The Illinois Senate [official website], sitting in a lame-duck session, on Tuesday passed a bill abolishing the state's death penalty [JURIST news archive]. The amended bill (SB3539) [amendment, text], approved [JURIST report] by the House last week, passed 35-22 [Chicago Tribune report] and now proceeds to Governor Pat Quinn [official website] for his signature or veto. 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 express concern over the possibility of innocent people being executed, especially after some people on death row have later been exonerated. Opponents argue, alternatively, 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; JURIST report], the number of countries using the death penalty dropped 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] said that "Troy Davis' case illustrates that US courts simply cannot provide the certainty necessary to impose an irreversible punishment; therefore the death penalty must be abolished."