Over the last decade, the most important events in American death pen-alty law have occurred outside the courts. The discovery of numerous wrongfully convicted death-sentenced inmates in Illinois led to the most substantial reflection on the American death penalty system since the late 1960s and early 1970s. Former Illinois Governor George Ryan, a Republi-can, first declared a moratorium on executions in 2000 and eventually commuted all 167 inmates on Illinois’s death row in 2003. The events in Illinois reverberated nationwide. Almost overnight, state legislative agendas shifted from expanding or maintaining the prevailing reach of the death penalty to studying its operation and limiting its reach. Unlike the issues of racial and economic disparities, the issue of wrongful convictions has had real public and political traction. Of course, the prospect of executing innocents has always lurked as a potential concern for the death penalty, but the apparent breadth of the problem in Illinois, coupled with the increased sophistication of DNA testing as a potential means of identifying innocents, pushed the issue to the social and political fore.
The Revolution Enters the Court: The Constitutional Significance of Wrongful Convictions in Contemporary Constitutional Regulation of the Death Penalty,
Mich. L. Rev. First Impressions
Available at: http://repository.law.umich.edu/mlr_fi/vol105/iss1/12