CHICAGO – Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich today signed into law the final piece of the state’s most comprehensive death penalty reform package ever, helping to restore confidence in Illinois’ troubled criminal justice system.
“Our criminal justice system carries two vital responsibilities: It must punish the guilty, and it must protect the innocent. In every criminal case, these are weighty tasks. But never is the system required to be more thoughtful, more careful and more certain than when a defendant’s life is at stake,” Blagojevich said. “As you know, Illinois has had a troubling history of wrongful convictions in capital cases – one that has drawn the eyes of the nation, and even the world, to our state’s criminal justice system. We have been challenged, and rightly so, to prove that our criminal courts can treat all defendants with fairness and integrity.”
Since Illinois reinstated the death penalty in 1977, twelve death row inmates have been executed and seventeen have been exonerated and released, giving Illinois the highest rate of overturned capital convictions of all 38 states with the death penalty.
“Today, I am proud to say that Illinois is on its way to becoming a model for the nation as we reform our death penalty system. I applaud the many lawmakers and advocates who worked diligently to make sure we learn from the problems of the past and restore integrity and fairness to our criminal justice system,” the Governor said.
During the 2003 legislative session, Blagojevich and members of the legislature focused on reforming Illinois’ broken death penalty system.
The bill signed by Blagojevich today, House Bill 576, establishes procedures for dealing with police officers accused of perjury. The new law provides for decertification of police officers by the Illinois Law Enforcement Training Standards Board if the officers are determined by the Illinois Labor Relations Board to have knowingly and willfully made material false statements in relation to a murder case.
House Bill 576 is the final piece in a comprehensive package approved by the General Assembly this fall. Many of the reforms were recommended by a death penalty review panel established by former Gov. George Ryan when he put in place a moratorium on executions in Illinois in January of 2000.
The primary bill, Senate Bill 472, contained a number of provisions, including:
- Prohibiting the execution of people judged to be mentally retarded;
- Requiring prosecutors to disclose promises made to witnesses in exchange for their testimony;
- Permitting the court to decertify a death penalty case if the sole evidence is uncorroborated testimony of a jailhouse informer or accomplice;
- Creating procedures for line-ups, to make sure the right suspects are identified;
- Requiring the court to consider a defendant’s background as a victim of extreme emotional or physical abuse in passing sentence and whether he or she suffers from a reduced mental capacity;
- Permitting a trial judge to set forth reasons for not concurring with a death sentence;
- Allowing the state Supreme Court to overturn death penalties if the sentenced is deemed fundamentally unjust;
- Mandating investigators turn over all evidence to prosecutors; and
- Allowing for DNA testing for any criminal matter.
In addition, SB 472 created a 15-member Capital Punishment Reform Study Committee, which will report annually for five years to the Governor and General Assembly on the impact of reforms that are being made to the capital punishment system.
In July, Blagojevich signed another monumental piece of criminal justice reform legislation that makes Illinois the first state in the nation to require by statute that police record all custodial interrogations and confessions in homicide cases. Two other states – Minnesota and Alaska – were forced to adopt similar requirements in response to court decisions.
“As I have said in the past, the previous system was broken and in desperate need of reform. Before the State of Illinois imposes a sentence of death, we must have actual proof that these reforms are effective. We must convince the people of this state that they can put their faith in their system of justice,” Blagojevich said. “I firmly believe these new safeguards will work to create a fair and equitable system. This bill gives us the mechanisms we need to make sure these reforms work effectively – before we reinstate the death penalty in Illinois.”