Illinois State's Attorneys Association troubled by Rauner's proposed burden of proof in death penalty cases
Gov. Bruce Rauner is asking Illinois lawmakers to reinstate the death penalty under a burden of proof never before used in American courts.
That’s just one of the concerns the Illinois State’s Attorneys Association has with the governor’s May 14 amendatory veto of HB 1468, a gun control measure the General Assembly sent to him in mid-March.
In a May 21 letter to the House Judiciary-Criminal Committee, association members cautioned lawmakers that the changes to the Illinois Criminal Code proposed by the governor are “significant and sweeping,” and deserve adequate time for further “reflection and study.”
Under the governor’s language, the death penalty, abolished in 2011, would be reinstated when police officers, or two or more people, are murdered. The burden of proof required to convict in those cases would rise from “beyond a reasonable doubt” – now used in all criminal cases – to “beyond all doubt.”
In his veto statement, Rauner said that he wanted to raise the standard because of concerns about executing the innocent.
But the standard the governor is asking for is “unprecedented and untested in American jurisprudence,” John Milhiser, association president and Sangamon County State’s Attorney, wrote.
“For more than 240 years the burden of proof in criminal cases has been beyond a reasonable doubt,” he wrote. “Changing the burden of proof to a ‘beyond all doubt’ standard is complex and involves constitutional and legal concerns that cannot be evaluated in the brief time allotted.”
“Regardless of where our individual members stand on death penalty reinstatement, any new legislative scheme arguably comes with pitfalls and must be properly and thoughtfully weighed," Milhiser continued. "Any attempt to simplify this process fails to acknowledge the significance of such an important and grave act.”
Another change proposed by the governor would require transparency in plea deals struck by prosecutors.
“We deserve to know how violent offenders are allowed back on our streets,” Rauner said.
Milhiser wrote that negotiated plea deals are a necessary part of the criminal justice system, one that would be less effective if it were an open process.
“Imposing a duty to disclose reasons for a plea agreement, however, will interfere with the resolution of criminal cases and is not in the interest of justice,” he wrote.
Milhiser objected to another change proposed by the governor that could erode a prosecutor’s immunity in certain cases.
On the gun control side, the governor’s amendatory veto supported extending a 72-hour waiting period for delivery to all gun purchases in Illinois. It also supported banning bump stocks and trigger cranks.
Lawmakers have three choices with the governor’s amendatory veto: they could accept it through a simple majority vote; enact the bill they sent to him back in March with a three-fifths majority vote; or do nothing and neither version becomes law.