Raising the Burden of Proof in Death Cases

A bipartisan group of Illinois legislators have introduced a bill to raise the burden of proof in capital cases to "beyond all doubt."

House Minority Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego) and Rep. Jay Hoffman (D-Collinsville) are among a group of tough-on-crime legislators who introduced the legislation that underscores a commitment to prevent any executions unless there is absolute certainty of a person's guilt.

"It ensures, we believe, that innocent people are not sentenced to death," Cross said. "Just because I'm for the death penalty doesn't mean we should sentence people that are innocent to Death Row." ....If there remained what the legislation calls "residual doubt" during the sentencing phase of a capital trial, the defendant would be sentenced to life in prison instead of lethal injection.

Some legislators who oppose the death penalty fear this will lead to a lifting of the moratorium on the death penalty instituted in 2000 by foromer Ill. Governor George Ryan. Others believe the change would not survive court challenges because of dual standards of proof--beyond a reasonable doubt for the guilt phase and beyond all doubt for the penalty phase.

The Illinois Supreme Court, which consistently rules against attempts to define reasonable doubt, would likely reject two standards in a death penalty case, said Gorman, the spokesman for Devine.

A state commission appointed by Ryan that looked into death penalty reforms rejected a higher standard than reasonable doubt to define guilt because it would undermine the due process rights of both the accused and the prosecution, Gorman said.

If passed, Illinois prosecutors would have the strictest burden of proof in the country in capital cases.

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    Re: Raising the Burden of Proof in Death Cases (none / 0) (#1)
    by Jlvngstn on Sat Feb 26, 2005 at 09:30:46 AM EST
    Of the 177 released prisoners, how many would have falled under "beyond all doubt?" This is a stupid attempt to reword the sentencing to keep the death penalty. Every one of the people exonerated was "certainly guilty" and in fact some are still considered guilty by the prosecutors that tried them. When an eyewitness says "without a doubt that is him" is that considered "beyond all doubt"? Because 20 years later, lots of folks cleared through DNA were originally "without a doubt" the perpetrators.

    Re: Raising the Burden of Proof in Death Cases (none / 0) (#2)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sat Feb 26, 2005 at 05:31:06 PM EST
    One word: RIDICULOUS!!!!!

    Re: Raising the Burden of Proof in Death Cases (none / 0) (#3)
    by john horse on Sun Feb 27, 2005 at 04:17:30 AM EST
    The only way to ensure that "innocent people are not sentenced to death" is by abolishing the death penalty. There is no foolproof system of anything when it comes to humans. Humans make mistakes. We're fallible. These legislators sound like the bureaucrats in the Wizard of Oz who want to certify that the witch is "positively, absolutely, undeniably and reliably (and after being) thoroughly examined... not only merely dead. She's really most sincerely dead." Just substitute "guilty" for "dead."

    Re: Raising the Burden of Proof in Death Cases (none / 0) (#4)
    by Kitt on Sun Feb 27, 2005 at 02:59:04 PM EST
    I've been thinking about this..."beyond a reasonable doubt" versus "beyond all doubt" because something between those two phrases defies logic. I can't quite pinpoint it. This illustrates it a bit: "This will be the first time that a statute will suggest to Illinois citizens, 12 people at a time, that it's OK to judge the guilt of the person going to prison for the rest of their life and still feel a little wiggly on it," Lyons said.' Now by 'wiggly' my presumption is twinges of doubt.