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COMMONWEALTH v. MASSINI (03/19/63)

March 19, 1963

COMMONWEALTH
v.
MASSINI, APPELLANT.



Appeal, No. 229, Oct. T., 1962, from judgment of Court of Quarter Sessions of Lehigh County, Sept. T., 1959, No. 35, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Ernest Massini. Judgment of sentence arrested and defendant discharged.

COUNSEL

John P. Thomas, with him Walker & Walker, for appellant.

Richard F. Stevens, Assistant District Attorney, with him George J. Joseph, District Attorney, for Commonwealth, appellee.

Before Rhodes, P.j., Ervin, Wright, Woodside, Watkins, Montgomery, and Flood, JJ.

Author: Woodside

[ 200 Pa. Super. Page 258]

OPINION BY WOODSIDE, J.

This is an appeal from a sentence imposed upon the defendant for the violation of § 941 of The Penal Code of June 24, 1939, P.L. 872, 18 P.S. 4941.

This section provides that "Whoever wilfully and maliciously kills, maims or disfigures any domestic animal of another person, or wilfully and maliciously, administers poison to any such animal, or exposes any poisonous substance, with intent that the same shall be taken or swallowed by animals, fowl or birds, is guilty of a misdemeanor, ...".

The Statutory Construction Act of May 28, 1937, P.L. 1019, § 101, 46 P.S. § 601 provides: "The following words and phrases, when used in any law hereafter enacted, unless the context clearly indicates otherwise, shall have the meanings ascribed to them in this section: ... (37) 'Domestic Animal,' any equine animal, bovine animal, sheep, goat and pig."

[ 200 Pa. Super. Page 259]

The defendant shot and killed his neighbor's cat. A cat is not one of the animals defined in the Statutory Construction Act, supra, as a "domestic animal." The legislature has directed us to accept the definitions of the Statutory Construction Act when used in any law thereafter enacted, unless the context clearly indicates otherwise. The relevant part of the section, which the defendant stands convicted of having violated, must therefore be read as follows: "Whoever wilfully and maliciously kills any equine animal, bovine animal, sheep, goat or pig of another person is guilty of a misdemeanor". It is evident, of course, that the defendant by shooting a cat did not violate such provision.

The court below submitted to the jury whether the dead cat had been a domestic animal, ignoring the statutory definition of such animal. In its opinion, the court attempted to demonstrate that some cats, including the one that was shot, can fall within the dictionary definitions of domestic animal. That is not the issue. When the legislature defines the words it uses in a statute, neither the jury nor the court may define them otherwise. Commonwealth v. Fulton, 70 Pa. Superior Ct. 95, 100, affirmed in 263 Pa. 332, 106 A. 636 (1919); McElhone v. Philadelphia Quartette Club, 53 Pa. Superior Ct. 262, 268 (1913).

The legislature may create its own dictionary, and its definitions may be different from ordinary usage. When it does define the words used in a statute, the courts need not refer to the technical meaning and derivation of those words as given in dictionaries, but must accept the statutory definitions. Sterling v. Philadelphia, 378 Pa. 538, 542, 106 A.2d 793 (1954); Hughes v. Pittsburgh, 379 Pa. 145, 148, 108 A.2d 698 (1954); Commonwealth v. Curry, 4 ...


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