Is a debt incurred as a result of a DUI (or DWI depending on the argot used where you live) dischargeable in bankruptcy? There are three parts to the answer. Although my discussion makes use of California and Ninth Circuit law, its substance will undoubtedly apply, mutatis mutandis, to any jurisdiction in the United States.
I. A DUI Fine Is Not A Dischargeable Debt
If a debtor tied one on, got behind the wheel, and received a citation for drunk driving, the resultant fine is not dischargeable in bankruptcy. To establish this requires a two-step analysis.
A. Bankruptcy Other Than In A Completed Chapter 13 Plan
A discharge under section 727, 1141, 1228 (a), 1228 (b), or 1328 (b) of this title does not discharge an individual debtor from any debt— . . . to the extent such debt is for a fine, penalty, or forfeiture payable to and for the benefit of a governmental unit . . .
11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(7) (emphasis added).
B. A Completed Chapter 13 Plan Discharge
The list of debts that are nondischargeable in a completed Chapter 13 plan discharge ― found in 11 U.S.C. § 1328(a) ― is shorter than the list of exceptions to discharge found in 11 U.S.C. § 523(a). In particular, § 523(a)(7) is not included in the Chapter 13 list. However, 11 U.S.C. § 1328(a)(3) excludes from discharge (emphasis added): “any debt— . . . for restitution, or a criminal fine, included in a sentence on the debtor’s conviction of a crime . . .”
Is a DUI a crime? Yes. Here is the reasoning: