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Deductions from Pennsylvania Prisoner’s Trust Account Require Notice

On May 4, 2018, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held a Commonwealth Court should not have sustained a demurrer to a prisoner’s action challenging deductions from his prison account to satisfy criminal restitution orders.

State prisoner Kevin A. Bundy asserted, primarily, that he was constitutionally entitled to pre-deprivation notice and a hearing before any deductions were made from his prison account. Corrections officials argued that under 42 Pa. C.S. § 9728 (b)(5), known as “Act 84 deductions,” it could seize 20 percent of funds placed into prisoner accounts to collect “restitution or any other court-ordered obligation or costs.”

The Commonwealth Court sustained the prison officials’ demurrer to the complaint and dismissed the action. On appeal, the state Supreme Court rejected Bundy’s argument that gifts from family members and friends deposited into his account could not be subject to deductions. His “argument that the Due Process Clause requires some form of pre-deprivation notice is more compelling, however,” the Court wrote.

Bundy retained a property interest in the funds in his account, which can only be seized with “due process of law.” A pre-deprivation notice, the Supreme Court said, would allow prisoners to assert a “meaningful (if informal) means to challenge the amount of the debt, assert an exemption, or otherwise raise an objection to the deduction scheme.... [and] doing so can potentially avoid erroneous deprivations before they occur,” such as deductions from veteran’s benefits or Social Security benefits.

Further, Bundy argued that due to his indigence, the deductions adversely affected his ability to litigate his PCRA petition. That allegation, the Court found, was “resonant because the change-in-circumstances prerequisite, as developed by the Commonwealth Court in George [v. Beard, 824 A.2d 393 (Pa. Cmwlth 2003)] and Ingram [v. Newman, 830 A.2d 1099 (Pa. Cmwlth 2003)] is grounded on the premise that the prisoner can obtain meaningful merits review of the financial aspects of his sentence through direct appeal or post-conviction proceedings.

“In view of the foregoing, when Appellant’s well-pleaded allegations are accepted as true, the law does not say with certainty that no relief is available. Accordingly, the Commonwealth Court should not have sustained Appellees’ demurrer,” the Court concluded, and remanded the case for further proceedings. See: Bundy v. Wetzel, 184 A.3d 551 (Pa. 2018). 


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Related legal case

Bundy v. Wetzel