EFFECTIVE/PUBLICATION DATE: 09/18/87
SSR 87-23: SECTION 205(a) OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ACT (42 U.S.C. 405(a)) CONVICTION OF VOLUNTARY MANSLAUGHTER -- OHIO -- EFFECT ON ENTITLEMENT TO CHILD'S INSURANCE BENEFITS
20 CFR 404.305(b)
- The claimant, who had been convicted in Ohio of voluntary manslaughter in the stabbing death of his father, applied for child's insurance benefits on his father's earnings record. Whether a conviction of voluntary manslaughter is treated as an intentional homicide and thus, under 20 CFR 404.305(b), as a bar to the receipt of child's insurance benefits depends on whether the State where the conviction occurred treats voluntary manslaughter as a felonious and intentional homicide. If the State's law is not dispositive, the facts of the conviction must be developed to determine whether the killing was intentional. In Ohio, proof of intent to kill is not required for a conviction of voluntary manslaughter. Nevertheless, Ohio's probate code provides that a person convicted of voluntary manslaughter is barred from inheriting from the deceased or otherwise receiving benefits payable upon the deceased's death. This provision evidences a judgment on the part of the Ohio legislature to equate voluntary manslaughter with intentional killings for purposes of implementing the well-established principle that one who intentionally causes another's death should not be allowed to benefit from that death. Since implementation of this principle is also the purpose of 20 CFR 404.305(b), the Social Security Administration would be justified, even without an inquiry into the facts surrounding the killing, in findings that the claimant intended to kill his father. Held, in view of the foregoing, the claimant is precluded from becoming entitled to child's insurance benefits on his father's earnings record.
The claimant filed an application for child's insurance benefits on his deceased father's earnings record. Since the claimant had been convicted in Ohio of voluntary manslaughter in the stabbing death of his father, a question has been raised as to whether he is precluded from becoming entitled to those benefits under § 404.305(b) of Regulations No. 4.
Section 404.305(b) of Regulations No. 4 provides, in pertinent part, that --
- "(b) Insured'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 if you were convicted of a felony or an act in the nature of a felony of intentionally causing that person's death. . . ."
For certain homicides, e.g., first or second degree murder, the Social Security Administration (SSA) presumes intent, because by definition, these crimes involve intent. However, voluntary manslaughter may or may not be defined as involving intent; therefore, SSA establishes no presumption of intent. Instead, SSA bases its decision as to entitlement or nonentitlement on whether the State where the conviction occurred treats voluntary manslaughter as an intentional homicide. If State law is inconclusive, development of the facts related to intent is required.
In Ohio, voluntary manslaughter is a felonious homicide. However, a person can be convicted of voluntary manslaughter if he or she "knowingly" caused the death of another regardless of whether he or she "intended" to cause that death. Section 2903.03 of the Ohio Criminal Code, Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 2903.03 (Page 1984 Supp.), provides as follows:
- (A) No person, while under the influence of sudden passion or in a sudden fit of rage, either of which is brought on by serious provocation occasioned by the victim that is reasonably sufficient to incite the person into using deadly force, shall knowingly cause the death of another.
- (B) Whoever violates this section is guilty of voluntary manslaughter, an aggravated felony of the first degree.
See also Travelers Ins. Co. v. Gray, 306 N.E.2d 189, 191 (Ohio Common Pleas 1973) ("An intent to kill is not an essential element of manslaughter either in Ohio or at common law.")
Ohio's civil statute prohibiting certain persons from benefiting from the death of another has been amended to include persons who have been convicted of voluntary manslaughter. The statute in question provides as follows:
- No person who is convicted or pleads guilty to a violation of or complicity in the violation of section 2903.01, 2903.02 or 2903.03 of the Revised Code [aggravated murder, murder or voluntary manslaughter] . . . shall in any way benefit by the death. All property of the decedent, and all money, insurance proceeds, or other property or benefits payable or distributable in respect of the decedent's death, shall pass or be paid or distributed as if the guilty person had predeceased the decedent.
Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 2105.19(A) (Page 1984 Supp.) (emphasis added). When this disqualification statute does not apply, a person challenging the beneficiary's rights bears the common law burden of proving that the killing was intentional. Huff v. Union Fidelity Ins. Co., 470 N.E.2d 236, 238 (Ohio App. 1984). However, when the would-be beneficiary has been convicted of one of the designated felony homicides, there is no need to prove intent. Thus, the claimant, by virtue of his conviction of voluntary manslaughter, would be barred from receiving any survivor's benefits available to him under Ohio law, even though intent to kill is not an essential element of the criminal offense itself.
This raises the question of whether SSA may rely on the cited Ohio civil code provision and determine that the claimant intended to kill his father without developing the facts surrounding the killing. The Ohio legislature has included voluntary manslaughter among those crimes which automatically bar succession to the deceased's property or receipt of financial benefits available because of the deceased's death. Therefore, SSA would be justified in concluding that the Ohio legislature has made a judgment that, for the purpose of implementing the well-established principle that one should not be allowed to profit from intentionally causing another's death, voluntary manslaughter is to be treated as an intentional killing. Since § 404.305(b) of Regulations No. 4 has the same purpose, see 47 Fed. Reg. 42097, 42098 (Sept. 24, 1982), there is no reason why SSA could not deny survivor's benefits on the basis of Ohio Rev. Code § 2105.19 without developing the facts relative to the slaying. Although there appears to be no case precisely on point, a Federal district court has held that a widow convicted of the involuntary manslaughter of her husband cannot be denied widow's insurance benefits when the State where the conviction occurred would not prohibit the widow from succeeding to the deceased's property. Phillips v. Gardner, No. C-45-D-67 (M.D.N.C. Oct. 27, 1967) (unpublished decision) (excerpted in 1 West's Social Security Claims and Procedures, § 472 at 662 (1983)). Involuntary manslaughter presents an easier question, since involuntary manslaughter is presumptively a nonintentional homicide. See footnote 2 below. Nonetheless, the case does support considering the State's civil laws as well as its criminal code.
Additionally, § 404.305(b) of Regulations No. 4 does not specify that SSA rely only on a State's criminal code in making the intent determination. While the Ohio legislature has not made intent an essential element of voluntary manslaughter, this does not mean that intent may not be an element at all. In this regard, it is observed that while the courts have differed on whether intent is an essential element of voluntary manslaughter, see 40 Am Jur 2d § 56, the intention to take life distinguishes voluntary from involuntary manslaughter at common law. See Wadsworth, supra; State v. Schaeffer, 117 N.E. 220 (Ohio 1917). Thus, no inconsistency is found in Ohio regarding voluntary manslaughter as an intentional killing for probate code purposes while requiring no proof of intent for criminal purposes.
In conclusion, SSA would be justified in denying the claimant child's insurance benefits based on the conclusion that he was convicted of a felonious and intentional homicide in the stabbing death of his father, the deceased worker. The conclusion that he intentionally killed his father is justified because Ohio treats voluntary manslaughter as an intentional felonious homicide for purposes of determining whether persons who kill are entitled to benefit from the deaths of their victims.
 "Knowingly" means awareness of the probability that conduct will cause a certain result, or be of a certain nature, or that certain circumstances exist. "Intentionally" means having a specific intention either to cause a certain result or to engage in conduct of a certain nature regardless of what the offender intends to accomplish through that conduct. "Intentionally" equates with "purposely," "willfully," or "deliberately." See Committee Comment to H 511 following Ohio Rev. Code § 2901.22.
 SSA would not be justified in finding Ohio Rev. Code § 2105.19 dispositive of the intent issue if the statute also included convictions for killings which are presumptively unintentional, such as involuntary manslaughter. See Wadsworth v. Siek, 254 N.E.2d 738, 743 (Ohio Probate 1970); 40 Am Jur 2d § 70 (2d Ed. 1968).