Legislative Activity - Illinois

  • Wrongful Convictions Prompt More Jurisdictions to Videotape Interrogations The wrongful conviction of Eddie Joe Lloyd, a mentally ill man who was exonerated in 2002 after serving 17 years in prison for a rape and murder he did not commit, has prompted Detroit to join a growing list of jurisdictions that now require videotaped interrogations of suspects. A decade ago, only Minnesota and Alaska required police to videotape interrogations, but today, at least 450 police departments across the country have implemented the practice in an effort to prevent coerced confessions. "When you put it all on videotape, it gives you no leeway. You can watch it. I can watch it. The jury can watch it. I always say it's like having an instant replay so you know whether the guy went out of bounds in a football game or whether the tennis ball went out of the court," said Thomas P. Sullivan, a former U.S. Attorney in Chicago who has studied interrogation procedures. In 1984, Lloyd was a patient at the Detroit Psychiatric Institute. Suffering from delusions that he had a special ability to solve crimes, Lloyd sent a letter to police saying he wanted to help in the investigation of the killing of 16-yaer-old Michelle Jackson. The letter was similar to other ones Lloyd had sent to police. Attorneys for Lloyd said that when police interrogators came to the hospital to question their client about the letter, they fed him details of the crime and convinced him that confessing to the murder would help them find the real killer. DNA evidence later exonerated Lloyd, and prompted Detroit to rethink its policy on videotaping interrogations. Barry C. Scheck, a lawyer who helped negotiate the new policy with the city on behalf of Lloyd's family, noted, "Detroit in this case has real symbolism to it. It sends a message to other police chiefs that even in the most difficult departments, this is something you can get done. That's the significance of this." Lloyd died in 2004, two years after he was released from prison. (New York Times, April 11, 2006). See Innocence.
  • Death Penalty Reforms Become Law in Illinois By a vote of 115-0, members of the Illinois House approved a series of reforms to the state's death penalty system. The legislative package gives the Illinois Supreme Court greater power to throw out unjust verdicts, gives defendants more access to evidence, and bars the death penalty in cases based on a single witness. The reforms are among the 80 recommendations made by the Illinois Commission on Capital Punishment, formed in 2000 by former Governor George Ryan to address wrongful convictions and the state's broken death penalty system. The unanimous vote, an override of Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich's earlier veto of the reform package, makes the legislation into law immediately because the Illinois Senate overrode the Governor's veto earlier this month. Gov. Blagojevich supported most of the reforms but had vetoed one section. He has stated that he will maintain the state's moratorium on executions until he sees how the reforms work. (Washington Post, November 20, 2003). Read a summary of the new law. See Illinois Commission on Capital Punishment, and Innocence.
  • Passed a bill in May, 2003, exempting the mentally retarded from the death penalty. Retardation is described as "significant deficits in adaptive behavior," and will be determined before the trial. Other bills included legislation allowing judges to rule out the death penalty in cases that rest largley on a single eyewitness or informant, allowing the state Supreme Court to overturn death sentences it deems "findamentally unjust," and requiring juries to consider more mitigating factors before imposing a sentence of death. (Associated Press, July 29, 2003) Although the governor approved these changes, he has not yet signed the bill into law because of his disagreement with one part of the bill. For more information regarding this legislation, Click Here. 
  • Governor Signs Bill Removing Doctors Governor Rod Blagojevich on Thursday signed into law a bill removing doctors from the execution process entirely. Previously, Illinois law required a doctor to be present to pronounce an inmate deceased following execution. The bill's sponsor, Senator John Cullerton of Chicago, said that physicians "felt this was a conflict of their Hippocratic Oath. It was totally unnecessary to have a physician in that position ... a coroner could easily determine the cause of death." (Chicago Tribune, July 25, 2003)


  • Illinois Legislators Approve Sweeping Death Penalty Reforms Illinois lawmakers recently approved sweeping death penalty reforms and have sent the legislative package to Governor Rod Blagojevich for signature into law. The reforms are expected to transform the investigation and prosecution of every death-eligible crime in Illinois. Based on recommendations made by the Illinois Commission on Capital Punishment, the bill would change police procedures regarding disclosure of evidence, set up a system to get rid of police officers who lie, limit the number of crimes that could result in a death sentence, improve police line-up procedures, and create pretrial hearings to help determine the credibility of jailhouse informants. In addition, the bill creates a presumption that anyone with an IQ less than 75 is mentally retarded and is not eligible for the death penalty, and it establishes a "fundamental justice" provision that empowers the Illinois Supreme Court to overturn a death sentence if justices thought it was not called for in a particular case. Although Blagojevich is expected to sign the legislation, he noted that he feels it does not go far enough to protect against the possibility of executing an innocent person. Blagojevich continues to support the moratorium on executions in Illinois. (Chicago Tribune, May 30, 2003). See Innocence and Illinois Commission on Capital Punishment. 


  • Governor to Sign Illinois Bill Requiring Taping of Interrogations In a vote that will dramatically change the way murder investigations are conducted, the Illinois House has overwhelmingly approved legislation requiring audio-or videotaping of most homicide-related interrogations and confessions. The bill, which unanimously passed the Senate last month, now goes to Governor Rod Blagojevich for signature into law. The Governor has vowed to sign the legislation. Attorney Thomas Sullivan, who co-chaired the Illinois Commission on Capital Punishment that made more than 80 reform recommendations after a thorough review of the state's death penalty, noted, "It is extremely significant in that it will be a major step forward for law enforcement and for the entire criminal justice system in Illinois." (Chicago Tribune, May 10, 2003) See Illinois Commission on Capital Punishment.
  •  Illinois Governor to Maintain Moratorium on Executions  Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has announced that he will continue the state's moratorium on executions, stating: "I don't feel any artificial pressure to lift the moratorium. I'd like to one day be in the position to do that, if I thought the position was foolproof. But I don't believe a series of reforms that the Legislature will pass, most of which I support, will do enough to have me feel that the system won't make those kinds of mistakes." Illinois lawmakers are currently considering legislation to require the of taping police interrogations, to improve access to DNA analysis, and to limit the crimes eligible for capital punishment. (Associated Press, April 24, 2003) See Illinois Commission on Capital Punishment.
  • Governor Ryan vetoed legislation that would have expanded the death penalty to be used against gang members who murder. The legislation would have made anyone who commits murder automatically eligible for the death penalty if the killing was "in furtherance" of a gang. In rejecting the bill, Ryan stated that the legislation was vague, disproportionately targeted minorities, duplicated existing tough-on-gang laws, and could wrongly subject someone to an irreversible fate if they were mistakenly convicted. (Chicago Sun-Times, 8/18/01)