Article I, Section 18 of the Texas Constitution

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Adopted February 15, 1876:

No person shall ever be imprisoned for debt.

Editor Comments

Most state constitutions contain a provision similar to this section. However, the federal constitution does not.

To clarify its meaning and application, Texas courts have interpreted this succinct section on several occasions.

Steve Smith

Recent Decisions

  • Tucker v. Thomas, 419 S.W.3d 292, --- (Tex. 2013) ("The Texas Constitution prohibits a trial court from confining a person under its contempt powers as a means of enforcing a judgment for debt. Tex. Const. art. I, § 18 ('No person shall ever be imprisoned for debt.'). On the other hand, 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)).")

Historic Decisions

  • Ex parte Davis, 111 S.W. 394, 395-396 (Tex. 1908) ("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. 481, 482 (1847) ("The words 'imprisonment for debt' have a well defined and well known meaning, and have never been understood or held to apply to criminal proceedings—4 Hill's R., 681; 5 Id. 605; 15 Wend. R., 461. 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.")

Library Resources

Online Resources