The SJC, more skeptical of the legality of the death penalty than its federal counterpart in Washington, also pointed out in a 1980 case (Suffolk District Attorney v. Watson) that state provisions may more strongly protect against capital punishment than the federal Eighth Amendment's ban against "cruel and unusual punishments." Concurring with the court's decision to strike down a newly enacted death-penalty law, Justice Paul Liacos stressed that the Massachusetts Constitution, which prohibits cruel or unusual punishment, "stands on its own footing," and could extend further than the Eighth Amendment because it explicitly bans punishment "if it be either 'cruel' or 'unusual.'"

While this may appear to be splitting hairs, there's little doubt that the disturbing degradations of the federal criminal-justice system have motivated Massachusetts courts to emphasize, in sometimes small but always meaningful ways, special state protections for life and liberty. As shown in the SJC's Miranda decision, criminal justice in the Bay State may not be perfect, but it provides more integrity and fairness than its federal counterpart.

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  Topics: News Features , Suffolk County, Supreme judicial court, Federal court
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