February 8, 2008 By Wallin & Klarich

Well, at least in one U.S. State anyway. The New Jersey state legislature has voted to abolish capital punishment in that state. New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine has indicated that he will sign the legislation into law. Republican lawmakers had pushed to keep the death penalty on the books for cop killers and terrorists, however, Democratic law makers, who control both houses of the legislature in New Jersey, voted against even these limited exceptions. If the governor signs the bill, the strongest sentence that could be imposed in New Jersey would be life in prison, and all prisoners (8 in total) awaiting execution on New Jersey’s death row would have their death sentences converted to life in prison. Among those currently on death row in New Jersey is one Jesse Timmendequas, who was convicted of the 1994 murder of seven year old Megan Kanka, the girl for whom “Megan’s Law” – generally referred to as laws requiring the registration and tracking of sex offenders – is named.

If Gov. Corzine signs the bill into law, and all indications are that he will, New Jersey would become the first state in more than forty years to legislatively abolish the death penalty. The last states to enact legislation banning capital punishment were West Virginia and Wisconsin, both in 1965. Currently, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, an organization that opposes capital punishment, 37 states (including for now New Jersey) and the U.S. government and U.S. military have the death penalty on the books.

36 states (Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming) have lethal injection as a preferred or sole method of execution.

10 states (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia) have electrocution “on the books,” but only Nebraska has electrocution as the sole method of execution.

5 states (Arizona, California, Maryland, Missouri, and Wyoming) have lethal gas “on the books,” however; all 5 of these states have lethal injection as an alternate or preferred method.

In California for example, lethal injection is given unless the condemned prisoner specifically requests to be executed by lethal gas.

2 states (New Hampshire and Washington) have hanging “on the books,” however both of those states have lethal injection as an alternate method.

3 states (Idaho, Oklahoma, and Utah) have firing squad as a method of execution “on the books” however; each of those states has lethal injection as an alternate or preferred method.

Some states, such as California, give the condemned prisoner a choice, and other states, such as Oklahoma, have enacted alternative methods in case the “preferred” method is ever ruled unconstitutional. In Oklahoma, for example, the preferred method is lethal injection, however, if that method is ruled unconstitutional, then the law requires electrocution, and, if both lethal injection and electrocution are ruled unconstitutional, then the law requires that the execution be done by firing squad.

As to the U.S. military, the sole method is lethal injection, however, under federal law, certain offenses require lethal injection, whereas other offenses require that the execution be carried out in the state where the case was prosecuted, and, if that state has no death penalty, the judge is to choose a state with a death penalty to carry out the execution.

The 13 states (Alaska, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin) as well as Washington, D.C., do not have capital punishment “on the books.”

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