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Debtors Prisons Abolished, But Some Still Jailed

Debtor's Prison, Bankruptcy, Collection PracticesThere’s not much that inspires us to act (or not act) than the threat of imprisonment. Collection agencies are using a new angle on collections that can lead to the arrest of unwitting debtors.

The Fourteenth Amendment states that “[n]o state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”. Despite the protections of this amendment, collectors are satisfying the requirements of due process by filing suit, unilaterally scheduling hearings, and when the debtors fail to appear for court, they have they ask the judge sign an order for them to appear. If they don’t show up for the second hearing, the judge will issue a warrant for the debtor’s “willful” non-appearance before the court. The next time the debtor is pulled over for a route traffic stop, they can be arrested.

The problem with this satisfaction of the due process requirement is two-fold. First is the fact that most collection agencies have bad or outdated addresses for debtors. People move all the time, especially those with financial troubles. If the address is incorrect, then the debtor never gets notice of the hearing. This makes the “willful non-compliance with a court order” no longer willful. If the debtor didn’t know, how could they willingly not comply?

The second and perhaps more concerning problem with this methodology is that the debtor is broke. One of the victims of this scenario spent four days in jail over $730 dollars. If you have no money to pay your debts, you probably don’t have the money to pay for an attorney. Lacking charity, that means that it’s up to the debtor to fight for their legal right to due process.

Fortunately, we have not seen a lot of these kinds of cases here in Jacksonville, but it’s impossible to tell what angle collection attorneys will try next. If you fear you may have a warrant out for your arrest for non-compliance of a court order, or fear that this may happen to you, please contact a Jacksonville Bankruptcy Attorney or call us at (904) 685-1200 for a free consultation.

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