The Texas Penal Code addresses bad checks – more commonly referred to in Texas as hot checks – in two different sections. Which section a worthless checks fits into, as well as the potential legal consequences, depends on the amount of the check and the intent of the writer. In most cases, a hot check is a misdemeanor offense, but the writer risks felony charges in some situations.
Bad Check vs. Theft by Check
Sections 32.41 and 31.02 distinguish between two hot check classifications:
- Penal Code 32.41 addresses the “issuance of a bad check.” It defines a bad check as one knowingly written against insufficient funds.
- Penal Code 31.02 addresses "theft by check" infractions. It defines a theft by check situation as one written against a non-existent bank account, or a bad check not paid in full within a specific time.
Legal Requirements for Filing Charges
The recipient must send the writer a demand for payment letter, then give the writer 10 days to pay the amount and any associated collection fees in full before filing charges for a check written against insufficient funds. This same rule applies if the writer stops payment on the check.
There is no waiting period for filing charges against a person who writes a check against a non-existent bank account, but the recipient must file charges with the District Attorney or Justice of the Peace office within 30 days of receiving the check.
Check writers who either make a partial payment without having a mutually agreed upon payment plan or who file bankruptcy still can face prosecution.
Potential Legal Consequences
The amount of a single bad check or the total of multiple checks, not the type of charge, determines the potential legal consequences. Consequences range from a Class C misdemeanor to a first class felony.
- The offense is a Class C misdemeanor for a bad check under $20. The penalty for a Class C misdemeanor is a fine of up to $500.
- The offense is a Class B misdemeanor for checks under $20 if they're written to pay child support, and for other checks between $20 and $500. The penalty for a Class B misdemeanor is a fine of up to $2,000 and/or up to 180 days in a county jail.
- The offense is a Class A misdemeanor for a check between $500 and $1,500. The penalty for a Class A misdemeanor is a fine of up to $4,000 and/or up to one year in a county jail.
A bad check for more than $1,500 is a felony offense. Depending on the amount, charges range from a state jail felony to first degree felony:
- A check of at least $1,500 but less than $20,000 is a state jail felony.
- A check of at least $20,000 but less than $100,000 is a third degree felony.
- A check of at least $100,000 but less than $200,000 is a second degree felony.
- A check for $200,000 or more is a first degree felony.
Felony penalties include a fine of up to $10,000, and – except for a state jail felony charge – time spent in a state prison. A state felony charge carries the potential for 180 days to two years in a state jail, and a fine of up to $10,000.
Based in Green Bay, Wisc., Jackie Lohrey has been writing professionally since 2009. In addition to writing web content and training manuals for small business clients and nonprofit organizations, including ERA Realtors and the Bay Area Humane Society, Lohrey also works as a finance data analyst for a global business outsourcing company.