Pat Quinn
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Governor Pat Quinn of Illinois has abolished the death penalty for the state. He has also commuted the sentences of all 15 current death row inmates to life imprisonment. Though death penalty advocates are sure to complain, Illinois has not executed a convict since 1999.

Death penalty abolished due to inconsistencies of legal system

The governor of Illinois has abolished the death penalty from the state, citing an at-times flawed judicial system that would make the possibility of a person being wrongly convicted and executed too great to keep the death penalty on the books in Illinois. Governor Pat Quinn was quoted in the Chicago Sun Times as saying that if the system for administering the death penalty in Illinois was not “100 percent error free,” there was no justification for keeping capital punishment. Governor Quinn received a bill from the Illinois state legislature in January for repealing capital punishment in the state, which he spent two months deliberating on, according to the Washington Post. Quinn could not conclude the system worked to the appropriate standard, and he signed the bill into law.

Eleven-year moratorium extended indefinitely

Though death penalty advocates are sure to crow about the repeal of the death penalty, Illinois has not executed a prisoner since 1999. Former Governor George Ryan instituted a moratorium on the death penalty in 2000 after courts threw out 13 death sentences, and commuted the sentences of 167 death row inmates to life in prison upon leaving office in 2003. Governor Quinn has done the same; all 15 men on death row in Illinois will serve life in prison without the possibility of parole. In effect, Governor Quinn has extended a moratorium that has been in effect for 11 years. Illinois joins New York, New Jersey and New Mexico as the fourth state to abolish the death penalty in the past four years, according to Reuters.

Debate rages

There is substantial debate over whether the death penalty should be allowed at all. Advocates insist that capital punishment in the United States is a deterrent against violent crime. If that were the case, the murder rate would likely have increased in the four years that there was a national moratorium of the death penalty after the 1972 Supreme Court case Furman v. Georgia. However, statistics from the Department of Justice show that the murder rate decreased after Furman and increased after the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. Murder rates, according to the DOJ statistics, have been falling since 1994.

Sources

Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/03/09/AR2011030900319.html?hpid=moreheadlines

Reuters: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/03/09/us-illinois-deathpenalty-idUSTRE7285TR20110309

Chicago Sun Times: http://www.suntimes.com/news/politics/4213113-418/gov.-pat-quinn-signs-bill-repealing-illinois-death-penalty

Department of Justice statistics on murder rates: http://www.ucrdatatool.gov/Search/Crime/State/RunCrimeTrendsInOneVar.cfm

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