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Commonwealth v. Brown

October 21, 2009

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, APPELLEE
v.
GREGORY RICKY BROWN, APPELLANT



Appeal from the Order of the Superior Court entered on July 16, 2008 at No. 1057 MDA 2006 affirming the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Lancaster County, Criminal Division, entered on January 23, 2006 at No. 5948-2004 956 A.2d 992 (Pa. Super. 2008)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Madame Justice Todd

CASTILLE, C.J., SAYLOR, EAKIN, BAER, TODD, McCAFFERY, GREENSPAN, JJ.

ARGUED: May 13, 2009

OPINION

In this appeal by allowance, we address the issue of whether Medicare is entitled to restitution for payments made to a medical provider on an assault victim's behalf under the Crimes Code. For the reasons that follow, we conclude Medicare is entitled to restitution. Thus, we affirm the order of the Superior Court.

The facts underlying this matter are not in dispute. On January 23, 2006, Appellant Gregory Ricky Brown pled guilty to one count of simple assault for the beating of Scott Rissel, who was treated at Lancaster General Hospital for his injuries.*fn1 The Court of Common Pleas of Lancaster County imposed a sentence of two years' probation, a fine of $100.00, and restitution, which was to be capped at $1,137.50. The victim's insurance company, Physician's Mutual Insurance Company, paid $172.34 of the total amount owed to Lancaster General Hospital. The remaining $509.65 was paid by Medicare through Mutual of Omaha.*fn2

On January 27, 2006, Brown filed a motion to modify restitution. A hearing on restitution was scheduled for February 13, 2006. At the hearing, Brown raised the issue of whether Medicare, as an extension of the federal government, could receive compensation for restitution. On March 15, 2006, the trial court issued an order granting Brown's motion to modify and fixing restitution in the amount of $172.34, reasoning that Brown was not required to make restitution to Medicare.

On March 24, 2006, the Commonwealth filed a petition for reconsideration, arguing Medicare was entitled to restitution under the Crimes Code. 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 1106.*fn3 On May 16, 2006, after conducting a hearing, the trial court reversed its prior decision and ordered Brown to pay restitution in the amount of $509.65 to Medicare.

Brown appealed to the Superior Court, and, on July 16, 2008, a unanimous en banc court held Medicare was entitled to restitution under Section 1106. Commonwealth v. Brown, 956 A.2d 992 (Pa. Super. 2008). Specifically, in an opinion authored by Judge Maureen Lally-Green, the court concluded that, in 1995, the General Assembly amended Section 1106 to expand the category of those entities eligible for restitution to include insurance companies and government agencies. Consistent with this expansion, the court determined, while Medicare did not directly make payments to the victim, it provided "reimbursement to the victim" by making payment to the health care provider on the victim's behalf. Id. at 996-97. Based on this reasoning, the court concluded that criminal offenders "should provide restitution not only to the victim directly, but to entities that incurred expenses on the victim's behalf." Id. at 996.*fn4 Finding no difference between Medicare paying the victim directly, or paying the medical provider Lancaster General Hospital on the victim's behalf, the Superior Court affirmed Brown's sentence.

Brown filed a petition for allowance of appeal with our Court, and, on December 12, 2008, we granted review of the issue to determine whether Medicare is entitled to restitution for payments made to a medical provider on an assault victim's behalf pursuant to 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 1106.*fn5,*fn6

By way of background, in the criminal context, generally speaking, restitution*fn7 is the requirement that the criminal offender repay, as a condition of his sentence, the victim or society, in money or services.*fn8 It is well established that the primary purpose of restitution is rehabilitation of the offender by impressing upon him or her that his criminal conduct caused the victim's loss or personal injury and that it is his responsibility to repair the loss or injury as far as possible. Commonwealth v. Runion, 541 Pa. 202, 206, 662 A.2d 617, 618 (1995). Thus, recompense to the victim is only a secondary benefit, as restitution is not an award of damages. Although restitution is penal in nature, it is highly favored in the law and encouraged so that the criminal will understand the egregiousness of his or her conduct, be deterred from repeating the conduct, and be encouraged to live in a responsible way. Commonwealth v. Harner, 533 Pa. 14, 22, 617 A.2d 702, 706-07 (1992). Thus, restitution, at its core, involves concepts of rehabilitation and deterrence.

Restitution is authorized by Section 1106 of the Crimes Code. 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 1106. That section mandates restitution and provides, in relevant part, that various entities are entitled to restitution:

(a) General rule.  Upon conviction for any crime wherein property has been stolen converted or otherwise unlawfully obtained, or its value substantially decreased as a direct result of the crime, or wherein the victim suffered personal injury directly resulting from the crime, the offender shall be ...


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