Emory Bankruptcy Developments Journal


Dru Selden


What do the bankruptcy system and the criminal legal system have in common? Both aim to provide fresh starts to those who have moved through them. The bankruptcy system does so by rewarding honest but unfortunate debtors with discharge from debt. The criminal legal system attempts to provide a fresh start through reentry programs to those exiting prison. Yet neither system successfully ensures a blank slate, which is in part due to the history of racial bias in both systems. A limited subset of debtors benefits from the bankruptcy system, while the criminal legal system makes reentry very difficult for convicted felons. The wrongfully convicted are also not provided the necessary tools to obtain a fresh start as they reenter society. With restricted access to reentry programs, further injury due to barriers they face upon reentry, and debt stemming from their wrongful conviction, exonerees require a more holistic approach to ensure that they have a fresh start. The bankruptcy system offers an opportunity to meaningfully improve reentry for the wrongfully convicted. This Comment proposes that exonerees should be entitled to an expedited chapter 13 discharge of the debt stemming from their wrongful conviction. Further, this Comment argues that states should provide more holistic reentry programs that include access to bankruptcy attorney services. Discharging this debt would relieve exonerees and their families of some of the misfortune caused by wrongful conviction. By doing so, the bankruptcy system would promote its goal of providing a fresh start to the honest but unfortunate debtor.