Does Washington State have Debtor’s Prison?

Debtor's PrisonYes.  No. Sort of.
Here’s what most creditors (or debtors) don’t realize.  Once a creditor has reduced his claim to a judgment, he now has rights to convert his judgment (what they call in the biz, “levy upon execution”) to cash.  This is done by garnishing wages, garnishing financial accounts, foreclosing real property liens, if any, or getting the county sheriff to take and sell the debtor’s personal property.

The question is this: how do you know where the financial accounts are so that you can garnish them?   The answer is you ask the court for an Order for Supplemental Proceedings, which is a court order, requiring the debtor to appear in court, and truthfuly testify about his assets and their whereabouts.  A creditor can ask to see the debtor’s tax returns, bank statements, certificates of title and deeds (and anything else reasonably calculated to learn where the debtor’s assets are located).

What happens if a debtor just doesn’t show up to testify?  This is where things can get nasty.  The creditor then asks the judge to sign a bench warrant for the creditor’s arrest.  The warrant gets filed with the county sheriff, and while the police will not actively look for the debtor, if he is ever pulled over, the warrant will show up, he’ll be arrested, and will spend a few hours in jail before he posts bail.  So technically, that isn’t debtor’s prison, because the offense is not being a debtor, but ignoring a court order to appear and testify.  But if you’re the debtor, it’s still time in jail, however characterized.