New Jerseyans for New Jerseyans for a Death Penalty Moratorium (NJDPM)
22 Oliver Street, Chatham, NJ 07928 * 973-635-6396 * 856-854-3182



CONTACT: Lois Seeligsohn 856-854-3182 or Celeste Fitzgerald 973-635-6396


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 statewide.

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 sentence."

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 unanswered questions. 

"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 other problems."

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.

See the entire Court decision: