378 U.S. 226 (1964), 12, Bell v. Maryland

Docket Nº:No. 12
Citation:378 U.S. 226, 84 S.Ct. 1814, 12 L.Ed.2d 822
Party Name:Bell v. Maryland
Case Date:June 22, 1964
Court:United States Supreme Court

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378 U.S. 226 (1964)

84 S.Ct. 1814, 12 L.Ed.2d 822




No. 12

United States Supreme Court

June 22, 1964

Argued October 14-15, 1963



Petitioners, Negro "sit-in" demonstrators, were asked to leave a Baltimore restaurant solely because of their race, refused to do so, and were convicted of violating Maryland's criminal trespass law. The convictions were affirmed by the highest state court. Subsequent to that affirmance, and prior to disposition of the case on writ of certiorari in this Court, the City of Baltimore and the State of Maryland enacted "public accommodations" laws, applicable to Baltimore, making it unlawful for restaurants to deny their services to any person because of his race.

Held: The judgments of the Maryland Court of Appeals are vacated and reversed, and the case is remanded to that court so that it may consider whether the convictions should be nullified in view of the supervening change in state law. Pp. 227-242.

(a) The effect of the public accommodations laws appears to be that petitioners' conduct in refusing to leave the restaurant after being asked to do so because of their race would not be a crime today; that conduct is now recognized as the exercise of a right, and the law's prohibition is directed not at them, but at the restaurant proprietor who would deny them service because of their race. P. 230.

(b) The common law rule, followed in Maryland, requires the dismissal of pending criminal proceedings charging conduct which, because of a supervening change in state law, is no longer deemed criminal; that rule would apparently apply to this case, which was pending in this Court at the time of the supervening legislation. Pp. 230-232.

(c) Although Maryland has a "saving clause" statute which in, certain circumstances, saves state convictions from the effect of that rule, there is reason to doubt that the statute would be held applicable to this case. Pp. 232-237.

(d) When a change in the applicable state law intervenes between decision of a case by the highest state court and decision on review here, the Court's practice is to vacate and reverse the judgment and remand the case to the state court, so that it may

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reconsider it in the light of the change in state law; that practice should be followed here. Pp. 237-242.

227 Md. 302,176 A.2d 771, vacated, reversed, and remanded.

BRENNAN, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioners, 12 Negro students, were convicted in a Maryland state court as a result of their participation in a "sit-in" demonstration at Hooper's restaurant in [84 S.Ct. 1816] the City of Baltimore in 1960. The convictions were based on a record showing in summary that a group of 15 to 20 Negro students, including petitioners, went to Hooper's restaurant to engage in what their counsel describes as a "sit-in protest" because the restaurant would not serve Negroes. The "hostess," on orders of Mr. Hooper, the president of the corporation owning the restaurant, told them, "solely on the basis of their color," that they would

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not be served. Petitioners did not leave when requested to by the hostess and the manager; instead, they went to tables, took seats, and refused to leave, insisting that they be served. On orders of Mr. Hooper, the police were called, but they advised that a warrant would be necessary before they could arrest petitioners. Mr. Hooper then went to the police station and swore out warrants, and petitioners were accordingly arrested.

The statute under which the convictions were obtained was the Maryland criminal trespass law, § 577 of Art. 27 of the Maryland Code, 1957 edition, under which it is a misdemeanor to

enter upon or cross over the land, premises or private property of any person or persons in this State after having been duly notified by the owner or his agent not to do so.

The convictions were affirmed by the Maryland Court of Appeals, 227 Md. 302, 176 A.2d 771 (1962), and we granted certiorari. 374 U.S. 805.

We do not reach the questions that have been argued under the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. It appears that a significant change has taken place in the applicable law of Maryland since these convictions were affirmed by the Court of Appeals. Under this Court's settled practice in such circumstances, the judgments must consequently be vacated and reversed, and the case remanded so that the state court may consider the effect of the supervening change in state law.

Petitioners' convictions were affirmed by the Maryland Court of Appeals on January 9, 1962. Since that date, Maryland has enacted laws that abolish the crime of which petitioners were convicted. These laws accord petitioners a right to be served in Hooper's restaurant, and make unlawful conduct like that of Hooper's president and hostess in refusing them service because of their race. On June 8, 1962, the City of Baltimore enacted its Ordinance No. 1249, adding § 10A to Art. 14A of the

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Baltimore City Code (1950 ed.). The ordinance, which by its terms took effect from the date of its enactment, prohibits owners and operators of Baltimore places of public accommodation, including restaurants, from denying their services or facilities to any person because of his race. A similar "public accommodations law," applicable to Baltimore City and Baltimore County, though not to some of the State's other counties, was adopted by the State Legislature on March 29, 1963. Art. 49B Md. Code § 11 (1963 Supp.). This statute went into effect on June 1, 1963, as provided by § 4 of the Act, Acts 1963, c. 227. The statute provides that:

It is unlawful for an owner or operator of a place of public accommodation or an agent or employee of said owner or operator, because of the race, creed, color, or national origin of any person, to refuse, withhold from, or deny to such person any of the accommodations, advantages, facilities and privileges of such place of public accommodation. For the purpose of this subtitle, a place of public accommodation means any hotel, restaurant, inn, motel or an establishment commonly known or recognized as regularly engaged in the business of providing sleeping accommodations, or serving food, or [84 S.Ct. 1817] both, for a consideration, and which is open to the general public. . . .1

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It is clear from these enactments that petitioners' conduct in entering or crossing over the premises of Hooper's restaurant after being notified not to do so because of their race would not be a crime today; on the contrary, the law of Baltimore and of Maryland now vindicates their conduct and recognizes it as the exercise of a right, directing the law's prohibition not at them, but at the restaurant owner or manager who seeks to deny them service because of their race.

An examination of Maryland decisions indicates that, under the common law of Maryland, the supervening enactment of these statutes abolishing the crime for which petitioners were convicted would cause the Maryland Court of Appeals at this time to reverse the convictions and order the indictments dismissed. For Maryland follows the universal common law rule that, when the legislature repeals a criminal statute or otherwise removes the State's condemnation from conduct that was formerly deemed criminal, this action requires the dismissal of a pending criminal proceeding charging such conduct. The rule applies to any such proceeding which at the time of the supervening legislation, has not yet reached final disposition in the highest court authorized to review it. Thus, in Keller v. State, 12 Md. 322 (1858), the statute under which the appellant had been indicted and convicted was repealed by the legislature after the case had been argued on appeal in the Court of Appeals, but before that court's decision, although the repeal was not brought to the notice of the court until after the judgment of affirmance had been announced. The appellant's subsequent motion to correct the judgment was granted, and the judgment was reversed. The court explained, id. at 325-327:

It is well settled that a party cannot be convicted after the law under which he may be prosecuted has been repealed, although the offence may have been

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committed before the repeal. . . . The same principle applies where the law is repealed, or expires pending an appeal on a writ of error from the judgment of an inferior court. . . . The judgment in a criminal cause cannot be considered as final and conclusive to every intent, notwithstanding the removal of the record to a superior court. If this were so, there would be no use in taking the appeal or suing out a writ of error. . . . And so, if the law be repealed pending the appeal or writ of error, the judgment will be reversed, because the decision must be in accordance with the law at the time of final judgment.

The rule has since been reaffirmed by the Maryland court on a number of occasions. Beard v. State, 74 Md. 130, 135, 21 A. 700, 702 (1891); Smith v. State, 45 Md. 49 (1876); State v. Gambrill, 115 Md. 506, 513, 81 A. 10, 12 (1911); State v. Clifton, 177 Md. 572, 574, 10 A.2d 703, 704 (1940).2

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[84 S.Ct. 1818] It is true that the present case is factually distinguishable, since here the legislative abolition of the crime for which petitioners were convicted occurred after rather, than before, the decision of the Maryland Court of Appeals. But that fact would seem irrelevant. For the purpose of applying the rule of the Maryland common law, it appears that the only question is whether the legislature acts before the affirmance of the conviction becomes final. In the present...

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