Illinois House votes to abolish death penalty, still must pass lame-duck senate

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[JURIST] The Illinois House [official website] passed a bill abolishing the death penalty [JURIST news archive] Thursday, but the bill must still be passed by the Senate with the General Assembly facing a lame-duck session. The amended bill (SB3539) [amendment, text] passed the House 60-54 [Chicago Tribune report] just hours after it had failed by a single vote. It marks the first time the state legislature has voted to abolish the death penalty since former Governor George Ryan put a moratorium on it 10 years ago. Supporters of the bill expressed concern over the possibility of innocent people being executed especially after some people on death row have later been exonerated. Opponents argue, alternatively, that that the threat of the death penalty is an important tool for law enforcement officials.

The death penalty remains a controversial issue worldwide. According to an Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] report [text, PDF] the number of countries using the death penalty dropped [JURIST report] in 2009 but more than 700 people were executed in 18 countries, with the most executions carried out in Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and the US. Last August, US District Court for the Southern District of Georgia [official website] heard a habeas petition from Troy Davis who was convicted and sentenced to death for murdering an off-duty Savannah, Georgia, police officer. In a rare move, the federal court heard the habeas petition after Davis had exhausted his state remedies under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act [text], but the court sided against Davis saying that he failed to prove his innocence. Law Offices of the Southern Center for Human Rights [official website] Executive Director Sarah Totonchi argues [JURIST commentary] that the “‘Troy Davis’ case illustrates that U.S. courts simply cannot provide the certainty necessary to impose an irreversible punishment; therefore the death penalty must be abolished.”

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