Managing your finances in an age where we have multiple bank accounts, checks, debit and credit cards can be complex. If you have multiple accounts or multiple cardholders on your accounts, you may not have good tabs on what is going on with your finances. We've all made mistakes and bounced checks, often through no fault of our own. Most of the time, simply covering the bounced check amount along with some fees will absolve you of your damages. However, some people write bad checks on purpose and those people can be criminally prosecuted. Writing checks you know will bounce, with the intent to defraud the merchant you are paying, can result in criminal charges being pressed against you. The intent is a very important component of this criminal charge; if you accidentally wrote a bad check, you will not be charged criminally. As with many criminal charges, writing bad checks, also called check fraud, can result in jail time.
Is Writing a Bad Check a Felony?
Writing a bad check is considered a wobbler crime in California, meaning it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony depending on circumstances of the crime. If the value of the check was under $450, the offense is generally charged as a misdemeanor. If the amount is over $450, you can be charged with a felony.
In general, if you are found guilty of writing bad checks with the intent to commit fraud, and knowing you did not have the money to cover the check, you can be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the case. How you are charged may change if you have prior offenses. A prior bad check, theft or forgery charge may result in your offense being charged as a felony, with harsher consequences.
Penalties for Writing a Bad Check
With a misdemeanor, you can face up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. If charged as a felony, you could face time in prison with much more substantial fines. It is important to note that it is the intent to write a bad check that incriminates you.
If you attempt to write a bad check but it is caught before bouncing, you can still face criminal prosecution.
Check Fraud Defense Strategies
You may have a good defense option if you thought you had sufficient funds when you wrote the check or if you post-dated the check and it bounced as a result of the merchant cashing it prior to the post-dated date. The amount of the check and your bank account history can be used as evidence you thought you had sufficient funds.
For example, if you were only short a small amount, it may be hard for the prosecution to prove you intentionally wrote a bad check. All of us, even the prosecutor, have accidentally written bad checks. However, if the check you wrote was for an amount much higher than what you have in your account, it may be easier for the prosecution to prove you intentionally wrote a bad check. The prosecution may be able to obtain your bank records to demonstrate how much you had in your account at the time you wrote the check. While a low account balance isn't enough to convict you, it can help build the case against you.
Similar to writing a bad check is intentionally and illegally altering a check but presenting it to be genuine. This is considered check fraud or forgery. Fraud is a broad criminal category that covers many different forms of falsely presenting information for the benefit of you at the expense of others. Forgery implies you altered the check in some way. For example, if you forged a signature on a check that was not yours or altered the amount on the check.
Check fraud is a very serious charge and is a wobbler crime in California. Regardless of whether or not you are criminally prosecuted for writing a bad check, the merchant you defrauded can collect damages from you, which can include the amount you bounced, returned check fees and even attorney's fees if they hired one to pursue the lost funds. In many cases, if the amount is small and you can cover it quickly, no civil action will be taken against you. However, if you bounce checks repeatedly and do not cover the costs, a civil lawsuit can be brought against you. For this reason, it is best to never write a bad check intentionally and if you do bounce a check, make sure you make it right and pay all the fees immediately to avoid any involvement from the courts, either criminal or civil.
Have you or a loved one been charged with writing bad checks or check fraud? Contact attorney Christopher Martens and his legal team for legal help in Tulare, Fresno or Kings County. Experienced in criminal defense, our Visalia area legal team can help you face the charges against you with as strong a defense as possible. Call our Visalia or Hanford, CA offices at 559-967-7386 or email us at [email protected] for a free consultation.