Gov. Bruce Rauner seems to be one of the few people in Illinois who misses the death penalty. There has been no mass outcry for its reinstatement from the law enforcement community or from the people of Illinois, who seem content to avoid the harsh injustices and added expense that capital punishment brought with it.
There has never been convincing evidence that capital punishment deters people from becoming murderers. Rather, our experience since the death-penalty moratorium confirms that there is not a correlation between the murder rate and executions.
Whatever its motivation, Rauner’s proposal to restore the death penalty for mass killers and people who murder law enforcement officers reflects a lack of experience with the issue. The late U.S. Sen. Paul Simon, a co-chair of the 13-member death-penalty review commission, warned us in 2000 that states cannot create a death penalty that protects only peace officers. Firefighters will be the next to demand the same protection; after them it will be the EMTs.
Historically, the death penalty has always escaped its boundaries. As soon as it exists, it expands. A death-qualifier for multiple murders will soon face demands that it be enlarged to include torture murders, child murders or terrorist murders. Every person has a different moral sense of what is the worst of the worst. And when capital punishment exists, each constituency demands that its own sense of morality be vindicated.
We will soon be back to where we were, with the inevitable return of what is truly the worst of the worst for any system of justice: sentencing the innocent to die, which has happened too often in the highly charged atmosphere of capital cases.