23 Aug Bankruptcy and Arrest Warrants
Bankruptcy has no effect on criminal arrest warrants. However, at least here in Massachusetts, civil arrest warrants are common when debts go unpaid, judgments unanswered, and supplementary process actions neglected. When matters get to this advanced stage, and a person who owes money continues to ignore court hearings, the court will issue a civil arrest warrant. This warrant isn’t a ticket to jail, but rather a way for the sheriff to force a person into court to answer questions about the unpaid debt. It is called a capias.
With a capias in hand, a creditor will often still attempt to communicate informally with the judgment debtor, sending a letter or calling by phone. Sheriff’s offices also have different procedures. Some will also attempt informal contact while others will proceed with arrest. How does Bankruptcy factor in when there are outstanding civil arrest warrants?
When a bankruptcy is filed, the automatic stay arises by operation of law. What that means is that merely by filing a bankruptcy case, a legal bar goes into effect stopping all collection activities, including the right of the sheriff to arrest you on a civil warrant. This is an attractive side benefit of the ultimate goal of bankruptcy: Getting debts discharges is wonderful, but getting a little breathing room while that process goes forward is welcome relief.
Procedurally, it is important to get expedited notice of the bankruptcy filing to the judgment creditor. It is their job to contact the sheriff and call them off. If they do not act quickly to do so, and you are arrested, you will have a claim for a violation of the automatic stay, entitling you to recover damages and attorneys’ fees.
Nicholas Ortiz, Boston Bankruptcy Attorney
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