Ill. Governor Pat Quinn: 'Why I Signed Bill to Abolish Death Penalty'
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 9, 2011
Today I have signed Senate Bill 3539, which abolishes
the death penalty in Illinois.
For me, this was a difficult decision, quite literally
the choice between life and death. This was not a
decision to be made lightly, or a decision that I came
to without deep personal reflection.
Since the General Assembly passed this bill, I have met
or heard from a wide variety of people on both sides of
the issue. I have talked with prosecutors, judges,
elected officials, religious leaders from around the
world, families of murder victims, people on death row
who were exonerated and ordinary citizens who have
taken the time to share their thoughts with me. Their
experiences, words and opinions have made a tremendous
impact on my thinking, and I thank everyone who reached
out on this matter.
After their guidance, as well as much thought and
reflection, I have concluded that our system of
imposing the death penalty is inherently flawed. The
evidence presented to me by former prosecutors and
judges with decades of experience in the criminal
justice system has convinced me that it is impossible
to devise a system that is consistent, that is free of
discrimination on the basis of race, geography or
economic circumstance, and that always gets it right.
As a state, we cannot tolerate the executions of
innocent people because such actions strike at the very
legitimacy of a government. Since 1977, Illinois has
seen 20 people exonerated from death row. Seven of
those were exonerated since the moratorium was imposed
in 2000. That is a record that should trouble us all.
To say that this is unacceptable does not even begin to
express the profound regret and shame we, as a society,
must bear for these failures of justice.
Since our experience has shown that there is no way to
design a perfect death penalty system, free from the
numerous flaws that can lead to wrongful convictions or
discriminatory treatment, I have concluded that the
proper course of action is to abolish it. With our
broken system, we cannot ensure justice is achieved in
every case. For the same reason, I have also decided to
commute the sentences of those currently on death row
to natural life imprisonment, without the possibility
of parole or release.
I have found no credible evidence that the death
penalty has a deterrent effect on the crime of murder
and that the enormous sums expended by the state in
maintaining a death penalty system would be better
spent on preventing crime and assisting victims’
families in overcoming their pain and grief.
To those who say that we must maintain a death penalty
for the sake of the victims’ families, I say that it is
impossible not to feel the pain of loss that all these
families share or to understand the desire for
retribution that many may hold. But, as I heard from
family members who lost loved ones to murder,
maintaining a flawed death penalty system will not
bring back their loved ones, will not help them to heal
and will not bring closure to their pain. Nothing can
do that. We must instead devote our resources toward
the prevention of crime and the needs of victims’
families, rather than spending more money to preserve a
The late Cardinal Joseph Bernadin observed, "[i]n a
complex, sophisticated democracy like ours, means other
than the death penalty are available and can be used to
protect society." In our current criminal justice
system, we can impose extremely harsh punishments when
warranted. Judges can impose sentences of life
imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Where
necessary and appropriate, the state can incarcerate
convicted criminals in maximum security prisons. These
means should be sufficient to satisfy our need for
retribution, justice and protection.
As Governor, I took an oath to uphold our state’s
Constitution and faithfully execute our laws. Honoring
that oath often requires making difficult decisions,
but I have found none to be as difficult as the one I
made today. I recognize that some may strongly disagree
with this decision, but I firmly believe that we are
taking an important step forward in our history as
Illinois joins the 15 other states and many nations of
the world that have abolished the death penalty.
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