Hawker v. People of New York

Decision Date18 April 1898
Docket NumberNo. 415,415
Citation42 L.Ed. 1002,170 U.S. 189,18 S.Ct. 573
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

In 1878, the plaintiff in error (defendant below) was tried and convicted in the court of sessions of Kings county, N. Y., of the crime of abortion, and sentenced to imprisonment in the penitentiary for the term of 10 years. In 1893 the legislature of the state of New York passed an act entitled the 'Public Health Law' (Laws 1893, c. 661), which, as amended by the Laws of 1895 (chapter 398), provides, among other things, as follows:

'See. 153. Any person who, * * * after conviction of a felony, shall attempt to practice medicine, or shall so practice, * * * shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and on conviction thereof shall be punished by a fine of not more than two hundred and fifty dollars, or imprisonment for six months for the first offense, and on conviction of any subsequent offense, by a fine of not more than five hundred dollars, or imprisonment for not less than one year, or by both fine and imprisonment.'

Under this statute, defendant was indicted in April, 1896, in the court of general sessions of the peace for the city and county of New York. The indictment alleged the conviction in 1878, and charged that, having been so convicted of the crime and felony of abortion, defendant did, on the 22d day of February, 1896, in the city of New York, unlawfully practice medicine, 'by then and there unlawfully examining, treating, and prescribing for one Dora Henig.' To this indictment he demurred. The demurrer was overruled. and, upon a plea of not guilty, he was tried, convicted, and sentended to pay a fine of $250. That conviction having been sustained by the court of appeals of the state (152 N. Y. 234, 46 N. E. 607), and a remittitur sent down, a final judgment was entered in the court of general sessions, whereupon he sued out this writ of error.

Hugh O. Pentecost, for plaintiff in error.

Asa Bird Gardner, John D. Lindsay, and R. C. Taylor, for the People of New York.

Mr. Justice BREWER, after stating the facts in the foregoing language, delivered the opinion of the court.

The single question presented is as to the constitutionality of this statute when applied to one who had been convicted of a felony prior to its enactment. Its unconstitutionality is alleged on the ground of an alleged conflict with article 1, § 10, of the constitution of the United States, which forbids a state to pass 'any bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law impairing the obligation of contracts.' The arguments for and against this contention may be thus briefly stated.

On the one hand, it is said that defendant was tried, convicted, and sentenced for a criminal offense. He suffered the punishment pronounced. The legislature has no power to thereafter add to that punishment. The right to practice medicine is a valuable property right. To deprive a man of it is in the nature of punishment, and, after the defendant has once fully atoned for his offense, a statute imposing this additional penalty is one simply increasing the punishment for the offense, and is ex post facto.

On the other, it is insisted that, within the acknowledged reach of the police power, a state may prescribe the qualifications of one engaged in any business so directly affecting the lives and health of the people as the practice of medicine. It may require boh qualifications of learning and of good character, and, if it deems that one who has violated the criminal laws of the state is not possessed of sufficient good character, it can deny to such a one the right to practice medicine; and, further, it may make the record of a conviction conclusive evidence of the fact of the violation of the criminal law, and of the absence of the requisite good character. In support of this latter argument, counsel for the state, besides referring to the legislation of many states prescribing in a general way good character as one of the qualifications of a physician, has made a collection of special provisions as to the effect of a conviction of felony. In the footnote1 will be found his collection.

We are of opinion that this argument is the more applicable, and must control the answer to this question. No precise limits have been placed upon the police power of a state and yet it is clear that legislation which simply defines the qualifications of one who attempts to practice medicine is a proper exercise of that power. Care for the public health is something confessedly belonging to the domain of that power. The physician is one whose relations to life and health are of the most intimate character. It is fitting, not merely that he should possess a knowledge of diseases and their remedies, but also that he should be one who may safely be trusted to apply those remedies. Character is as important a qualification as knowledge, and if the legislature may properly require a definite course of instruction, or a certain examination as to learning, it may with equal propriety prescribe what evidence of good character shall be furnished. These propositions have been often affirmed. In Dent v. West Virginia, 129 U. S. 114, 122, 9 Sup. Ct. 231, 233, it was said in respect to the qualifications of a physician: 'The power of the state to provide for the general welfare of its people authorizes it to prescribe all such regulations as, in its judgment, will secure or tend to secure them against the consequences of ignorance and incapacity as well as of deception and fraud.'

We note also these further declarations from state courts: In State v. State Medical Examining Board, 32 Minn. 324, 327, 20 N.W . 238, 240, it was said: 'But the legislature has surely the same power to require. as a condition of the right to practice this profession, that the practitioner shall be possessed of the qualification of honor and good moral character as it has to require that he shall be learned in the profession. It cannot be doubted that the legislature has authority, in the exercise of its general police power, to make such reasonable requirements as may be calculated to bar from admission to this profession dishonorable men, whose principles or practices are such as to render them unfit to be intrusted with the discharge of its duties.' In Thompson v. Hazen, 25 Me. 104, 108: 'Its authors were careful that human health and life should not be exposed without some restraint, by being committed to the charge of the unprincipled and vicious. It could not have been intended that persons decstitute of the moral qualifications required should have full opportunity to enter professionally the families of the worthy but unsuspecting, and be admitted to the secrets which the sick chamber must often intrust to them.' In State v. Hathaway, 115 Mo 36, 47, 21 S. W. 1083: 'The legislature, then, in the interest of society, and to prevent the imposition of quacks, adventurers, and charlatans upon the ignorant and credulous, has the power to prescribe the qualifications of those whom the state permits to practice medicine. * * * And the objection now made that because this law vests in this board the power to examine, not only into the literary and technical acquirements of the applicant, but also into his moral character, it is a grant of judicial power, is without force.' In Eastman v. State, 109 Ind. 278, 279, 10 N. E. 98: 'It is, no one can doubt, of high importance to the community that health, limb, and life should not be left to the treatment of ignorant pretenders and charlatans. It is within the power of the legislature to enact such laws as will protect the people from ignorant pretenders, and secure them the services of reputable, skilled, and learned men.' In State v. Call (N. C.) 28 S. E. 517: 'To require this is an exercise of the police power for the protection of the public against incompetents and imposters, and is in no sense the creation of a monopoly of special privileges. The door stands open to all who possess the requisite age and good character, and can stand the examination which is exacted of all applicants alike.'

But if a state may require good character as a condition of the practice of medicine, it may rightfully determine what shall be the evidences of that character. We do not mean to say that it has an arbitrary power in the matter, or that it can make a conclusive test of that which has no relation to character, but it may take whateve, according to the experience of mankind, reasonably tends to prove the fact and make it a test. County Seat of Linn Co., 15 Kan. 500-528. Whatever is ordinarily connected with bad character, or indicative of it, may be prescribed by the legislature as conclusive evidence thereof. It is not the province of the courts to say that other tests would be more satisfactory, or that the naming of other qualifications would be more conducive to the desired result. These are question for the legislature to determine. 'The nature and extent of the qualifications required must depend primarily upon the judgment of the state as to their necessity.' Dent v. West Virginia, 129 U. S. 122, 9 Sup. Ct. 233.

It is not open to doubt that the commission of crime—the violation of the penal laws of a state—has some relation to the question of character. It is not, as a rule, the good people who commit crime. When the legislature declares that whoever has violated the criminal laws of the state shall be deemed lacking in good moral character, it is not laying down an arbitrary or fanciful rule, one having no relation to the subject-matter, but is only appealing to a well-recognized fact of human experience; and, if it may make a vo lation of criminal law a test of bad character, what more conclusive evidence of the fact of such violation can there be than a conviction duly had in one of the courts of the state? The conviction is, as between the state and the defendant, an adjudication of the fact. So, if the legislature enacts that one who has been convicted of...

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