No. 435.

208 U.S. 481 (1908)


Supreme Court of United States.

Decided February 24, 1908.

Attorney(s) appearing for the Case

Mr. John B. Chaddock and Mr. George E. Nichols for plaintiff in error.

Mr. John E. Bird, Attorney General of the State of Michigan, and Mr. Henry E. Chase, for defendant in error.

MR. JUSTICE PECKHAM, after making the foregoing statement, delivered the opinion of the court.

An act providing for an indeterminate sentence was first passed in Michigan on July 1, 1889, No. 228, p. 337, and was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of that State. People v. Cummings, 88 Michigan, 249. A constitutional amendment was subsequently adopted (1901), which authorized the legislature to provide for an indeterminate sentence law, as punishment for crime, on conviction thereof. Art. 4, § 47, constitution of Michigan, as amended. See Laws of 1903, p. 452. Under the authority of this amendment the legislature, in 1903, passed act No. 136 of the public acts of that year. This act was held to be valid. In re Campbell, 138 Michigan, 597; In re Duff, 141 Michigan, 623. An act of a character very similar has been held to violate no provision of the Federal Constitution. Dreyer v. Illinois, 187 U.S. 71. While the act in question here was in force the crime of plaintiff in error was committed, and on the seventeenth of March, 1904, he was sentenced as already stated. The sentence fixed the maximum as well as the minimum term of imprisonment, but the fixing of a maximum term in the sentence has been held to be void, as not intended or authorized by the law of 1903, in any case where the statute providing for the punishment of a crime itself fixes the maximum term of imprisonment at a certain number of years. In re Campbell; In re Duff, supra.

In this case, where the maximum term for burglary is fixed by the statute at five years, the sentence fixing that term at two years was simply void, and the maximum term of imprisonment fixed by the statute takes the place of the maximum term fixed in the sentence. In re Campbell; In re Duff, supra. Under this construction the term of imprisonment of the plaintiff in error has not yet expired.

He cannot, however, avail himself of the provisions of the statute in relation to applying for and obtaining his discharge on parole, after the expiration of the minimum term of the sentence, because he has been convicted of two previous felonies.

On June 7, 1905, Public acts of Michigan, No. 184, p. 268, the legislature passed another act on the same subject and repealed the act of 1903. The plaintiff in error contends that the provisions of the act of 1905 are more unfavorable to him than those of the act of 1903, and that it is invalid as to him because it is an ex post facto law, and, as the act of 1903 has been repealed, there is no act in force by which he can be further imprisoned.

Without stopping to inquire whether the act of 1905 would be in his case an ex post facto law, it may be stated that the Supreme Court of Michigan has held that the act of 1903 is not repealed as to those who were sentenced under it, and that as to them it is in full force, and the statute of 1905 has no application. In re Manaca, 146 Michigan, 697. In such a case as this we follow that construction of the constitution and laws of the State which has been given them by the highest court thereof. There is, therefore, no force in the contention made on the part of the plaintiff in error that the act of 1905 applies in his case and is ex post facto.

It is also urged that the result of the holding of the state court is that plaintiff in error is imprisoned under the indeterminate sentence act of 1903 for the maximum period (five years) provided by the general statute for the crime of which he has been convicted, without any discretion on the part of the court as to the term of his sentence, while he is also refused the right to apply under the act for a discharge upon his parole after the expiration of the minimum term of the sentence, because, it is alleged, that as to him there can be no minimum sentence, as he has been twice before convicted of a felony, although he has had no opportunity of being heard as to that allegation. He now urges that he is imprisoned in violation of the Sixth and Eighth and the Fourteenth Amendments of the Federal Constitution.

The claim rests upon an entire misapprehension of the rights of the plaintiff in error under these Amendments. The Sixth and Eighth Amendments do not limit the powers of the States, as has many times been decided. Spies v. Illinois, 123 U.S. 131; Eilenbecker v. District Court &c., 134 U.S. 31; Brown v. New Jersey, 175 U.S. 172-174; Maxwell v. Dow, 176 U.S. 581, 586. The plaintiff in error says that under the Fourteenth Amendment he is imprisoned without due process of law and is denied the equal protection of the laws. The last-named Amendment was not intended to, and does not, limit the powers of a State in dealing with crime committed within its own borders or with the punishment thereof, although no State can deprive particular persons or classes of persons of equal and impartial justice under the law. In re Kemmler, 136 U.S. 436, 448; Caldwell v. Texas, 137 U.S. 692. The act in question provides for the granting of a favor to persons convicted of crime who are confined in a state prison. People v. Cook, 147 Michigan, 127-132. It gives to a criminal so confined, subsequent to the expiration of the minimum term of imprisonment stated in the sentence, the privilege to make application for parole to the warden or superintendent of the prison where he is confined, and the warden is directed to send such application to the governor. Upon its receipt the governor may order such investigation by the advisory board in the matter of pardons as he may deem advisable and necessary, but the authority to grant paroles, under such rules and regulations as the governor may adopt, is conferred by the statute exclusively upon that officer. He is not bound to grant a parole in any case, and § 4 provides "that no prisoner who has been twice previously convicted of a felony shall be eligible to parole under the provisions of this act." As the State is thus providing for the granting of a favor to a convicted criminal confined within one of its prisons, it may (unless under extraordinary circumstances) attach such conditions to the application for, or to the granting of, the favor as it may deem proper, or it may in its discretion exclude such classes of persons from participation in the favor as may to it seem fit. If the State choose to grant this privilege to make application to the governor for a discharge upon parole in the case of one class of criminals and deny it to others, such, for instance, as those who have been twice convicted of a felony, it is a question of state policy exclusively for the State to decide, as is also the procedure to ascertain the fact, as well as the kind or amount of evidence upon which to base its determination. It is not bound to give the convict a hearing upon the question of prior conviction, and a failure to give it violates no provision of the Federal Constitution. The application for parole is, in any event, addressed exclusively to the discretion of the governor. Even after the convict is at large by virtue of the parole granted, he is still deemed to be serving out the sentence imposed upon him, and he remains technically in the legal custody and under the control of the governor, "subject at any time to be taken back within the inclosure of the prison from which he was permitted to go at large, for any reason that shall be satisfactory to the governor, and at his sole discretion; and full power to retake and return any such paroled convict to the prison from which he was permitted to go at large is hereby expressly conferred upon the governor." Section 5, act of 1903, supra.

We find nothing in the record which shows any violation of the Federal Constitution, and the judgment of the Supreme Court of Michigan must, therefore, be




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