ERROR TO THE SUPREME COURT OF NORTH CAROLINA.
MR. JUSTICE SHIRAS, after making the above statement, delivered the opinion of the court.
Before considering the errors assigned by the plaintiffs in error to the judgment of the Supreme Court of North Carolina, it is proper that we should dispose of the motion made by the counsel for the State to dismiss the writ of error, on the alleged ground that the record does not disclose that any Federal question was raised in either of the courts in which the case was heard, and that no such question was raised.
It is, or course, obvious that there was no opportunity for the defence to raise in the criminal court the question as to the validity, as against the defendants, of the legislation allowing an appeal to the Supreme Court, because that legislation was not enacted till after the trial had been concluded.
It would also seem that the question of the validity of that legislation, in its Federal aspect, was not raised or considered in the Superior Court. It is true that in that court error was alleged to the action of the criminal court in permitting evidence of certain statements in the books of the defendants, and which books had been seized by the sheriff under an attachment against the property of the defendants, to be used on the trial against the defendants and over their objection, and that contention was sustained by the Superior Court, and the new trial was granted for that and other reasons. But it does not
appear that the Superior Court was formally called upon to consider any Federal question.
But we are of opinion that questions arising under the Constitution and laws of the United States were presented in the Supreme Court of the State, and were by that court considered and decided against the party invoking their protection.
It is true, as we learn from the first opinion filed by the Supreme Court, that such Federal questions were not considered by that court, or, at all events, were not treated as Federal questions, but as questions arising under state laws. But the record discloses that, after that opinion had been filed but before it had been certified down, the defendants filed a petition for reargument, and presented the Federal questions on which they rely. The Supreme Court entertained the petition, and proceeded to discuss and decide the Federal questions. In support of the motion to dismiss numerous decisions of this court are cited to the effect that it is too late to raise a Federal question by a petition for a rehearing in the Supreme Court of a State after that court has pronounced its final decision. Loeber v. Schroeder. 149 U.S. 580; Sayward v. Denny, 158 U.S. 180; Pim v. St. Louis, 165 U.S. 273.
But those were cases in which the Supreme Court of the State refused the petition for a rehearing, and dismissed the petition without passing upon the Federal questions. In the present case, as already stated, the Supreme Court of North Carolina did not refuse to consider the Federal questions raised in the petition, but disposed of them in an opinion found in this record. State v. Mallett, 125 N.C. 718. Had that court declined to pass upon the Federal questions and dismissed the petition without considering them, we certainly would not undertake to revise their action.
The first contention we encounter in the assignments of error is that, as the statute which provides for an appeal from the Superior Court to the Supreme Court in criminal cases was not passed until after the commission of the offence charged and the trial in the criminal court, in was, as against the plaintiffs in error, ex post facto and in violation of Art. 1, sec. 10, of the Constitution of the United States.
The opinion of the Supreme Court stating the facts and disposing of this question is brief, and may be properly quoted:
"The next exception in the petition is that at the time of the commission of the offence the statute allowed no appeal to the State from the ruling of the Superior Court judge. But the defendant had no 'vested rights' in the remedies and methods of procedure in trials for crime. They cannot be said to have committed this crime relying upon the fact that there was no appeal given the State in such cases. If they had considered that matter they must have known that the State had as much power to amend section 1237 as it had to pass it, and they committed the crime subject to the probability that appeals in rulings upon matters of law would be given the State from these intermediate courts. At any rate, their complaint is of errors in the trial court, and when they appealed to the Superior Court they did so by virtue of an act which provided that the rulings of that court upon their case could be reviewed, at the instance of the State, in a still higher court. The appeal was certified up to the Superior Court April 1, 1899, and on July 7, 1899, the appeal was taken to this court. The statute regulating appeals from the Eastern District Criminal Court, chapter 471, Laws 1899, was ratified March 6, 1899."
The subject has been several times considered by this court. The first case was that of Calder v. Bull, 3 Dall. 386, where the important decision was made that the provision prohibiting ex post facto laws had no application to legislation concerning civil rights. But the opinion, delivered by Mr. Justice Chase, contains a classification of the criminal cases in which the provision is applicable:
"1st. Every law that makes an action done before the passing of the law, and which was innocent when done, criminal; and punishes such action. 2d. Every law that aggravates the crime or makes it greater than it was when committed. 3d. Every law that changes the punishment and inflicts a greater punishment than the law annexed to the crime when committed. 4th. Every law that alters ...