Attachment (Fr. attacker, to seize), in law, the seizure of the person or property. The writ of attachment is of two kinds: 1. Against the person, in the nature of a criminal proceeding for contempt of court. It may be issued against attorneys, solicitors, sheriffs, and other officers of court, for any misconduct or neglect of duty. The object of the attachment is in such cases to bring the offending party personally into court, to answer for the alleged contempt, and unless he can clear himself he is punishable by fine or imprisonment. Jurisdiction has formerly been exercised by courts over a very large class of cases, and no precise limit has been fixed to the power. The statute of New York continues the jurisdiction to the same extent that has been heretofore used. In the famous case of Yates in New York, in 1810, who was committed to prison by the chancellor for misconduct as a master, the question was agitated but not definitively settled whether there was any relief upon habeas corpus from such imprisonment. (People v. Yates, 4 Johnson's Rep. 317, 6 id. 337.) 2. A writ as to contempt to enforce the civil remedies of parties to suits, or to protect the rights of such parties. In the English chancery this was the only process for enforcing its orders and decrees.
In this country it has been resorted to by all the courts to enforce interlocutory orders. It is, however, no longer used in New York for the collection of costs or any money demand, except against attorneys, solicitors, and other officers of court. (Act of 1847.) - Attachment against property was an old mode of proceeding in English practice to compel the appearance of a defendant in an action. To this head belongs also the proceeding known as foreign attachment, a process under which the property of a foreign or absent debtor is seized. The proceeding had its origin in a custom of the city of London, of which we find some notice in the books as early as the reign of Edward IV. By this custom, an action having been brought in the mayor's court against A, and the writ having been returned nihil (that is to say, that nothing could be found as a distress to compel appearance of defendant), and thereupon it being suggested by the plaintiff that another person residing in London is indebted to A, a writ is issued to warn such debtor, who is thereafter in the proceedings called "garnishee;" and if he does not deny that he is indebted, the debt is by virtue of such writ attached in his hands to answer the judgment which shall be recovered against A. Cowell defines a foreign attachment to be "an attachment of foreign goods found within a liberty or city in the hands of a third person for the satisfaction of some citizen to whom the said foreigner oweth money." But there is no trace of such proceeding in any other place in England than London. This proceeding has been introduced into our eastern states and some others, and is a common mode of collecting a debt due by a non-resident who has property within the state, such property, whether lands, chattels, or debts due to him, being seized at the commencement of the action to satisfy the judgment which shall be recovered.
It is sometimes called trustee process, the person who is indebted or holds property of the non-resident defendant being designated as trustee. In New York an attachment may by the code issue against the property of a non-resident defendant who cannot be served with process, but the proceeding is more simple than the trustee process of the eastern states. There is also a distinct proceeding for the attachment of property of absconding, concealed, absent, or non-resident debtors, which is not an action but a sort of insolvent proceeding for the benefit of all the creditors of the person whose property is attached.