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There is currently no death penalty in Massachusetts, life without the possibility of parole being the only punishment for first-degree murder. The federal government prosecutes capital cases within Massachusetts, however. On November 7, 2007, House lawmakers again overwhelmingly rejected a bill to reinstate the death penalty by a vote of 46 - 110…
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Download file to see previous pages In total, there have been approximately 345 executions within Massachusetts, including 26 convicted of witchcraft.
Until 1951, murder in the first degree called for a mandatory punishment of death. In 1951, the law was changed to allow the jury the discretion to recommend against a death sentence after considering mitigating circumstances - in which case the sentence would be life imprisonment -unlessthe murder was committed in connection with a rape or attempted rape, in which case the death sentence was mandatory.
In 1968, voters expressed disapproval with this trend in a non-binding referendum, voting 49 to 31 percent in support of continued use of the death penalty. During the 1970's and 80's, a series of judicial rulings eventually eliminated the death penalty altogether under Massachusetts law:
In 1972, the US Supreme Court decision of Furman vs. Georgia, threw out Georgia's death penalty as cruel and unusual, citing the arbitrary and capricious manner in which it was administered, and leading to capital statutes throughout the country being overturned. For Massachusetts, this meant that the discretionary death penalty for murder was nullified, but the mandatory death penalty for rape-murder was left intact for the time being (Cf.Commonwealth v. Harrington, 1975).
On October 28, 1980, the SJC ruled inDistrict Attorney for the Suffolk Dist. v. Watsonthat a new capital statute signed into law by Governor Edward King the previous November (c. 488, Acts of 1979) was unconstitutionally cruel for all the reasons laid out inO'Nealand their opinion of the proposed 1977 bill. On November 2, 1982, voters approved by referendum (54 to 35 percent) an amendment to Article 26. The amendment, Article 116of the Massachusetts Constitution, states that: No provision of the Constitution... shall be construed as prohibiting the imposition of the punishment of death.
This completed the amendment process, which had been initiated in 1980 by legislators acted quickly to draft another new death penalty bill. On December 15, 1982, the House and Senate passed legislation providing for capital punishment for first-degree murder. The bill was signed into law (c. 554, Acts of 1982) a week later by Governor King and went into effect on January 1st.
This 1982 statute was invalidated by the SJC on October 18, 1984 in the case ofCommonwealth v. Colon-Cruz. While the death penaltyper sewas no longer forbidden by the Constitution, this particular statute improperly encouraged defendants in murder cases to plead guilty rather than face a jury trial, thus avoiding the possibility of the death sentence, and violating the right against self-incrimination and the right to trial by jury. Massachusetts has remained without a valid death penalty law ever since. Subsequent attempts to reinstate the death penalty have failed: By the time of theColon-Cruzdecision, Michael Dukakis had become governor again. Throughout these two terms, a nearly evenly divided legislature never passed a bill - which the governor would have certainly vetoed.
In 1991, William Weld became governor. He, and every governor since, argued for death ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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