New Jerseyans for New Jerseyans for a Death Penalty Moratorium (NJDPM)
22 Oliver Street, Chatham, NJ 07928 * 973-635-6396 * 856-854-3182
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Lois Seeligsohn 856-854-3182 or Celeste Fitzgerald 973-635-6396
COURT IMPOSES MORATORIUM ON ALL NEW JERSEY EXECUTIONS
TRENTON: The Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division, by unanimous
decision, halted all executions in New Jersey today (Feb. 20), saying the
state's regulations for lethal injection killings "appear to be arbitrary and
unreasonable." The decision, written by Judge Sylvia Pressler, requires
the New Jersey Department of Corrections (NJDOC) to further deliberate the
regulations and to provide background support for their adoption, before a
death sentence can be carried out. The Court's decision was issued in
response to a challenge filed by New Jerseyans for a Death Penalty Moratorium
(NJDPM), a grassroots group of some 200 affiliated nonprofit organizations
NJDPM attorney, Kevin D. Walsh, of Pennsauken, on February 3, petitioned the
court to throw out state regulations for capital punishment by lethal
injection. Walsh contended that the NJDOC is unqualified to carry out required
procedures, because it lacks the medical expertise and sufficient record to
support the killing protocol. He further argued that the state's regulations
violate free speech guarantees under federal and state constitutions.
"The NJDOC did not demonstrate that it has the expertise to impose death in a
manner consistent with society's standards of decency, Walsh commented.
Noting the complexity of state-sanctioned homicide, Walsh added, "Today's
decision puts a heavy burden on the NJDOC to support its lethal injection
regulations. There is no neat and simple way to kill a human being."
NJDPM Chair, Sandra Manning, Esq., of Trenton, applauded the Court's moratorium
on executions. "This decision acknowledges that the state cannot proceed
with an execution, when it is unclear whether it can be carried out without
violating constitutional mandates."
The Court's remand requires the NJDOC to obtain medical expertise to support
its regulations. The Court held that, because of "the patent gravity of
the life and death issues implicated by the regulations, we have concluded
that, rather than simply striking down those regulations, DOC should have the
opportunity to give them further consideration, by additional hearings if
necessary and to articulate, if it is able to do so, a supporting basis for
those determinations. In the meantime, however, we are satisfied that the
regulations as a whole, may not be implemented by the carrying out of a death
The Court also expressed doubt about the NJDOC's regulations that prohibit an
inmate awaiting execution from contacting the media and prohibits witnesses
from viewing all parts of an execution. The Court ordered the NJDOC to
justify its decisions on those issues, writing that "It is one thing for
proponents and opponents to talk about capital punishment as an abstract
proposition. It is quite another to see it carried out.
Contemporary and evolving community standards of decency and morality are not
reliably developed in a vacuum and under sanitized conditions, but rather
should be based on an appreciation by the community of just what is involved,
in human terms and in terms of decency and morality, in the State's putting a
person to death."
Citing federal and state constitutional prohibitions against cruel and unusual
punishment, Manning said, "Society is to decide what is cruel and unusual. But
how can New Jerseyans make that determination, if all we get to see if the
NJDOC's sanitized version of the killing? Implementation of the death
penalty should not be shrouded in secrecy."
NJDPM Executive Director, Celeste Fitzgerald, of Chatham, called today's
decision "one more reason to step back from the capital punishment
process." Fitzgerald, whose organization has long sought a suspension of
executions, pending a thorough investigation of all aspects of New Jersey's
capital punishment process, said the decision raises just some of many
"New Jersey's death penalty law has many flaws," she said. "Year after year,
statistical analysis shows that New Jersey's death penalty is imposed in an
arbitrary and biased manner. But we have never fully addressed those or any
Fitzgerald cited a May 2002 Rutgers/Eagleton poll that showed New Jerseyans
prefer alternatives to the death penalty, saying, "It's time to seriously
consider whether the death penalty should be replaced with an alternative, such
as life without parole."
Experts had estimated that the state's first execution in 41 years was likely
to occur before next October, with the killing of death row inmate John
Martini. Martini and 12 other men currently await death at Trenton State
Prison. Four have exhausted state level appeals.
Note: See the entire Court decision: