Massachusetts State House.
Policy Library

Commonwealth v. O’Neal

May 01, 1975

The Boston Bar Association filed its first brief opposing the death penalty in Commonwealth v. O’Neal, a case regarding the constitutionality of a law mandating use of the death penalty for a murder committed in the course of rape or attempted rape. The brief argued that the death penalty is not an effective deterrent for a rapist-murderer because such a defendant would not consider variations in punishments given their twisted and psychotic mental state. The brief also established mainstays of the BBA’s arguments against the death penalty: the possibility of mistake, the disparate impact on minorities, and the massive expenses inherent in these cases. The court overturned the state’s unconstitutional mandatory death penalty provision.