Com. v. Warner

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Citation476 A.2d 341,504 Pa. 600
Decision Date08 May 1984
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellant, v. Rena WARNER, Appellee.

Page 341

476 A.2d 341
504 Pa. 600
COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellant,
Rena WARNER, Appellee.
Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.
Argued Jan. 26, 1984.
Decided May 8, 1984.

[504 Pa. 601] F. Ned Hand, Phyllis R. Streitel, Asst. Dist. Attys., Eric B. Henson, Maureen A. Brennan, Asst. Dist. Attys. (Amicus-PA District Attys. Assoc.), for appellant.

John R. Merrick, Public Defender, Candace G. McCoy, Asst. Public Defender, West Chester, for appellee.




The Commonwealth appeals by allowance Superior Court's order affirming an order of Chester County Common Pleas. Common Pleas had granted appellee's motion to dismiss a felony count under the Crimes Code in a two count information because it felt the other count, a misdemeanor under the Public Welfare Code, encompassed identical activity. Common Pleas then concluded that appellee could be prosecuted only under the latter specific statute. On

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this record we disagree and therefore reverse.

Appellee was charged with theft by deception under the Crimes Code 1 and violation of a former version of the Public Welfare Code's prohibition against false statements. 2 The complaint alleged that appellee had unlawfully obtained $2,967.68 in Public Assistance funds by representing to the Chester County Board of Assistance that she had no income during the period January, 1978 through June, 1979. In fact she had received nearly $7,000.00 in wages from Chester County Headstart, Inc.

At issue is the legislative intent in enacting these penal provisions and the relationship between them. The Commonwealth asserts authority to prosecute welfare fraud cases under the felony theft provisions of the Crimes Code as well as the misdemeanor false statements provision of the Welfare Code. Because there is no facially irreconcilable conflict between the offenses as these statutes then defined them, 3 and because any actual conflict between them cannot be determined before the facts of this case are [504 Pa. 603] developed, we reverse Superior Court and remand the case for trial on both counts of the original information.

Appellee first applied for welfare in October of 1977. At that time she was not receiving any income from employment. In January of 1978, she began receiving income from her employment with Chester County Headstart, Inc. From January, 1978 until April 24, 1978, appellee did not report this income to the Chester County Board of Assistance. On April 24, 1978, at an interview to redetermine her eligibility, appellee expressly denied that she was earning any income. She repeated these denials at subsequent redetermination hearings in October, 1978 and April, 1979.

In May of 1981, the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare filed a private complaint against appellee. The Chester County District Attorney approved the complaint and filed an information against her on July 2, 1981. Count I contained the charge of theft by deception; Count II contained the charge of violation of the Welfare Code. Appellee moved to dismiss Count I. The trial court, relying on Commonwealth v. Bidner, 282 Pa.Superior Ct. 100, 422 A.2d 847 (1980), and Commonwealth v. Buzak, 197 Pa.Superior Ct. 514, 179 A.2d 248 (1962), granted the motion. Superior Court affirmed, holding that "the specific crime of welfare fraud, in every conceivable circumstance, has been made criminal also by the general provisions of the Crimes Code," 309 Pa.Superior Ct. 386, 390, 455 A.2d 663, 665 (1982) (emphasis added). It then held that the Welfare Code was a comprehensive enactment which gave no indication that a prosecution for furnishing false information can proceed under both the Welfare Code and the Crimes Code and applied the rule that a specific statute precludes prosecution under a general statute.

We begin with a consideration of the relevant penal statutes. 18 Pa.C.S. § 3922 (Theft by Deception) provides:

§ 3922. Theft by deception

(a) Offense defined.--A person is guilty of theft if he intentionally obtains or withholds property of another by deception. A person deceives if he intentionally:

[504 Pa. 604] (1) creates or reinforces a false impression, including false impressions as to law, value, intention or other state of mind; but deception as to a person's intention to perform a promise shall not be inferred from the fact alone that he did not subsequently perform the promise;

(2) prevents another from acquiring information which would affect his judgment of a transaction; or

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(3) fails to correct a false impression which the deceiver previously created or reinforced, or which the deceiver knows to be influencing another to whom he stands in a fiduciary or confidential relationship.

(b) Exception.--The term "deceive" does not, however, include falsity as to matters having no pecuniary significance, or puffing by statements unlikely to deceive ordinary persons in the group addressed.

At the time appellee was charged the Public Welfare Code of 1967, 62 P.S. § 481(a) provided:

§ 481. False statements; penalty

(a) Any person who, either prior to, or at the time of, or subsequent to the application for assistance, by means of a wilfully false statement of [sic] misrepresentation, or by impersonation or other fraudulent means, secures, or attempts to secure, or aids or abets any person in securing assistance under this article shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and, upon conviction thereof, shall be sentenced to pay a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or to undergo imprisonment not exceeding one year, or both, and also shall be sentenced to make restitution of any moneys he has received by reason of any such false statement, misrepresentation, impersonation, or fraudulent means.

Only if the conflict between the general and special provisions is irreconcilable does the special provision prevail and act as an exception to the general provision under 1 Pa.C.S. § 1933. That section of the Statutory Construction Act provides:

[504 Pa. 605] § 1933. Particular controls general

Whenever a general provision in a statute shall be in conflict with a special provision in the same or another statute, the two shall be construed, if possible, so that effect may be given to both. If the conflict between the two provisions is irreconcilable, the special provisions shall prevail and shall be construed as an exception to the general provision, unless the general provision shall be enacted later and it shall be the manifest intention of the General Assembly that such general provision shall prevail.

(Emphasis added). Where the provisions are in conflict, but the conflict is not irreconcilable, § 1933 provides that they shall, if possible, be construed so that effect can be given to both.

Since § 481(a) prohibits not only attempts to secure welfare but also the actual securing of welfare, its specific provisions can come into conflict with the general Crimes Code provisions when the two statutes are applied to the specific facts of a given case. Even here, however, the statutes can be interpreted so as to give effect to each, at least for certain periods of time, as shown by the Commonwealth's theory of the case.

From the time period between January, 1978 and April 24, 1978 the defendant committed the crime of Theft by Deception, 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 3922(a) each time she cashed an assistance check because the defendant created the false impression...

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12 cases
  • Gilbert v. Feld, Civ. No. 91-3804.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • December 14, 1993
    ...charged — 18 Pa. C.S.A. § 3922(a) and 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 4114 — requires an affirmative representation. At issue in Commonwealth v. Warner, 504 Pa. 600, 476 A.2d 341 (1984), was whether a woman who had committed welfare fraud could be charged under both the "Theft by Deception" statute, 18 Pa.C......
  • Com. v. Karetny
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • August 15, 2005 ... not one of criminal law pleading but one of the construction of statutes." Id. Over forty years later, in Commonwealth v. Warner, 504 Pa. 600, 476 A.2d 341 (1984), this Court revisited the general-specific issue raised in Brown, and took a somewhat different approach. In Warner, the ......
  • Com. v. Bershad
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Pennsylvania
    • June 16, 1997
    ...Code, 18 Pa.C.S. § 3927(a), rather than under a specific section of the Tax Reform Code, 72 P.S. § 7268(b). In Commonwealth v. Warner, 504 Pa. 600, 476 A.2d 341 (1984), our supreme court It is true that "[i]t is the policy of the law not to permit prosecutions under the general provisions o......
  • Com. v. Parmar
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • February 26, 1998
    ...another offense. Commonwealth v. Brown, 346 Pa. 192, 29 A.2d 793 (1943). We applied and refined this rule in Commonwealth v. Warner, 504 Pa. 600, 476 A.2d 341 (1984). In Warner, the Commonwealth charged the defendant with a general offense, theft by deception, 4 and a specific offense, welf......
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