Death Penalty Ban a Signature Away in Illinois

A bill to abolish the death penalty in Illinois has cleared the House and the Senate, and is now in front of Governor Pat Quinn for approval. If he signs this bill, Illinois will become the 16th state to ban capital punishment.

You can view the bill on the Illinois General Assembly Site. From the synopsis, the bill:

“Amends the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1963. Abolishes the death penalty. Provides that all unobligated and unexpended moneys remaining in the Capital Litigation Trust Fund shall be transferred into the Death Penalty Abolition Fund, a special fund in the State treasury, to be expended by the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, subject to appropriation, for services for families of victims of homicide or murder and for training of law enforcement personnel. Amends the State Finance Act to create the Fund. Repeals the Capital Crimes Litigation Act. Provides for severability.”

The Capital Litigation Trust Fund was established to fund the prosecution and defense of capital cases in the state. This bill provides for that money to go to victims’ services and training of law enforcement personnel.

The Tribune’s Clout Street links to the roll call so you can see who voted for and against the bill.

Illinois has been wrestling with the issue of capital punishment for several years now. In 2000, then-Governor George Ryan declared a moratorium on executions, based on the recommendation of the Illinois Commission on Capital Punishment, which found serious flaws in the system. The Commission was convened by Governor Ryan after a series of high profile exonerations.

Governor Quinn kept the moratorium in place when he succeeded Rod Blagojevich.

It’s unclear how the Governor will proceed. He has promised to listen to what his constituents have to say and “follow [his] conscience.” During his campaign for the office, he made the following statement (another HT to the Clout Street Bloggers) about the death penalty:

“I have no immediate plans to lift the state’s moratorium on the death penalty. Although I support capital punishment when applied carefully and fairly, I am deeply concerned by the possibility of an innocent person being executed. The current moratorium gives the state an opportunity to reflect on the issue and create safeguards ensuring the death penalty is not being imposed improperly. It is unconscionable that an innocent person could be put to death in Illinois. Even under the moratorium, prosecutors have continued to seek death sentences for convicted murderers, and juries have agreed that the death penalty was appropriate in many of those cases. Although the moratorium gives the state of Illinois time to review all aspects of capital punishment, and makes it possible to put effective safeguards in place, the death penalty underscores our shared belief as a society that some crimes deserve the most severe punishment, when handed down fairly and justly.”

This is an historic opportunity for the Governor. The state has, in a way, been preparing for this moment since 2000. I am actually surprised that it hasn’t happened sooner. Public support for the death penalty has been falling, thanks to the light shone on the injustices of the system. With the economy in its current state, it’s incredible to waste precious budget resources funding capital cases when life without parole is an option. With the moratorium in place, strong legislative action, and increasing public support, there is tidal wave of momentum behind this bill. Let’s hope Governor Quinn does the right thing and signs it into law.

If you want to help make this happen, contact the Governor’s Office and tell him what you think!

Call the Office of the Governor at 217-782-0244 (Springfield) or 312-814-2121 (Chicago).