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December 9, 2007

The ripples of death's demise in New Jersey

Thanks to How Appealing, I saw this fanscinating article in the Newark Star-Ledger headlined "Law clerks' most morbid duty eases." Here are excerpts:

Ever since New Jersey restored capital punishment a quarter of a century ago, the state Supreme Court has assigned at least one of its law clerks each year to delve deep into the law of death. The task for this recent law school graduate is to examine every detail of each death penalty case that comes before the court -- from the crime scene photographs to the nuances of capital punishment law.

Soon the job could disappear.  New Jersey is on track to become the first state in 40 years to abolish the death penalty.  The state Senate is scheduled to vote tomorrow on legislation to replace that sentence with life in prison without parole. The Assembly is slated to take up a similar measure this week. Gov. Jon Corzine has called the change a move in the right direction. And it would eliminate the need for the death penalty law clerk.

Created in recognition of the extraordinary care needed to examine the facts and issues in cases in which a person has been sentenced to die, the post is so unusual that not even the U.S. Supreme Court has such a specialist....  Recognizing the grueling nature of the work, the justices have always made sure the clerk has at least a few non-capital matters to handle.

And the pace of the job has slowed considerably in recent years. New Jersey now has just eight people on death row, and since most have been there for more than a decade, their appeals are running down. "There aren't as many matters coming to the court," said Townsend. Halfway into the current court term, this year's clerk, Emma Freudenberger, hasn't gotten to do much death penalty work yet.

December 9, 2007 at 07:53 PM | Permalink

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