SSR 76-29: Section 202(d) (42 U.S.C. 402(d))—Child's Insurance Benefits—Felonious Homicide—Effect of Jurisdiction by Juvenile Court-Maine
20 CFR 404.364
In the State of Maine, where the 15 year old son of the wage earner, accused of murdering his father, is dealt with totally within the framework of the juvenile court, HELD, he had not been finally convicted of intentionally and feloniously killing his father and is, therefore, eligible for benefits.
The issue posed is whether a homicide committed by a juvenile is considered by the State of Maine to be "felonious." The facts appear to be that the wage earner was found shot to death and later the same day his 15-year-old son was arrested and charged with the murder. An attorney was appointed for the boy. One week later, a hearing was held before a judge of the District Court, sitting as a juvenile court, pursuant to 15 M.R.S. Section 2551. At that time, the case was disposed of with the son not being bound over to the grand jury, as was possible under Maine law, the clear inference being that the juvenile court made its own adjudication of the youth's act. On the following day the wage earner's widow applied on behalf of the surviving children for benefits.
The effect of the conviction for feloniously and intentionally killing a wager earner is expressly stated:
"A person who had been finally convicted by a court of competent jurisdiction of the felonious and intentional homicide of an insured individual shall not be entitled to monthly benefits or to the lump-sum death payments based on the earnings of such deceased individual and such felon shall be considered non-existent in determining the entitlement of other persons to monthly benefits or the lump-sum death payment based on the deceased individual's earnings." 20 C.F.R. 404.364.
Thus, if the son could be said to have been convicted of intentionally and feloniously murdering his father, he would not be entitled to any benefits or be considered in any determination of the amount of benefits to which his mother and/or siblings are entitled. The mere fact that he killed the wage earner is not enough by itself to disqualify the child from receiving benefits; he must have been finally convicted for intentional and felonious homicide in order to be deemed ineligible to receive benefits. In those jurisdictions in which courts are empowered to treat juvenile murderers in a manner different from adults guilty of the same crime, adjudications by those courts are often deemed not to be criminal convictions. Where the juvenile court adjudication is viewed in such a manner, the child accused of parricide remains eligible for benefits.
Maine is one such State that allows a District Court judge sitting in a juvenile court session pursuant to 15 M.R.S. Section 2551, the option in certain instances, of treating a child that comes before the court as either a juvenile offender or binding that child over for a grand jury hearing and subsequent criminal proceeding. Where the latter course is decided upon, the judge must make a finding of probable cause and also find that the child is a dangerous person and a menace to the safety of the community. Only upon such findings may the judge then order the child to be bound over for the grand jury, thereby subjecting the child to standard criminal proceedings. 15 M.R.S. Section 2611, subs. 3.
If, however, the District Court judge employees the first option mentioned, that of dealing with the problem totally within the juvenile court framework, then the effect on status of the child accused of a crime quite naturally is altered. The judge would then make an adjudication of the commission of a juvenile offense, the effect of which will ". . . not operate in any manner, or to effect, a disqualification for public office, nor shall it be deemed to constitute a conviction of crime." 15 M.R.S. Section 2052 subs. 1.
Newspaper reports strongly suggest that the judge chose to treat the boy as a juvenile offender. According to the local newspaper, the judge, while extremely reluctant to discuss the case, did acknowledge that the boy was not bound over to the grand jury, that his case had remained within the framework of the juvenile court system. As such, 15 M.R.S. Section 2502 subs. 1, would then operate to bar any attempt to view whatever decision was reached by the District Court as a conviction for a felonious and intentional homicide. An award of benefits to wage earner's namesake would then be proper and in accordance with the regulations.