State v. O'Neil

Citation147 Iowa 513,126 N.W. 454
PartiesSTATE v. O'NEIL.
Decision Date16 May 1910
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa


Appeal from District Court, Wayne County; H. M. Towner, Judge.

Defendant was accused before a justice of the peace of the crime of soliciting, taking, and accepting orders for the purchase, sale, and shipment of intoxicating liquors. The case was tried on an agreed statement of facts, and resulted in defendant's conviction. He thereupon appealed to the district court, where the defendant filed a motion for judgment upon the agreed facts. This motion was overruled, and defendant, pleading guilty after the overruling of his motion, was again convicted for the offense charged. He then appealed to this court. Reversed.Porter & Greenleaf, for appellant.

H. W. Byers, Atty. Gen., and Charles W. Lyon, Asst. Atty Gen., for the State.


An agreed statement of facts filed on the trial before the justice of the peace was the basis of the finding of the district court that defendant in October, 1908, solicited, accepted, and took from various persons orders for the purchase by them and sale and shipment to them of intoxicating liquors from and by a certain brewing company in Kansas City, Mo., said orders being subject to the approval of said company, and that the liquors so ordered were to be shipped directly to the persons named from the place of business of said company. Defendant's motion for judgment in his favor, which was overruled, recited that the acts charged were not criminal under the law of this state at the time of their commission, and, further, that the statute of the state making such acts criminal is in violation of the Constitution of the United States as an interference with the clause thereof relating to interstate commerce, and with the interstate commerce acts passed by Congress. The acts with which defendant was charged were in violation of the provisions of Code, § 2382, as amended by Acts 28th Gen. Assem. c. 74 (Code Supp. § 2382), prohibiting any person from soliciting, taking, or accepting “any order for the purchase, sale, shipment or delivery of any (intoxicating) liquor.” In the case of State v. Hanaphy, 117 Iowa, 15, 90 N. W. 601, followed in State v. Bernstein, 129 Iowa, 520, 105 N. W. 1015, decided, respectively, in 1902 and 1906, this statute was held unconstitutional, as in violation of the interstate commerce clause of the federal Constitution. In 1909 this court, relying upon the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in the case of Delamater v. South Dakota, 205 U. S. 93, 27 Sup. Ct. 447, 51 L. Ed. 724, decided in 1907, reached the conclusion that its previous holding that the statute was in violation of the federal Constitution was erroneous, and expressly overruled the two cases in which that conclusion had been announced, and sustained a judgment enjoining the maintenance of a place for carrying on the business of soliciting, taking, and accepting orders for the purchase, sale, and shipment of intoxicating liquors for and on behalf of a corporation located and doing business in another state as a nuisance. McCollum v. McConaughy, 141 Iowa, 172, 119 N. W. 539.

It will be noticed that the acts charged as against this defendant (and in fact also the filing of the information before the justice of the peace) were after the Supreme Court of this state had held the statute to be unconstitutional, and also after the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in a somewhat similar case from South Dakota sustaining the validity of such a statute as against the contention that it was in violation of the federal Constitution, but prior to the action of this court in reversing its prior decisions in reliance on the later decision of the Supreme Court of the United States. The contention for defendant is that the decision of this court sustaining the constitutionality of the statute should not be given a retroactive effect, and defendant should not be punished for acts which according to the prior decisions of the Supreme Court of this state were lawful.

It is, of course, well settled that a statute which has been held unconstitutional either in toto or as applied to a particular class of cases is valid and enforceable without re-enactment when the supposed constitutional objection has been removed, or has been found not to exist. That was the holding in McCollum v. McConaughy, supra, and is not now questioned. See, also, Pierce v. Pierce, 46 Ind. 86. And the conviction below was proper, unless some benefit is to be given to defendant of the fact that, when the acts were committed, the latest announced decision of this court was to the effect that the statute was unconstitutional, and therefore not enforceable. It is only by analogy, applying the rule of precedent and not of adjudication, that the decision in one case becomes in any sense the law in another case. The analogy may be so complete that the reasoning of the one case necessarily points out the conclusionto be reached in the other, and, if so, the court feels bound to bow to its previous decision, unless it is made to appear that it is so manifestly erroneous that it should be overruled. If overruled, its force as a precedent ceases, and the later decision becomes a precedent. The analogy, however, may be incomplete, and then it is for the court to determine in the subsequent case whether the reasoning of the prior case is applicable under circumstances in some of which the cases are similar, and in others dissimilar. It is not the function of a court to lay down the law for future cases, but to announce the law for the case which it is deciding. It is an important function of an appellate court to so announce its reasons for decision that they may be understood and applied with reference to subsequent cases which are likely to arise, but no court can attempt to anticipate by announcement what the law will be found to be in a case in some respects dissimilar which may subsequently arise. Therefore, as has often been said, there is no vested right in the decisions of a court, and, under the clause in the federal Constitution prohibiting any state from passing any law impairing the obligation of contracts, the Supreme Court of the United States has uniformly held that the change of decisions of a state court does not constitute the passing of a law, although the effect of the change of a decision is to impair the validity of a contract made in reliance on prior decisions. National Mut. B. & L. Ass'n v. Brahan, 193 U. S. 635, 24 Sup. Ct. 532, 48 L. Ed. 823;Central Land Co. v. West Virginia, 159 U. S. 103, 16 Sup. Ct. 80, 40 L. Ed. 91. And see Storrie v. Cortes, 90 Tex. 283, 38 S. W. 154, 35 L. R. A. 666;Swanson v. Ottumwa, 131 Iowa, 540, 106 N. W. 9, 5 L. R. A. (N. S.) 860;Lanier v. State, 57 Miss. 102. It is therefore quite clear that the change in the decisions of a court of a state does not violate the prohibition found in the same clause of the federal Constitution against the making of ex post facto laws.

From the conclusion that in a constitutional sense there is no vested right in reliance on decisions of the court as precedent, and that one who is brought into court for a violation of law cannot sustain himself on the mere plea that in some other case which he thought to be analogous the court rendered a decision which, if applied as he thought it would be applied, would result in exculpating him from wrong, it does not necessarily follow that the court cannot take into account as a controlling consideration in reaching the conclusion as to the justice of a case that the party charged with wrongful conduct relied reasonably and in good faith upon decisions of the courts in determining whether a wrong was committed. The Supreme Court of the United States, while recognizing its general obligation to follow the decisions of the courts of the state in which a contract is made in determining its validity, has held that it will not recognize a change of rule in a state made by judicial decision where the effect of such change is to render invalid contracts which according to the views previously expressed by the state courts at the time the contracts were made were valid. Gelpcke v. City of Dubuque, 1 Wall. 175, 17 L. Ed. 520;Thompson v. Lee County, 3 Wall. 331, 18 L. Ed. 177;Douglass v. Pike County, 101 U. S. 677, 25 L. Ed. 968;Center School Tp. v. State, 150 Ind. 168, 49 N. E. 961. In Muhlker v. New York & Harlem R. Co., 197 U. S. 544, 25 Sup. Ct. 522, 49 L. Ed. 872, the judges whose views on this point are expressed in the opinions filed were equally divided on the question whether one acquiring property in reliance on decisions of the courts of the state relating to his rights in an abutting street had a vested right as against a subsequent change of decision in the state courts. These cases are cited, not as indicating any constitutional duty on the part of the courts of a state to protect a litigant in rights which he in good faith supposed he had already acquired by reason of previous decisions of the same court in other cases, but for the purpose of illustrating the extent to which a court may properly go in administering the law for the purpose of effectuating justice; that is, for the purpose of rendering such decision as shall appeal to intelligent and fair-minded people as right and proper. Courts have always taken such considerations into account in the enforcement of legislative enactments. Before there was any separate equity jurisdiction, and when the term equity was used as a mere synonym of equality and justice, the courts interpreted statutes with a view to their equity, and not merely in accordance with their strict terms; so that the case might be within the equity of a statute, although not expressly covered by it, and, vice versa, the statute might be held not applicable in its equity, although its strict terms covered the case. The term “equity of a statute has fallen into disuse...

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