BELL V. MARYLAND, 378 U. S. 226 (1964)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Bell v. Maryland, 378 U.S. 226 (1964)

Bell v. Maryland

No. 12

Argued October 14-15, 1963

Decided June 22, 1964

378 U.S. 226


Petitioners, Negro "sit-in" demonstrators, were asked to leave a Baltimore restaurant solely because of their race, refused to do so, and were convicted of violating Maryland's criminal trespass law. The convictions were affirmed by the highest state court. Subsequent to that affirmance, and prior to disposition of the case on writ of certiorari in this Court, the City of Baltimore and the State of Maryland enacted "public accommodations" laws, applicable to Baltimore, making it unlawful for restaurants to deny their services to any person because of his race.

Held: The judgments of the Maryland Court of Appeals are vacated and reversed, and the case is remanded to that court so that it may consider whether the convictions should be nullified in view of the supervening change in state law. Pp. 378 U. S. 227-242.

(a) The effect of the public accommodations laws appears to be that petitioners' conduct in refusing to leave the restaurant after being asked to do so because of their race would not be a crime today; that conduct is now recognized as the exercise of a right, and the law's prohibition is directed not at them, but at the restaurant proprietor who would deny them service because of their race. P. 378 U. S. 230.

(b) The common law rule, followed in Maryland, requires the dismissal of pending criminal proceedings charging conduct which, because of a supervening change in state law, is no longer deemed criminal; that rule would apparently apply to this case, which was pending in this Court at the time of the supervening legislation. Pp. 378 U. S. 230-232.

(c) Although Maryland has a "saving clause" statute which in, certain circumstances, saves state convictions from the effect of that rule, there is reason to doubt that the statute would be held applicable to this case. Pp. 378 U. S. 232-237.

(d) When a change in the applicable state law intervenes between decision of a case by the highest state court and decision on review here, the Court's practice is to vacate and reverse the judgment and remand the case to the state court, so that it may

Page 378 U. S. 227

reconsider it in the light of the change in state law; that practice should be followed here. Pp. 378 U. S. 237-242.

227 Md. 302,176 A. 2d 771, vacated, reversed, and remanded.

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