CHICAGO (CBS) — An Illinois House committee will hold a hearing Monday on Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposal to reinstate the death penalty.
The governor’s plan would allow prosecutors to seek the death penalty in cases involving the murder of a law enforcement officer, or in mass murders. He included the death penalty measure in a sweeping amendatory veto of legislation that would require a 72-hour waiting period to purchase assault weapons.
The House Judiciary-Criminal Committee was scheduled to meet Monday afternoon to debate the governor’s veto.
The death penalty in Illinois has been banned since 2011, but the state has not executed anyone since 1999, after then Gov. George Ryan enacted a statewide moratorium on capital punishment, citing concerns about flaws in the death penalty system. Ryan later cleared out death row in 2003, commuting the death sentences of 167 condemned prisoners to life in prison, and pardoning four other men who he said had been wrongfully convicted.
Rauner said now is the time to reinstate capital punishment, but with a higher standard than conviction beyond a reasonable doubt.
“There are plenty of cases where there’s no doubt who’s guilty, and they deserve to give up their life when they take the life of a police officer, who are our heroes, or they take the life of many people,” he said.
The governor said, in some cases, there is no doubt at all; and, in the worst of those crimes, the death penalty is the right form of justice.
Other changes in the governor’s amendatory veto would include imposing the 72-hour waiting period for all firearm purchases, banning bump stocks and trigger cranks that speed up firing of guns, and creating a so-called “firearm restraining order” to take away guns from individuals deemed dangerous by the courts.
The governor said his proposals also would require judges and prosecutors to explain on the record why defendants are facing reduced charges in plea agreements for violent crimes, and allow schools to use sales tax revenue to hire resource officers or mental health workers.
However, Center on Wrongful Convictions director Karen Daniel said the governor’s suggestion of a “guilty beyond all doubt” standard isn’t feasible.
“If it were doable, we would have done that in our criminal justice system. We can’t do it,” she said.
Daniel said Illinois, in particular, has a poor track record in death penalty cases. She noted that, since 1986, there have been 20 men convicted in death penalty cases who have been exonerated. Last year alone, Illinois had 17 exonerations in murder cases, by far the most of any state, according to Daniel.
“If you kill them, as one of my former clients Randy Steidl likes to say, you can’t exonerate someone from the grave,” she said.
Other critics of the governor’s amendatory veto have said the proposals exceed his authority to make changes to legislation approved by the Illinois General Assembly, noting the death penalty is not directly related to gun control.
Some also have called the governor’s proposal a ploy to win over conservative voters who supported his primary challenger, Jeanne Ives, after he signed legislation allowing taxpayer-subsidized abortions for women covered by Medicaid and state employee insurance plans.
House Speaker Michael Madigan has said the governor’s proposals deserve a full hearing, hence Monday’s committee meeting on the veto. However, the House typically has not taken kindly to amendatory vetoes from any governor, in particular when they make such significant changes to legislation approved by lawmakers.
Many observers have said amendatory vetoes are intended to correct technical mistakes in legislation, not change the intent or add new laws.