ACLU Applauds Illinois Panel's Call for Death Penalty Reforms, Urges Support for National Moratorium on Executions

Affiliate: ACLU of Illinois
April 15, 2002 12:00 am

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Joint Statement of Diann Rust-Tierney, Director, ACLU Capital Punishment Project and Rachel King, ACLU Legislative Counsel


WASHINGTON–The American Civil Liberties Union applauds the call for sweeping changes in Illinois’ death penalty system contained in a 200-page report released today. This report is the most comprehensive examination yet of the death penalty and should be a benchmark for further action by the states and the federal government.

Accordingly, we urge members of Congress on both sides of the death penalty debate to support the “National Death Penalty Moratorium Act of 2001. This bill, introduced by Senator Russell Feingold (D-WI), would create a national commission to study the death penalty at the state and federal level and impose a moratorium on federal executions.

The methodology of the Illinois commission should be the starting point for the work of the Feingold commission. The 14-member commission was established by Gov. Ryan two years after he took the courageous step of halting all executions in Illinois after finding that more innocent people had been freed from death row than had been executed. The commission was comprised of opponents and advocates of the death penalty, including former U.S. Senator Paul Simon and former CIA head William Webster.

The Illinois report recommends 85 important reforms of Illinois death penalty system, including banning the execution of people with mental retardation, reducing the number of crimes eligible for the death penalty from 20 to 5 and significantly improving the mechanism for appointing competent attorneys in death penalty cases. These recommendations demonstrate that no quick fix will repair a failing system. One thing is clear, however: until the recommendations of the Illinois commission are adopted, no executions should go forward in that state.

Nationwide, the events of the past year demonstrate that the failing system extends far beyond Illinois. Last week, the 100th innocent person sentenced to death was released. In Oklahoma, dozens of death sentences are based on the false testimony of a state expert now under federal investigation. Questionable racial practices by prosecutors cast shadows of doubt over death sentences in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Texas. The Supreme Court has increased its scrutiny of death penalty cases including whether people with mental retardation should be executed.

For more information on why the ACLU opposes the death penalty, go to /DeathPenalty/DeathPenaltyMain.cfm

The Illinois commission’s report is online at

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