Illinois Rewrites Death Penalty Rules

S P R I N G F I E L D, Ill., Jan. 23, 2001 -- The Illinois Supreme Court has set new

rules to improve the state's capital punishment system, which in

the past quarter century has released more death row inmates than

it has executed.

The rules adopted Monday set minimum standards of training andexperience for defense lawyers and prosecutors in capital cases.

For example, the lead lawyer on each side must have at leastfive years of criminal litigation experience; previously none wasrequired. And judges who might preside over capital cases mustattend regional training seminars every two years.

Illinois has been the center of attention in the death penaltydebate since Gov. George Ryan halted all executions indefinitelynearly a year ago.

Ryan, a first-term Republican, made the decision because thestate had released 13 death row inmates who had been wronglyconvicted while executing just 12 others since capital punishmentwas reinstated in 1977.

Under the new rules, prosecutors must let defendants know morequickly if they intend to seek the death penalty. The rules alsospecify in writing the existing principle that prosecutors mustmake a good-faith effort to notify defense attorneys of evidencethat could help the defense.

The rules also establish new standards for disclosing DNAevidence and let trial judges decide if defense attorneys canquestion witnesses before trial. The guidelines, which becomeofficial in March, also provide seminars for judges who mightpreside over death penalty cases.

The head of one of the groups appointed by the state to studythe capital punishment system praised the court's move.

"Instead of Illinois being an example [of problems], we can bea leader in death penalty reform," said Republican state Rep. JimDurkin, who leads the House Prosecutorial Misconduct Committee.

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