Shutting Down Death Row: Illinois' Death-Penalty Reforms May Presage a Fairer Criminal-Justice System

By Templeton, Jean M. | The American Prospect, July 2004 | Go to article overview

Shutting Down Death Row: Illinois' Death-Penalty Reforms May Presage a Fairer Criminal-Justice System


Templeton, Jean M., The American Prospect


CHANGE IN THE CRIMINAL-JUSTICE SYSTEM IS A rare thing. Change in death-penalty policy is even more rare. Yet Illinois undertook a comprehensive reassessment of its death-penalty system recently, passing reforms that will have far reaching impacts on how murder trials are handled in the state--and that could serve as a model for reform in the rest of the country.

Following the review, 11 men were released from death row, and the furor over the death penalty only escalated after the 1999 release of death-row inmate Anthony Porter. Porter had been convicted of a double murder, believed to be a holdup gone bad, in a Chicago park in 1982. A mere 50 hours before Porter's execution, his lawyers made a last ditch attempt to save him by asserting new questions about his mental competence. His execution was stayed, and in the intervening months, journalism students working in cooperation with a private detective located another man who confessed to the murder. Porter was released.

The case, and the flood of media attention that accompanied it, was enough to raise doubts about the death-penalty system even among death-penalty supporters, including George Ryan, then the Republican governor of Illinois. In early 2000, Ryan took the bold step of declaring a moratorium on executions in the state until a panel of experts, the Illinois Governor's Commission on Capital Punishment, could make recommendations about how the system might be improved. In 2002, after two years of intensive study, the blue-ribbon commission released a report making 85 recommendations for improving the state's capital-punishment system. Late last year, the Illinois Legislature adopted many of the recommended reforms, and current Governor Rod Blagojevich has pledged to continue the moratorium until the reforms' effectiveness can be assessed.

While both prosecution and defense supported many of the commission's recommendations, there were two that proved controversial. The first required videotaping of police interrogations; the second involved changes in lineup procedures to make eyewitness identifications more reliable. Both recommendations were initially opposed by law enforcement, and it took determined advocacy by legislators before they were included in last year's reforms. Now that they are law, they may produce far-reaching effects on the investigation of homicides in the state.

BECAUSE WE OFTEN BELIEVE THAT OUR EYES DON'T deceive us, we tend to think that eyewitness accounts of a crime are the very best evidence of what actually occurred. Certainly juries often find it persuasive. Unfortunately, as extensive investigation by psychologists has shown, eyewitness evidence may not be especially reliable. The Illinois commission therefore recommended broad changes in the procedures for police lineups.

In a lineup, an eyewitness to or victim of a serious crime views a group of people or photos at the police station. The crime suspect is among the group, and the witness is asked whether he or she can identify anyone in the lineup. Generally speaking, the law requires that the other people in the lineup bear some resemblance to the suspect's description so that the suspect won't stand out. If the witness or victim identifies one of the group, a report is made of the identification.

Research shows, however, that witnesses often choose the person in the lineup who looks most like the person who committed the crime. In other words, they make a relative judgment. This process may produce a correct identification if the actual suspect is present. But if he or she is not, many people will simply select the person who most resembles him or her. This selection of the wrong person, what social scientists call a "false positive," can lead to the prosecution of an innocent person.

In an effort to eradicate false positives, Iowa psychologist Gary Wells and others have developed an alternative identification procedure called a "sequential lineup. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Shutting Down Death Row: Illinois' Death-Penalty Reforms May Presage a Fairer Criminal-Justice System
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.