Iowa Inmate Can Voluntarily Increase Restitution Payments

Iowa case law summary by Attorney Richard Clem: criminal law, restitution.

State of Iowa v. Beau Jackson Morris. IA criminal law, restitution

Beau Jackson Morris was convicted of robbery and sexual assault in 2004, and sentenced to two consecutive 25 year terms. He was also ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $16,000. He was initially ordered to pay 20% of his prison earnings as part of the restitution, although this was later reduced to 15%.

Prisoners don't normally earn much, and the balance owing his victims was still high. But things changed in 2011 when Morris began earning more than $10 per hour through the Iowa Prison Industries program. 15% of the higher wages went to the victim, and Morris decided that he wanted his victims paid back faster. Therefore, he voluntarily asked the court to increase the deductions to 50%. The sentencing court agreed, and half of Morris' wages were going to the victims.

One might expect that the prison officials would commend Morris for his determination to satisfy his obligation to his victims. After all, his behavior showed all the hallmarks of acceptance of responsibility. But this isn't what happened. The prison officials were alarmed, because their piece of the Morris' earnings went down as a result of his decision. This is because inmates in the Iowa Prison Industries program don't get all of their wages. They get only a portion, after deductions are made. One of those deductions goes to the prison, presumably to reimburse the prison for the cost of feeding and housing the inmate. Iowa Code 904.809 puts the various deductions in certain priority levels. And restitution to the victim has a higher priority than the state's claim for room and board. So the result of Morris' voluntary restitution plan was that there was less left over for room and board. In short, the money was going to the crime victims, when that money could have been going to the state. The state therefore took a dim view of Morris' charitable nature, and asked the court to set aside the order increasing the restitution to 50%. The District Court, Polk County, agreed, and reduced the money being set aside for restitution.

Inmate Morris then filed a pro se appeal, which eventually found its way to the Iowa Supreme Court. The high court agreed with the inmate. The Court held that the statute was unambiguous, and revoking the modified order was legal error on the part of the district court.

No. 13-0702 (Iowa Jan. 9, 2015).

Please see the original opinion for the court's exact language.


Richard P. Clem is an attorney and continuing legal education (CLE) provider in Minnesota. He has been in private practice in the Twin Cities for 25 years. He has a J.D., cum laude, from Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul and a B.A. in History from the University of Minnesota. His reported cases include: Asociacion Nacional de Pescadores a Pequena Escala o Artesanales de Colombia v. Dow Quimica de Colombia, 988 F.2d 559, rehearing denied, 5 F.3d 530 (5th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1041 (1994); LaMott v. Apple Valley Health Care Center, 465 N.W.2d 585 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991); Abo el Ela v. State, 468 N.W.2d 580 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991).

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