TN 21 (09-14)
PR 06805.047 Tennessee
A. PR 14-151 Validity of Suspension of Title II Benefits During Periods of Incarceration where State Miscalculated Prisoner’s Release Date
In Tennessee, the Department of Corrections calculates a prisoner’s release eligibility date separately for each offense for which a defendant is convicted. For consecutive sentences, the periods of ineligibility for release are calculated for each sentence and are added together to determine the release eligibility date for the consecutive sentences. Under Tennessee law, when a defendant has violated the conditions of his or her probation and suspension of sentence, a judge can revoke the prisoner’s probation. The sentence imposed upon revocation of probation is for the original criminal conviction. When a prisoner has his or her parole revoked, each criminal charge on which the prisoner was convicted is addressed independently. Probation revocation may occur on one of the criminal charges but perhaps on not all of them. The Department of Corrections will recalculate a prisoner’s future release eligibility date based on the total sentences for each of his or her remaining criminal charges.
You asked whether the documentation submitted by the number holder shows his confinement should have ended earlier than his actual release date from prison on August 1, 2012, and, if so, whether the Social Security Administration (SSA) should reinstate Title II benefits it suspended during any part of his confinement.
Although the state recalculated the number holder’s release eligibility date, because the number holder was confined based on a conviction until August 1, 2012, SSA properly suspended his Title II benefits and should not reinstate any benefits.
According to the information provided, Timothy, the number holder (NH), pled guilty in the Circuit Court for Williamson County, Tennessee on August 9, 2010, to two counts, driving under the influence (count one) and habitual motor vehicle/traffic offender (count four). The court sentenced NH to one-year for count one and two-years for count to four to run consecutively. However, the court suspended NH’s sentence and placed him on probation. NH was arrested on February 25, 2011, on a warrant revoking his probation for both counts. On March 22, 2011, the court revoked NH’s probation for both counts, and he was confined in prison to serve his original sentence.
On June 27, 2012, the court granted NH’s petition for post-conviction relief. The court found that the sentence for count one expired on February 19, 2011, which was prior to the issuance of the warrant revoking NH’s probation. Therefore, the court set aside the revocation of the one-year suspended sentence for count one and found that only the two-year sentence for count four should have been revoked during the revocation hearing. The court ordered the Tennessee Department of Corrections (TDOC) to recalculate NH’s sentence based on only the revocation of count four.
In a sworn affidavit, the Director of Sentence Management Services for the TDOC explained that, based on the new calculations, NH had a release eligibility date of July 2, 2011, and an expiration date of October 19, 2012. On August 1, 2012, NH was physically released from prison.
Based on NH’s confinement in prison, SSA suspended NH’s disability insurance benefits from March 2011 to August 2012 pursuant to section 202(x) of the Social Security Act (Act). NH contacted SSA, asking SSA to reinstate his benefits from July 2011 to August 2012 because his sentence had been miscalculated.
Under section 202(x) of the Act, SSA cannot pay benefits to any individual for any month (or part of a month) for 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). When an individual violates probation, SSA will suspend the individual’s benefits when the court makes an official determination to revoke probation and the individual is placed in confinement at a correctional institution after revocation of probation. See Program Operations Manual (POMS) GN 02607.200B.4.
Confinement is defined as residing in a correctional or mental health institution. See Act § 202(x)(1)(A)(i)-(iii); POMS GN 02607.001B.2. Confinement ends with pardon, parole, or end of sentence and an official release. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.468(c) (2014); POMS GN 02607.160A.3. A conviction is the result of a criminal trial that ends in a judgment or sentence that the individual is guilty as charged. See POMS GN 02607.001B.3. A court of competent authority will judge an individual’s guilt at the conclusion of trial or may accept a guilty plea. See POMS GN 02607.160A.2.a. An individual is considered “convicted” unless his or her guilty plea is set aside or his or her conviction is overturned. See POMS GN 02607.160B.1. 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 social security income. See POMS PR 06805.012A (PR 00-219). If a conviction is overturned, however, SSA generally reinstates an individual’s suspended benefits and repays any benefits withheld. See POMS GN 02607.200A.3.
Under Tennessee law, when a defendant has violated the conditions of probation and suspension of sentence, a judge has the right to revoke the probation and enforce the original sentence. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-35-311(e)(1)(A) (West 2014); see also POMS GN 02607.200B.4 (explaining probation). The sentence imposed upon revocation of probation is for the original criminal conviction. See Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 40-35-310(a), 40-35-311(e)(1)(A) (West 2014) According to Tennessee law, inmates with felony sentences of two years or less shall have their original sentence suspended to probation upon reaching their release eligibility date. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-35-501(a)(3), (a)(5) (West 2014)
Based on the TDOC’s calculations, NH should be been released to probation on July 2, 2011, for the revocation of probation of count four. Although the court set aside the revocation of probation for count one, NH remained incarcerated based on the revocation of probation for his conviction under count four. Neither the probation revocation nor the original conviction under count four were overturned. Furthermore, when the court ordered recalculation of NH’s sentence, the TDOC determined NH’s expiration of sentence for revocation of probation under count four was October 19, 2012. Even if under state law NH should have been released from prison earlier based on his release eligibility date, he nonetheless was confined in prison for the conviction of a criminal offense until August 1, 2012. See Act § 202(x)(1)(A)(i); 20 C.F.R. § 404.468(c); POMS GN 02607.001B.2; POMS GN 02607.160A.3; see also POMS PR 06805.011A (PR 08-010); POMS PR 06805.012A (PR 00-219) (concluding that where prisoner was inappropriately denied early release credits, SSA properly suspended his benefits for entire time he was confined in prison). While confined, the prison was meeting NH’s basic living needs, and NH was maintained at public expense through August 1, 2012. Therefore, section 202(x) of the Act required SSA to suspend NH’s Title II benefits until he was released from confinement.
Based on the evidence provided, NH was confined in prison based on a conviction of a criminal offense from March 2011 to August 2012. Because the probation revocation and underlying conviction for count four were not overturned, SSA properly suspended NH’s benefits through August 2012.
Mary Ann Sloan
Regional Chief Counsel
Assistant Regional Counsel
All references to 20 C.F.R. are to the 2014 version.
Although the TDOC determined NH was eligible for early release under section 40-35-501(a)(3), the statute also provides that release shall not occur if the sentence is part of a consecutive sentence whose term is greater than two years. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-35-501(a)(3) (West 2014). Originally, NH’s two-year sentence for count four was to be served consecutive to the one-year sentence for count one, which suggests the early release provision was inapplicable. However, because NH had completed his one-year sentence for count one, it is unclear if the sentence would still be considered a total sentence of three years under Tennessee law.