You can't squeeze blood from a turnip. It's an old idiom, which means no matter how hard you try, you cannot realize potential where none exists in the first place. The most common use revolves around money: if someone has none, your efforts to collect on a debt are fruitless.
Last week, the victim of a theft contacted me. The catalytic converter on her son's vehicle had been cut off by thieves in the high school parking lot, in broad daylight. On the same day, several other catalytic converter thefts occurred. Officers alerted the local scrap dealers, and Thursday morning two defendants attempting to sell the stolen converters, were apprehended. They were lodged in jail for felony theft, where they currently repose.
The victim wanted to know if there was any way for her to follow the progress of the case online, because she intended to file a civil suit against the thieves at the conclusion. I provided her with the URL to the County Attorney's criminal case search site, where she will be able to track the upcoming judicial steps through to the final disposition. I also dispensed some advice, telling her that there was a very remote chance she would ever see a dime from these two criminals, both of whom have served two prior prison terms for felony convictions, and have extensive criminal records. Don't get your hopes up.
Here is why it is so unlikely. People who are out cutting catalytic converters off cars on weekday mornings are unlikely to be employed, to own homes, to have savings accounts or investments. Even if you sue and win a judgement--which will cost you money--you will then face the challenge of executing the judgement, which will cost even more money.
When I was Sheriff, and responsible for writs of execution, I occasionally had to break the bad news to a plaintiff that there was simply nothing worth levying against. Bank accounts that can be seized are great. Wages that can be garnished are good, although there several exemptions and also a limit on the amount you can garnish (15% of weekly wages for a head of houshold, 25% otherwise). Personal property, however, is a decidedly mixed bag.
Let's say your defendant owns a nice four year old Ford F150. It's value in the Kelly Blue Book is $11,300. The chances are good that there is a loan against it, and sometimes the loan balance is greater than the value. Even if its not, the loan eats into the equity, and the lender gets first crack at the proceeds. To levy against it, you'll have to pay the sheriff's fees in advance, which includes the statutory fees for serving the process, the cost of the tow and storage for at least 30 days, the cost of advertising for four weeks (required by law) and the cost of the appraisal. These fees will easily add up to a few hundred dollars. You might not break even.
How about the defendant's Naugahyde livingroom set, collection of classic vinyl LPs, fancy hookah, 50-inch LCD TV, $100 acid-washed jeans, and that Coach purse she carries? You'd be surprised how little such stuff is actually worth at a sheriff's sale, Beyond that, the law provides for several exemptions from levy. These include the debtor's immediate personal possessions, his or her wearing apparel, and $1,500 worth of household effects. It also includes "tools of the trade" needed for his or her occupation up to a value of $2,400, which can include one motor vehicle. Finally, there is another $2,500 exemption for personal property of the defendant's choice.
By the time you make it through these exemptions, and pay the sheriff in advance for the cost of moving, storing, appraising, and selling whatever remains, the chances are high that you will be upside down, and victimized yet again. Someone who is completely insolvent, or who has such a small net worth that they are a turnip from which you cannot squeeze blood is known as "judgement proof." I'm afraid that this would describe the vast, vast majority of catalytic converter thieves.