The state legislatures can pass no ex post facto law. An ex post facto law is one which renders an act punishable in a manner in which it was not punishable when it was committed. Such a law may inflict penalties on the person, or may inflict pecuniary penalties which swell the public treasury. The legislature is then prohibited from passing a law by which a man's estate, or any part of it, shall be seized for a crime which was not declared, by some previous law, to render him liable to that punishment.
A contract of sale between the parties was made in the form of a bill passed by the legislature. Grantor brought an action of covenant upon a deed, and assigned, as a breach, that some of the members of the legislature were induced to vote in favor of the law, which constituted the contract, by being promised an interest in it, and that therefore the act was a mere nullity. There were demurrers to three pleas filed in the circuit court, and a special verdict found on an issue joined on the fourth plea. The pleas were all sustained, and judgment was rendered for the defendant. Plaintiff appealed. The court found that overruling the demurrers was correct.
Does the law under consideration come within the prohibition of being an ex post facto law?
The estate passed to purchaser for a valuable consideration, without notice. The state was restrained by particular provisions of the Constitution, from passing a law whereby the estate of plaintiff in the premises so purchased could be constitutionally and legally impaired and rendered null and void. It is, then, the unanimous opinion of the court, that, in this case, the estate having passed into the hands of a purchaser for a valuable consideration, without notice, the state of Georgia was restrained, either by general principles which are common to our free institutions, or by the particular provisions of the constitution of the United States, from passing a law whereby the estate of the plaintiff in the premises so purchased could be constitutionally and legally impaired and rendered null and void.