Washington Law Review


Towards an Institutional Challenge of Imprisonment for Legal Financial Obligation Nonpayment in Washington State

October 30, 2015 | 90 Wash. L. Rev. 1349

Abstract: Imprisonment for debt is resurfacing in the United States, primarily in the form of contempt proceedings for failure to pay court judgments. Although Washington's Constitution prohibits imprisonment for debt, the State repeatedly jails individuals for failing to pay legal financial obligations. This Comment explores the adverse consequences of this de facto debtors' prison system, describes the strong prohibition on imprisonment for debt found in article I, section 17 of the Washington Constitution, and argues that imprisonment for failing to pay legal financial obligations violates that strong prohibition. It then discusses how case law has degraded article I, section 17, making systemic constitutional challenges to the practice impractical. This Comment attempts to provide litigants with a comprehensive overview of strategies that can be used to challenge the current jurisprudence and the validity of imprisoning individuals for failing to pay legal financial obligations.

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