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State v. Morris

Supreme Court of Iowa

January 9, 2015

STATE OF IOWA, Appellee,
v.
BEAU JACKSON MORRIS, Appellant

Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Christopher L. McDonald, Judge. Inmate appeals rescission by the district court of prior order increasing restitution payments deducted from his prison earnings.

Beau Morris, Clarinda, Pro se.

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Kevin R. Cmelik and William A. Hill, Assistant Attorneys General, and John P. Sarcone, County Attorney, for appellee.

OPINION

Page 12

CADY, Chief Justice.

In this appeal, a prison inmate challenges a decision of the district court to rescind its prior order that increased the amount of restitution deducted from his prison earnings. In deciding this case, we must interpret Iowa Code section 904.809(5) (2013) governing deductions from earnings by inmates employed by private industry. On our review, we reverse the order of the district court.

I. Background Facts and Prior Proceedings.

Beau Morris was convicted of first-degree robbery and second-degree sexual assault in 2004. He was sentenced by the district court to two consecutive twenty-five-year terms of incarceration. The district court also ordered him to pay restitution in an amount in excess of $16,000. Initially, Morris was required to pay twenty percent of all credits to his institutional account as restitution. This order was later modified to fifteen percent of his income.

In 2011, Morris began working for a private employer through the Iowa Prison Industries program. He was paid a wage in excess of $10 per hour for the work he performed. This employment allowed him to earn significantly more than he was paid for performing labor for the prison. Morris signed a work agreement as part of his application for employment with Iowa Prison Industries. Under the agreement, Morris agreed that fifteen percent of his gross wages would be deducted for restitution, " unless otherwise specified." [1]

Page 13

On July 30, 2012, Morris petitioned the district court to modify the restitution plan to allow him to pay a greater amount for restitution from his private-employment earnings. He requested that fifty percent of his earnings be paid as restitution. The district court granted the request and ordered the Iowa Department of Corrections (DOC) to increase the restitution deduction to fifty percent on August 15, 2012.

The DOC did not immediately comply with the order and eventually filed a motion with the district court requesting that it be rescinded. The district court, under a different presiding judge, granted the motion and rescinded the prior order modifying restitution. The court rejected the State's argument that federal law limited the total restitution deduction amounts to twenty percent, but held that the modified restitution order violated the state statutory scheme for the distribution of inmate earnings from private-sector employment. The district court reinstated the prior restitution plan that set the amount of restitution at fifteen percent of his earnings. The district court declined to address the

Page 14

additional claim made by the State that the employment agreement executed by Morris precluded any ...


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