CHICAGO – Continuing the effort to return legitimacy and fairness to Illinois’ troubled criminal justice system, Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today signed a new law ensuring that death row convicts are able to appeal their convictions. House Bill 578 allows individuals convicted of capital crimes to use the Capital Litigation Trust Fund to finance their post-conviction proceedings and petitions.
“Our past system of capital punishment in Illinois was broken and in desperate need of reform. This new law builds on our efforts to restore faith in our system. We must ensure that men and women facing the ultimate punishment are given full access to justice,” said Gov. Blagojevich.
Previously, the Capital Litigation Trust Fund was used solely to fund the prosecution and defense of capital crimes. Now, the fund can be used to finance post-conviction proceedings and petitions. Rep. Arthur Turner (D-Chicago) and Sen. John Cullerton (D-Chicago) sponsored the HB 578.
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.
In January of this year, Gov. Blagojevich signed into law the final piece of the state’s most comprehensive death penalty reform package ever, putting new safeguards in place to restore fairness and integrity to the system. Among the many safeguards included, the death penalty reform package:
- requires prosecutors to disclose promises made to witnesses in exchange for their testimony
- permits the court to decertify a death penalty case if the sole evidence is uncorroborated testimony of a jailhouse informer or accomplice
- creates procedures for line-ups to make sure the right suspects are identified
- permits a trial judge to set forth reasons for not concurring with a death sentence
- allows the state Supreme Court to overturn death penalties if the sentenced is deemed fundamentally unjust
- mandates investigators turn over all evidence to prosecutors
- allows for DNA testing for any criminal matter.
HB 578 is effective immediately.