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Question of the day

Monday, Mar 5, 2012

* From an op-ed by Charles W. Hoffman, an assistant defender in the Office of the Illinois State Appellate Defender

One year ago this Friday, Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation abolishing the death penalty in Illinois.

The rightness of that decision is more clear than ever. Violent crime rates have not climbed. The public is no less safe. And the pursuit of justice has been served, not undermined.

Although hundreds of convicted murderers had been sent to Death Row since Illinois reinstated capital punishment in 1977, only 12 men had been executed in the 34 years the death penalty law was on the books. Yet during that same period, 20 innocent men were convicted of murder and sentenced to death, only to be exonerated after spending decades in prison facing execution for crimes they didn’t commit.

The last execution in Illinois took place in 1999, one year before former Gov. George Ryan declared a moratorium on the death penalty, as the only way to avoid what he termed “the ultimate nightmare” of the state wrongfully executing an innocent person. That moratorium remained in effect until capital punishment finally, and officially, ended last year.

Death penalty proponents had long argued that capital punishment was necessary to deter murders. But no evidence ever supported such an argument. In fact, in the year since abolition, the Chicago Police Department reports that the murder rate in the city remains at a 40-year low.

* The Question: Do you think most of the furor over abolishing the death penalty has subsided? Or do you think the anger will reappear in this fall’s general election campaigns? Take the poll and then explain your answer in comments, please. Thanks.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Spliff - Monday, Mar 5, 12 @ 11:07 am:

    I beleive the general anger has subsided. I however think that anger could be brought back to the forefront once we have a specifically bad case that might pop up. A child sex homicide for instance or a serial killer.

  2. - Siriusly - Monday, Mar 5, 12 @ 11:12 am:

    The public is ficle and moody, as are legislators. We will see some very high profile, heinous evil crime committed where the evidence against the accused is rock solid and the victim and / or their family will have no reasion to believe the person should still live.

    I have changed my opinion on the issue more than once in my adult life. I’m sure others have or will as well.

  3. - Wensicia - Monday, Mar 5, 12 @ 11:13 am:

    I think some candidates will bring up the closing of prisons, but I don’t think they’ll revive death penalty concerns.

  4. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Monday, Mar 5, 12 @ 11:16 am:

    All polling shows that the number one issue in the fall will be the state budget:

    1) Did we enact and adhere to major reforms?

    2) Did lawmakers use tax dollars to protect the public’s priorities?

    3) Did lawmakers eliminate funding for low-priority programs?

    For the record, the authors of Freakonomics found that broad access to family planning services that delay pregnancy had a greater impact on crime rates than every other government effort combined.

    While most voters have not read Freakonmics, I think the trend of public support in favor of greater substance addiction treatment and less spending on prisons shows that the public has a much better and more nuanced understanding of crime than our elected officials generally give them credit for.

    The arguments in favor of protecting $100 million in funding for the Corrections because prisons provide jobs should help make that clear to lawmakers, however. Try making that argument in the thousands of communities that don’t have a prison.

  5. - Cal Skinner - Monday, Mar 5, 12 @ 11:20 am:

    Take a poll and most will still be for it, even though locally the previous McHenry County State’s Attorney sent a man to death row who was exonerated.

  6. - Irish - Monday, Mar 5, 12 @ 11:22 am:

    The public is interested in jobs and the economy. Those will remain in the forefront for the election in the fall. As othere have said a particularly heinous crime by a repeat offender or the costs of operating prisons will bring the debate back a little. But it will be the jobs and economy for a while.

  7. - Tommydanger - Monday, Mar 5, 12 @ 11:25 am:

    Subsided. The moratorium that was previously in place essentially rendered any death sentence meaningless. The only thing worse than a less than perfect capital punishment system in Illinois was a less than perfect system with a moratorium holding out false hope for families believing that such a sentence would provide closure for them.

  8. - Sunshine - Monday, Mar 5, 12 @ 11:36 am:

    I think the anger has subsided but well may reappear when a particularly heinous crime is committed.

    I never did see the death penalty as a deterrent but simply revenge.

    I like revenge in some circumstances and see such an opportunity arriving on March 15th, an especially grand revenge “…up day…”!.

  9. - Northsider - Monday, Mar 5, 12 @ 11:42 am:

    Let’s see: Reinstating the death penalty vs. fixing our state’s budget woes, economy, jobs situation, deteriorating infrastructure, deteriorating elementary and university education systems, switching to renewable energy before Peak Oil really starts to hurt, etc.

    Someone out there will be more than willing to demagogue on reinstatement. The question of whether if flares up again seems to me to rest upon how hard the push-back to that demagoguery will be.

  10. - wordslinger - Monday, Mar 5, 12 @ 11:46 am:

    In all honesty, I don’t recall a general furor over abolition. A lot of folks might be for it, but I don’t think it’s at the top of the list of their concerns.

  11. - AlphaBettor - Monday, Mar 5, 12 @ 11:53 am:

    We hadn’t had an execution in 12 years, and were unlikely to have another one anytime soon, so it really didn’t change anything.

  12. - Plutocrat03 - Monday, Mar 5, 12 @ 12:03 pm:

    I think the furor was more in the chattering class than in the general public.

    One year is not long enough to judge whether any of us are safer or less safe. Seems to me that unless something graphic happens, that chapter of deterrence is closed.

  13. - Conservative Republican - Monday, Mar 5, 12 @ 12:09 pm:

    This issue, unfortunately, is very low on the general public’s list of concerns. That holds for both pro- and anti- death penalty advocates.

  14. - Fed up - Monday, Mar 5, 12 @ 12:15 pm:

    What will be remembered is the way Quinn lied to the voters just months before when in the midst of a close election he told voters that he supported the death penalty. It is just another example of Quinns willingness to lie and say anything to curry a few votes. Like the lies about the tax increase the way the death penalty was handled showed insight into Quinn’s lack af charecter.

  15. - CircularFiringSquad - Monday, Mar 5, 12 @ 12:15 pm:

    It has subsided, but hopefully the GOPie wing nuts try to whip something up in November,but then they have been so thoroughly by the constant debacles of the 2012 primary season — limbaugh, cain, bachman( “treat” gays to cure them) — that they may be hiding in the corner by then

  16. - titan - Monday, Mar 5, 12 @ 12:17 pm:

    This fall’s elections are more nationally focused … or more locally (GA district) focused.

    It isn’t a national issue. And more GA districts are (relatively) safe seat status - or demographically nondiverse from an ideological standpoint.

    It isn’t likely to be an issue this fall. 2014? Possibily.

  17. - Anyone Remember? - Monday, Mar 5, 12 @ 12:22 pm:

    If you look at the past history of the Illinois Death Penalty (the execution in 1962 of James Dukes was the last until the 1990 execution of Charles Walker), in the interim the number of dead IDOC officers increased …

    until Walker was executed. Not one death since by assault in a prison. (The assault was in a courtroom.)

    When correctional officers and police officers start to die from inmate assaults / weapons in numbers that the public cares about, the demand to reinstate the death penalty will rise. What is that level? Will it be strong enough to succeed? Time will tell.

  18. - Skeeter - Monday, Mar 5, 12 @ 12:34 pm:

    The issue still has appeal for some who feel that not having it is a sign of weakness. A candidate could turn it into an issue, even if right now nobody is thinking about it. It may also be an issue when Quinn is up for re-election.

    Just because people are not thinking about it does not mean that it doesn’t matter to them.

  19. - Mouthy - Monday, Mar 5, 12 @ 12:58 pm:

    Voted yes. Heck, the public won’t even remember the tax hike this year when they vote.

  20. - In 630 - Monday, Mar 5, 12 @ 12:58 pm:

    Like a lot of people have said- a high profile, emotional case could have people wanting the death penalty back.

    That’s the thing with criminal penalties- the laws and punishments people want aren’t about numbers and rational thinking, they’re about emotions.

  21. - Foxfire - Monday, Mar 5, 12 @ 1:02 pm:

    I believe someone will try to make “hay” out of this, if it suits them. It will most certainly come up again, when there is a new murder or other heinous crime.

    I also don’t know how Mr. Hoffman can make these claims. 1 year is not enough time to state that “the rightness of that decision is more clear than ever.” Let’s give it a few years and then evaluate.

  22. - anon sequitor - Monday, Mar 5, 12 @ 1:05 pm:

    Although the “fury” over this moratorium has long subsided, this new attention is bound to give a fringe candidate the idea to revive the controversy in some crazy way. We can only hope it doesn’t become a Karl Rove style nugget of misinformation.

  23. - Surf1 - Monday, Mar 5, 12 @ 1:05 pm:

    Absent an incident-driven change in public concern, the citizens of Illinois appear to be focused on other matters.

    I don’t see this being a candidate-driven issue, either.

  24. - Demoralized - Monday, Mar 5, 12 @ 1:15 pm:

    I never hear anybody talk about it unless a particularly heinous case pops up. While I think a majority of people favor the death penalty I don’t think it really crosses their mind generally.

  25. - Esquire - Monday, Mar 5, 12 @ 1:22 pm:

    The pot is still simmering, but it may boil over again in the future. All that it takes is one heinous murderer sentenced to life imprisonment rather than being sentenced to death. That is why I do not think that the issue is off of the table.

    One of the things that influenced my vote is that so many prosecutors, Democrats and Republicans, have complained about the death penalty ban being enacted without their input.

    At a pragmatic level, I can understand how this legislation passed and how it helped the state avoid a short term crisis involving death row inmates. What few people will acknowledge publicly is that the crisis of wrongful convictions in so many murder cases eligible for the death penalty occurred largely during the eight plus years that Richard M. Daley served as Cook County’s State’s Attorney. There were a few other embarrassing cases such as the Roland Cruz trials in Du Page, but many of the flawed prosecutions occurred in Cook County. I wonder if the fact that a Federal judge finally refused to dismiss Daley as a co-defendant in a police brutality lawsuit means that a day of reckoning may finally be at hand for possible official misconduct?

  26. - wordslinger - Monday, Mar 5, 12 @ 1:29 pm:

    –There were a few other embarrassing cases such as the Roland Cruz trials in Du Page, but many of the flawed prosecutions occurred in Cook County.–

    Cruz was convicted three times in DuPage. He was the poster for abolition of the death penalty, not just another case.

  27. - Wensicia - Monday, Mar 5, 12 @ 1:42 pm:

    Flawed prosecutions/arrests also took place in Lake County. While Juan Rivera received a life sentence (exonerated through DNA) and Jerry Hobbs was released, likewise, their cases also reinforce the abolition of the death penalty. I believe they were originally charged with capital crimes.

  28. - mark walker - Monday, Mar 5, 12 @ 1:49 pm:

    Since fear and outrage can work in a campaign, I expect many political types will try to foment this in the Fall. I doubt it will have legs.

  29. - mokenavince - Monday, Mar 5, 12 @ 1:55 pm:

    The death penalty will arrive DOA,we will never see it again in Illinois.

  30. - SAP - Monday, Mar 5, 12 @ 2:23 pm:

    Subsided. Hadn’t thought about it in almost a year until I read this. If it was going to pop up, it would have been in a Republican primary where a social moderate and a social conservative were squared off against each other.

  31. - amalia - Monday, Mar 5, 12 @ 2:52 pm:

    I can’t give an answer because I would not choose either of the two options. what I believe is that there are people who have committed murder since the decision who are evil and deserve to be put to death by the state. and that there are many monsters who were on death row who deserve the ultimate penalty as well and whose cases are not at all in question. this may eventually be noticed by the public. the lasting legacy is that there seems to be more concern expressed for the welfare of the offender than there is for the victim. now that the offenders are in no danger of dying by the state, let’s get to those people who are actually dying and are injured in numbers that should elicit the same level of concern. or can lawyers not make the same level of money filing suit for civil rights violations?

  32. - reformer - Monday, Mar 5, 12 @ 2:55 pm:

    I’m not aware that any legislators who voted for abolition are being challenged because of that vote.

    Republicans who voted for abolition would be the most vulnerable in the primary. Just 5 House Republicans voted for abolition. Beaubien (deceased), Biggins (retired), Pritchard, Saviano and Sullivan (none of whom have primary challenges).

    In the Senate, the GOP votes were T. Johnson (lameduck), Sandack (running for House), Althoff and Duffy (no primary)

    In short, there’s no evidence I can find that abolitionists — even among Republicans — are being targeted.

  33. - Colossus - Monday, Mar 5, 12 @ 2:59 pm:

    Call me Pollyanna, but I think we might just be on the cusp of an era where decisions are allowed to be made and stand on their own instead of being revisited every single election. Over and over again. Ad naseum. As they have for 30 years.

    At some point, decisions just have to be made and we move on to the next problem.

  34. - Esquire - Monday, Mar 5, 12 @ 3:39 pm:


    I actually dined in the same restaurant as Cruz did some weeks after his release and return to private life. The Cruz case was an absolute hash (it passed through the hands of four separate State’s Attorneys, elected and appointed, before it was ended). I would not minimize the impact of the Cruz case, but there were dozens of prosecutions mishandled in Cook County during the same time period. It also did not help that Cruz boasted while being held in the Du Page County Jail that he was involved in the Nicarico home invasion and killing. That is a fact that many people somehow forget.

  35. - archibald.jones - Monday, Mar 5, 12 @ 4:10 pm:

    Yes, because if you open it up again you have to talk about fairness. If you talk about fairness, you need to figure out how to bankroll capital litigation expenses.

  36. - Bitterman - Monday, Mar 5, 12 @ 4:19 pm:

    subsided for now….will be an issue in the 2014 gubernatorial race for whomever runs against Quinn if he is the Dem nom.

  37. - D.P. Gumby - Monday, Mar 5, 12 @ 4:59 pm:

    If it re-emerges it will be by demagogues trying to create phony wedge issues to stir-up the rabble. There is no legitimacy to the issue anymore.

  38. - cermak_rd - Monday, Mar 5, 12 @ 5:34 pm:

    Anyone Remember?

    I wonder if this isn’t a negative effect of having the prisons located in the less occupied portions of the state. If your next door neighbor is likelier to be an alien from outer space than a Corrections employee, it’s easy not to have as much empathy when one is injured or killed.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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