Article I, Section 18 of the Texas Constitution ("Imprisonment for Debt")
Adopted February 15, 1876:
No person shall ever be imprisoned for debt.
Most state constitutions contain a provision similar to this section. However, the federal constitution does not.
Texas courts have interpreted this succinct section on several occasions to clarify its meaning and application.
In general, the liability to pay money arising out of a contract constitutes a "debt" for purposes of this section.
- Tucker v. Thomas, 419 S.W.3d 292, 297 (Tex. 2013) ("[A] child support obligation and attorney's fees related to a child support enforcement proceeding are viewed as a legal duty and are not considered a debt. In re Henry, 154 S.W.3d 594, 596 (Tex. 2005) (orig. proceeding) (per curiam); see also Ex parte Helms, 152 Tex. 480, 259 S.W.2d 184, 189 (Tex. 1953) ('The attorney's fee is but a part of the procedural remedy for enforcing substantive rights and the fee allowed as well as other costs in the proceeding is incidental to and a part of the payments necessary for the support of the minors.' (emphasis added)).")
- In re Henry, 154 S.W.3d 594, 596-98 (Tex. 2005) (citation omitted) ("The delivery of community property under a divorce decree is not considered payment of a debt when the delivering party surrenders property to which the former spouse is legally entitled. In that instance, the surrendering spouse is, constructively, a trustee in holding the other spouse's property; as such, the surrendering spouse is not paying a debt, but rather turning over property rightfully due . . . . Paul's obligation to pay property taxes as ordered in the divorce decree is a debt and therefore is not enforceable by confinement for contempt.")
- Ex parte Gorena, 595 S.W.2d 841, 846 (Tex. 1979) ("The decree in this case directs Mr. Gorena to make [payments of a portion of his retirement benefits] directly to his former wife. Mr. Gorena cites Ex parte Yates, 387 S.W.2d 377 (Tex. 1965). Yates involved . . . . We consider the controlling factor in the Yates decision to be the fact that Mr. Yates was required to pay money that he had not yet earned. Although the court in Yates mentioned the fact that the husband was not directed to pay the money to the clerk of the court, the court's opinion in no way indicates that that fact was controlling of its decision.")
- Thompson v. State, 557 S.W.2d 521, 525-26 (Tex.Crim.App. 1977) ("Appellant claims violation of Texas Constitution Article 1, Section 18, which provides . . . . We also observe the following notes in the Interpretive Commentary, 1 Vernon's Ann. Tex. Const., at p. 445: 'In general, the liability to pay money growing out of contract constitutes a debt within the meaning of the constitutional guaranty. . . . Hence the phrase imprisonment for debt has no application to criminal proceedings, nor to imprisonment meted out as a punishment for violation of the laws and for a refusal to submit to the penalty imposed.")
- Rhodes v. State, 441 S.W.2d 197, 198 (Tex.Crim.App. 1969) ("From the statute, it is evident that the legislature intended to create and make it an offense for any person to depart from the premises of a hotel with the intent not to pay for the lodging and meals which he had obtained from said hotel. . . . The statute does not violate Art. I, Section 18, of the Texas Constitution, Vernon's Ann. St. for the reason that it is not the non-payment of the services which is punishable, but it is the act of departure with the intent not to pay for such services which is denounced by the statute as an offense.")
- Ex parte Preston, 347 S.W.2d 938, 941 (Tex. 1961) ("The courts of this state have long since put to rest the contention that a husband and father may not be imprisoned for failure to pay alimony or child support and yet these matters seem much more closely related to the ordinary definition of debt than is an order of community division. In the matter of alimony or child support the court orders the person to pay over money belonging to him. In Ex parte Davis, 101 Tex. 607 . . . . In our case the order is directed to Preston that he pay over money in his possession that rightfully belongs not to him but to his wife.")
- Ex parte Davis, 111 S.W. 394, 395-96 (Tex. 1908) ("The claim of Mrs. Davis for support of . . . . She could not have maintained an action against her husband to enforce that duty, except in the manner in which it was done in the proceedings for divorce. The Constitution of this state does not prohibit the imprisonment of a man except for the collection of a debt, and the proceeding in this case, being for the enforcement of a duty, natural and legal, due from Davis to his wife and children, all of whom were subject to the jurisdiction of the court, does not come within the prohibition of the Constitution.")
- Dixon v. State, 2 Tex. 482, 483 (1847) ("It is not to be supposed, and it will scarcely be contended, that it ever entered into the minds of the framers of the Constitution, that they were to be understood as having any application to the administration of the criminal laws; or that they were to have the effect to prevent the punishment of crimes. It was well known to them that the abolition of imprisonment for debt in other States, where it had been effected, had been held to consist with the enactment of laws for the punishment by imprisonment of criminal frauds perpetrated to avoid the payment of debts.")
- Vernon's Annotated Constitution of the State of Texas (this multi-volume and up-to-date resource is available at all law libraries and many municipal libraries)
- The Texas State Constitution: A Reference Guide (this one-volume resource is available at most law libraries and some municipal libraries)
- The Constitution of the State of Texas: An Annotated and Comparative Analysis (this two-volume resource is available at most law libraries and some municipal libraries)
- Constitution of the State of Texas (1876) (this resource is published and maintained by the University of Texas School of Law)
- Amendments to the Texas Constitution Since 1876 (this resource is published and regularly updated by the Legislative Council)
- Reports Analyzing Proposed Amendments (this resource is published and regularly updated by the Legislative Reference Library)