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New Jersey Court Prohibits Dealth Penalty

by TChris

In another victory for opponents of the death penalty, a New Jersey appellate court ruled that the state cannot execute any prisoners until it implements procedures for halting an execution after the process has begun, or proves that the process, once started, is irreversible.

In the "unlikely" but possible event of a reprieve being issued after the first of three lethal drugs has been injected, the court said, the state would owe the condemned inmate a duty to do everything possible to bring him back from the brink of death. The court said the current regulations assume, without medical evidence, that the process is irreversible.

The court also criticized prison regulations that prohibit contact between the news media and the condemned inmate during his final 72 hours. The regulations permit news media witnesses to see the condemned inmate only after he has been sedated and strapped to a gurney.

Appellate Division Judge Sylvia Pressler rejected the state's arguments that prison security required those restrictions. She added that there is "a significant public interest" in learning about executions.

"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," Pressler wrote. She said giving the press and public greater opportunity to see what actually occurs during an execution is not just "a matter of voyeurism. We believe, to the contrary, that it is a matter of demonstrating to the public the reality of the choices it makes."

Since New Jersey has not eecuted anyone since 1963, has only 13 people on death row, and would not be likely to execute any of those in the near future, the ruling, in response to a lawsuit filed by New Jerseyans for a Death Penalty Moratorium, will have no immediate impact. It will nonetheless add fuel to the capital punishment debate, and may contribute to the erosion of public support for the death penalty.

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