Bell v. State of Maryland

Decision Date22 June 1964
Docket NumberNo. 12,12
Citation12 L.Ed.2d 822,84 S.Ct. 1814,378 U.S. 226
PartiesRobert Mack BELL et al., Petitioners, v. STATE OF MARYLAND
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Jack Greenberg, New York City, for petitioners.

Loring E. Hawes and Russell R. Reno, Jr., Baltimore, Md., for respondent.

Ralph S. Spritzer, Washington, D.c., for United States, as amicus curiae, by special leave of Court.

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 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 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 ould 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, 83 S.Ct.1691, 10 L.Ed.2d 1030.

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 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, with-hold 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 both, for a consideration, and which is open to the general public * *.'1 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, directi g 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 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 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. F r 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 case the judgment is not yet final, for it is on direct review in this Court. This would thus seem to be a case where, as in Keller, the change of law has occurred 'pending an appeal on a writ of error from the judgment of an inferior court,' and hence where the Maryland Court of Appeals upon remand from this Court would render its decision 'in accordance with the law at the time of final judgment.' It thus seems that the Maryland Court of Appeals would take account of the supervening enactment of the city and state public accommodations laws and, applying the principle that a statutory offense which has 'ceased to exist is no longer punishable at all,' Beard v. State, supra, 74 Md. 130, 135, 21 A. 700, 702 (1891), would now reverse petitioners' convictions and order their indictments dismissed.

The Maryland common law is not, however, the only Maryland law that is relevant to the question of the effect of the supervening enactments upon these convictions. Maryland has a general saving clause statute which in certain circumstances 'saves' state convictions from the common-law effect of supervening enactments. It is thus necessary to consider the impact of that clause upon the present situation. The clause, Art. 1 Md. Code § 3 (1957), reads as follows:

'The repeal, or the repeal and reenactment, or the revision, amendment or consolidation of any statute, or of any section or part of a section of any statute civil or criminal, shall not have the effect to release, extinguish, alter, modify or change, in whole or in part, any penalty, forfeiture or liability, either civil or criminal, which shall have been incurred under such statute, section or part thereof, unless the repealing, repealing and re-enacting, revising, amending or consolidating act shall expressly so provide; and such statute, section or part thereof, so repealed, repealed and re- enacted, revised, amended or consolidated, shall be treated and held as still remaining in force for the purpose of sustaining any and all proper actions, suits, proceedings or prosecutions, civil or criminal, for the enforcement of such penalty, forfeiture or liability, as well as for the purpose of sustaining any judgment, decree or order which can or may be rendered, entered or made in such actions, suits, proceedings or prosecutions imposing, inflicting or...

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