Appeal from the Order of the Pennsylvania Crime Victim's Compensation Board in case of In Re: Claim of Katherine B. Turner; Victim: Howard A. Turner, File No. 77-0027-D.
Francis J. Connell, III, with him Drinker, Biddle & Reath, for appellant.
Sally A. Lied, Deputy Attorney General, with her J. Andrew Smyser, Deputy Attorney General, and Gerald Gornish, Attorney General, for appellee.
Judges Wilkinson, Jr., Blatt and MacPhail, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Blatt.
[ 44 Pa. Commw. Page 328]
Katherine B. Turner (appellant) appeals a decision of the Pennsylvania Crime Victim's Compensation Board (Board) that she is not eligible for compensation under Section 477 of The Administrative Code of 1929 (Code).*fn1 This is the definitional section of the act which created the Crime Victim's Compensation Board and established a formula for the compensation of crime victims. The Board ruled that her husband was not the victim of a crime within the meaning of the Code.
The appellant's husband, while driving with the appellant and their son, was struck by an automobile driven by Helen Patricia Davis, who was subsequently tried on charges of murder and involuntary manslaughter. The evidence at the Davis trial indicated that she was traveling on a four-lane divided highway at an excessive rate of speed and in a reckless manner when she lost control of her car and it crossed the median, colliding with the appellant's car. She was convicted on the charges. The Board denied the appellant's claim because, it reasoned, the appellant's husband was not the victim of a "crime" within the meaning of Section 477, which contains the following restrictive provision:
Provided, however, That no act involving the operation of a motor vehicle which results in injury shall constitute a crime for the purpose of this act unless such injury was intentionally inflicted through the use of a motor vehicle.
The Board's position was that the injury inflicted on the victim here was not "intentionally inflicted" as these words are commonly understood. The appellant argues, however, that we should construe these words liberally so as to encompass the circumstances of this
[ 44 Pa. Commw. Page 329]
case, in which the conduct exhibited was evidence, at least, of a conscious disregard of a high risk of causing death. Alternatively, she argues that this section is not applicable here because the restriction here concerned speaks only of an act where an "injury" is "intentionally inflicted," whereas her husband suffered death.
Under the Statutory Construction Act of 1972, 1 Pa. C.S. § 1903(a), words not defined by the legislature are to be construed "according to their common and approved usage" unless they are technical or "have acquired a peculiar and appropriate meaning." The appellant, in essence, urges us to construe the word "intentionally" as equivalent to having general criminal intent. We do not believe, however, that the word as used by the legislature here is synonymous with the technical criminal-law concept. Simply put, criminal intent is an element of common-law crimes which is sometimes denominated mens rea and which refers to the mental state of the accused at the time the criminal act was committed. See Perkins, Criminal Law 743 (2d ed. 1969). It encompasses reckless and even negligent misconduct as well as knowing and purposeful acts. See Perkins, supra, at 744-45 and 752-64. Inasmuch as criminal intent is an element of most crimes, the restriction imposed by Section 477 would be practically meaningless if we were to equate "having criminal intent" with "intentionally." The result of such a construction would be that every victim of an automobile accident, in which the driver responsible was charged with a crime as ...