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Commonwealth v. Koczwara

Citation. 397 Pa. 575, 155 A.2d 825, 1959 Pa. 493.
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Brief Fact Summary.

This is an appeal from the judgment of the Court of Quarter Sessions of Lackawanna County sentencing the Defendant, Koczwara (Defendant), to three months in the Lackawanna County Jail, a fine of five hundred dollars and the costs of prosecution, in a case involving violations of the Pennsylvania Liquor Code.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

One who applies for and receives permission from the state to carry on the liquor trade assumes the highest degree of responsibility to his fellow citizens. As a licensee, he is under a duty not only to regulate his own personal conduct, but also to control the acts and conduct of any employee to whom he entrusts the sale of liquor.


The Defendant is the licensee and operator of an establishment on Jackson Street in Scranton known as J.K.’s Tavern. At that location, the Defendant had a liquor license issued by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board. The Lackawanna County Grand Jury indicted the Defendant on four counts for violations of the Liquor Code. The first and second counts averred that the Defendant permitted minors, unaccompanied by parents or supervisors, to frequent the tavern on February 1st and 8th, 1958. The third count charged the Defendant with selling beer to minors on February 8th, 1958. The fourth count charged the Defendant with permitting beer to be sold to minors on February 8, 1958. The Defendant was not present on any of the occasions of the charged offenses. Rather, the minors were served by an unidentified bartender.


Whether the legislature intended to impose vicarious criminal liability on the licensee-principal for acts committed on his premises without his presence, participation or knowledge?


The Defendant can be convicted in violation of the state liquor code even where the prohibited acts were done without his knowledge or intent. However, the punishment shall be limited to a light monetary fine and no imprisonment. As a result, the $500 fine should be upheld, but the three-month imprisonment sentence is invalid.


The dissent by Justice Musmanno argues that it is not correct to find criminal vicarious responsibility where the Defendant did not perform, know of, or sanction the criminal acts charged. Further, the dissent cannot understand why the majority would impose a fine in this situation, but would not impose jail time. To Justice Musmanno, if the court cannot impose jail time upon the Defendant, they should not be able to impose a fine, either.


The court allowed vicarious responsibility to be upheld in the context of criminal cases. This decision is inline with the language of the applicable statutory sections. However, the court also noted that the crimes committed by the Defendant were not the same as true crimes. The court likened the Defendant’s actions to offenses against the social interest along the same lines as violations of speeding ordinances or violations of food and drug acts. The court held that for the later type of offenses, a light monetary fine is sufficient.

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