legislation Blagojevich supports will prohibit the execution of
people judged to be mentally retarded, require prosecutors to
disclose promises made to witnesses in exchange for their testimony,
permit the court to decertify a death penalty case if the sole
evidence is uncorroborated testimony of a jailhouse informer or
accomplice, allow the state Supreme Court to overturn death
penalties if the sentenced is deemed fundamentally unjust, and
require the court to consider a defendant's background as a victim
of extreme emotional or physical abuse, among a host of reforms.
penalty reforms come on the heels of legislation signed by
Blagojevich on July 17 requiring the videotaping of all homicide
interrogations, making Illinois the first state in the nation to
voluntarily do so.
legislation is an important step to try to build trust and integrity
into our criminal justice system,” Blagojevich said.
support the death penalty, I am not convinced that these reforms can
immediately solve the problems facing our system of administering
the death penalty,” Blagojevich continued. “As a result, the
moratorium on capital punishment will remain in effect. Just as I
will not lift the moratorium until I can be convinced that our
system truly works, I will not rush into every proposed solution
The provision amendatorily vetoed by
Blagojevich deals with the decertification of police officers in
cases of alleged perjury. Under the provision, any defendant
indicted for homicide would have up to two years to file a complaint
against the police officer for committing perjury in their case
(there are 800 to 900 homicide cases each year in Illinois).
Regardless of the accusation's merit, the state's Law Enforcement
Training and Standards Board would be required to investigate every
accusation made by every homicide defendant. During that time, the
officer in question could be suspended without pay (even prior to an
investigation or final determination by the board), and any actions
taken by that officer or testimony offered by that officer could be
discredited by defense attorneys while the investigation proceeds.
If a majority of the board chooses to
authorize a hearing, the case is then brought before an
administrative law judge, who would use a lower, civil standard of
proof to determine whether the officer committed perjury. If the
judge recommends that the board decertify the officer, the board can
then vote to approve the recommendation.
This approach differs from the manner
in which perjury is currently addressed, in which a police officer
indicted for perjury is prosecuted in criminal court, where a higher
criminal standard of proof is used. As a result, if a jury finds,
beyond a reasonable doubt, that a police officer has committed
perjury, the officer's conviction can be appropriately used to
re-examine that officer's testimony and involvement in other cases.
“Police officers shouldn't be treated
different from anyone else. If a police officer is believed to have
committed perjury, charge them with perjury and prosecute them like
everyone else. Frankly, treating the police worse than everyone else
is offensive,” Blagojevich said.
Under the decertification provision
contained in the legislation, if the officer is found to have
committed perjury under the lower, civil standard of proof, the
defense attorney for the individual convicted of homicide could use
the board's determination to help obtain a new trial and as evidence
to overturn the client's conviction. Additionally, defense attorneys
on any other criminal case involving the decertified officer may use
the civil finding to attempt to overturn convictions in the same way
they would have used a felony conviction.
Blagojevich said that a defendant found
by a jury to be guilty of homicide beyond a reasonable doubt should
not be in a position to overturn that conviction based on a finding
of perjury by an administrative body determined under a lower
standard of proof.
Blagojevich also said that the
officer's civil decertification -- determined by a lower standard of
proof -- would carry the same weight as a criminal felony perjury
conviction and could help overturn criminal convictions in other
cases, including homicides, where that police officer was involved.
[to top of second column in this
Finally, Blagojevich said that the
accusation of perjury by a defendant convicted of homicide could be
used by a defense attorney to discredit the officer's actions or
testimony in other matters, even before the board has determined
that the complaint was warranted or that perjury occurred --
potentially jeopardizing criminal prosecutions across the state.
“Under the current provision, not only
would police officers accused of perjury by homicide defendants be
treated differently from everyone else, the potential clearly exists
to overturn hundreds of criminal convictions based on a finding of
perjury determined by a lower standard of proof. That means that a
determination of perjury under a lower civil standard could be used
to free individuals convicted of murder, robbery, rape and other
crimes under a tougher, criminal standard.”
The Law Enforcement Standards and
Training Board has also requested that the provision not take effect
as written, arguing that the provision's broad scope could lead to
nearly 1,000 accusations of perjury against police officers each
year. In a memo to Blagojevich, Thomas Jurkanian, executive director
of the board, wrote, “It should be anticipated, that the greater
majority, if not all, of defendants convicted of murder would file a
petition for an administrative review by the board. What do they
have to lose?”
The governor said that while he opposes
the bill's decertification provision as written, he supports all of
the other provisions of the bill, which will include:
--Prohibiting the execution of people
judged to be mentally retarded.
--Requiring prosecutors to disclose
promises made to witnesses in exchange for their testimony.
--Permitting the court to decertify a
death penalty case if the sole evidence is uncorroborated testimony
of a jailhouse informer or accomplice.
--Setting in place improvements to
police practices and pretrial investigative efforts.
--Requiring the court to consider a
defendant's background as a victim of extreme emotional or physical
abuse in passing sentence and whether he or she suffers from a
reduced mental capacity.
--Permitting a trial judge to set forth
reasons for not concurring with a death sentence.
--Allowing the state Supreme Court to
overturn death penalties if the sentenced is deemed fundamentally
--Mandating investigators turn over all
evidence to prosecutors.
--Allowing for DNA testing for any
In addition, the bill calls for studies
to gauge the impact of the reforms and test new procedures. The
legislation creates a 15-member Capital Punishment Reform Study
Committee, which will annually report for five years to the governor
and General Assembly on the impact of reforms that are being made to
the capital punishment system.
The bill creates a two-year program in
Cook County and three other areas of the state to study the
legislation Blagojevich signed on July 17 to implement the
videotaping or audiotaping of first-degree murder suspects. The
attorney general and state's attorneys also are required to adopt
guidelines on whether to seek the death penalty so it is uniformly
prosecuted across the state, and the Illinois State Police are to
choose three police departments to study sequential lineup
procedures that encourage witnesses to make an exact identification
rather than pick someone who appears similar to the offender.
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