219 U.S. 219 (1911), 300, Bailey v. Alabama

Docket Nº:No. 300
Citation:219 U.S. 219, 31 S.Ct. 145, 55 L.Ed. 191
Party Name:Bailey v. Alabama
Case Date:January 03, 1911
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 219

219 U.S. 219 (1911)

31 S.Ct. 145, 55 L.Ed. 191

Bailey

v.

Alabama

No. 300

United States Supreme Court

January 3, 1911

Argued October 20, 21, 1910

ERROR TO THE SUPREME COURT

OF THE STATE OF ALABAMA

Syllabus

Prima facie evidence is sufficient to outweigh the presumption of innocence, and, if not met by opposing evidence, to support a verdict. Kelly v. Jackson, 6 Pet. 632.

The validity of a statute that authorizes a jury to convict on prima facie evidence must be judged by the fact that the jury may convict even if it is not made the duty of the jury to do so.

Although a state statute in terms be to punish fraud, if its natural and inevitable purpose is to punish for crime for failing to perform contracts of labor, thus compelling such performance, it violates the Thirteenth Amendment, and is unconstitutional.

A constitutional prohibition cannot be transgressed indirectly by creating a statutory presumption any more than by direct enactment, and a state cannot compel involuntary servitude in carrying out contracts of personal service by creating a presumption that the person committing the breach is guilty of intent to defraud merely because he fails to perform the contract.

While states may, without denying due process of law, enact that proof of one fact shall be prima facie evidence of the main fact in issue, the inference must not be purely arbitrary; there must be rational relation between the two facts, and the accused must have proper opportunity to submit all the facts bearing on the issue.

While its immediate concern was African slavery, the Thirteenth Amendment was a charter of universal civil freedom for all persons of whatever race, color, or estate, under the flag.

The words "involuntary servitude" have a larger meaning than slavery, and the Thirteenth Amendment prohibited all control by coercion of the personal service of one man for the benefit of another.

While the Thirteenth Amendment is self-executing, Congress has power to secure its complete enforcement by appropriate legislation and the Peonage Act of March 2, 1867, and §§ 1990 and 5526, Rev.Stat., are valid exercises of this authority. Clyatt v. United States, 197 U.S. 207.

A peon is one who is compelled to work for his creditor until his debt

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is paid, and the fact that he contracted to perform the labor which is sought to be compelled does not withdraw the attempted enforcement from the condemnation of the peonage acts.

The federal anti-peonage acts are necessarily violated by any state legislation which seeks to compel service or labor by making it a crime to fail or refuse to perform it.

Although this Court may not impute to a state an actual motive to oppress by a statute which that state enacts, it must consider the natural operation of such statute and strike it down if it becomes an instrument of coercion forbidden by the federal Constitution.

Section 4730 of the Code of Alabama as amended in 1907, insofar as it makes the refusal or failure to perform labor contracted for without refunding the money or paying for property received prima facie evidence of the commission of the crime defined by such section, and, when read in connection with the rule of evidence of that state, that the accused cannot testify in regard to uncommunicated motives, is unconstitutional as in conflict with the Thirteenth Amendment and of the legislation authorized by it and enacted by Congress

Quaere, and not necessary now to decide, whether such section is, under the Fourteenth Amendment, an unconstitutional deprivation of property without due process of law or denial of equal protection of the laws.

161 Ala. 78 reversed.

The facts, which involve the constitutionality of § 4730 of the Code of Alabama as construed by the courts of that state and the validity of a conviction thereunder, are stated in the opinion.

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HUGHES, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE HUGHES delivered the opinion of the Court:

This is a writ of error to review a judgment of the Supreme Court of the State of Alabama, affirming a judgment of conviction in the Montgomery City Court. The statute upon which the conviction was based is assailed as in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States upon the ground that it deprived the plaintiff in error of his liberty without due process of law and denied him the equal protection of the laws, and also of the Thirteenth Amendment, and of the act of Congress providing for the enforcement of that Amendment, in that the effect of the statute is to enforce involuntary servitude by compelling personal service in liquidation of a debt.

The statute in question is § 4730 of the Code of Alabama of 1896, as amended in 1903 and 1907. The section of the Code as it stood before the amendments provided that any person who, with intent to injure or defraud his employer, entered into a written contract for service, and thereby obtained from his employer money or other personal property, and with like intent and without just cause, and without refunding the money or paying for the property, refused to perform the service, should be punished as if he had stolen it. In 1903 (Gen. Acts, Ala., 1903, p. 345) the section was amended so as to make the refusal or failure to perform the service, or to refund the money, or pay for the property, without just cause, prima facie evidence of the intent to injure or defraud. This amendment was enlarged by that of 1907. Gen.Acts, Ala., 1907, p. 636. The section, thus amended, reads as follows:

Any person who, with intent to injure or defraud his

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employer, enters into a contract in writing for the performance of any act of service, and thereby obtains money or other personal property from such employer, and with like intent, and without just cause, and without refunding such money or paying for such property, refuses or fails to perform such act or service must on conviction be punished by a fine in double the damage suffered by the injured party, but not more than $300, one-half of said fine to go to the county and one-half to the party injured; and any person who, with intent to injure or defraud his landlord, enters into any contract in writing for the rent of land, and thereby obtains any money or other personal property from such landlord, and with like intent, without just cause, and without refunding such money or paying for such property, refuses or fails to cultivate such land, or to comply with his contract relative thereto, must on conviction be punished by fine in double the damage suffered by the injured party, but not more than $300, one-half of said fine to go to the county and one-half to the party injured. And the refusal or failure of any person who enters into such contract to perform such act or service or to cultivate such land or refund such money or pay for such property without just cause shall be prima facie evidence of the intent to injure his employer or landlord or defraud him. That all laws and parts of laws in conflict with the provisions hereof be and the same are hereby repealed.

There is also a rule of evidence enforced by the courts of Alabama, which must be regarded as having the same effect as if read into the statute itself, that the accused, for the purpose of rebutting the statutory presumption, shall not be allowed to testify "as to his uncommunicated motives, purpose, or intention." Bailey v. State, 161 Ala. 77, 78.

[31 S.Ct. 147] Bailey, the plaintiff in error, was committed for detention on the charge of obtaining fifteen dollars under a

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contract in writing with intent to injure or defraud his employer. He sued out a writ of habeas corpus challenging the validity of the statute. His discharge was refused, and the supreme court of the state affirmed the order, holding the statute to be constitutional. 158 Ala. 18. On writ of error from this Court, it was held that the case was brought here prematurely, and the questions now presented were expressly reserved. Bailey v. Alabama, 211 U.S. 452.

Having failed to obtain his release on habeas corpus, Bailey was indicted on the following charge:

The Grand Jury of said county charge that, before the finding of this indictment, Alonzo Bailey, with intent to injure or defraud his employer, the Riverside Company, a corporation, entered into a written contract to perform labor or services for the Riverside Company, a corporation, and obtained thereby the sum of fifteen dollars from the said the Riverside Company, and afterwards with like intent, and without just cause, failed or refused to perform such labor or services, or to refund such money, against the peace and dignity of the State of Alabama.

Motion to quash and a demurrer to the indictment were overruled. Upon the trial, the following facts appeared: on December 26, 1907, Bailey entered into a written contract with the Riverside Company, which provided:

That I, Lonzo Bailey, for and in consideration of the sum of Fifteen Dollars in money, this day in hand paid to me by said the Riverside Company, the receipt whereof I do hereby acknowledge, I, the said Lonzo Bailey, do hereby consent, contract, and agree to work and labor for the said Riverside Company as a farm hand on their Scott's Bend place in Montgomery County, Alabama, from the 30 day of Dec., 1907, to the 30 day of Dec., 1908, at and for the sum of 12.00 per month.

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And the said Lonzo Bailey agrees to render respectful and faithful service to the said the Riverside Company, and to perform diligently and actively all work pertaining to such employment, in accordance with the instructions of the said the Riverside Company or agent.

And the said the Riverside Company, in...

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