17 Mar Criminal Charges v. Civil Debts: When Can I Be Arrested?
Recently, one of my clients called in a panic. The local bank had sent a “repo man” to come pick up the vehicle that had been paid for in several months. The client had the vehicle behind a locked gate. Mr. “Repo Man” was not happy. Mr. “Repo Man” then told my client that if the vehicle wasn’t released imediately, that the client would be arrested for theft. The client was a wreck, even though we had discussed civil liability v. criminal liability.
None of my clients has ever been arrested for not making a credit card payment. None of my clients has ever been arrested for not making a car payment. On the other hand, some of my clients have been arrested for writing “bad checks”. What’s the difference? The difference is “intent”. Writing a bad check — that’s an easier case for the district attorney to prove. If you write a check, knowing that there is no money in the account to cover that check, well….in most states, that is a criminal offense. If you have been paying for a car and all of a sudden, you can’t make the payments, that is not criminal, that is civil. If you have been paying your credit card bills and all of a sudden, you can’t make the payments, that is not criminal, it is civil. Failure to complete your side of a contract allows the creditor to sue you in court–not have you arrested.
Why do folks think that they can be arrested? Because there are debt collectors and creditors out there who tell them that they will have arrest warrants issued when the person doesn’t pay. Creditors/debt collectors harass because it works, according to a post by my New York colleague, Jay Fleischman. If a creditor or debt collector has told you or a family member something like this, please seek legal advice as soon as possible. My South Carolina colleague, Dana Wilkinson, recently wrote a post on the kinds of scams that debt collectors practice, which you might find interesting. You may have a claim against that creditor/debt collector under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act or perhaps under your state’s version.
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