Death Penalty Update - Illinois

On March 9, 2011, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed senate bill 3539 into law, abolishing capital punishment in the state.  Illinois is the fourth state to legislatively abolish the death penalty since 1976 and the first to do so since New Mexico in 2009.  Sixteen states have no death penalty.  The law takes effect on July 1, 2011, and Governor Quinn has vowed to commute any death sentence imposed between now and then. 

The new law repeals Illinois’s Capital Crimes Litigation Act and transfers all remaining funds from the Capital Litigation Trust Fund to the Death Penalty Abolition Fund, which will be used to finance victim services and to train law enforcement personnel.

After an 11-year moratorium on executions, the new law resolves longstanding questions over the direction the state would take on capital punishment.  The moratorium was issued in 2000 by former Governor George Ryan so that the procedures surrounding the death penalty could be studied by their Capital Punishment Commission.  The commission issued its final report, Illinois Commission on Capital Punishment Report, in April 2002, and made many recommendations on how to improve the state’s use of the death penalty.  The moratorium was never lifted by Governor Ryan, however, nor his successor Governor Rod Blagojevich.   After the current governor evaluated his options, he decided to sign the abolishment bill into law. 

In recent years, most state capital punishment legislation has focused on procedural issues, including the use of DNA testing, defense counsel standards and appeals, etc.  Other changes have been spurred on by U.S. Supreme Court opinions prohibiting the execution of juveniles and the mentally ill.  So far in 2011, six other states have introduced bills to abolish the death penalty, while seven states have introduced bills to either reinstate or expand their use of capital punishment.

Posted March 11, 2011