Leigh Buchanan Bienen: Works

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Title: Capital Punishment in Illinois in the Aftermath of the Ryan Commutations: Reforms, Economic Realities, and a New Saliency for Issues of Cost
: Leigh B. Bienen
Publisher: Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology
Issue: Volume 100, Issue 4 (Fall), Article 2
Description: In 2000 when Governor George Ryan unilaterally imposed a statewide moratorium on executions in Illinois, in response to accumulating evidence of more than a dozen wrongfully convicted persons on death row in Illinois. In 1999 the Illinois legislature created the Capital Litigation Trust Fund, to allow private, appointed defense counsel, state’s attorneys, and public defenders to be paid directly for the expenses of a capital trial from state appropriated funds, upon the approval of the trial court judge… [excerpt from abstract]

This Article is dedicated to Neil Alan Weiner, distinguished homicide researcher, coauthor with Marvin Wolfgang and many others, and my longtime collaborator and friend. At the time of his untimely death in 2009, Neil Alan Weiner was Research Director at the Vera Institute of Justice, New York, New York.

Perhaps most telling is the view of Professor Joseph Hoffman, someone who has devoted enormous time and energy to death penalty reform, spearheading death penalty reform efforts in both Illinois and Indiana and serving as Co-Chair and Reporter for the Massachusetts Governor’s Council on Capital Punishment. Hoffman served as a member of an advisory group to discuss an earlier draft of this paper, and he strongly expressed the view that seeking reform of capital punishment in the political realm is futile. This is a striking position to take by one who is not morally opposed to the death penalty and who has worked on numerous reform projects. But Hoffman cited as grounds for his change of heart the example of Illinois, in which there were confirmed wrongful convictions in capital cases, a sympathetic Governor, and a bipartisan reform commission, but still strong resistance in the state legislature to reforms specifically targeted at capital punishment. In short, serious concerns about efficacy in the political realm militate against the undertaking of a new reform effort by the Institute.


When I first came to Illinois from New Jersey in 1995, nothing suggested change was coming in the pattern or practice of capital punishment in Illinois. There were more than 160 people on death row in Illinois. By contrast, in 1996 New Jersey had twelve people on death row. The New Jersey Office of the Public Defender had a strong statewide administrative structure and a centralized budget. The New Jersey Department of the Public Advocate spent millions of dollars for defense attorneys to challenge every aspect of every death sentence imposed after reenactment in 1982. The public defenders then brought each death sentence to the extraordinarily conscientious New Jersey Supreme Court for constitutional review and proportionality analysis…



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