When New Jersey’s old capital punishment law was struck down by the courts in 1972, the 21 men on death row had their sentences reduced to “life,” but 17 of them, including a notorious cop-killer, were eventually paroled, says the Newark Star-Ledger. A dozen spent less than 16 years in prison. Backers of a movement to abolish the state’s 1982 death penalty say this time would be different. Opponents are not so sure.
A legislator who wants to abolish the death penalty says that those now on death row would be kept in prison for life. Some doubt that is possible. “These nine denizens of death row will be paroled at some point,” predicted Brian Kincaid, a lawyer who favors keeping the death penalty. Who is right, no one can say for certain. If New Jersey repeals capital punishment, it will become the first state to do so since 1972, when every death penalty law was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. There is no court-tested precedent for replacing death with life without parole.