Can Judgment Debtors be Sent to Prison in California?

Can a judgment debtor be imprisoned for failing to pay a judgment in California?  The answer is “no.”  Formerly, a judgment debtor was subject to imprisonment for failure to satisfy a judgment.  The prior version of Code of Civil Procedure section 1143 et seq. provided a procedure for release from prison including notice to the judgment creditor and a hearing.  However, civil arrest was rarely used apart for contempt proceedings, and the civil arrest statues were repealed in 1973.

Under current law in California, a person may not be imprisoned in a civil action for debt, whether before or after judgment.  However, the prohibition does not affect any power a court may have to imprison a person who violates a court order.  In the judgment enforcement context, this often arises in connection with debtor examinations.  If the debtor fails to appear at a court-ordered examination, a warrant can be issued for the debtor’s arrest.

If you need representation in enforcing court orders relating to California judgments, feel free to contact our firm to discuss.

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