Appeal from decree of Court of Common Pleas, Orphans' Court Division, of Allegheny County, No. 5346 of 1955, in re estate of R. Russell Stauch, also known as Russell Stauch, also known as Russ Stauch, also known as Russell R. Stauch, also known as Roman R. Stauch, deceased.
Frederick N. Frank, Assistant Attorney General, with him J. Shane Creamer, Attorney General, for Commonwealth, appellant.
Ralph J. McAllister, with him George F. Young, and McAllister & McAllister, for appellees.
Jones, C. J., Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Pomeroy. Concurring Opinion by Mr. Justice Nix. Dissenting Opinion by Mr. Justice Roberts. Mr. Justice Eagen and Mr. Justice O'Brien join in this dissenting opinion.
The Commonwealth has appealed from a decree of the orphans' court division of the court below holding
that a criminal fine levied against the decedent in his lifetime abated at his death and therefore could not be recovered from his personal representative as a claim against the estate.
The decedent, Russell Stauch, was found guilty in 1949 in the Court of Oyer and Terminer of Allegheny County*fn1 of performing an unlawful abortion resulting in death. He was sentenced to five to ten years' imprisonment and fined $6,000. Stauch died testate in 1955 having served his sentence, but with the fine remaining unpaid.
Western Pennsylvania National Bank, administrator d.b.n.c.t.a., in 1968 presented a petition for distribution listing Allegheny County as an unpaid creditor in the amount of $6,000.*fn2 The auditing judge awarded the balance of the account ($2,707.95) to the Commonwealth "for partial payment of Claim resulting from fine of $6,000.00." Exceptions were filed by the executors of the residuary legatees, who contended that the fine was discharged by decedent's death. The court en banc sustained the exception and held the criminal fine imposed in 1949 had abated upon the death of the defendant-decedent. The balance for distribution was thus decreed in equal shares to the estates of the legatees. The Commonwealth appeals from that determination.*fn3 We affirm.
The Commonwealth argues that a fine which is unpaid at the time of the death of a defendant constitutes a debt of the defendant's estate and must be paid to the Commonwealth by the personal representative from the assets of the estate. We are unable to agree. Like imprisonment or any other sanction imposed following conviction of a crime, a fine is a form of punishment, not a debt. Its sole purpose is protection of the public by the deterrence, including correction of the defendant, believed to be achieved through its imposition.
In Commonwealth v. Embody, 143 Pa. Superior Ct. 354, 17 A.2d 620 (1941) the Superior Court was confronted with the exact situation now before this court. In a well reasoned opinion by Judge Stadtfeld, speaking for a unanimous court, it was held that a fine abates upon the death of the defendant and cannot be enforced against his estate whether or not the judgment of sentence had become final at the time of death. Quoting from an Oklahoma decision, the court said: "The reason for the rule has been stated as follows: 'In a criminal action the sole purpose of the proceedings is to enforce the criminal law and punish the person found guilty of a violation thereof. The personal representative of the deceased is not responsible for the alleged violation of the law by the defendant during his lifetime, and cannot be required to satisfy the judgment rendered against him. It is only the person adjudged guilty who can be punished, and a judgment cannot be enforced when the only subject matter upon which it can operate has ceased to exist'." [Citations omitted]. The Superior Court also relied, among other authorities, on Blackwell v. State, 185 Ind. 227, 229, 113 N.E. 723 (1916), quoting from it as follows:
"In a case where a fine is imposed as a punishment, no principle of compensation is involved. A fine is imposed for the purpose of punishing the offender, and when the offender dies, he passes beyond the power of human punishment. There could be no justice in enforcing a fine against the estate of an offender, for such a course ...