The ''Statutory Repeal by Implication'' Rule

The rule of statutory repeal by implication, first appears in the "History of the Pleas of the Crown," by Sir Mathew Hale. He discusses an act of parliament, 1 Edw. VI, cap. 12, which repeals certain penal statutes. Hale's philosophic comments or dictum seem to be the basis, or at least the first expression, of the rule of construction under discussion in the present case. Miller's Case (1764), 1 Wm. Bl. 451, so frequently cited, seems to have been the first English case to adopt the rule and make a like statement to that made by Hale. This rule was applied in a criminal case in England in 1820, in Rex v. McKenzie, Russ. Ryan, 429, wherein it was held that the reduction of punishment for larceny of over a certain amount, from death to life imprisonment, by new legislation, released the prisoner from the operation of both the old and new statutes, although he was punished under the common law. The rule of statutory repeal by implication was adopted by the United States Supreme Court as early as 1804 in In United States v. Passmore, 4 U.S. 372 (1804). In that case Sir Mathew Hale's work and Miller's Case are referred to as authority. The rule was adopted in many other cases by both Federal and State courts. The very early opinions seem to have been largely in cases where a later law showed more leniency than the earlier one under which the charge against the prisoner had been made. However, upon the authority of these early cases, a general rule was adopted by the great weight of authority. Many of the cases are quite old, and the question has not been so frequently before the courts in later years. This may be due to the fact that congress, as well as many States, adopted a general saving clause act; or that the rule was accepted as one that had been adopted by the many early decisions when precedent was so strictly and almost religiously adhered to, irrespective of results.