Massachusetts - Death Penalty Considered Illegal


No laws authorizing capital punishment have been passed since the 1984 Commonwealth v. Abimael Colon-Cruz decision. The United States Department of Justice considers Massachusetts to have no death penalty.
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On Oct. 28, 1980, the State Supreme Court ruled in District Attorney for the Suffolk Dist. v. Watson that the death penalty law in Massachusetts was unconstitutional.

On November 2, 1982 Massachusetts voters passed a referendum (54 to 35 percent) amending their state constitution to read as follows:

"Article CXVI. Article XXVI of part 1 of the Constitution of the Commonwealth is hereby amended by adding the following two sentences: No provision of the Constitution, however, shall be construed as prohibiting the imposition of the punishment of death. The general court may, for the purpose of protecting the general welfare of the citizens, authorize the imposition of the punishment of death by the courts of law having jurisdiction of crimes subject to the punishment of death."

The legislature then passed a law authorizing the death penalty which Governor Edward King signed on Dec. 12, 1984.

On Oct. 18, 1984, the State Supreme Court ruled 4-3 in Commonwealth v. Abimael Colon-Cruz that the state’s death penalty law was unconstitutional. The Boston Globe reported on Oct. 19, 1984: "The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled yesterday that the state's revised death penalty law is unconstitutional because it encourages defendants in murder cases to plead guilty rather than face a jury trial, thus avoiding the possibility of the death sentence… In leaving the way open for possible legislation on a new capital punishment law, the majority justices said, 'We do not consider that our invalidation of this statute is equivalent to prohibiting the imposition of the punishment of death.'"

No laws authorizing capital punishment have been passed since the 1984 Commonwealth v. Abimael Colon-Cruz decision. The United States Department of Justice considers Massachusetts to have no death penalty.


Sources:

187th General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, "Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts," www.malegislature.gov (accessed Aug. 15, 2012)

Bureau of Justice Statistics, "Capital Punishment 1984," www.bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov (accessed Aug. 21, 2012)

Joseph M. Harvey, "Mass. Death Penalty Ruled Illegal," www.nodp.org (accessed Aug. 23, 2012)