|Pollock v. Williams
153 Fla. 338, 14 So.2d 700, reversed.
[ Jackson ]
[ Reed ]
Pollock v. Williams
APPEAL FROM THE SUPREME COURT OF FLORIDA
MR. JUSTICE REED, dissenting:
The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States reads as follows:
Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
To meet the problem of peonage, that is, "compulsory service in payment of a debt," [n1] Congress enacted the legislation set out in note 8 of the Court's opinion which declared [p26] invalid laws of a state by virtue of which involuntary service is enforced or attempted to be enforced in liquidation of any debt. This Court reiterates today in accordance with its previous rulings that the second section of the Florida statute, § 817.10 set out in note 1 of today's opinion, is invalid under the Thirteenth Amendment and the Federal Act because this second section enforces labor by fear of conviction of the crime denounced in the first section. The second section provides that a refusal to perform labor for which one has contracted and been paid in advance is prima facie evidence of an intent to defraud under the first section which makes it a crime to obtain money with intent to defraud under a contract to perform labor. This conclusion is accepted as a proper interpretation of the Federal prohibitions. In the effort to obliterate compulsory labor to satisfy a debt, Congress may invalidate a state law which coerces that labor by fear of a conviction obtained by a presumption of law which may be false in fact. Taylor v. Georgia, 315 U.S. 25.
However much peonage may offend our susceptibilities, and however great our distaste for a statute which is capable of use as a means of imposing peonage on the working man, the present statute is, in this Court, no more immune than any other which a state may enact, from the salutary requirement that its constitutionality must be presumed, and that the burden rests on him who assails it, on constitutional grounds, to show that it is either unconstitutional on its face or that it has been or will be, in fact, so applied as to deny his constitutional rights.
This Court now holds, as it has held before, that, when the presumption section is applied in the trial of a criminal charge under the substantive section, both are invalid and a conviction thus obtained by resort to a presumption of law which may be false, in fact, cannot be sustained. But the Court's opinion fails to bridge the gap between [p27] these earlier decisions of the Court and its present conclusion that the substantive provision, when resorted to alone as the basis for a sentence on an admission of guilt, is likewise invalid because of the mere existence of the presumption section.
Whether this conclusion rests upon the ground that the State of Florida cannot constitutionally make it a penal offense for a laborer fraudulently to procure advances of wages for which he intends to render no service or upon the ground that the presumption section has, in fact, operated in this case to coerce petitioner's plea of guilty, the one is plainly without support in law and the other is without support in the record.
So far as the decision of the Court rests on the ground that the substantive section is unconstitutional on its face, the decision necessarily proceeds on the assumption that, because of the Thirteenth Amendment, a state is without power to punish a workman who fraudulently procures an advance of a wage when he intends not to work for it, or that the two sections, in law and in fact, are inseparable in their application, so that the substantive section is tainted by the presumption section, although in this case it is not shown to have influenced the plea of guilty.
We are given no constitutional reason for saying that a state may not punish the fraudulent procurement of an advance of wages as well as the giving of a check drawn on a bank account in which there are no funds, or any other course of conduct which the common law has long recognized, as the procuring of money or property by fraud or deceit. There is, of course, no constitutional reason why Florida should not punish fraud in labor contracts differently from fraud in other classes of contracts. Legislation need not seek to correct every abuse by a single enactment. The state may select its objective. Whitney v. California, 274 U.S. 357, 370; Tigner v. Texas, 310 U.S. [p28] 141, 149. The Constitution does not require that all persons should be treated alike, but only hat those in the same class shall receive equal treatment.
Not only has the Supreme Court of Florida held as a matter of law that the two sections of the statute now before us are separable, [n2] but it is obvious that, as a matter of law the presumption section is not called into operation where, as here, the accused does not o to trial but pleads guilty to the substantive charge. In rejecting these conclusions as to the separability of the two sections, we take it that the Court is not rejecting the Supreme Court of Florida's interpretation of the Florida statute, but rather that it concludes as a matter of fact that the presumption section is so all-pervasive in its operation that we must [p29] conclude without further proof that it so operated in petitioner's case as to coerce his plea of guilty to the charge of violating the substantive section.
But neither the present record nor any facts of which we can take judicial notice lend support to that conclusion. For all that appears petitioner had no defense to the charge even though the substantive section had stood alone. Unless we are to presume that the statute can only be given an unconstitutional application, we cannot say that petitioner had any defense to the charge of fraud to which he pleaded guilty, and certainly we cannot treat the presumption section as depriving him of a defense which he did not have.
The Court apparently concludes that the enactment and maintenance of the presumption section, after a determination here of its invalidity, makes the entire statute invalid on its face. This result is reached by assuming that the existence of the presumption section coerces involuntary labor under the contract by fear of conviction for violation of the first or substantive section. We cannot properly take judicial notice of such an effect. If pleaded and proven a different situation would emerge.
The petition for habeas corpus in this case can hardly be said to go farther than object to conviction on the ground of the unconstitutionality of the Florida statute as a whole. No coercion to plead guilty is alleged. The statements in the petition as to lack of counsel and of knowledge of the elements of the offense are referred to in the Court's opinion, but we do not understand that the Court relies upon them. No use was made of the presumption section at the trial. Petitioner pleaded guilty to the substantive crime. No allegations or proof appear in the record that the Florida statute was used or applied to promote peonage or involuntary servitude of petitioner or to coerce his plea of guilty. The decision is in effect that [p30] because the two sections standing together are capable of being used in violation of the Thirteenth Amendment and the peonage act, each must be taken to be invalid on its face. The presumption of constitutionality of statutes is a safeguard wisely conceived to keep courts within constitutional bounds in the exercise of their extraordinary power of judicial review. It should not be disregarded here.
We cannot conclude that a statute which merely punishes a fraud in a contract, as the first section does if considered alone, violates the provision of the Thirteenth Amendment against involuntary servitude or is null and void under 8 U.S.C. § 56 because it is an attempt to enforce compulsory service for a debt. Conviction under the statute results not in peonage, work for a debt, but in punishment for crime, probably in the county workhouse. Cf. United States v. Reynolds, 235 U.S. 133, 149. The conception embodied in the Court's opinion that the fear of conviction for his fraud might compel the defendant to work as agreed is without basis in the record. At any rate, fear of punishment is supposed to be a deterrent to crime.
The conviction should be affirmed.
The CHIEF JUSTICE joins in this dissent.
1. Bailey v. Alabama, 219 U.S. 219, 242.
2. The Supreme Court of Florida said:
This is not the first challenge of the act which has appeared in this court. The identical matter was considered in Phillips v. Bell, 84 Fla. 225, 94 So. 699, where the court concluded that the portion of the law defining the crime was harmonious with the Thirteenth Amendment, and observed, without deciding the point, that, if the part referring to the prima facie character of certain evidence should be pronounced unconstitutional the ruling would not affect the remainder.
The court then took up Bailey v. Alabama, 211 U.S. 452, and noted as to it:
We think it very significant that the court remarked upon the lack of doubt that the offenses defined could be made a crime. Gist of the decision, as we understand it, was, summarizing, that the part of the law describing the crime and the one providing for the presumption were not interdependent and that, if, in the prosecution, the state did not resort to the latter the validity of the former would be unaffected.
Later, speaking of our opinion in the Taylor case, the Florida court said:
The section anent presumptive evidence had been relied upon to secure a conviction, so the court again had for determination the question of the constitutionality of the first section when the second was brought into play. Not being faced with that problem here we conclude that the first Bailey decision and ours in Phillips v. Bell are in accord, and that they, in turn, are not in conflict with the rulings in the second Bailey case and Taylor v. Georgia, supra.