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of the Constitution which forbids the States to pass any law impairing the obligation of contracts. It has been held that this prohibition also relates exclusively to laws passed after the contract is made, and its force has been often sought to be evaded by the argument that laws are not forbidden which affect only the remedy, if they do not change the nature of the contract, or act directly upon it.
The analogy between this argument and the one concerning laws of procedure in relation to the contiguous words of the Constitution is obvious. But while it has been held that a change of remedy made after the contract may be valid, it is only so when there is substituted an adequate and sufficient remedy by which the contract may be enforced, or where such remedy existed and remained unaffected by the new law. Tennessee v. Sneed, 96 U. S. 69.
On this point it has been held that laws are void enacted after the date of the contract:
1. Which give the debtor a longer stay of execution after judgment. Blair v. Williams, 4 Litt. (Ky.) 34; McKinney v. Carroll, 5 Mon. (Ky.) 96.
2. Which require on a sale of his property under execution an appraisement, and a bid of two-thirds the value so ascertained. Bronson v. Kinzie, 1 How. 311; McCracken v. Hayward, 2 id. 608 ; Sprott v. Reid, 3 Greene (Iowa); 489.
3. Which allow a period of redemption after such sale. Lapsley v. Brashears, 4 Litt. (Ky.) 47; Cargill v. Power, 1 Mich. 369; Robinson v. Howe, 13 Wis. 341.
4. Which exempt from sale under judgment for the debt a larger amount of the debtor's property than was exempt when the debt was contracted. Edwards v. Kearzey, 96 U. S. 595, and the cases there cited ; Story's Commentary on the Constitution, sect. 1385.
There are numerous similar decisions showing that a change of the law which hindered or delayed the creditor in collecting his debt, though it related to the remedy or mode of procedure by which it was to be collected, impaired the obligation of the contract within the meaning of the Constitution.
Why is not the right to life and liberty as sacred as the right growing out of a contract? Why should not the contig
uous and associated words in the Constitution, relating to retroactive laws, on these two subjects, be governed by the same rule of construction ? And why should a law, equally injurious to the rights of the party concerned, be under the same circumstances void in one case and not in the other?
But it is said that at the time the prisoner pleaded guilty of murder in the second degree, and at the time he procured the reversal of the judgment of the criminal court on that plea, the new constitution was in force, and he was bound to know the effect of the change in the law on his case.
We do not controvert the principle that he was bound to know and take notice of the law. But as regards the effect of the plea and the judgment on it, the Constitution of Missouri made no change.
It still remained the law of Missouri, as it is the law of every State in the Union, that so long as the judgment rendered on that plea remained in force, or after it had been executed, the defendant was liable to no further prosecution for any charge found in that indictment.
Such was the law when the crime was committed, such was the law when he pleaded guilty, such is the law now in Missouri and everywhere else. So that, in pleading guilty under an agreement for ten years' imprisonment, both he and the prosecuting attorney and the court all knew that the result would be an acquittal of all other charges but that of murder in the second degree.
Did he waive or annul this acquittal by prosecuting bis writ of error? Certainly not by that act, for if the judgment of the lower court sentencing him to twenty-five years' imprisonment had been affirmed, no one will assert that he could still have been tried for murder in the first degree. Nor was there anything else done by him to waive this acquittal. He refused to withdraw his plea of guilty. It was stricken out by order of the court against his protest. He refused then to plead not guilty, and the court in like manner, against his protest, ordered a general plea of not guilty to be filed. He refused to go to trial on that plea, and the court forced him to trial.
The case rests, then, upon the proposition that, having an
erroneous sentence rendered against him on the plea accepted by the court, he could only take the steps which the law allowed him to reverse that sentence at the hazard of subjecting himself to the punishment of death for another and a different offence of which he stood acquitted by the judgment of that court.
That he prosecuted his legal right to a review of that sentence with a halter around his neck, when, if he succeeded in reversing it, the same court could tighten it to strangulation, and if he failed, it did him no good. 'And this is precisely what has occurred. His reward for proving the sentence of the court of twenty-five years' imprisonment (not its judgment on his guilt) to be erroneous, is that he is now to be hanged instead of imprisoned in the penitentiary. No such result could follow a writ of error before, and as to this effect the new constitution is clearly ex post facto. The whole error, which results in such a remarkable conclusion, arises from holding the provision of the new constitution applicable to this case, when the law is ex post facto and inapplicable to it.
If Kring or his counsel were bound to know the law when they prosecuted the writ of error, they were bound to know it as we have expounded it. If they knew that by the words of the new constitution such a judgment of acquittal as he had when he undertook to reverse it would be no longer an acquittal after it was reversed, they also knew that, being as to his case an ex post facto law, it could have no such effect on that judgment.
We are of cpinion that any law passed after the commission of an offence which, in the language of Mr. Justice Washington, in United States v. Hall, “in relation to that offence, or its consequences, alters the situation of a party to his disadvantage,” is an ex post facto law; and in the language of Denio, J., in Hartung v. The People, " No one can be criminally punished in this country, except according to a law prescribed for his
government by the sovereign authority before the imputed offence was committed, and which existed as a law at the time.”
Tested by these criteria, the provision of the Constitution of Missouri which denies to plaintiff in error the benefit which the previous law gave him of acquittal of the charge of murder in the first degree, on conviction of murder in the second
degree, is, as to his case, an ex post facto law within the meaning of the Constitution of the United States, and for the error of the Supreme Court of Missouri, in holding otherwise, its judgment will be reversed, and the case remanded to it, with direction to reverse the judgment of the Criminal Court of St. Louis, and for such further proceedings as are not inconsistent with this opinion; and it is
MR. JUSTICE MATTHEWS, with whom concurred MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WAITE, MR. JUSTICE BRADLEY, and MR. JUSTICE GRAY, dissenting.
The Chief Justice, Mr. Justice Bradley, Mr. Justice Gray, and myself are unable to concur in the judgment and opinion of the court in this case, and the importance of the question determined constrains us to state the grounds of our dissent. The material facts are these: The plaintiff in error, at March Term, 1875, of the St. Louis Criminal Court, was indicted for murder in the first degree. On his arraignment he pleaded “ not guilty.” At the November Term of the same year a trial was had, which resulted in a verdict of guilty of murder in the first degree, and a sentence of death. That judgment was reversed on appeal, and twice subsequently there were mistrials. On Nov. 12, 1879, the defendant, by consent of the circuit attorney and leave of the court, withdrew his plea of not guilty and entered a plea of guilty of murder in the second degree. He was thereupon sentenced to imprisonment in the penitentiary for a term of twenty-five years. The prisoner then filed a motion to set aside this judgment and sentence, and to allow him to withdraw the plea of guilty of murder in the second decree and to permit him “ to have his original plea of not guilty entered of record to the end that he may have a trial upon the merits of his case before a jury.” In support of this motion reasons were assigned, in substance, that he had withdrawn his original plea of not guilty and entered the plea of guilty of murder in the second degree, upon the faith of an understanding previously had with the circuit attorney representing the prosecution, that if he would do so the sentence should not exceed ten years in the penitentiary, which under
standing was violated by the sentence complained of. The court overruled the motion, but on appeal the judgment was reversed on the ground alleged by the prisoner, that he had been misled, and the cause was remanded for further proceedings. On receipt of this mandate, the trial court, the prisoner refusing to withdraw his plea of guilty of murder in the second degree and to enter a plea of not guilty, entertained the motion previously made by him, for refusing to grant which the judgment had thus been reversed, and granted it, setting aside the plea of guilty; and, the prisoner standing mute, ordered a plea of not guilty to be entered. On this plea a trial was had at October Term, 1881, when he was found guilty of murder in the first degree and again sentenced to death. An appeal was prosecuted from this judgment, which, however, was affirmed by the Supreme Court of Missouri, and is brought here for examination by the present writ of error, on the ground that it has been rendered in violation of a right secured to him by the Constitution of the United States.
The right which it is alleged has been violated is supposed to arise in this way.
At the time of the commission of the offence in 1875, it was well established as the law of Missouri, by the decisions of the Supreme Court of the State, that “when a person is indicted for murder in the first degree, and 'is put upon his trial and convicted of murder in the second degree and a new trial is ordered at his instance, he cannot legally be put upon his trial again for the charge of murder in the first degree; he can be put upon his trial only upon the charge of murder in the second degree.” State v. Ross, 29 Mo. 32; State v. Smith, 53 id. 139. And it is not denied that a plea of guilty of murder in the second degree, accepted by the State, would have been at that time equally an acquittal of the charge of murder in the first degree, having the same force as to future trials as a conviction of mirder in the second degree, although the judgment should be reversed on the application of the prisoner.
On Nov. 30, 1875, the State of Missouri adopted a new constitution, which contained (sect. 23, art. 2) the provision, that, “if judgment on a verdict of guilty be reversed for error in law, nothing herein contained shall prevent a new trial of the