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Delinquency on bills is not necessarily a crime, right? It could be a matter for the legal system if a creditor or lender files suit, but otherwise may not seem important. So, can failure to pay a utility bill lead to an arrest? According to one woman, it might.

Martha Menefield

Martha Menefield, an 82-year-old resident of Alabama found herself in a difficult situation when an officer knocked on her door to arrest her. She asked the officer why and discovered that a warrant was issued due to her unpaid trash bill.

The bill was $77.80 and apparently enforceable by the local police. Menefield had not paid the bill through June, July, and August and was seemingly unaware of the potential consequences. After she was booked at a local jail, residents who found out about the arrest were livid.


Residents demanded that city officials explain the mishap and according to the city, Menefield was arrested for a misdemeanor failure to pay for her delinquency paying her solid waste fees. The city’s code enforcement officers claimed that they issued a citation months prior to the arrest after having difficulty reaching the octogenarian by phone and mail. As a result, the city issued a warrant for her failure to pay trash bills.

Local law enforcement states that they have discretionary judgement on certain cases but in situations where a magistrate signs a warrant, they do not. Menefield was arrested and further review found that her trash services had been suspended several times for lack of payment and there were multitudinous incidents where she neglected to pay some or all of her bill.

Menefield claims that she did not receive notice nor was she contacted by enforcement officials in this case. She did not however deny previous incidents.

So, is failure to pay a bill a crime?

It Depends

Depending on the state, county, and municipality in which a person lives, there may be different obligations, rules, and laws that apply. Cities can construct local laws around regulations like paid trash services for residents living in specific areas, and states may have specific rules in place as well.

These government bodies may also issue penalties and punishments for failure to abide by the rules or willful negligence of the law. In Menefield’s case, the city established a law requiring trash payment as result of her refusal to do so, chose to punish her.

What You Can Do

While an unpaid trash bill may not seem worth the fuss of hiring an attorney, it is crucial that individuals charged with any crime or infraction contact law enforcement. An arrest remains on a person’s criminal record for years and can prevent them from getting jobs, going to school, or getting an apartment. Official criminal convictions may result in the loss of civil rights including the right to vote.

If you have been accused of a crime, you must contact the Law Office of Armando J. Hernandez, P.A. as soon as possible to ensure that your rights are protected.

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