PR 02905.001 Alabama
A. PR 05-266 Entitlement to Mother's Benefits and Lump Sum Death Payment Where Claimant Convicted of Manslaughter in NH's Death - Alabama Deceased Number Holder: ~ SSN: ~ Claimant: ~
DATE: October 13, 2005
A manslaughter conviction under Alabama law, while not requiring specific intent to take life, presupposes a finding of "objective intent." Such a finding creates a standard significantly similar to the POMS [GN 00304.060(B)(1)] definition of "intent." Therefore, a manslaughter conviction in the State of Alabama requires a determination that the claimant acted intentionally in causing the NH's death. Therefore, the claimant is not entitled to benefits or the LSDP.
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
B. PR 00-298 State Law Showing Entitlement to Benefits After Conviction of Criminal Solicitation in the Death of the Wage Earner
DATE: June 22, 2000
The case involved the question as to whether the claimant is eligible for benefits on the record of the deceased wage earner who she was convicted of killing in the State of Alabama. The murder conviction was later reversed on appeal by the Alabama Supreme Court. The claimant agreed to plead guilty to a felony charge of criminal conspiracy in the death of the wage earner at a retrial.
The RCC determined that even though the claimant ultimately was not convicted of murdering the wage earner, she did plead guilty to a felony statute that involves criminal solicitation to cause the death of another individual. Her guilty plea, therefore, precludes entitlement to survivor's benefits based on her current application. Regulations at 20 C.F.R. § 404.305(b) preclude benefit entitlement to anyone convicted of intentionally and feloniously causing the death of a wage earner on whose record they are filing.
The RCC further determined that the claimant was entitled to mother's benefits previously received on the deceased wage earner's record. Forfeiture of entitlement under section 404.305(b) does not apply to these benefits because the claimant received them prior to pleading guilty to criminal conspiracy in the death of the wage earner, and her original murder conviction was overturned.
Your office has requested our assistance in an older case involving a claimant charged with the death of the wage earner. The folder in this matter has been misplaced so the facts are sketchy. According to your memorandum, the wage earner, J.~, died on January 24, 1981. His widow, L~, filed for mother's benefits and child's benefits on December 3, 1984 and was awarded benefits effective August 1984. These benefits were terminated effective November 1985 when the child reached sixteen years of age.
You further state that L~ was convicted and imprisoned for the murder of the number holder but presented no dates for the conviction or imprisonment. She was convicted of capital murder for gain as well as simple murder. The Supreme Court of Alabama reversed the decision and remanded the case to the Circuit Court of Coffee County. Ms. L~ was retried and charged with conspiring to have someone murder her husband for gain. She pled guilty to criminal solicitation in violation of section 13A-4-1 of the Code of Alabama and was sentenced to ten years, five to be served. She was released for time already served because she had already been incarcerated for six years and four months.
We contacted Ms. L~ to get some clarification on the dates of the original trial, the subsequent trial and her guilty plea. We also found the case where she appealed the original conviction. L~ v. State, 454 So.2d 541 (Ala. 1983). Very little relevant additional information was obtained from either source. It appears that Ms. L~ was originally charged with the death of her husband in 1981 and was tried and convicted in 1982. She appealed that conviction (see the previously cited case) and the original conviction was affirmed. She appealed to the Alabama Supreme Court and the conviction was overturned in 1984. Ms. L~ stated that the application for the benefits for her daughter was made after the Supreme Court overturned her conviction and when she had been released from jail.
She was subsequently retried for the murder in 1986 based on a new charge of a conspiracy and the jury deadlocked. The case was retried for the third time in 1991 and it was at that juncture that Ms. L~ agreed to plead guilty to criminal solicitation and a sentence that would credit her for time served and would not require any further incarceration.
The regulatory provisions in 20 C.F.R. § 404.305(b) state the following:
(b) Person's death caused by an intentional act. You may not become entitled to or continue to receive any survivor's benefits or payments on the earnings record of any person, or receive any underpayment due a person, if you were convicted of a felony or an act in the nature of a felony of intentionally causing that person's death.
Ms. L~ pleaded guilty pursuant to the following Code of Alabama statutory provision:
§ 13A-4-1. Criminal solicitation.
(a) A person is guilty of criminal solicitation if, with the intent that another person engage in conduct constituting a crime, he solicits, requests, commands or importunes such other person to engage in such conduct. . . . (f) Criminal solicitation is a:
(1) Class A felony if the offense solicited is murder.
In reviewing these regulations, Alabama state statutes and the facts that are available in this matter, we have concluded that no action should be taken to attempt to recover any benefits Ms. L~ received in 1984 and 1985. She had not been convicted of the murder of Mr. T~ during that period of time since the Alabama Supreme Court had overturned her prior conviction. Nonetheless, we are of the opinion that her current application for benefits on the wage record of Mr. T~ should be denied in accord with the provisions of 20 C.F.R. § 404.305(b). Even though Ms. L~ ultimately was never convicted for the murder of her husband, she did plead guilty to a statute that involves criminal solicitation to cause the death of another individual. We feel that this guilty plea is sufficient to place her within the parameters of section 404.305(b) which would preclude benefit entitlement to anyone who causes the death of the individual whose wage record is the basis for the benefit application.