Illinois abolishes the death penalty

Amnesty International has welcomed the decision by Governor Pat Quinn of Illinois to sign into law a bill abolishing the death penalty. He also commuted the death sentences of the 15 men on death row in the state.

Illinois will become the 16th state in the USA to ban capital punishment when the law signed by Governor Quinn yesterday comes into effect on 1 July.

It will be the third state to enact abolitionist legislation in the past two years after New Jersey and New Mexico.

The bill was approved by the Illinois legislature in January.

“Abolition in Illinois is the latest sign that the USA is gradually turning away from a punishment whose costs and risks the country has begun to recognize as unacceptable” said Rob Freer of Amnesty International.

“In making this bill law Governor Quinn has set an example to other states that still retain the death penalty. This is a cruel punishment – incompatible with human dignity – that should have no place in a modern criminal justice system.”

Illinois has executed 12 people since judicial killing resumed in the USA in 1977. During the same period, 20 people have been released from the state’s death row, the second highest number of such exonerations among the USA’s death penalty states.

Illinois has not carried out an execution since 1999. In 2000 then-Governor George Ryan declared a moratorium on executions after concluding that the capital justice system was fundamentally flawed.

In 2003, he pardoned four death row inmates whom he concluded were innocent, and commuted the death sentences of 167 others.

Amnesty International said it agrees with Governor Quinn’s assessment that Illinois is taking an important step forward in its history as it “joins the 15 other states and many nations of the world that have abolished the death penalty.”

Two-thirds of countries no longer use the death penalty, and death sentences in the USA have plunged in the last decade to their lowest levels since the country resumed judicial killing in 1977 – at least partially thought to be due to public and political awareness of the number of wrongful convictions that have been discovered in capital cases.

The 15 other abolitionist states in the USA are: Alaska, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. The District of Columbia is also abolitionist. The remaining 34 states have the death penalty, as does the federal government and the US military.