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Illinois death penalty abolition reflects trend away from capital punishment

Courtney Minick [Board Member, Death Penalty Focus]: "Governor Pat Quinn recently signed a bill to ban the use of the death penalty in Illinois. The state has been wrestling with the issue of capital punishment for over ten years. Senate Bill 3539 was passed in both houses of the Illinois legislature, with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle voting in favor of abolition. It reflects a growing attitude nationwide that the death penalty is wasteful, flawed, and outmoded.

This ban has been a long time in the making. In 2000, the Republican governor of the state, George Ryan, placed a moratorium on executions. He followed the recommendation of the Illinois Commission on Capital Punishment, which found serious flaws the system. The Commission was convened after a series of high profile exonerations. Governors Blagojevich and Quinn kept the moratorium in place.

Illinois is the fourth state in the country to repeal the death penalty since 2005, following New York, New Jersey, and New Mexico. A total of 16 states and the District of Columbia no longer use the death penalty. Bills to abolish the death penalty are currently being considered in several states, including: Montana, Maryland, Connecticut, Florida, Kansas and Washington. The American Legal Institute, which promulgates the Model Penal Code, voted to remove it from the MPC this year. Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has written critically and forcefully against the death penalty.

Public attitudes are shifting in this direction as well. A July 2010 Field Poll revealed that 42 percent of Californians preferred a sentence of life in prison without parole for individuals convicted of first-degree murder, while just 41 percent chose the death penalty. Editorials have favored scrapping the death penalty to save money, protect the victim family members, and spare the innocent. In California, debate rages over the unconventional and frankly bizarre methods that the government has employed to find execution drugs.

Capital punishment has no place in modern civil society. It is a broken system rife with error and discrimination. It is expensive and delays justice for the victim's family. Governor Quinn did "the right, just thing" in signing this bill and eliminating capital punishment in Illinois. I hope to see other states -- including my own -- follow suit."

Opinions expressed in JURIST Commentary are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JURIST's editors, staff, donors or the University of Pittsburgh.

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