A Cautious Man
January 13, 2004
 
On that Execution Line
Now my waitin's over
As the final hour drags by
I ain't about to tell you
That I don't deserve to die
But there's twenty-seven men here
Mostly black, brown and poor
Most of em are guilty
Who are you to say for sure?

(Steve Earle, Billy Austin)
New Jersey Governor McGreevey has vetoed a bill (one that passed overwhelmingly and with bipartisan support in both houses of the Legislature) which would have established a commission to study the application of the death penalty in New Jersey. He did so despite said bipartisan support for the measure, and the additional urgings of other elected officials and the general public. He unfortunately ignored the Legislature's findings, as contained in the bill as passed:
1. The Legislature finds and declares that:

a. Life is the most valuable possession of a human being; the State should exercise utmost care to protect its residents' lives from homicide, accident, or arbitrary or wrongful taking by the State;

b. The experience of this State with the death penalty has been characterized by significant expenditures of money and time;

c. The financial costs of attempting to implement the death penalty statutes may not be justifiable in light of the other needs of this State;

d. There is a lack of any meaningful procedure to ensure uniform application of the death penalty in each county throughout the State;

e. There is public concern that racial and socio-economic factors influence the decisions to seek or impose the death penalty;

f. There has been increasing public awareness of cases of individuals wrongfully convicted of murder, in New Jersey and elsewhere in the nation;

g. The Legislature is troubled that the possibility of mistake in the death penalty process may undermine public confidence in our criminal justice system;

h. The execution of an innocent person by the State of New Jersey would be a grave and irreversible injustice;

i. Many citizens may favor life in prison without parole or life in prison without parole with restitution to the victims as alternatives to the death penalty; and

j. In order for the State to protect its moral and ethical integrity, the State must ensure a justice system which is impartial, uncorrupted, equitable, competent, and in line with evolving standards of decency.
In order to take action in light of these findings, the bill would have created a commission to address these concerns. As set forth in the Statement accompanying the bill:
Under the bill, the commission is charged with studying all aspects of the death penalty as it is currently administered in this State. Issues the commission must consider include: (1) whether the death penalty rationally serves a legitimate penological intent, such as deterrence; (2) whether there is a significant difference between the cost of the death penalty from indictment to execution and the cost of life in prison without parole; (3) whether the death penalty is consistent with evolving standards of decency; (4) whether the selection of defendants in New Jersey for capital trials is arbitrary, unfair or discriminatory and if there is unfair, arbitrary, or discriminatory variability in the sentencing phase or at any stage of the process; (5) whether there is a significant difference in the crimes of those selected for the punishment of death as opposed to those who receive life in prison; (6) whether the penological interest in executing certain persons found guilty of murder is sufficiently compelling that the risk of an irreversible mistake is acceptable; and (7) whether alternatives to the death penalty exist that would sufficiently ensure public safety and address other legitimate social and penological interests, including the interests of victims' families.
These should be basic questions, which anybody would want to see addressed, in order to be comfortable with the need for capital punishment in twenty-first century America. Nevertheless, as reported in the press:
The Legislature agreed to the study commission, which death penalty opponents had sought for years. The commission was to determine if the death penalty is applied fairly, how much it costs, if it is a deterrent to crime and if it should be outlawed.

McGreevey said the proposed study was unlikely to provide any new information.

"New Jersey's death penalty law has been continuously studied in painstaking detail since its 1982 enactment, by the courts, academics, attorneys and interest groups, including anti-death penalty advocates who ably assist defendants in capital cases," McGreevey said.
So, on that basis, the Governor rejected an attempt to determine the fairness or efficacy of capital punishment in this state.
So when the preacher comes to get me
And they shave off all my hair
Could you take that long walk with me
Knowing hell is waitin' there
Could you pull that switch yourself sir
With a sure and steady hand
Could you still tell youself
That you're better than I am

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