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May 18, 2018

Death penalty restoration may get a vote in Illinois House

I have not blogged before about the recent suggestion by the Illinois Gov to restore the death penalty in his state, but this new article reports that the idea may now be headed toward a vote in the Illinois House.  Here are the details:

Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan agreed Thursday to allow a vote on Gov. Bruce Rauner’s controversial plan to reinstate the death penalty and expand the waiting period to purchase firearms, creating a political minefield Democrats contend could hurt re-election-seeking Republicans more than themselves.

Madigan said the issues the Republican governor raised “deserve a full hearing and consideration before the House.” “We look forward to hearing from stakeholders and continuing our effort to keep our children, our schools and our communities safe from senseless gun violence,” Madigan said in a statement.

Rauner’s rewrite would create a 72-hour “cooling off” period to buy any firearm and reinstate capital punishment for slaying a law enforcement officer or in cases where two or more people are killed. A new bill containing the governor’s plan will be discussed by the House Judiciary Committee on Monday, and Democrats said Madigan intends for it to be eventually called for a full House vote.

The move provides some political insulation for Madigan, the chief political nemesis of the re-election-seeking governor. It prevents the governor from attacking the veteran House speaker for defending the lives of cop killers by blocking a vote on Rauner’s crime-fighting initiative. It’s doubtful the Rauner plan would pass the House, but Madigan’s move carries several political risks for individual lawmakers in both parties. It also creates significant complications for rank-and-file Republicans.

Lawmakers on both sides who vote against the measure could find themselves targeted by political opponents as being soft on crime and weak in their support of law enforcement by refusing to lift the state’s seven-year ban on capital punishment. That could particularly impact suburban Democratic lawmakers in a region where the party has made increasing inroads on traditionally Republican territory. Still, several lawmakers who served in 2011 when the state abolished the death penalty following a tarnished history of wrongful convictions are already on record with their vote.

The bill is more complex for Republicans. While reinstating the death penalty has its appeal to Republican voters, Rauner’s plan also would create a 72-hour waiting period for all guns, not just military-style firearms contained in the original bill. An expansion of the waiting period is opposed by the politically powerful National Rifle Association and is at odds with many voters in rural Illinois legislative districts represented by Republicans who champion their support for gun rights.

Kudos to leadership for allowing debate and a vote on these matters. Especially in an election year, voters should be able to know when their representatives stand on an array of high-profile political issues. I wish Senator Mitch McConnell and other GOP leaders in Congress would take a page from the folks in Illinois when it comes to allowing high-profile criminal justice issues like sentencing reform and marijuana reform get a fair up-or-down vote so that voters can know for sure where there representatives stand and so that proposals with majority support can actually become law.

May 18, 2018 at 10:26 AM | Permalink


"Our capital system is haunted by the demon of error, error in determining guilt, and error in determining who among the guilty deserves to die."
Governor Ryan

Posted by: Claudio Giusti | May 18, 2018 10:39:41 AM

Looks like a "both sides get something" political compromise. Such is politics.

I gather a vote isn't necessary for "voters should be able to know when their representatives stand on an array of high-profile political issues" unless the only way that is to be done is to have a vote on each one.

Posted by: Joe | May 18, 2018 11:42:24 AM

Ralph Daniel Wright, Jr. Florida conviction: 2014, Acquitted: 2017

The Florida Supreme Court directed that Ralph Daniel Wright, Jr. (pictured) be acquitted of the murder charges for which he was sentenced to death in 2014, making him the 159th person exonerated from death row in the United States since 1973. On May 11, 2017, the court unanimously vacated Wright's convictions for the murders of his ex-girlfriend and their son, ruling that the "purely circumstantial" evidence against him was insufficient to convict. A majority of the court joined a concurring opinion by Justice Charles Canady holding that "no rational trier of fact could have found ... beyond a reasonable doubt" that Wright was the killer. Prosecutors accused Wright of murdering Paula O'Conner—a white woman with whom he had an affair—and their 15-month-old son Alijah supposedly to "avoid a child support obligation and ... maintain a 'bachelor lifestyle.'" The court noted that "none of the evidence presented at trial directly tied Wright to the murders" and that the victim's young-adult daughter, who had a volatile relationship with the victim, also had a financial motive, having received more than $500,000 in life insurance benefits as a result of her mother's and half-brother's deaths. Much of the state's case relied on the presence of a black military glove in the home of the murder victims. While Wright, a member of the Air Force, had access to that type of glove, "the State could not prove that Wright ever wore the glove, that he left it on Paula’s couch, that it came from MacDill [the base where Wright was stationed], or that it was even used in the murders." DNA tests by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement reported the results as inconclusive, but independent analysis by the DNA Diagnostic Center and Bode, the private labs hired by the defense and prosecution, respectively, excluded Wright as a contributor of the DNA found on the glove. The DNA analysis did not test for the presence of the victim's daughter, whom police did not investigate. Wright was convicted of the murders, and the trial court sentenced him to death after a bare 7-5 majority of the jury voted to recommend the death penalty. The Florida Supreme Court later declared death sentences based upon non-unanimous jury recommendations to be unconstitutional. Wright is the 27th person to be exonerated from death row in Florida. Nineteen of the 21 exoneration cases from Florida in which the jury vote is known have involved a non-unanimous jury recommendation of a death sentence or a judicial override of a jury recommendation of life.

Posted by: Dave from Texas | May 18, 2018 12:17:18 PM

Well, innocence -- including basic legal innocence [see recent post referencing Leah Litman article] -- findings is one reason to keep the ban in place.

Posted by: Joe | May 18, 2018 1:58:25 PM

Joe. Even a single crash is reason to ban driving. If the crash killed a pedestrian, ban walking.

Posted by: David Behar | May 19, 2018 1:41:42 AM

Claudio. If an error in the death penalty system justifies ending it, an error in all human activity justifies ending all human activities. Errors justify investigations and systemic improvements. They do not justify ending an activity.

Did you ever make a mistake? If you did, go to bed and stop doing everything. Or, should you learn from your mistake, and try to do better?

Mistakes are helpful if they are corrected in the future. For example, the Rules of Evidence should be changed to require physical evidence before any eyewitness testimony is allowed in any trial. The majority of eyewitness testimony is either faulty or implanted by interrogators. Start with this brief review in plain English.


This death penalty error argument violates the Exception Fallacy. The Exception Fallacy is a fallacy of defective induction.

Posted by: David Behar | May 19, 2018 2:24:21 PM

In most states, I would firmly believe that the chance of a mistake should be taken.

Illinois is not most states. It is just too corrupt. The problem in Illinois is that a wrongful death sentence is not so much a "mistake" as a "routine consequence of police corruption." That's the state got rid of the DP. And that's the way it needs to stay, until things are cleaned up.

Posted by: William Jockusch | May 21, 2018 11:17:15 PM

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