Skip navigation

Eighth Circuit Requires Source-of-Funds Finding Before Allowing BOP to Raid Account of Federal Prisoner in Missouri

by David M. Reutter

In a decision reached on August 10,2022, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit stayed the hand that the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) had reached into the pocket of a federal prisoner in Missouri. Though ultimately Anthony Robinson lost nearly all of the funds in his inmate trust account to make restitution to his victims, the ruling reinforces a similar Court decision reached earlier in the year, putting the burden on courts to determine the source of a prisoner’s funds before deciding whether they can be confiscated. [See: PLN, Dec. 2022, p.60.]

When the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri sentenced Robinson to life imprisonment in 2013 for murder in aid of racketeering and conspiracy to commit racketeering, it ordered him to pay $14,186.17 in restitution, owed jointly and severally with two co-defendants. The judgment stated that all “criminal monetary penalties are due in full immediately.” However, if that were not possible, “then the defendant shall make payments under” a “minimum payment schedule … at the rate of 50% of funds available to the defendant.”

In May 2021, the government discovered Robinson had $2,753.21 in his inmate trust account and moved the district court to have the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) turn it all over to make payment towards $12,151.77 still owed in restitution.

The motion asserted that $1,400 of those funds were from a COVID-19 stimulus payment. It was accompanied by a BOP printout of Robinson’s account activity that listed several “inside” payments of $25 each and two outside payments in the amounts of $250 and $1,420.43, respectively. There was no evidence that he received a $1,400 stimulus payment.

Nevertheless, without holding a hearing or taking other evidence, the district court ordered BOP to turn over all funds in Robinson’s account to the clerk of court. Robinson appealed.

Taking up the case, the Eighth Circuit began by noting that the district court needed a statutory authority to enter its order, as laid out in United States v. Balentine, 569 F.3d 801 (8th Cir. 2009). The government argued the restitution order was an enforceable lien under 18 U.S.C. § 3613(c), the same law that the district court cited for the proposition that Robinson’s funds were not exempt from enforcement of the restitution order.

But the Eighth Circuit said that analysis was incomplete. The district court did not assert that the statute is a self-executing means to enforce a lien, nor did it rely on the law as authority for its order. Rather, it relied on 18 U.S.C. § 3664(k). That law provides that if a defendant experiences “any material change” in economic circumstances “that might affect the defendant’s ability to pay restitution,” then the district court may “adjust the payment schedule, or require immediate payment in full, as the interests of justice require.”

The district court’s order, however, did not adjust the payment schedule or require full payment. It simply ordered BOP to release all available funds. The district court also relied on 18 U.S.C. § 3664(n), which requires that when a person who owes restitution or fines “receives substantial resources from any source,” then he “shall be required to apply such sources to any restitution or fine still owed.”

In United States v. Kidd, 23 F.4th 781 (8th Cir. 2022), the Court held that resources affected by § 3664(n) are not limited to “windfalls or sudden financial injections,” yet it also declared that the provision “does not apply to prison wages.” What matters is the source of the funds. Here, as in that case, the district court erred by failing to make fact findings about the source of all funds in Robinson’s prisoner trust account.

Therefore, the district court’s order was vacated, and the case remanded for additional findings of fact regarding the application of § 3664(n). Robinson was represented by Federal Public Defender (FPD) Nancy McCarthy and Assistant FPD William T. Marsh. See: United States v. Robinson, 44 F.4th 758 (8th Cir. 2022).

The case then returned to the district court, where the parties reached an agreement on November 30, 2022. Judgment was entered the next day refunding $250 to Robinson’s inmate trust account, while the remaining $2,503.21 was released to the clerk of the court to make payment toward his restitution obligation. See: United States v. Robinson, USDC (E.D. Mo.), Case No. 4:11-cr-00246.

BOP published a proposed rule change in the Federal Register on January 10, 2023, which would take a portion of prison wages to make restitution – 50% of wages earned in UNICOR jobs and 25% of other wages. Moreover, BOP also wants 75% of any deposits into a prisoner’s trust account, including those made by family and friends for commissary purchases and telephone calls. Having already shifted many costs of incarceration to prisoners’ families with inflated phone charges and limited food service that forces supplemental purchases at jacked-up commissary prices, BOP now wants to force families to make a prisoner’s restitution payments, too.

The proposed rule would affect only prisoners enrolled in BOP’s Inmate Financial Responsibility Program. But those who don’t enroll are ineligible for programming that leads to sentence credits – leaving impoverished prisoners with a stark choice: Stick their families with their restitution tab or sit in prison longer. See: 88 FR 1331.

Additional source: NPR