TN 9 (04-07)

PR 02905.005 Arkansas

A. PR 07-078 Arkansas State Law Classification of 1990 Manslaughter Conviction (NH Billy G. P~; SSN ~) -- REPLY

DATE: March 1, 2007

1. SYLLABUS

A conviction for manslaughter constitutes a felonious and intentional homicide under Arkansas law based on the fact that such a conviction is considered a felony and indicates an intent to cause death. Therefore, an individual convicted of manslaughter in the State of Arkansas is not entitled to benefits on the earnings record of the deceased wage earner.

2. OPINION

You requested our opinion on whether a 1990 conviction for manslaughter constitutes a felonious and intentional homicide under Arkansas law so as to preclude entitlement to widow's benefits on a number holder's account. We conclude that it does.

The facts, as presented to us, show that Brenda B~ (Brenda) shot and killed her husband, Billy G. P~ (number holder) on September 17, 1989. Brenda was charged with first degree murder. At trial, Brenda claimed the shooting was accidental. On August 16, 1990, an Arkansas jury found Brenda guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter. On September 17, 1990, the Circuit Court of Mississippi County, Arkansas, entered judgment against Brenda for manslaughter and sentenced her to three years imprisonment.

Brenda filed an application for widow's benefits on the number holder's account. When determining who is a wife, husband, widow, or widower for purposes of entitlement to Social Security benefits, the Social Security Administration will look to the laws of the state where the deceased number holder had a permanent home at the time of her or his death. See 42 U.S.C. § 416(h)(1); 20 C.F.R. § 404.345. Because the number holder died while domiciled in Arkansas, we look to Arkansas law.

A widow is generally entitled to survivor's benefits under the Agency's statutory scheme. See 42 U.S.C. § 416(h)(1). Agency regulations, however, provide that an individual is not entitled to benefits on the earnings record of a number holder if he or she was convicted of a felony, or an act in the nature of a felony, of intentionally causing the number holder's death. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.305(b). The Agency's policy regarding the definition of intent is not limited to engaging in conduct with the purpose of causing the death of another. It also encompasses a wish or an expectancy that an act will have a certain result or the presence of will where the individual committing the act is fully aware of the nature and probable consequences of the act she is about to do. See Social Security Ruling 89-6c (citing Program Operations Manual System GN 00304.115). The Agency considers intent as a state of mind, which is seldom established by direct proof but must be inferred from facts. See id. A conviction for the indifferent performance of a voluntary act the actor knows is potentially fatal to another, even if the death of the other is not specifically intended, disqualifies the actor from eligibility for survivor's insurance benefits. See id. Because a conviction of a felony for intentionally causing a spouse's death disqualifies the convicted from survivor's benefits, the issue is (1) whether Brenda's conviction for manslaughter constituted a felony and (2) whether Brenda intentionally caused her husband's death under Arkansas law. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.305(b)

In 1990, under Arkansas law, a conviction for manslaughter was a Class C felony. See Ark. Stat. Ann. § 5-10-104(c) (1990). Therefore, Brenda's conviction met the first requirement to disqualify her from survivor's benefits.

The next question is whether Brenda's Arkansas conviction reveals she intentionally caused her husband's death. In 1990, there were three kinds of murder under Arkansas law. First, a person commits capital murder if, with premeditation and deliberated purpose, she causes the death of another person. See Ark. Stat. Ann. § 5-10-101(a)(4) (1990). Second, a person commits murder in the first degree, inter alia, when she purposefully causes the death of another person. See Ark. Stat. Ann. § 5-10-102(a)(2) (1990). Third, a person commits murder in the second degree when she knowingly causes the death of another person under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life. See Ark. Stat. Ann. § 5-10-103(a)(1) (1990). A lesser offense than homicide is manslaughter, which occurs when a person causes the death of another human being: (1) "under circumstances that would be murder, except that [s]he causes the death under the influence of extreme emotional disturbance for which there is reasonable excuse;" or (2) "recklessly causes the death of another person." See Ark. Stat. Ann. § 5-10-104(a)(1), (3) (1990). In this case, we do not know which type of manslaughter Brenda was c