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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. MICHAEL WILLIAMS (04/14/89)

decided: April 14, 1989.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
MICHAEL WILLIAMS, APPELLEE



Appeal from Order of the Court of Common Pleas, Criminal Division, of Cumberland County, No. 961 Criminal 1986.

COUNSEL

Shawn C. Wagner, Assistant District Attorney, Carlisle, for Com., appellant.

Frederick I. Huganir, Carlisle, for appellee.

Cirillo, President Judge, and Brosky, Rowley, Wieand, McEwen, Del Sole, Montemuro, Beck and Tamilia, JJ. Brosky, J., files a dissenting opinion in which Cirillo, President Judge, and Rowley and Montemuro, JJ. join. Montemuro, J., files a separate dissenting statement.

Author: Wieand

[ 383 Pa. Super. Page 460]

The Commonwealth has appealed from an order of the trial court which granted a petition for habeas corpus and dismissed a criminal information charging Michael Williams with violating the provisions of 18 Pa.C.S. § 5123(a) which prohibit contraband to confined persons.

Williams was found in possession of a small amount of marijuana when he entered the State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill. The Commonwealth has conceded that Williams did not intend to deliver the same or allow it to come into the possession of an inmate at the institution. The legal issue in this appeal is whether these facts constitute a violation of 18 Pa.C.S. § 5123(a). This section of the Crimes Code provides:

A person commits a misdemeanor of the first degree if he sells, gives, or furnishes to any convict in a prison, or inmate in a mental hospital, or gives away in, or brings into any prison, mental hospital, or any building appurtenant thereto, or on the land granted to or owned or leased by the Commonwealth or county for the use and benefit of the prisoners or inmates, or puts in any place where it may be secured by a convict of a prison, inmate of a mental hospital, or employe thereof, any kind of spirituous or fermented liquor, drug, medicine, poison, opium, morphine, or other kind of narcotics (except the ordinary hospital supply of the prison or mental hospital) without a written permit signed by the physician of such institution, specifying the quantity and quality of the liquor or narcotic which may be furnished to any convict, inmate, or employe in the prison or mental hospital, the name of the

[ 383 Pa. Super. Page 461]

    prisoner, inmate or employe for whom, and the time when the same may be furnished, which permit shall be delivered to and kept by the warden or superintendent of the prison or mental hospital.

The Commonwealth argues that the offense is complete when a person brings into a prison any of the enumerated substances and that no further intent or mens rea is required. It contends that the words "for the use and benefit of the prisoners or inmates" were intended to modify and refer to land owned or leased by the Commonwealth or county. According to this interpretation, the words "for the use and benefit of the prisoners or inmates" were not intended by the legislature to establish an element of the offense. Credence is provided to this argument by the grammatical location of the phrase and the absence of a comma following the word "county."

Appellee argues, on the other hand, that when the statutory provision is read in its entirety and interpreted in light of the evil intended to be prevented, the words "for the use and benefit of the prisoners or inmates" must be read in conjunction with the proscription against bringing contraband into prisons. We are persuaded by this argument.

In the first place, both the majority of this Court and those members who are in dissent are in agreement that the evil which the legislature intended to prevent was allowing contraband to come into the possession of prisoners or inmates. The object to be attained by the legislature is an important consideration in interpreting the statute. See: 1 Pa.C.S. § 1921(c)(4); Commonwealth v. Westcott, 362 Pa. Super. 176, 192, 523 A.2d 1140, 1148 (1987); Royal Indemnity Co. v. Adams, 309 Pa. Super. 233, 244, 455 A.2d 135, 141 (1983). In this respect it is also to be observed that the statutory proscription has been labeled "contraband to confined persons prohibited." This heading may also be considered in construing the statute. See: 1 Pa.C.S. § 1924; Fedor v. ...


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