Illinois death penalty system is broken beyond repair. Two years after the moratorium was issued in 2000, the Ryan Commission issued 85 recommendations to improve our death penalty system. Eight years later, there are still gaping issues that make fixing the broken system impossible - less than half of the recommendations have been implemented; there is not enough money to implement recommendations; and numerous local and national organizations, including the Chicago Council of Lawyers and 4000 judges, lawyers and law professors of the American Law Institute (ALI), believe that the system is irrevocably broken. That the ALI walked away from any further efforts to reform the death penalty because of the belief that the system is irretrievably broken and all reform efforts are futile is noteworthy since they drafted the Model Penal Code on capital punishment and assisted states that reinstated the death penalty after 1976.
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Legislators will have the opportunity to bring an end to Illinois' broken death penalty system this month.
The risk of sentencing innocent people to death remains. In recent years, twenty men have been exonerated and freed from Death Row--innocent men threatened with death by Illinois. One came within 48 hours of being executed for a crime he did not commit. In the 10 years since the Moratorium, 7 more inmates have been released from Death Row - only Florida has released more exonerated defendants. The irrevocability of the death penalty counsels against accepting a system with a demonstrably significant rate of error. We cannot guarantee that our death penalty system will not make a fatal mistake and take an innocent life.
The Death Penalty is Arbitrary. According to the Chicago Tribune, "Who gets a sentence of life and who gets a sentence of death is often a matter of random luck, of politics, of geography, even a matter of racism." Since individual juries determine the sentence, imposition of the death penalty is a legal gamble, arbitrarily meted out; thus in Illinois, Brian Dugan got the death penalty; the Brown's Chicken defendants did not.
The broken system does not make society safer. The death penalty is not an essential part of a functioning criminal justice system. We do not need the death penalty to protect society -- Illinois judges already have the authority to sentence capital defendants to natural life without parole. Moreover, the death penalty does not deter crime. Since the moratorium on executions, the murder rate has decreased. States with the death penalty have a consistently higher murder rate than states without it. A 2008 survey showed that 88% of the country's top criminologists do not believe the death penalty acts as a deterrent to homicide and 87% believe abolition of the death penalty would have no significant effect on murder rates.
The broken system is too costly. Even during a moratorium on executions, the death penalty is an expensive and ineffective use of scare resources. From 2003 to 2010 more than $100 million was appropriated to pay just for the prosecution and defense costs alone. The $12-$15 million annual cost to prosecute and defend death penalty cases despite a moratorium prompted voters to support life without parole by a 2 to 1 margin (64% -30%) in a recent Illinois poll.