Whether the claimant, xxxxx, is entitled to mother's benefits and the lump-sum death
payment (LSDP) where she was convicted of manslaughter in the number holder's (NH)
death, a class B felony under Ala. Code § 13A-6-3 (2005).
A manslaughter conviction under Alabama law, while not requiring specific intent to
take life, presupposes a finding of objective intent. Therefore, Claimant is not entitled
to benefits or the LSDP.
On September 17, 1997, the numberholder (NH), xxxxx died.
Claimant,. xxxxx, applied for mother's benefits and the LSDP on September 27, 1997.
On February 23, 1999, Claimant was found guilty of manslaughter, a class B felony
under Ala. Code § 13A-6-3 (2005), in the death of the NH. Because the Alabama Code
does not distinguish between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter, intent must be
inferred from the facts. See POMS GN 00304.060(B)(1); GN 00304.075(B)(7).
The regulations at 20 C.F.R. § 404.305(b) provide that an individual is not entitled
to benefits on the earnings record of a numberholder if he or she was convicted of
a felony or an act in the nature of a felony of intentionally causing that person's
death. As noted above, the Agency's policy is set forth at POMS GN 00304.060 and GN 00304.075. A further statement of policy is contained in Social Security Ruling 89-6c: Section
205(A) Of The Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 405(A)) Conviction Of Second-Degree Manslaughter
-- Kentucky -- Effect On Entitlement To Survivor's Insurance Benefits (1989).
To make a determination regarding the Claimant's intent, we reviewed the following
documents: the Incident Report dated September 17, 1997, the transcript of proceedings
dated November 3, 1997, the criminal case summary, including the court's docket and
sentencing order, the conviction reports dated March 22, 2000 and March 26, 1999,
and the Receipt of Released Convict dated October 15, 2003.
As noted above, if an individual was convicted of a felony or an act in the nature
of a felony of intentionally causing the NH's death, that individual is not entitles
to benefits on the earnings record of the NH. 20 C.F.R. § 404.305(b). SSA's policy
regarding the definition of "intent" is not limited to engaging in conduct with the
purpose of causing the death of another (which is an element of murder under Ala.
Code § 13A-6-2 (2005)), but rather encompasses
a. A wish or an expectancy that an act will have a certain result (regardless of the
actual likelihood of such a result); or
b. The presence of will in the commission of a criminal act where the individual is
fully aware of the nature and probable consequences of the act which is to be done.
This applies whether the individual desires that such consequences occur or is indifferent
as to their occurrence.
POMS GN 00304.060(B)(1).
Under Alabama law, an individual commits manslaughter if:
(1) He recklessly causes the death of another person, or
(2) He causes the death of another person under circumstances that would constitute
murder under Section 13A-6-2; except, that he causes the death due to a sudden heat
of passion caused by provocation recognized by law, and before a reasonable time for
the passion to cool and for reason to reassert itself.
Ala. Code § 13A-6-3 (2005). The code further states that an individual acts recklessly
when "he is aware of and consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk
that the result will occur or that the circumstance exists. The risk must be of such
nature and degree that disregard thereof constitutes a gross deviation from the standard
of conduct that a reasonable person would observe in the situation. A person who creates
a risk but is unaware thereof solely by reason of voluntary intoxication, as defined
in subdivision (e)(2) of Section 13A-3-2, acts recklessly with respect thereto." Ala.
Code § 13A-2-2 (2005).
"invoThe Alabama statute does not make any distinction between "voluntary" (or"intentional")
manslaughter and luntary" (or "unintentional") manslaughter. Furthermore, because
manslaughter does not require a specific intent to kill another person (which is its
primary distinguishing element from "murder"), see Weidler v. State, 624 So.2d 1090 (Ala. Crim. App. 1993), evidence regarding a defendant's state of
mind may often not be presented in any manner that would allow SSA to make any meaningful
determination. Nonetheless, a conviction for manslaughter requires a more general
finding of "objective intent," or a finding that but for the defendant's conduct (absent
some intervening event), the death would not have occurred. See Brooks v.
State, 629 So.2d 717, 718 (Ala. Crim. App. 1993).
This finding of "objective intent," which is derived from the Code's definition of
"reckless," creates a standard significantly similar to the POMS definition of "intent."
Compare Ala. Code. § 13-2-2(3) with POMS GN 00304.060B(1). This standard is also consistent with the court's holding in Davis v. Sec'y of Health and Human
Services, 867 F.2d 336 (6th Cir. 1989), which is adopted as Agency policy in SSR 89-6c.
Based on the significant parallels between the definitions contained in the Alabama
statute and the POMS, unless there was some significant intervening act, we believe
the POMS requires a finding that the claimant acted intentionally in causing the NH's
death. Based on our review of the documents submitted to us, no such intervening act
was present here. In reaching this conclusion, we looked particularly at the incident
report and the testimony of the arresting officer.
We note that the NH's death occurred during an altercation during which the NH allegedly
sought to fire the gun at the claimant, and she then took the rifle when he put it
down and it "went off and struck [the NH] in the chest." Although it can be argued
that the claimant's actions were therefore in the "heat of passion," such a determination
is not relevant to the inquiry of intent as required here. See generally Williams v. State, 675 So.2d 537, 541-42 (Ala. Crim. App. 1996). Such a finding presumably led to the
charge of manslaughter rather than murder.
We believe that statutory construction, as well as an examination of the facts presented
here, lead to the conclusion that the claimant intentionally killed the NH within
the meaning of the Agency's policy framework. She is therefore not entitled to benefits
or the LSDP under 20 C.F.R. § 404.305(b).
Mary A. S~
Regional Chief Counsel, Atlanta
Michael S. F~
Assistant Regional Counsel