You asked whether the Social Security Administration (SSA) should repay Title II retirement
benefits it suspended during the number holder’s confinement where the state court
subsequently vacated the conviction and ordered a new trial.
Because the state court ordered a new trial when it overturned the conviction in February
2016, and additional legal proceedings are required, SSA should not repay the benefits
it withheld during number holder’s confinement under the original conviction.
According to the information provided, on September XX, 2011, J~, the number holder
(NH), was found guilty of second-degree murder after a jury trial. On December XX,
2011, the court sentenced NH to serve 30 years in prison. NH appealed, after which
the Florida Fifth District Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction.
NH subsequently filed a motion for post-conviction relief pursuant to Florida Rule
of Criminal Procedure 3.850, asserting ineffective assistance of trial and appellate
counsel. On February XX, 2016, the Circuit Court of the Ninth Judicial Circuit, in
and for O~ County, Florida, granted the motion, vacated his conviction and sentence,
and reversed for a new trial. The state appealed, and on June XX, 2017, the Florida
Fifth District Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s order. NH was released
from prison on July XX, 2017.
Based on NH’s confinement in prison, SSA suspended NH’s retirement benefits from December
2011 to July 2017 pursuant to section 202(x) of the Social Security Act (Act). SSA
reinstated NH’s benefits as of August 2017 when NH was released from prison. NH contacted
SSA, asking SSA to reinstate his benefits from December 2011 to July 2017 because
his conviction had been vacated.
Under section 202(x) of the Act, SSA cannot pay Title II benefits to any individual
for any month (or part of a month) in which he or she is confined in jail, prison,
or other correctional facility for conviction of a criminal offense. See Act § 202(x)(1)(A)(i); 20 C.F.R. § 404.468(a) (2017);* Program Operations Manual System (POMS) GN 02607.001A.1.a. Title II benefits are suspended when an individual is convicted of a criminal offense
and sentenced to a period of confinement in a correctional facility. See POMS GN 02607.160A.1.b.
Confinement is defined as residing in a correctional or mental health institution.
See Act § 202(x)(1)(A)(i)-(iii); 20 C.F.R. § 404.468(c); POMS GN 02607.001B.1. Confinement begins on the date the individual is admitted into custody after sentencing
and ends with pardon, parole, or end of sentence and an official release. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.468(c); POMS GN 02607.160A.3. A conviction includes a court verdict that finds a defendant guilty upon conclusion
of a trial. See POMS GN 02607.001B.2. The primary rationale underlying the prisoner suspension-of-payment provision
is that a convicted criminal defendant is maintained at public expense and has no
need for a continuing source of income, i.e., social security benefits. See POMS PR 06805.012A (PR 00-219).
SSA may reopen a determination to suspend benefits if a conviction of a crime that
affected the individual’s right to receive benefits is overturned. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.988(c)(11)(ii). If a conviction is overturned and no additional legal
proceedings are required, SSA reinstates the individual’s suspended benefits and repays
any benefits that SSA withheld. See POMS GN 02607.200A.3.a. If a new trial is required when the court overturns a conviction and the individual
is released pending the new trial, SSA reinstates benefits effective the first full
month after the individual’s release from the correctional institution. See POMS GN 02607.200A.3.b. If the new trial results in a conviction and the court issues a sentence that includes
time served under the first conviction, SSA does not repay benefits for the period
already suspended on the first conviction. See POMS GN 02607.200A.3.b.
Florida law provides, in part, that a Rule 3.850 motion to vacate, set aside, or correct
sentence can be filed on the grounds that the judgment was entered or sentence was
imposed in violation of the United States or Florida Constitutions. See Fla. R. Crim. P. Rule 3.850(a)(1) (West 2017). “When a new trial is granted, the
new trial shall proceed in all respects as if no former trial had occurred.” Fla.
R. Crim. P. Rule 3.640.
Here, the state court granted NH’s Rule 3.850 motion, vacated his conviction and sentence,
and ordered a new trial. Although the court vacated NH’s conviction, the court also
ordered a new trial. Therefore, additional legal proceedings are required, and NH
is not entitled, at this time, to repayment of benefits that SSA withheld during his
confinement. There is, however, the possibility that SSA may need to repay benefits
withheld during NH’s confinement if NH provides further documentation that he is acquitted
after a second trial or if the prosecutor permanently dismisses or declines to further
prosecute the case.
Because the state court ordered a new trial when it vacated NH’s conviction in February
2016, additional legal proceedings are required, and SSA should not repay the benefits
it withheld during NH’s confinement under the first conviction. The determination
as to whether SSA should repay the withheld benefits cannot be made until after disposition
of the pending trial.