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The Reimposition of Capital Punishment in New Jersey: The Role of Prosecutorial Discretion

346 Pages Posted: 25 Nov 2009 Last revised: 5 Apr 2011

Leigh Buchanan Bienen

Northwestern University School of Law

Neil A. Weiner

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Deborah W. Denno

Fordham University School of Law

Paul D. Allison

University of Pennsylvania - Department of Sociology

Douglas A. Mills

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Date Written: 1988

Abstract

After Furman v. Georgia held that state statutes that allow for the imposition of the death penalty in an arbitrary and capricious manner violate the Constitution, the states were forced to rewrite their capital punishment statutes. New Jersey adopted a new statute in 1982. Despite the attempt of the New Jersey legislature to comply with the mandate of Furman, application of the statute has resulted in clear and significant discrepancies in the treatment of potentially capital defendants based on the race of the victim, the county of jurisdiction, and the race of the defendant. This article details a large study of all homicide defendants (other than those charged with vehicular manslaughter) where the death occurred after the effective date of the New Jersey statute. To determine whether the imposition of death was unconstitutionally arbitrary, the study examined both legal and extralegal factors that might predict whether the defendant would be sentenced to death. Unlike many previous studies reviewed by the article, which only compared defendants charged with crimes punishable by death, this study looked at the entire pool of potential homicide defendants. By separating case processing into discrete stages, the study shows the enormous role that prosecutorial discretion plays in determining whether a defendant receives a death sentence. While the facts of the case would have allowed the prosecutor to seek the death penalty in 404 cases, only 94 of those cases were brought to capital trial. This system of selecting defendants for capital prosecution has constitutional implications.

Keywords: suspect class, disparate impact

Suggested Citation

Bienen, Leigh Buchanan and Weiner, Neil A. and Denno, Deborah W. and Allison, Paul D. and Mills, Douglas A., The Reimposition of Capital Punishment in New Jersey: The Role of Prosecutorial Discretion (1988). Rutgers Law Review, Vol. 41, No. 27, pp. 27-372, 1988. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1512829

Leigh Buchanan Bienen

Northwestern University School of Law ( email )

375 E. Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL

Neil A. Weiner

affiliation not provided to SSRN ( email )

Deborah W. Denno (Contact Author)

Fordham University School of Law ( email )

Fordham University School of Law
150 West 62nd Street
New York, NY 10023
United States
212-636-6868 (Phone)
212-636-6899 (Fax)

Paul D. Allison

University of Pennsylvania - Department of Sociology ( email )

3718 Locust Walk
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6297
United States
610-715-5702 (Phone)
419-818-1220 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.pauldallison.com

Douglas A. Mills

affiliation not provided to SSRN ( email )

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