For Immediate Release                          For Information Contact

October 17, 2006                                   Celeste Fitzgerald - 973-635-6396 (Chatham office)

      609-278-6719 (Trenton office)                            973-495-5302 (cell)





Group tells Justices that system is unconstitutional;

Argues New Jersey’s death penalty is arbitrary and irrational based upon

 “gross disparity” in how counties handle capital cases


Trenton -- New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (“NJADP”), a statewide grassroots organization with over 10,000 members, today told the New Jersey Supreme that there is “gross disparity” in how New Jersey’s counties treat capital cases, and that the State’s death penalty system is unacceptably “arbitrary and irrational” due to county variability.  It further argued that the current system disproportionately subjects to the death penalty those offenders in smaller, non-urban counties who have killed white victims. 


            NJADP urged the Court to find the State’s death penalty unconstitutional or, at the very least, to agree with the Public Defender and Attorney General that the Court should defer decision on this matter until the ongoing Legislative Study Commission on the Death Penalty has rendered its report to the Legislature and the Legislature has had an opportunity to take action on the Commission’s recommendations. 


            The evidence is clear that, in New Jersey, the county in which the crime occurs is a significant factor in determining whether a defendant faces death.  It is also clear that this "county variability" causes racial disparity; that is, that killers of white victims are more likely to face capital prosecution than killers of black victims.  Both county variability and disparate results are unacceptable, particularly when the question is who lives and who dies,” said Celeste Fitzgerald, Director of NJADP


            “Fundamental principles of fairness and justice require that death sentences should not be determined by arbitrary factors such as geographic boundaries.  The existence of these troubling realities is further proof that the New Jersey's death penalty system is fatally flawed, and should be replaced by the stronger, fairer and more just punishment of life in prison without the possibility of parole,” said Fitzgerald.






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            Today’s hearing at the Supreme Court was scheduled following submission of the Systemic Proportionality Review for 2005, an annual study conducted by Retired Appellate Division Judge David S. Baime, who was appointed Special Master in charge of Proportionality Review of capital cases by the Supreme Court in 1999.  Both Judge Baime and NJADP filed subsequent reports with the Court.  Presenting oral argument for NJADP was Claudia Van Wyk of the law firm of Gibbons, Del Deo, Dolan, Griffinger & Vecchione, P.C.


In his Special Report to the Supreme Court on Reactions to the 2004-2005 Systemic Proportionality Review Project Report dated July 10, 2006, Judge Baime made clear that county variability is a “key factor” in determining whether a defendant faces death.


In its Comments filed with the Court on June 14, 2006, NJADP stated, “The time has come to conclude that New Jersey’s experiment in providing a just, even-handed, non-discriminatory, and rational capital sentencing system has failed.  The State’s fidelity to those important values requires an end to the death penalty, either through this Court’s abrogation or through legislative abolition.”


            NJADP has campaigned since 1999 for an end to the death penalty in New Jersey.  It is the core group of more than 200 New Jersey organizations representing interests such as labor, justice, education, municipalities, business, human rights, and virtually every religious denomination in the state. 



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