Monday, December 17, 2007

New Jersey abolishes the death penalty

New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine signed a law, passed last week by the legislature, abolishing the death penalty in that state.

I have no problem with the death penalty in principle, as long as its use is restricted to very clear, very extreme circumstances. Timothy McVeigh, for instance, was a perfect candidate for it. As are serial killers and the like.

My problems with it are entirely practical. First, it is applied to far too wide a spectrum of crimes. Second, it's irreversible. Throw a guy in prison for life, and if he turns out to be innocent, you can release him. Execute a guy, and if he turns out to be innocent, all you can do is apologize to the family.

Neither of those problems would be fatal if it weren't for the third problem: the fact that innocent people are sentenced to die far too often. Our judicial system is fallible; it seems silly to rely on a fallible system to determine whether someone lives or dies.

Corzine invoked a moral opposition to the death penalty:

"This is a day of progress for us 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," Corzine said.

But New Jersey's decision was mostly decided on practical grounds. From the legislative report accompanying the bill:

New Jersey has spent at least a quarter billion dollars ($253.3 million) on its death penalty system since the state reinstated capital punishment in 1982. Since that time there have been 197 capital trials and 60 death penalty convictions in the state of which 50 were reversed. There have been no executions, and currently 10 men are housed on New Jersey’s death row.

In 25 years the state has spent $250 million, and all it has to show for it is 10 men on Death Row. But it hasn't managed to actually execute anyone since 1963.

Death-penalty proponents will say that the problem is the lengthy appeals process, which makes cases both expensive and ensures that it can take decades to execute someone. They have a point -- but then the argument goes back to problem #3: the fallibility of the justice system. Unless you're willing to execute a few innocent people along with the guilty, death cases will always be expensive and drawn out. Complaining that it is so is tantamount to complaining about making sure someone is really, truly guilty before offing them.

So, good for New Jersey. I predict that this move will have exactly zero effect on the state's crime rate. And while some evil people will live instead of die, they will do so in the confines of a brutal prison system from which they will never leave. That hardly strikes me as coddling.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I will never understand how liberals will fight so hard for the rights of the criminal---but defend the killing of innocent babies in the womb.


12/23/2007 7:45 PM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

I will never understand why death penalty proponents always assume the accused is guilty -- and want to execute them quickly because appeals are, like, inconvenient.

12/31/2007 5:19 PM  

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