Keeping death penalty ban good for Illinois

It’s ironic that the first act we support by our new governor is a continuation of policy enacted by our former governor in prison (it’s even more ironic that we may have to specify beyond that which governor that is in the coming months). On Friday, Gov. Pat Quinn announced that he doesn’t plan to lift the state’s death penalty moratorium, which has been in place since former Gov. George Ryan first put it into effect back in 1999. As one of Quinn’s first major executive acts, this is a solid declaration.

While this particular decision may not be Gov. Quinn’s top priority – that honor goes to our economic troubles – it’s still an important issue to confront. It is one that many people and, more particularly, the 15 people on death row as well as their families, have been awaiting.

No one has been executed since 2000 when Ryan cited more than a dozen cases where people were wrongfully put to death. No matter the morality of the issue or which side of the debate you identify with, the evidence was overwhelming that our judicial system needs a serious assessment before more innocent individuals were executed. Ryan’s decision to instate the death penalty ban was one of his few bright spots. Rod Blagaojevich let the ban continue and now Quinn has decided to keep the status quo while he tends to more urgent problems. And there are plenty of them.

To completely lift the moratorium as a new governor would be a poor decision. All eyes are on the new governor right now, so he can’t afford to make mistakes – least of all the lethal mistakes made possible under the allowance of a death penalty. Quinn has acknowledged as much; too many mistakes occurred in the past, he said, and he doesn’t want his name attached to any new ones.

While Quinn has stated before that he supports capital punishment, it’s a responsible decision to put his political ideals aside, especially considering Illinois’ recent problems. And though scientific and medical advancement in the last nine years certainly have aided in vindicating the innocent, before he does anything drastic, he needs to make sure there are safeguards in place. Or else, he said, it would weigh on everyone’s conscience.

But until then, it’s good that Quinn isn’t going to take action. The issue itself may be a decisive one, but you can’t argue that any system executing innocent people is working. We look forward to the day when we can be more confident in our judicial system to only persecute guilty individuals. And when that day comes, the fight for whether or not the death penalty is the proper means to punish criminals will resurface.

But today there is no debate. Put one in the “win” column for Quinn.