred.

What prospect of a negative outcome doesn't deter some? There isn't one . . . although committed anti death penalty folk may say the death penalty is the only one.

However, the premier anti death penalty scholar accepts it as a given that the death penalty is a deterrent, but does not believe it to be a greater deterrent than a life sentence. Yet, the evidence is compelling and un refuted that death is feared more than life - even in prison.

Some death penalty opponents argue against death penalty deterrence, stating that it's a harsher penalty to be locked up without any possibility of getting out.

Reality paints a very different picture.

What percentage of capital murderers seek a plea bargain to a death sentence? Zero or close to it. They prefer long term imprisonment.

What percentage of convicted capital murderers argue for execution in the penalty phase of their capital trial? Zero or close to it. They prefer long term imprisonment.

What percentage of death row inmates waive their appeals and speed up the execution process? Nearly zero. They prefer long term imprisonment.

This is not, even remotely, in dispute.

Life is preferred over death. Death is feared more than life.

Furthermore, history tells us that "lifers" have many ways to get out: Pardon, commutation, escape, clerical error, change in the law, etc..

In choosing to end the death penalty, or in choosing not implement it, some have chosen to spare murderers at the cost of sacrificing more innocent lives.

--------

Furthermore, possibly we have sentenced 20-25 actually innocent people to death since 1973, or 0.3% of those so sentenced. Those have been released upon post conviction review. There is no proof of an innocent executed in the US, at least since 1900.

Of all the government programs in the world, that put innocents at risk, is there one with a safer record and with greater protections than the US death penalty?

Unlikely.

Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
e-mail sharpjfa@aol.com, 713-622-5491,
Houston, Texas
 
Tennessee next and then Texas!! Sorry Dudley but justice really does matter!
 
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
 
Oh it is so sweet. So sweet indeed.

GO NEW JERSEY!!!
 
Timmendequas described the scene in his confession to police: “I grabbed her by the back of her pants to pull her back into the room and her pants ripped. I grabbed a belt off the door and threw the belt around her. It ended up around her neck. I twisted my arms and she just fell to the floor. She was just lying on the floor and she was not moving. Blood was coming out of her mouth.”

Once he had raped her, Jesse didn’t want her telling anyone about what had happened, so he decided to kill her. As the little girl struggled, at one point banging her head against a dresser, causing a bloody gash, Timmendequas strangled her. Afraid that drops of her blood would point to him, Timmendequas wrapped her head in a plastic bag. And when he was done, he strangled her with a belt. He stuffed her in a wooden toy chest, and tossed it in the back of his truck. Maybe it was his imagination, but as he drove to a remote, weedy spot in a county park a couple of miles away, Timmendequas later told authorities, he thought he heard the little girl cough. She was certainly dead when he left her in the weeds. But, before he drove off, he sexually assaulted her one more time.

This is the kind of person you saved. Go! New Jersey indeed...
 
Harry said...
Tennessee next and then Texas!! Sorry Dudley but justice really does matter!

Harry, as you likely know, people who support the death penalty do so because they think that it is a just and appropriate sentence for some crimes. 78% of those in NJ, currently, support the death penalty for some very heinous crimes.

People who oppose the death penalty find it to be an inappropriate or unjust sanction.
 
Your comments are challenging, Brian. The story you tell is gut wrenching. However, the abolition of the death penalty is not about saving murderers' lives but about ending a public policy that is so broken it cannot be fixed. The man who commited this horrible crime which you describe will spend the rest of his life in prison--hardly a slap on the wrist. The fact that the people of NJ will no longer be participating in the state sponsored taking of a human life is something that I think the people of New Jersey should be proud of.
 
The evidence is that the Death Penalty Study Comission, the NJ Supreme Court and the current governor might be broken.


Dead Wrong:NJ Death Penalty Study Commission
by Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters, contact info below

from http://www.hallnj.org/cm/listing.jsp?cId=3

Summary

The New Jersey Death Penalty Commission made significant errors within their findings. The evidence, contrary to the Commissions findings, was so easy to obtain that it appears either willful ignorance or deception guided their report.

A brief review.

Below, are the 7 points made within the New Jersey Death Penalty Study Commission Report, January, 2007. The RUBUTTAL presents the obvious points avoided by the Commission and discussed by this author, a death penalty expert.

I was invited to be a presenter, before the NJDPSC, but my time didn't fit their schedule.

1) There is no compelling evidence that the New Jersey death penalty rationally serves a legitimate penological intent.

REBUTTAL:

- The reason that 81% of Americans found that Timothy McVeigh should be executed was justice - the most profound concept in criminal justice, as in many other aspects of life. It is the same reason that New Jersey citizens, 12 jurors, put all those on death row.

- Although the Commission and the NJ Supreme Court both attempt to discount deterrence, logically, they cannot.

First, all prospects for a negative outcome deter some. This is not, logically or historically rebutted. It cannot be. Secondly, those studies which don't find for deterrence, do not say that it doesn't exist, only that their study didn't find it. Those studies which find for deterrence did. 16 recent studies do.

- The Commission had ample opportunity and, more importantly, the responsibility to read and contact the authors of those many studies which have, recently, found for deterrence. There seems to be no evidence that they did so. On such an important factor as saving innocent lives, why didn't they? The testimony before the Commission, critical of those studies, would not withstand a review by the authors of those studies. That should be an important issue that the Commission should have investigated, but did not.

- LIFE WITHOU PAROLE: The Commission considered the risk of innocents executed and concluded that it wasn't worth the risk and that a life sentence would serve sufficiently without that risk to innocents.

Again, the Commission avoided both fact and reason. The risk to innocents is greater with a life sentence than with the death penalty.

First, we all know that living murderers, in prison, after escape or after improper release, are much more likely to harm and murder, again, than are executed murderers - an obvious truism ignored by the Commission.

Secondly, no knowledgeable and honest party questions that the death penalty has the most extensive due process protections in US criminal law. Therefore, it is logically conclusive, that actual innocents are more likely to be sentenced to life imprisonment and more likely to die in prison serving under that sentence, that it is that an actual innocent will be executed.

Thirdly, there has been a recent explosion of studies finding for death penalty deterrence. The criticism of those studies has, itself, been rebutted.

- Therefore, in choosing a life without parole and calling for the end of the death penalty, the Commission has made the choice to put more innocents at risk - the opposite of their stated rationale.


2) The costs of the death penalty are greater than the costs of life in prison without parole, but it is not possible to measure these costs with any degree of precision.

REBUTTAL:

- For the amount of time and resources allegedly expended by the Commission, this section of their review was unconscionable in its lack of responsibility to the Commission's directive.

- The Commission concludes that the current system in New Jersey is very expensive, without noting the obvious ways in which those issues can be addressed to lessen those costs. Why?

One example, they find that proportionality review cost $93, 000 per case. Why didn't the Commission recommend doing away with proportionality review? There is no reason, legally, to have it and it has been a disaster, cost wise, with no benefit.

Secondly, the Commission states: "Nevertheless, consistent with the Commission's findings, recent studies in states such as Tennessee, Kansas, Indiana, Florida and North Carolina have all concluded that the costs associated with death penalty cases are significantly higher than those associated with life without parole cases. These studies can be accessed through the Death Penalty Information Center." (Report, page 33).

On many topics the Death Penalty Information Center has been one of the most deceptive or one sided anti death penalty groups in the country. While it is not surprising that the Commission would give them as a reference, multiple times, it doesn't speak well of the Commission.

Did the Commission read any of the studies referenced by the DPIC? It appears doubtful, or the Commission would not have referenced them.

For example, let's look at the North Carolina (Duke University) study. That cost study compared the cost of only a twenty year "life sentence" to the death penalty. Based upon that study, a true life without parole sentence would be more costly than the death penalty. Somehow the Commission missed that rather important fact.

These types of irresponsible and misleading references by the Commission do nothing to inspire any confidence in their findings, but do reinforce the opinion that their conclusions were predetermined.

Please see "Cost Comparisons: Death Penalty Cases Vs Equivalent Life Sentence Cases", to follow.

3) There is increasing evidence that the death penalty is inconsistent with evolving standards of decency.

REBUTTAL:

The Commission uses several references to prove their point. None of them succeeded.

- The first was based upon polling in New Jersey. The data showed strong support for executions in NJ, except when asking those polled to choose between a life sentence or a death sentence, for which life gets greater support. The major problem with this long standing and misleading polling question is that it has nothing to do with the legal reality of sentencing. Secondly, that poll shows broad support for BOTH sanctions, not a call to abandon either. The Commission, somehow, overlooked that obvious point.

Jurors have the choice of both sentences in states with the death penalty and life without parole. Therefore, a proper polling question for NJ would be,

A) should we eliminate the death penalty and ONLY have life without parole? or
B) should we give jurors the OPTION of choosing life or death in capital murder cases?

Based upon other polls, I suspect B would be the resounding winner of this poll in NJ.

Secondly, the Commissions polling speaker avoided the most obvious and reliable polling question on this topic - asking about the punishment for a specific crime, just as jurors have to decide. For example, 81% of Americans supported the execution of Timothy McVeigh. 85% of Connecticut citizens polled supported the execution of serial rapist/murderer Michael Ross.

Thirdly, poll New Jersey citizens with the following questions. Is life without parole or the death penalty the most appropriate punishment for those who rape and murder children? Or should NJ remove the death penalty as a jury option for those who rape and murder children?

- Two religious speakers spoke against execution. Both are easily rebutted by religious scholars holding different views.

- Another alleged example of this evolving standard is based upon the fact there has been a reduction in death sentences. Such reduction is easily explained by a number of factors, other than some imagined "evolving standard of decency".

Murders have dropped some 40%, capital murders have likely dropped by even a greater number, based upon other factors. This, by itself, explains the overwhelming percentage of the drop in death sentences.

In addition, many prosecutors, such as those in NJ, know that their courts will not allow executions, leading to prosecutorial frustration as a contributing factor in any reduction - not an evolving standard of decency, but an evolving and increasing frustration.

Please review: "Why the reduction in death sentences?", to follow.

4) The available data do not support a finding of invidious racial bias in the application of the death penalty in New Jersey.

CLARIFICATION:

In fact, there is no data to support any racial bias, invidious or otherwise. The Commission must have read the series of NJ studies.

5) Abolition of the death penalty will eliminate the risk of disproportionality in capital sentencing.

REBUTTAL:

Yes, Commission, and the abolition of all criminal sentences will eliminate the risk of disproportionality in all sentences, as well. This is hardly a rational reason to get rid of any sentence. Get rid of the expensive and unnecessary proportionality review.

6) The penological interest in executing a small number of persons guilty of murder is not sufficiently compelling to justify the risk of making an irreversible error.

REBUTTAL:

- The risk to innocents is greater with life without parole than with the death penalty. See (1), above LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE.

7) The alternative of Life imprisonment in a maximum security institution without the possibility of parole would sufficiently ensure public safety and address other legitimate social and penological interests, including the interests of the families of murder victims.

REBUTTAL:

This Commission statement is quite simply, false.

- Life imprisonment puts more innocents at risk than does the death penalty.

- Justice, just punishment, retribution and/or saving innocent lives, among others, are all legitimate social and penological interests all served by the death penalty.

- 81% of Americans supported the execution of Timothy McVeigh. 85% of Connecticut citizens polled supported the execution of serial, rapist/murderer Michael Ross.

The overwhelming majority of those polled did not have family members murdered.

Is the Commission trying to tell us that a poll of NJ murder victim survivors would show a majority opposed to the death penalty? Of course not, that would be as absurd as the Commissions conclusions in this section.

Conclusion:

Almost without exception, The Commission accepted the standard anti death penalty position, without presenting the easily accessible rebuttal to that position.

Enough said.
 
It's funny Dudley, imagine telling my grandchild that the State is going to kill someone because they killed someone. And that's justice. Kids perceive the truth of the matter - That it's not justice - that it's just wrong.
I think human decency knows that taking another human being's life is wrong. It is never justified, period.
We're about to celebrate the birth of the Christ. He was ultimately put to death by the State. He said and I still believe "Father forgive them cause they no not what they are doing".
We know what we're doing and have an obligation to do the right thing.
 
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