Guest Column: Union League Club of Chicago speaks out on death penalty

Guest Column: Union League Club of Chicago speaks out on death penalty

By Robert J. Pierce

The Union League Club of Chicago has carefully studied the issue of death penalty reform and has endorsed many of the recommendations of the Illinois Governor’s Commission on Capital Punishment. The bill passed Dec. 4, 2002, by the Illinois Senate, HB 5657 as amended, does not contain the types of reforms the Club has endorsed and which it believes are necessary to insure adequate safeguards in the application of the death penalty.

The Union League Club calls upon Gov.-elect Rod Blagojevich to continue the moratorium on executions until true and meaningful changes are made in the prosecution and defense of persons accused of capital crimes. We also urge members of the new Illinois General Assembly to support a reform bill that contains at a minimum these specific provisions:

l A requirement to videotape custodial interrogations by police and states’ attorneys in cases involving people suspected of capital crimes.

l Mandatory and ongoing training programs for trial judges who preside over capital cases.

l Endorsement of the Supreme Court decision to require the certification of attorneys to represent parties in capital cases.

l A permanent body to make recommendations to the governor, General Assembly and Supreme Court for improvements in the administration of capital punishment. The new body’s investigations would focus solely on improving the criminal justice system. Any determinations it makes would be inadmissible in a court of law.

The Illinois General Assembly should consider the comparative costs of the death penalty when enacting proposals for reform. Studies show that each capital case can cost millions of dollars. Wrongfully convicted capital defendants have received millions of dollars in civil settlements. To the extent that recommended reforms have a cost, the potential savings as a result of the reforms will save millions of dollars that would otherwise be spent on the inappropriate application and prosecution of the death penalty.

We ask the General Assembly to address the issue of wrongful head-on by passing meaningful reforms. Once in office, we ask the new governor to continue the moratorium on executions until such time as real reforms to the death penalty are enacted.

Robert J. Pierce is the president of the Union League of Chicago. Michael M. Chioros is chairman of the Public Affairs Committee. William S. Wigoda is chairman of the Administration of Justice Subcommittee.

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