Written by John Adams, Samuel Adams, and James Bowdoin, the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts of 1780 remains the oldest, and perhaps most influential, constitution in the country. It was so well conceived that it served as the model for the U.S. Constitution. Before its formal adoption, the Massachusetts Constitution was vigorously debated for four long years. In addition to the protections afforded to citizens by the U.S. Constitution, the Massachusetts Constitution’s Declaration of Rights provides Massachusetts citizens enumerated rights and safeguards against government action, including the right to retain a criminal defense lawyer.
Some of the protections bestowed by the Declaration of Rights duplicate those enumerated in the Bill of Rights, while others confer greater protection of individual liberties. Too few Massachusetts criminal defense attorneys utilize the additional protections afforded to Massachusetts citizens under the Declaration of Rights in defending their clients. A criminal defense lawyer who fails to specifically cite the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights in objections at trial or issues raised on an appeal may needlessly consign his client to a prison cell.
Below, please find the rights enshrined in the Declaration of Rights that apply to criminal accusations and proceedings.
No subject shall be held to answer for any crimes or offence, until the same is fully and plainly, substantially and formally, described to him; or be compelled to accuse, or furnish evidence against himself. And every subject shall have a right to produce all proofs, that may be favorable to him; to meet the witnesses against him face to face, and to be fully heard in his defense by himself, or his council at his election. And no subject shall be arrested, imprisoned, despoiled, or deprived of his property, immunities, or privileges, put out of the protection of the law, exiled, or deprived of his life, liberty, or estate, but by the judgment of his peers, or the law of the land.
And the legislature shall not make any law, that shall subject any person to a capital or infamous punishment, excepting for the government of the army and navy, without trial by jury.
In criminal prosecutions, the verification of facts in the vicinity where they happen, is one of the greatest securities of the life, liberty, and property of the citizen.
Every subject has a right to be secure from all unreasonable searches, and seizures, of his person, his houses, his papers, and all his possessions. All warrants, therefore, are contrary to this right, if the cause or foundation of them be not previously supported by oath or affirmation; and if the order in the warrant to a civil officer, to make search in suspected places, or to arrest one or more suspected persons, or to seize their property, be not accompanied with a special designation of the persons or objects of search, arrest, or seizure: and no warrant ought to be issued but in cases, and with the formalities prescribed by the laws.
Laws made to punish for actions done before the existence of such laws, and which have not been declared crimes by preceding laws, are unjust, oppressive, and inconsistent with the fundamental principles of a free government.
No magistrate or court of law, shall demand excessive bail or sureties, impose excessive fines, or inflict cruel or unusual punishments.