Death Penalty Committee Issues Final Report
Recommendations made to state supreme court
Mark R. Madler
American Lawyer Media
November 3, 2000
The Illinois Supreme Court's Committee on Capital Cases released its final report this week highlighting measures that should be taken to improve cases involving the death penalty.
The 104-page report was submitted Wednesday to the state supreme court justices, who now must act on the recommendations that include creating a capital litigation bar; amending rules of professional conduct to state a prosecutor must seek justice not merely a conviction; use of discovery depositions at the discretion of the trial court; and standardized discovery rules for DNA evidence.
In a prepared release, Committee Chairman Cook County Criminal Court Judge Thomas Fitzgerald said he was proud of the work the members did.
"(I) believe that the proposed rules will be part of a process that is leading to a dramatic improvement in the way capital cases are litigated in our state," Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald, who is from Cook County, is running unopposed in the Nov. 7 general election for a seat on the state supreme court.
The committee was created in April 1999 to assess the death penalty system and its application following the release of Anthony Porter from Death Row for a murder he didn't commit.
Illinois Governor George Ryan ordered a moratorium on executions in January in light of 13 Death Row prisoners being released after state courts found that they had been convicted of crimes they did not commit. The governor also appointed his own special commission to look into improving the capital punishment system.
Along with Fitzgerald, committee members included one appellate court justice and 15 circuit court judges from around the state.
The body's initial recommendations were released in October 1999, and three months later two public hearings were held in Chicago and Springfield to take input from lawyers on any changes that should be made.
"Insightful comments received from prosecutors, members of the defense bar, and representatives of a variety of legal organizations assisted the committee in refining and improving its original proposals," the executive summary of the report said.
Many of the revisions made to the original proposals were limited to discovery procedures.
For instance, the final report inserted a "good faith" clause into the proposal that prosecutors specifically identify material favorable to the defense that is known when the material is turned over.
A new proposal recommended by the committee was to amend the state supreme court's rule on professional conduct to read that a prosecutor must seek the truth and not only a conviction.
The language is similar to that of the American Bar Association Standards for Criminal Justice and was unanimously recommended "to provide a clear statement of the fundamental responsibility of an ethical prosecutor," the report said.
In the report's conclusion, the committee stated that capital crimes should continue to be prosecuted in Illinois and recognized that while some people may not think the proposals go far enough, the members were confident that the recommendations to the court "will significantly improve capital trials and reduce the risk of trial error."