Harrell v. State of Texas, No. 07-0806 (Tex. Jun. 5, 2009) (Willett)
(whether order to prison officials to garnish money from inmate trust account to satisfy costs of court
is a civil or a criminal matter, what due process prisoner is entitled to receive)(proceedings to
withdraw funds from inmate trust accounts are civil in nature, not criminal)(pre-withdrawal notice or a
comprehensive civil garnishment proceeding not a constitutional requirement in a case of this
Harrell received notice of the trial court’s withdrawal order on the same day
TDCJ received copies of the order. The Constitution does not require pre-
withdrawal notice or a comprehensive civil garnishment proceeding. Harrell
received notice contemporaneously with the withdrawal orders and had his
concerns considered by the trial court that issued them. Due process requires
nothing more.
WALTER E. HARRELL v. THE STATE OF TEXAS; from Terry County; 7th district (07-06-00469-
CR&07-06-00470-CR, ___ SW3d ___, 08-13-07)
The Court reverses the court of appeals' judgment dismissing the case for want of jurisdiction and
renders judgment affirming the trial court's order.
Justice Willett delivered the opinion of the Court. [pdf version of opinion]
See Electronic Briefs filed in the Supreme court in this case

CITE: In Harrell v. State, the Texas Supreme Court held that proceedings for the collection of fees
and costs of court under section 501.014(e) are civil proceedings, not part of the underlying criminal
case.  Harrell v. State, 286 S.W.3d 315, 316 (Tex. 2009).  

Harrell v. State of Texas 286 S.W.3d 315 (Tex. 2009)  
Argued November 13, 2008

Justice Willett delivered the opinion of the Court.

In this case, we examine whether a
court order directing prison officials to withdraw money
from an inmate trust account
is a civil or criminal matter and, if civil, what process is due an
inmate when such an order is issued. We conclude that proceedings under Government Code
section 501.014(e) to recover court fees and costs assessed against inmates are civil in nature and
not part of the underlying criminal case.

post-judgment collection efforts are designed to reimburse the State, not to punish the
inmate, and due process is satisfied if the inmate receives notice and the opportunity to be heard
after funds are withdrawn. Accordingly, we reverse the court of appeals’ judgment and render
judgment affirming the trial court’s order denying the inmate’s objections to the withdrawal orders.[1]

I. Background

Walter Harrell pled guilty to drug charges in 1997 and 2003. In 2006 the convicting trial court issued
orders directing the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) to withdraw $748 from Harrell’s
inmate trust account to pay for court costs and appointed-counsel fees related to the earlier

The court sent copies of its
withdrawal orders to Harrell, who moved to rescind them on grounds
he was denied due process,[3] specifically the opportunity to present evidence of his
inability to pay
the assessed costs
. The trial court denied Harrell’s motion, and the court of appeals dismissed his
appeal for lack of jurisdiction, citing its earlier holding in Gross v. State[4] that there is no statutory
mechanism for appealing a withdrawal order.

In this appeal, Harrell does not challenge the amount of fees and costs originally assessed in his
criminal cases or the authority of the trial court to assess them, nor does he claim that the withdrawal
orders totaling $748 do not match the amounts originally assessed. His position is simply stated:
“The State gave Harrell notice and an opportunity to be heard when it came to his liberty. However,
when it came to his property, the State just took it.”

II. Jurisdiction: Is This a Civil or Criminal Matter?

We cannot address Harrell’s due-process claim if we lack jurisdiction. “Courts always have
jurisdiction to determine their own jurisdiction.”[5]

The Texas Constitution gives us jurisdiction in “all cases except in criminal law matters.”[6] We
therefore consider whether an inmate trust fund withdrawal order is a civil or criminal matter. If the
former, we have jurisdiction to reach the due-process issue; if the latter, jurisdiction rests, if
anywhere, with our sister high court, the Court of Criminal Appeals.[7]

Four Texas courts of appeals have divided 2-2 over whether a section 501.014(e) order is civil or
criminal. The Waco and Amarillo courts of appeals have declared them criminal in nature as they
arise from and are closely related to a criminal matter.[8] The San Antonio and Texarkana courts of
appeals have reached the opposite conclusion, reasoning that withdrawal orders are a post-
judgment collection process distinct from the underlying criminal case.[9]

This split of authority has led inmates to file appeals both in this Court and in the Court of Criminal
Appeals, which recently addressed the jurisdictional issue in In re Johnson.[10] In that case, the
Court of Criminal Appeals examined its own jurisprudence and the risk of “a potential conflict
between our bifurcated highest appellate courts” in deciding that withdrawal orders were not criminal-
law matters.[11]

We agree that withdrawal orders are more civil in nature than criminal. We start with the proposition
that “[d]isputes which arise over the enforcement of statutes governed by the Texas Code of Criminal
Procedure, and which arise as a result of or incident to a criminal prosecution, are criminal law
matters.”[12] Further, we observe that in criminal-law matters, “criminal law is the subject of the

The withdrawal orders here—issued nine years after Harrell’s first conviction and three years after
his second—may be incidental to criminal prosecutions and a mechanism to enforce criminal
judgments, but they do not arise over enforcement of a statute governed by the Code of Criminal
Procedure. Nor is criminal law the focus of this action. True, a withdrawal order does seize payment
for costs previously taxed in a criminal case, but the criminal case is over. Harrell is not contesting
the convicting court’s authority to assess costs but its authority to collect costs. And those costs are
collected, as the two orders in this case make clear, “pursuant to Government Code, Sec. 501.014,”
not any provision in the Code of Criminal Procedure nor any other criminal statute.

Section 501.014 includes costs assessed during criminal matters, but it also authorizes inmate-
account withdrawals for costs arising in civil proceedings, including payment of child support,
restitution, health care costs, and fines.[14] Even as to court fees and costs, the statute applies not
just to criminal cases but to “all orders for court fees and costs.”[15] Moreover, the subject matter of
this appeal does not concern Harrell’s guilt, innocence, or punishment, the chief features of a
criminal proceeding.[16] The procedure at issue is substantively akin to a
garnishment action or
an action to obtain a
turnover order. Properly viewed, it is a civil post-judgment collection action
that is (1) distinct from the underlying criminal judgments assessing Harrell’s conviction, sentence,
and court costs, and (2) aimed at seizing funds to satisfy the monetary portion of those judgments.
The court is enforcing a money judgment that, while tangentially related to the underlying criminal
judgments, is nonetheless removed from them.

At bottom, Harrell is alleging the alleged
wrongful taking of property. Given that this case
presents no construction of a criminal statute, and instead presents the issue of a trial court’s ability
to seize funds post-judgment pursuant to a civil statute, we hold that withdrawal orders are more
substantively civil than criminal. We now turn to the merits of Harrell’s due-process claim.

III. What Process is Due?

Harrell argues the two withdrawal orders violated his procedural due-process rights to notice and an
opportunity to be heard.[17] In evaluating this argument, we first determine whether Harrell has a
property or liberty interest that merits protection.[18] Texas courts have long recognized that
prisoners have a
property interest in their inmate trust accounts.[19] In light of Harrell’s
property right, we now consider what process is due to Harrell.[20]

“The constitutional sufficiency of procedures provided in any situation, of course, varies with the
circumstances.”[21] To determine what amount of process Harrell is due, we balance the three
factors announced by the United States Supreme Court in Mathews v. Eldridge:

First, the private interest that will be affected by the official action;

[S]econd, the risk of an erroneous deprivation of such interest through the procedures used, and the
probable value, if any, of additional or substitute procedural safeguards; and

[F]inally, the Government’s interest, including the function involved and the fiscal and administrative
burdens that the additional or substitute procedural requirement would entail.[22]

As to the first factor, the private interest affected can be stated with exactness: Harrell’s $748. The
second factor—the risk of erroneous deprivation—cannot be measured as precisely, but any risk is
modest, as withdrawal notifications under the statute are based on an amount identified in a prior
court document.[23] Harrell was party to the underlying action and notified of the costs assessed
when the convicting court sentenced him. If he believed they were erroneous, he was free to contest
them at the time they were assessed. He did not. We are mindful, however, of other cases where the
amount in the withdrawal order varied from the amount in the underlying criminal judgment.[24]
Accordingly, there is some risk of the erroneous deprivation of an inmate’s property.[25]

Turning to factor three, we assess the government’s interest, including the fiscal and administrative
burdens of added or alternative procedures. The State’s interest is the efficient recoupment of court
costs.[26] The State provides legal services to indigent criminal defendants who cannot afford
counsel, and if it later turns out the person can contribute to his own defense, the State has an
interest in ensuring taxpayers are reimbursed for the expenses they incurred.[27]

Nothing in Texas law requires the grafting of
comprehensive garnishment procedures onto
Government Code section 501.014.[28] If TDCJ were required to conform strictly with full-blown
statutory garnishment requirements as suggested by the Texarkana court of appeals in Abdullah,[29]
TDCJ would doubtless face expending more money than it would ever collect in many cases, since
withdrawal orders typically seek modest sums. Faced with this cost-benefit tradeoff, TDCJ would
likely opt not to seek recoupment at all, thus subverting the Legislature’s goal of efficient cost-

In balancing the three Mathews factors, we note that Harrell has already received some measure of
due process. The determination of indigency and the taxing of costs occurred as part of the two
criminal cases against him. Thus, as to whether Harrell is indigent and the amount of costs to be
levied against him, he has already received all that due process demands.

However, there remains a risk of erroneous deprivation via clerical and other errors. As noted above,
some withdrawal orders have authorized the seizure of more money than was taxed in the original
criminal judgment. An inmate should have a chance to compare the amount assessed to the amount
withdrawn and alert the issuing court of any alleged errors.

We hold an inmate is entitled to notice just as happened here (via copy of the order, or other
notification, from the trial court) and an opportunity to be heard just as happened here (via motion
made by the inmate)—but neither need occur before the funds are withdrawn.[30] Moreover,
appellate review should be by appeal, as in analogous civil post-judgment enforcement actions.

In this case, Harrell received notice of the trial court’s withdrawal order on the same day TDCJ
received copies of the order. The Constitution does not require pre-withdrawal notice or a
comprehensive civil garnishment proceeding. Harrell received notice contemporaneously with the
withdrawal orders and had his concerns considered by the trial court that issued them. Due process
requires nothing more.

IV. Conclusion

We reverse the court of appeals’ judgment dismissing Harrell’s appeal for want of jurisdiction. Section
501.014(e) proceedings to withdraw funds from inmate trust accounts are civil in nature, not criminal.
However, because Harrell received all that due process requires, post-withdrawal notice and hearing,
we render judgment affirming the trial court’s order denying his motion to rescind the withdrawal

                                                          Don R. Willett



[1] This opinion uses the term “withdrawal order” since that is what the trial court entered in this case. However, the
controlling statute describes the trigger as “notification by a court”—something that informs prison officials of an
inmate’s obligations and directs officials to withdraw funds. See Tex. Gov’t Code § 501.014(e).

[2] Inmate trust accounts are authorized by Government Code section 501.014(a), styled “Inmate Money”:

The department shall take possession of all money that an inmate has on the inmate’s person or that is received
with the inmate when the inmate arrives at a facility to be admitted to the custody of the department and all money the
inmate receives at the department during confinement and shall credit the money to an account created for the
inmate. . . .

Amicus curiae TDCJ notes it began receiving withdrawal orders in June 2005, something it attributes to the passage
that year of article 103.0033 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (“Collection Improvement Program”), which requires
larger cities and municipalities to boost collections of court costs, fees, and fines imposed in criminal cases. See Act
of May 29, 2005, 79th Leg., R.S., ch. 899, § 10.01, 2005 Tex. Gen. Laws 3098, 3107.

[3] See U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1; Tex. Const. art. I, § 19.

[4] 279 S.W.3d 791, 794 (Tex. App.–Amarillo 2007, no pet.).

[5] Houston Mun. Employees Pension Sys. v. Ferrell, 248 S.W.3d 151, 158 (Tex. 2007).

[6] Tex. Const. art. V, § 3(a).

[7] Id. § 5.

[8] See Zink v. State, 244 S.W.3d 508, 509 (Tex. App.–Waco 2007, no pet.); Gross, 279 S.W.3d at 794.

[9] See Reed v. State, 269 S.W.3d 619, 623-24 (Tex. App.–San Antonio 2008, no pet.); Abdullah v. State, 211 S.W.3d
938, 940-41 (Tex. App.–Texarkana 2007, no pet.).

[10] 280 S.W.3d 866 (Tex. Crim. App. 2008) (orig. proceeding).

[11] Id. at 869-70, 874.

[12] Curry v. Wilson, 853 S.W.2d 40, 43 (Tex. Crim. App. 1993).

[13] Smith v. Flack, 728 S.W.2d 784, 788 (Tex. Crim. App. 1987).

[14] Government Code section 501.014(e) states:

(e) On notification by a court, the department shall withdraw from an inmate's account any amount the inmate is
ordered to pay by order of the court under this subsection. The department shall make a payment under this
subsection as ordered by the court to either the court or the party specified in the court order. The department is not
liable for withdrawing or failing to withdraw money or making payments or failing to make payments under this
subsection. The department shall make withdrawals and payments from an inmate's account under this subsection
according to the following schedule of priorities:

     (1) as payment in full for all orders for child support;

     (2) as payment in full for all orders for restitution;

     (3) as payment in full for all orders for reimbursement of the Texas Department of Human Services for financial
assistance provided for the child's health needs under Chapter 31, Human Resources Code, to a child of the inmate;

      (4) as payment in full for all orders for court fees and costs;                     

      (5) as payment in full for all orders for fines; and

      (6) as payment in full for any other court order, judgment, or writ.

[15] Id. (e)(4).

[16] See Black’s Law Dictionary 1241 (8th ed. 2004) (defining “criminal proceeding” as “[a] proceeding instituted to
determine a person’s guilt or innocence or to set a convicted person’s punishment . . .”).

[17] Insofar as Harrell’s briefing suggests that his account funds are immune from seizure due to his indigency, we
reject this argument. Harrell presents no authority, nor can we locate any, that due process mandates a minimal
funding of an inmate trust account that is immune from execution to cover court costs.

[18] Univ. of Tex. Med. Sch. at Houston v. Than, 901 S.W.2d 926, 929 (Tex. 1995).

[19] See Reed v. State, 269 S.W.3d 619, 625 (Tex. App.–San Antonio 2008, no pet.); Abdullah v. State, 211 S.W.3d
938, 943 (Tex. App.–Texarkana 2007, no pet.); Covarrubias v. Tex. Dep’t of Criminal Justice-Inst. Div., 52 S.W.3d 318,
324 (Tex. App.–Corpus Christi 2001, no pet.); Brewer v. Collins, 857 S.W.2d 819, 823 (Tex. App.–Houston [1st Dist.]
1993, no writ).

[20] Than, 901 S.W.2d at 929.

[21] Landon v. Plasencia, 459 U.S. 21, 34 (1982).

[22] 424 U.S. 319, 335 (1976).

[23] See Tex. Gov’t Code § 501.014(e)(1)-(6).

[24] See, e.g., In re Martinez, 238 S.W.3d 601, 602 (Tex. App.–Waco 2007, orig. proceeding) (criminal judgment had
costs at $308, but withdrawal order was for $7,317.47); Crawford v. State, 226 S.W.3d 688, 691 (Tex. App.–Waco
2007, no pet.) (Gray, C.J., dissenting) (Appendix B) (criminal judgment had costs at $198, but withdrawal order was
for $1,142); Abdullah v. State, 211 S.W.3d 938, 940 (Tex. App.–Texarkana 2007, no pet.) (line in criminal judgment for
costs was blank, but withdrawal order was for $1,517.25).

[25] Such a risk could be minimized if the trial court includes a copy of the original judgment that assessed costs
when it sends a withdrawal order to TDCJ.

[26] See Code Crim. Proc. art. 103.0033.

[27] See Curry v. Wilson, 853 S.W.2d 40, 45-46 (Tex. Crim. App. 1993).

[28] Although Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code section 63.007 permits writs of garnishment against inmate
trust funds, that provision—a waiver of immunity so outside creditors can pursue inmate funds—has no application
here, where the judgment creditor (the State of Texas) and the third party holding the funds (TDCJ) are essentially
one and the same.

[29] 211 S.W.3d at 940.

[30] Although the convicting court in this case hears both civil and criminal matters, a few district courts in urban
counties are designated as “criminal district courts.” Still, under the Texas Constitution, those criminal district courts
can hear “all actions, proceedings, and remedies.” Tex. Const. art. V, § 8. And while the Legislature has deemed that
some district courts shall give preference to criminal law matters, see, e.g., Tex. Gov’t Code § 24.474, it cannot
completely eliminate a district court’s civil constitutional jurisdiction. See Lord v. Clayton, 352 S.W.2d 718, 721-22
(Tex. 1961). Further, all trial courts have inherent authority to enforce their own judgments. See Arndt v. Farris, 633 S.
W.2d 497, 499 (Tex. 1982) (“The general rule is that every court having jurisdiction to render a judgment has the
inherent power to enforce its judgments.”); see also Tex. R. Civ. P. 308 (“The court shall cause its judgments and
decrees to be carried into execution . . .”). Thus, while we categorize withdrawal orders as civil, a “criminal district
court” has jurisdiction to issue such orders and to hear any inmate challenges to them.