Claimant is Ineligible for Benefits on the NH’s Account Because She Was Convicted
of the Felonious and Intentional Homicide of the NH
a. SSA Regulations and Policy
Generally, the widow of an individual who died a fully insured wage earner is entitled
to widow’s insurance benefits if she is not married, has attained age sixty, and files
an application. See Social Security Act (Act) § 202(e)(1), 42 U.S.C. § 402(e)(1); 20 C.F.R. § 404.335;
Program Operations Manual System (POMS) RS 00207.001(A)(1)(b); see also Act § 216(c), 42 U.S.C. § 416(c) (defining the term “widow”). Here, Claimant satisfies
these requirements for entitlement to widow’s insurance benefits on the NH’s earnings
However, SSA regulations provide that a claimant may not become entitled to or continue
to receive any survivor’s benefits (e.g., widow’s insurance benefits) on the earnings
record of a person if the claimant was “convicted of a felony or an act in the nature
of a felony of intentionally causing that person’s death.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.305(b);
POMS GN 00304.060(A)(1) (“An adult convicted of the felonious and intentional homicide of another person
cannot be entitled to monthly benefits . . . on the earnings record of that person
. . . .”).
SSA defines “intent” to mean:
A wish or expectancy that an act will have a certain result (regardless of the actual
likelihood of such a result).
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 that he or she plans to commit.
This applies whether the individual desires that such consequences occur or is indifferent
as to their occurrence.
POMS GN 00304.060(B)(1); see also Social Security Ruling (SSR) 89-6c (1989) (quoting Davis v. HHS, 867 F.2d 336 (6th Cir. 1989)).
SSA defines felonious and intentional homicide as “[c]rimes committed by adults …
considered intentional and legally felonious (or acts in the nature of a felony)….
POMS GN 00304.060(B)(2).
b. New Jersey Law
Whether aggravated manslaughter is classified as intentional homicide depends on the
laws of the State in which the claimant is convicted. POMS GN 00304.065. Under New Jersey law, an actor commits aggravated manslaughter when “[t]he actor
recklessly causes death under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to human
life . . . .” N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:11-4(a)(1) (West 2013). A person acts recklessly
under New Jersey law when he “consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable
risk” that a particular circumstance “exists or will result from his conduct.” N.J.
Stat. Ann. § 2C:2-2(b)(2) (West 2013). 
Courts have held that a conviction for aggravated manslaughter in New Jersey requires
that “the defendant must have caused death with an awareness and conscious disregard
of the probability of death.” State v. Jenkins, 840 A.2d 242, 252 (N.J. 2004)); see also State v. Wilder, 939 A.2d 781, 787-88 (N.J. 2008). This requirement parallels the definition of intent
given in the POMS, which finds intent “where the individual is fully aware of the
nature and probable consequences of the act that he or she plans to commit.” POMS
Based on the similarities between the definition of aggravated manslaughter in New
Jersey and that found in the POMS and SSR 89-6c, we believe that aggravated manslaughter
under New Jersey law qualifies as an intentional homicide within the meaning of 20
C.F.R. § 404.305(b).
We also note that although New Jersey criminal statutes classify offenses by degree
rather than as felonies or misdemeanors, see N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:1-4 (West 2013), the New Jersey Supreme Court has held that offenses
punishable by more than one year in state prison should be treated as common law felonies.
State v. Doyle, 200 A.2d 606, 614 (N.J. 1964); see also Phila. Indem. Ins. Co. v. Healy, 156 F. App’x 472, 476 (3d. Cir. 2005) (“[T]he term ‘felony’ has been defined by
New Jersey courts as an offense punishable by more than one year in prison.”). Aggravated
manslaughter is classified as a first degree crime and carries a sentence of between
ten and thirty years’ imprisonment. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:11-4(c) (West 2013). Therefore,
aggravated manslaughter should be considered a felony within the meaning of 20 C.F.R.
Because Claimant was convicted of the felonious and intentional homicide of the NH,
she is ineligible to receive widow’s benefits on his account.