Can You be Arrested for Not Paying a Debt?

Posted on Jan 26, 2015 By Ron Sykstus

ron-sOur answer to this commonly asked question is… maybe. What were commonly referred to as debtor’s prisons in the 1700s and 1800s were largely eradicated in the 20th century.  Unfortunately, today,  in some circumstances, someone can be arrested for not paying a debt. PBS recently reported on the “Return of the debtors’ prison? Many still jailed for inability to pay fines.”

As a general rule, people cannot be imprisoned for not paying civil debts.  As contrasted to the PBS story, however, the failure to pay criminal/traffic fines can sometimes result in imprisonment, especially depending upon the county and state of the offense. Oftentimes, payday lenders will threaten jail as will some debt collectors who willfully violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).  The other twist to be familiar with is when an individual has been sued by a creditor/debt collector and a judgment has been entered against that individual. What that means is that the individual has lost. The creditor/debt collector may then embark on post-judgment discovery, to which many courts make responses mandatory. The failure of an individual to reply to post-judgment discovery may lead the court to issue a show cause order for failure to obey a court order to reply to the discovery. This is a bit of a tricky, nuanced area which, at the core, can result in someone being jailed for non-payment of a debt.

We have written extensively on this area of law. Please feel free to read these blog posts that address these issues.

Our lawyers have a great deal of experience in all areas of debt and debt collection. If you or someone you know is worried about the ramifications of a debt and potential jail time, please contact our office nearest to you to set up a free consultation with one of our licensed attorneys.