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Ken Turchi
IU Maurer School of Law

Last modified: Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Illinois death penalty will end “with a whimper”: IU Maurer School of Law expert

Jan. 12, 2011

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Both houses of the Illinois legislature have voted to abolish the death penalty, sending the bill to the desk of Gov. Pat Quinn. Given the politics of the death penalty, this result was probably inevitable, according to a death penalty expert at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law.

Joseph Hoffmann

IU Maurer School of Law Professor Joseph Hoffmann

"The Illinois legislature's abolition bill is the penultimate stage of a political and legal drama that began many years earlier, when it was first demonstrated that there were innocent men on Illinois' Death Row," said Joseph L. Hoffmann, Harry Pratter Professor of Law. "Since then, the dysfunctional political dynamic surrounding the death penalty has made it impossible for Illinois -- even in the face of such horrendous legal mistakes -- to make the kinds of dramatic changes in the law that were clearly needed."

Hoffmann believes that serious and meaningful reform might have led to a more narrow, more certain, and more fair death penalty. "Conservatives didn't want serious reform because that would have made it harder to impose the death penalty," he explained, "and liberals didn't want serious reform because that would have made the death penalty more legitimate and thereby prolonged its existence. Given the failure of serious death penalty reform in Illinois, the end of this story was predictable.

"The death penalty in Illinois will end with a whimper, because neither side of the capital punishment debate proved willing to support the kinds of legal changes that would have addressed its problems," Hoffmann concluded.

A nationally recognized authority on the death penalty, Hoffmann has also written extensively about criminal procedure and habeas corpus law. He has served as co-chair and reporter for the Massachusetts Governor's Council on Capital Punishment, and has spearheaded death penalty reform efforts in Illinois and Indiana.

Hoffmann is available to comment on death penalty reform. He can be reached at 812-345-1520, or at