Com. v. Graham

Decision Date31 January 1983
Citation445 N.E.2d 1043,388 Mass. 115
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH v. Darrell B. GRAHAM.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court

Ellen K. Wade, Boston (Henry F. Owens, III, Boston, with her), for defendant.

Charles M. Campo, Asst. Dist. Atty. (Muriel Ann Finnegan, Sp. Asst. Dist. Atty., with him), for Commonwealth.

Before HENNESSEY, C.J., and LIACOS, ABRAMS, LYNCH and O'CONNOR, JJ.

LIACOS, Justice.

On November 20, 1981, the defendant Darrell B. Graham was indicted by a Suffolk County grand jury for violation of the statute prohibiting anyone from deriving support and maintenance from the earnings and the proceeds of a prostitute. G.L. c. 272, § 7. The defendant filed a motion to dismiss the indictment on January 28, 1982, alleging in part that, because he had already been tried by the Municipal Court of the City of Boston for the same offense, the prohibition against double jeopardy bars any further prosecution in the Superior Court. The parties filed a joint motion for a report of questions of law to the Appeals Court. The motion was granted. 1 Mass.R.Crim.P. 34, 378 Mass. 905 (1979). We transferred the report of questions of law here on our own motion. 2

The facts agreed upon by the parties were adopted by the Superior Court judge. On July 22, 1981, the defendant, having waived his right to an initial trial by jury, was brought to trial before a judge of the Municipal Court. The defendant pleaded not guilty. With all parties proceeding with the understanding that a trial, not a probable cause hearing, was being held, trial on the merits was held. At the conclusion of the one-day trial, the judge found the defendant guilty as charged and sentenced him to a term of two years in a house of correction. The defendant claimed a de novo appeal to the jury of six session of the Municipal Court.

Two months later the Commonwealth filed a motion to vacate the finding and disposition of the Municipal Court alleging the court's lack of jurisdiction over the offense. The Commonwealth argued that the Municipal Court did not have jurisdiction of violations of G.L. c. 272, § 7, because of an amendment to the statute, St.1980, c. 409, which was and still is in effect. Over the defendant's objection, the judge granted the motion of the Commonwealth, revoked the sentence, vacated the guilty finding, entered a finding of probable cause, and bound the defendant over for the grand jury. The defendant was indicted for the same offense on November 20, 1981. After his arraignment in the Superior Court, the defendant filed his motion to dismiss the indictment.

We turn to the reported questions, not all of which we need answer. The first question we must address is whether the Municipal Court (or the District Court) has original and concurrent jurisdiction over the felony of deriving support and maintenance from a prostitute, defined by G.L. c. 272, § 7. The answer to this question is largely dispositive of the questions reported. We conclude that the Municipal Court and the District Courts of the Commonwealth have original subject matter jurisdiction, concurrent with the Superior Court, over the felony set forth in G.L. c. 272, § 7.

1. Jurisdiction of the District Court. The District Courts, including the Municipal Court, "have original jurisdiction, concurrent with the superior court, of ... all felonies punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for not more than five years." G.L. c. 218, § 26, as appearing in St.1981, c. 470. A felony is statutorily defined as "[a] crime punishable by ... imprisonment in the state prison." G.L. c. 274, § 1. 3 The punishment provision of G.L. c. 272, § 7, as appearing in St.1980, c. 409, provides that violators "shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for a period of five years and by a fine of five thousand dollars. The sentence of imprisonment imposed under this section shall not be reduced to less than two years ...." Although G.L. c. 272, § 7, describes a felony, it imposes a maximum punishment in a State prison for exactly five years and no more than five years. Thus, the Municipal Court of the City of Boston, on the face of the statute, had jurisdiction over the complaint charging Graham with violating G.L. c. 272, § 7. See Commonwealth v. Woolford, 108 Mass. 483, 484 (1871) (jurisdiction exists only where both maximum and minimum penalties are within authority of court).

The Commonwealth, however, argues that the Municipal Court did not have jurisdiction over the offense because of the combined effect of St.1980, c. 409, amending G.L. c. 272, § 7, and G.L. c. 218, § 27. General Laws c. 218, § 27, spells out the power of the District Courts to impose penalties, stating, "They may impose the same penalties as the superior court for all crimes of which they have jurisdiction, except that they may not impose a sentence to the state prison " (emphasis supplied). The Commonwealth interprets this section to limit the jurisdiction of the District Courts to felonies where the Legislature has provided for an alternative punishment other than imprisonment in State prison. Because St.1980, c. 409, stiffened the penalty for deriving support from a prostitute and deleted an alternative punishment of imprisonment to a house of correction, 4 the Commonwealth maintains that the State Legislature intended to remove G.L. c. 272, § 7, from the jurisdiction of the District Courts. 5

While it is true that criminal jurisdiction must include the power to impose sentences, Hopkins v. Commonwealth, 3 Met. 460, 462 (1842), we disagree with the statutory analysis offered by the Commonwealth.

Our analysis of the jurisdiction granted by the Legislature to the District Courts begins with the general rule that "a statute must be interpreted according to the intent of the Legislature ... considered in connection with the cause of its enactment, the mischief or imperfection to be remedied and the main object to be accomplished, to the end that the purpose of its framers may be effectuated." Board of Educ. v. Assessor of Worcester, 368 Mass. 511, 513, 333 N.E.2d 450 (1975), quoting Industrial Fin. Corp. v. State Tax Comm'n, 367 Mass. 360, 364, 326 N.E.2d 1 (1975). We have held that "where two or more statutes relate to the same subject matter, they should be construed together so as to constitute an harmonious whole consistent with the legislative purpose.... The statutory language itself is the principal source of insight into the legislative purpose." Registrar of Motor Vehicles v. Board of Appeal on Motor Vehicle Liab. Policies & Bonds, --- Mass. ---, ---, Mass.Adv.Sh. (1981) 415, 420, 416 N.E.2d 1373. See James J. Welch & Co. v. Deputy Comm'r of the Div. of Capital Planning & Operations, 387 Mass. 662, 666, 443 N.E.2d 382 (1982).

The plain language of the statutes indicates that G.L. c. 218, § 27, does not create or limit jurisdiction given by § 26. Section 26 is the statute creating and granting jurisdiction. The reference in G.L. c. 218, § 27, to "all crimes of which [District Courts] have jurisdiction" implies that G.L. c. 218, § 27, neither creates nor limits jurisdiction, but merely precludes a District Court from imposing a State prison sentence.

Statute 1973, c. 585 (as then amending G.L. c. 218, § 26), is entitled, "An Act increasing the criminal jurisdiction of the District Courts," while St.1924, c. 149 (G.L. c. 218, § 27), is entitled, "An Act increasing the powers of justices of District Courts in the matter of sentences." While the title to an act cannot control the provisions of the statute, the title may be used for the purpose of ascertaining its proper limitations. See Breault v. Ford Motor Co., 364 Mass. 352, 353-354 n. 2, 305 N.E.2d 824 (1973); United Shoe Mach. Co. v. Duplessis Shoe Mach. Co., 155 F. 842, 847 (1st Cir.1907). By dealing with the power of the District Courts to sentence in a statute apart from the statute generally providing subject matter jurisdiction, the Legislature expressed its intent that G.L. c. 218, § 27, was not to determine jurisdiction, but rather that G.L. c. 218, § 26, determined jurisdiction over substantive offenses.

The fact that a statute does not specifically provide an alternative punishment to be imposed by a District Court is not fatal to the court's jurisdiction. We note that G.L. c. 218, § 26, refers to offenses under G.L. c. 266, § 17, as being within the jurisdiction of the District Courts. General Laws c. 266, § 17, provides that the breaking or entering into a building in daytime with the intent to commit a felony is punishable "by imprisonment in the state prison for not more than ten years." No alternative punishment to a house of correction is provided. Yet, the Legislature has expressly given the District Courts jurisdiction over this offense but without providing for an optional or alternative sentence. The Commonwealth contends that, because the Legislature did not make express provision for the District Courts to have jurisdiction over G.L. c. 272, § 7, as it did for G.L. c. 266, § 17, it did not intend the District Courts to have jurisdiction over this felony. The Commonwealth has failed, however, to note that G.L. c. 218, § 26, lists a variety of crimes within the jurisdiction of the District Courts, including as one general category, "all felonies punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for not more than five years." General Laws c. 272, § 7, thus meets the requirements for subject matter jurisdiction. There was no reason for the Legislature to make additional express provision for jurisdiction by the District Courts over such a felony.

Legislative history also indicates that the Legislature did not intend G.L. c. 218, § 27, to have the effect of barring District Court jurisdiction over felonies for which the Legislature has not expressly prescribed an alternative punishment to State prison. As part of St.1911, c. 176, § 1, the current §§ 26 and 27 were...

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