Capital Punishment in Illinois in the Aftermath of the Ryan Commutations: Reforms, Economic Realities, and a New Saliency for Issues of Cost
Leigh Buchanan Bienen
Northwestern University School of Law
November 5, 2010
Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Vol. 100, No. 4
Northwestern Public Law Research Paper No. 10-72
In 2000 when Governor George Ryan unilaterally imposed a statewide moratorium on executions in Illinois, in response to accumulating evidence of more than a dozen wrongfully convicted persons on death row in Illinois. In 1999 the Illinois legislature created the Capital Litigation Trust Fund, to allow private, appointed defense counsel, state’s attorneys, and public defenders to be paid directly for the expenses of a capital trial from state appropriated funds, upon the approval of the trial court judge. Publishing new data on capital prosecutions in Illinois since 2000, this article documents evidence of state money spent at the county level on more than 500 capital prosecutions, the largest proportion from Cook County, which resulted in 17 death sentences imposed. More than 100 million dollars of state money has been spent out of the Capital Litigation Trust Fund alone by county state’s attorneys, appointed private counsel, and by public defenders. The availability of state funds changed the dynamics and economic and bureaucratic incentives for capital prosecution. In addition, over 64 million dollars has been spent by the state, the city of Chicago, and the counties in judgments involving wrongful convictions. This article presents data on capital prosecutions and murders across the state, and publishes for the first time the State’s Attorney’s own adopted guidelines for the selection of cases for capital prosecution. When patterns of capital prosecution are examined across the state as a whole, it becomes clear that the counties most likely to spend the state’s money on prosecuting first degree murder cases capitally are not those jurisdictions with the largest number of first degree murders. Nor is there a correspondence between the number of county capital prosecutions, the number of death sentences imposed, the number of murders or the murder rate in that county, and the amount of money spent by the county from the Capital Litigation Trust Fund. County by county disparities in capital case prosecutions and in expenditures of state money are startling. The absence of centralized review and the presence of many potential areas of conflicts of interest should submit the existing system to close scrutiny at this time of budgetary pressure.
To view the comprehensive data base of original murder indictments filed by State’s Attorneys in individual counties in Illinois during the years 2000-2009, see Illinois Murder Indictments: 2000-2010 on the web. (To access the database, search for "Illinois Murder Indictments 2000-2010.") These indictments were critical to this analysis and are hereby made available as public records to other researchers and interested persons.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 103
Keywords: capital punishment, homicide wrongful convictions
JEL Classification: K10, K14, K30, K39, K40, K49Accepted Paper Series
Date posted: November 13, 2010 ; Last revised: March 15, 2014
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