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  • Massachusetts’ varied history with the death penalty

    WAMC Northeast Public Radio - 04/22/2015

    Michael Meltsner is a professor at Northeastern University School of Law, where he previously served as dean. He was also the first assistant counsel to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund helping to bring forward cases that led to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1972 decision in Furman V. Georgia, which at the time placed a moratorium on the death penalty. As Massachusetts was one of the most developed colonial areas in the 17th century, he says British common law was introduced to the land.

    “And it was quite ferocious,” Meltsner said. “There were several hundred crimes that could lead to capital punishment in England at the time. They included what we would regard as relatively trivial offenses; stealing clothes from bleaching grounds, forgery and so forth. So initially both that influence and the influence of the Puritans led to a kind of healthy use of the death penalty or at least finding it in the statute books in Massachusetts from the beginning.”

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