This Wednesday, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed a bill abolishing the death penalty in Illinois. After speaking with a variety of people on both sides of the issue, Gov. Quinn reached the conclusion that “our system of imposing the death penalty is inherently flawed [and] that it is impossible to devise a system that is consistent, free of discrimination…and always gets it right.” (Read the Governor’s statement here.) Governor Quinn expressed concern about wrongful convictions, racial discrimination, the lack of a deterrent effect, the financial strain imposed by capital punishment, and the failure of the death penalty to bring closure to victims’ families. Thus, Illinois became the 16th state to ban capital punishment. The inmates on death row have had their sentences converted to life without parole and the money that would have been used for their special housing and legal costs has been redirected to law enforcement and victim support groups.
Many in North Carolina took notice of Illinois’ historic step. “Even a flawless capital punishment system raises serious ethical questions,” wrote The Charlotte Observer, “But the truth is, the death penalty in America is nothing close to flawless. It is riddled with irreparable problems and needs to be abolished.” The paper argued, as did Governor Quinn, that the punishment of life without parole is sufficient to punish the offender and protect society from further harm – “without the risk of the state killing an innocent person.” The recent false evidence scandal at the state forensics lab is an indelible stain on the possibility of fairness in North Carolina capital cases.
Mark Kleinschmidt, of the Fair Trial Initiative and the NC Coalition for a Moratorium, has called upon North Carolina lawmakers to consider abolishing the death penalty in the Tarheel State. “We applaud Governor Quinn for recognizing that a fatally flawed system cannot be fixed and precious funds are much better spent on solving crimes and assisting victims,” said Kleinschmidt. He continued, “The capital punishment system in North Carolina is fraught with all of the same problems as Illinois. Innocent people have been sentenced to death, costs are exorbitant for such an ineffective policy, and recent studies have demonstrated significant racial bias.”
As the Death Penalty Information Center observes, there are now fewer active death penalty states in America than at any other time in the modern era. New Jersey abolished the death penalty in 2007, followed by New Mexico in 2009. The national tide is slowly shifting away from capital punishment. DW hopes that North Carolina will soon see its way to joining states like Illinois in choosing sound legal, correctional and fiscal policy over winning easy political points at the expense of human lives.