Bankruptcy 420

by Andy Miofsky, Esq.

April 21, 2013

In honor of April 20th everywhere, and in the immortal Hollywood movie words of Jeff Spicoli, Hey dude, let’s party.

But first, a quick drug trivia lesson.

Who said “Are you on drugs?”  My Cousin Vinny’s Judge Chamberlain Haller.  Don’t you just love that movie, I know I do.

Who sang “Everybody must get stoned”?  Bob Dylan, though Dylan was referring to the biblical act of being stoned by actual rocks.

What does the number 420 [4:20 or 4/20] have to do with bankruptcy? [silent pause]

People commonly think that bankruptcy will wipe out all their debts. In fact, many people refer to a bankruptcy discharge under chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code as a complete bankruptcy, or the one that wipes everything out.  While a chapter 7 discharge will eliminate most credit card debt, medical debt and personal loans, there are exceptions for certain types of debt.

420 is slang for smoking marijuana.  Jokers, smokers, midnight tokers everywhere, relate the number 420, the date April 20th, the times 4:20 am and pm with getting stoned on marijuana.

So, what does bankruptcy have to do with smoking pot?  Bankruptcy will not wipe out a debt for death or personal injury caused while operating a motor vehicle if the debtor was intoxicated from using alcohol, drugs, or some other substance.  If you get high and injure someone in a traffic accident, you cannot run to bankruptcy court to wipe out the debt. That is the connection.

And the exception to wiping out debt caused by intoxication applies equally to getting drunk on alcohol.  Coincidentally, in a case decided by the Supreme Court of the United States in Missouri vs. McNeely, the Court ruled that police cannot force a drunken driving suspect to take a blood test without a warrant.  420 aficionados will note the Court decided this case just 3 days before April 20, 2013.

While it may be harder to prove intoxication without a blood test, those who are convicted cannot run to bankruptcy court to wipe out the damages they cause.

If you forget everything else about this column, always remember this one last gem from Jeff Spicoli, “people on ‘ludes should not drive!”

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Andy Miofsky, Esq.

Andy Miofsky is an Illinois consumer rights lawyer with offices in Granite City Illinois and Mount Vernon. Andy represents people with bankruptcy and student loan debt problems throughout the Central and the Southern District of Illinois since 1979.

Last modified: August 22, 2013