Posted by: JanF | July 5, 2011

Cruel and Unusual

Illinois’ death row has quietly died.

On July 1, 2011 Illinois joined the other 15 states which no longer have the death penalty.

Illinois had issued a moratorium on the death penalty in 2000 after the death sentences of 13 people had been overturned due to faulty or contrived evidence. When Governor George Ryan left office in 2003, he commuted the sentences of 167 death row inmates to life in prison.

Death penalty opponents cheered the decision but not everyone agreed:

Former Cook County State’s Attorney Dick Devine, a proponent of the death penalty and a vocal critic of Ryan’s decision to clear death row, pointed out that among those who benefit from the ban is a man who raped a mother and daughter in front of one another before stabbing them to death.

“I believe there are some people who do such terrible things that they forfeit their right to be among us,” he said.

Devine said he doesn’t believe the death penalty is gone forever in Illinois, and that the debate will begin anew when there is a particularly horrific crime.

The Death Penalty Information Center has a comprehensive set of statistics on executions and history on the death penalty.

Thirty-four states and the federal government still have the death penalty but in 23 of those states, no one has been executed in the past year. In 10 of those states, no one has been executed in the last 10 years.

The Innocence Project publicized cases where DNA information exonerated prisoners on death row. Based in part on their work, the rate of exonerated inmates has risen:

Since 1973, over 130 people have been released from death row with evidence of their innocence. (Staff Report, House Judiciary Subcommittee on Civil & Constitutional Rights, Oct. 1993, with updates from DPIC).

From 1973-1999, there was an average of 3.1 exonerations per year. From 2000-2007, there has been an average of 5 exonerations
per year.

Execution is a permanent sentence. If a mistake is made , there is no commutation possible.

Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, 1,259 people have been executed.

Proponents of the death penalty say that it is an effective deterrent. Opponents say it does nothing to deter and they cite the cost of the death penatly as one reason to opt for life imprisonment. One study estimated that in California, $1 billion would be saved over 5 years by replacing death sentences with life sentences.

Should the death penalty be abolished?

Should the death penatly be abolished in all cases except where there is incontrovertible evidence?

Who decides what evidence is incontrovertible?

Why is the death penalty not much of an issue any longer?

Is it a good idea to keep the death penalty around just in case there is a “particularly horrific” crime?

Is the death penalty an effective detterent?

Is “beyond a reasonable doubt” the same as “beyond any possible doubt”?

(A version of this was originally posted on 07/05/2011 at BPI Campus)

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