23 January 2004

"Blanket" Means "Blanket"…
not "a good knock-down argument" (no apologies to Dr. Dodgson). The Illinois Supreme Court ruled today that Governor Ryan's blanket clemency of those on death row at the time he left office was within his power to do so, whatever technical "defects" may have been raised concerning clemency petitions. The most interesting observations are these:

Thus, in the typical case, an inmate who does not follow proper procedures will not get his petition before the Governor. The failure of the inmates listed in count I to consent to their petitions would have given then-Governor Ryan a basis to refuse to consider the petitions on their merits. This, however, was not the typical case. We take judicial notice of then-Governor Ryan's public statements in issuing these commutations (See Governor George Ryan, Address at Northwestern University Law School (January 11, 2003)), and it is apparent that he intended to grant blanket clemency because he believed that Illinois' death penalty system was broken. Thus, in this instance, the failure of certain inmates to consent to their petitions was irrelevant to the Governor. That does not mean, however, that section 3-3-13 does not play an important role in the clemency process.

*  *  *

Petitioners focus on the phrase "after conviction" in article V, section 12, of the Illinois Constitution. The constitution gives the Governor the power to grant "reprieves, commutations and pardons, after conviction, for all offenses on such terms as he thinks proper." According to petitioners, the term "conviction" sometimes refers to an adjudication of guilt and sometimes refers to both an adjudication of guilt and the imposition of a sentence, depending on the context in which it is used. People v. Woods, 193 Ill. 2d 483, 487 (2000). Petitioners contend that the use in article V, section 12, of the term "conviction" means a finding of guilt plus a sentence. In their reply brief, however, petitioners concede that with respect to the Governor's pardoning power, article V, section 12, allows the Governor to act following an adjudication of guilt. Petitioners argue that the single term "conviction" in this section means two different things:

"Accordingly, in the context of the Governor's pardon power, the term 'after conviction' means after a guilty verdict, regardless of whether there is a sentence. By contrast, in the commutation power, the term 'conviction' must include an existing sentence."

We cannot agree with petitioners that "conviction" means two different things in article V, section 12. Rather, we believe that the framers intended the word to have its commonly understood meaning, which is an adjudication of guilt.

People ex rel. Madigan v. Snyder (23 Jan. 2004).

This is a striking example of desperate attempts by the anti-clemency forces to apply a "form over substance" standard to clemency petitions. I have nothing whatsoever against the victims; I realize that this decision may come as a blow to some of them. Remember, however, that retribution, deterrence, incapacitation, and rehabilitation are only the elements by which an actual punishment imposed may be evaluated for its social effect. While consideration of justice cannot be blind to those four elements, neither can it be ruled by them. Governor Ryan made a compelling case that he could not be absolutely certain that the Illinois system had properly sentenced the right people—both inclusively and exclusively—to death. Given the discretion he has within the Illinois Constitution, the ultimate result of this case should have been obvious. This leads one to question the actual motives of the government officials involved in opposing the clemency order—most particularly whether their own ambitions overcame their good sense. <SARCASM> Presuming that, as elected officials in a state with a proud heritage of voting fraud, they have any good sense. Or thoughts of their own, for that matter. </SARCASM> (Article 88 does not apply; not only am I no longer under its jurisdiction, but I am not expressing contempt. I am expressing that they are beneath contempt.)

The irony that Lisa Madigan, who replaced Jim Ryan (one of the officials implicated, but not punished, in the Rolando Cruz wrongful-conviction saga) as state Attorney General, continued this battle is a bit much. Would it surprise anyone to learn that she's a relative of the Democratic leader of the state House of Representatives? I didn't think so.

Law is merely politics continued by other means. These are some of the other means.