[The posts for today and tomorrow will be cross-posted, in slightly revised form, in the California Supreme Court Review.]

For the past two weeks, we’ve been taking a detailed look at the death penalty jurisprudence of the Illinois and California Supreme Courts here and at our sister blog the California Supreme Court Review.  This week, we’re comparing the two state supreme courts’ records in this area of law.  We begin in 1992, where our California Supreme Court database begins, and end in 2010, when Illinois abolished the death penalty.

In Table 744, we compare the yearly data for the total number of death penalty appeals in each Court.  As we see here, from 1992 to 2000, there were often more death penalty appeals in Illinois than in California.  In 1992 and 1993, California led: 33 to 23 in 1992 and 15 to 13 in 1993.  In 1994, Illinois had seventeen cases to only seven in California.  In 1996, Illinois handed down twenty death penalty decisions to only eight in California.  In 1997, the two states were tied – fourteen decisions apiece.  In 1998, Illinois had nineteen cases, California only thirteen.  In 1999, both states had six cases.  In 2000, Illinois had seventeen cases to only nine in California.

In May 2000, then-Governor George Ryan announced a moratorium on executions in Illinois, and death penalty appeals declined sharply. In 2000, Illinois decided seventeen cases to nine in California.  The next year, with the Illinois moratorium in place, Illinois’ death penalty appeals dropped to only seven, while California decided eleven cases.  From there, Illinois’ death penalty caseload dropped to almost nothing: five cases in 2002, three in 2003, two each year from 2004 to 2007, one in 2008, three in 2009 and four in 2010.  Meanwhile, California’s caseload remained relatively flat: 13 cases in 2002, 20 in 2003, 21 in 2004, 26 in 2005, 19 in 2006, 23 in 2007, 25 in 2008 and 24 per year in 2009 and 2010.  In 2010, the death penalty was abolished in Illinois.

So death penalty cases were more common in Illinois than California, notwithstanding the difference in population, prior to the Ryan moratorium.  But was Illinois more likely to reverse death judgments than California was?

As can be seen in Table 745, the answer is clear: the Illinois Supreme Court reversed death judgments significantly more often than the California Supreme Court did.  Prior to abolition in Illinois, California reversed one death penalty judgment per year in 1997, 1998, 2003 and 2008, and two judgments in 2009.  In contrast, Illinois reversed twice in 1992, once in 1993, three times in 1994, four in 1995, three in 1996 and 1998, two in 1999, three times in 2000, once in 2001, twice in 2002 and one time per year in 2004, 2005 and 2009.

Illinois was more likely to partially reverse death penalty judgments while overturning the penalty in the years leading up to the moratorium too.  California entered one such partial reversal in 1995, 1997, 2001 and 2002, three times in 2003, twice in 2004 and 2006 and once in 2007 and 2008.  Illinois partially reversed overturning the death penalty four times in 1992, twice in 1993, three times in 1994, once in 1995, twice in 1996, six times in 1997, twice in 1998, three times in 2000, three times in 2001 and once in 2002 and 2009.

Partial reversals affirming the death penalty were slightly more common in California than Illinois, even in the years before the moratorium.  There were nine such decisions in California in 1992 to three in 1992, one each in California and Illinois in 1993, none in California and one in Illinois in 1994, one in California to none in Illinois in 1995, two in California and four in Illinois in 1996, two in California and none in Illinois in 1997, one in California and three in Illinois in 1998, none in California and one in Illinois in 1999, and one in California and none in Illinois in 2000.

From the moratorium to Illinois abolition, partial reversals affirming the judgment were almost entirely exclusive to California: two in 2002, one in 2003, three in 2005, 2006 and 2007, four in 2008, three in 2009 and one in 2010, as compared to only one in Illinois in 2010.

Join us back here tomorrow as we continue our comparison between the death penalty caseloads in Illinois and California.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Juli Bee (no changes).