In Re Converse , 137 U.S. 624 ( 1891 )

  • 137 U.S. 624 (1891)

    In re CONVERSE, Petitioner.

    No. 1283.

    Supreme Court of United States.

    Argued and submitted December 18, 1890.
    Decided January 5, 1891.

    *630 Mr. John C. Patterson for petitioner, appellant.

    Mr. B.W. Huston, Attorney General of the State of Michigan, opposing, submitted on his brief.

    MR. CHIEF JUSTICE FULLER, after stating the case, delivered the opinion of the court.

    The Supreme Court of Michigan held that the information charged the respondent with the crime of embezzlement; that the defendant was called upon to plead to this charge when arraigned; that he pleaded guilty of embezzlement, and undoubtedly understood when he made his plea that he was pleading guilty to the felony charged; that this conclusion was fortified by the private examination required by statute to be made by the judge before sentencing upon a plea of guilty, which was shown to have been had in this case; that the fact that the respondent collected the money as an attorney was immaterial; that if the act contained all the elements of embezzlement, he was guilty of the crime and was properly convicted; that an attorney when he collects money for his client acts as the agent of his client as well as his attorney, and if, after making the collection, he appropriates the money to his own use with the intention of depriving the owner of the same, he is guilty of the crime of embezzlement; that the *631 conviction was warranted by the plea; and that the judgment should therefore be affirmed. As remarked by Judge Brown, it is no defence to an indictment under one statute that a defendant might also be punished under another. And as the highest judicial tribunal of the State of Michigan ruled that the word "agent" in section 9151 of the statutes of that State applied to attorneys-at-law, and as the information charged the defendant with embezzlement under that section, and he pleaded guilty to embezzlement as an attorney-at-law, the affirmance of the conviction necessarily followed. In the view of the statute taken by the court, the plea admitted the truth of the charge.

    It is not our province to inquire whether the conclusion reached and announced by the Supreme Court was or was not correct, for we are not passing upon its judgment as a court of error, nor can we consider the contention that the decision was not in harmony with the state constitution and laws.

    The single question is whether appellant is held in custody in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, in that the State thereby deprives him of liberty without due process of law; for there is no pretence of an abridgment of his privileges and immunities as a citizen of the United States, nor of a denial of the equal protection of the laws. But the State cannot be deemed guilty of a violation of its obligations under the Constitution of the United States because of a decision, even if erroneous, of its highest court, while acting within its jurisdiction. And, conceding that an unconstitutional conviction and punishment under a valid law would be as violative of a person's constitutional rights as a conviction and punishment under an unconstitutional law, we fail to perceive that this conviction and judgment are repugnant to the constitutional provision. Appellant has been subjected, as all persons within the State of Michigan are, to the law in its regular course of administration through courts of justice, and it is impossible to hold that a judgment so arrived at is such an unrestrained and arbitrary exercise of power as to be utterly void.

    We repeat, as has been so often said before, that the Fourteenth *632 Amendment undoubtedly forbids any arbitrary deprivation of life, liberty or property, and in the administration of criminal justice requires that no different or higher punishment shall be imposed on one than is imposed on all for like offences, but it was not designed to interfere with the power of the State to protect the lives, liberty and property of its citizens; nor with the exercise of that power in the adjudications of the courts of a State in administering the process provided by the law of the State. The Supreme Court of Michigan did not exceed its jurisdiction or deliver a judgment abridging appellant's privileges or immunities or depriving him of the law of the land of his domicil. Arrowsmith v. Harmoning, 118 U.S. 194; Baldwin v. Kansas, 129 U.S. 52; In re Kemmler, 136 U.S. 436.

    Judgment affirmed.