Kentucky law treats passing bad checks (known as "cold" checks) as a "theft by deception" offense. A conviction could be a misdemeanor or a felony and can lead to fines and jail time. Bad checks cost the Bluegrass State millions of dollars each year – they can devastate small businesses and cause the price of goods and services to increase. Kentucky county attorney's offices recover funds and prosecute those who pass bad checks.
Theft by Deception in Kentucky
KRS Section 514.040 states that "theft by deception" occurs when a person obtains the property or services of another through deceit to deprive them of it. The state considers these circumstances to be deceptive:
- Creating a false impression of an intention or value.
- Affecting someone's judgment by withholding information.
- Failing to correct a false impression.
The state also considers writing a bad check or otherwise issuing payment on a closed account or an account with insufficient funds as theft by deception. This law also explicitly includes writing cold checks to pay child support or state taxes.
County Attorney's Office Process
Once a business or individual presents the bad check to the county attorney's office for collection, that office reaches out to the check writer by mail. That person has 10 days to pay the amount of the check, plus an administration fee, which is $100.
Fifty dollars goes to the county attorney's office, and the rest goes to the business or individual to whom the check was written. The letter sent by the county attorney's office to the offender states that if the check value and fees are not submitted to that office within the allotted time, criminal prosecution will begin.
The bad check must have been presented to a bank, and the reason for its return stamped on it, such as "account closed," "no bank account," "non-sufficient funds (NFS)," or "unable to locate."
Review by a Judge
If the returned check is prosecutable, the individual or merchant who received it must sign the complaint at the county attorney's office where it is reviewed and notarized by the county attorney before going to a district court, where a judge reviews it. If the judge approves the criminal complaint, it goes to the sheriff's department, which either serves a summons or an arrest warrant to the check writer.
Criminal Penalties for Writing Bad Checks in Kentucky
Kentucky penalizes the writing of bad checks based on the value of the stolen property. For example, if the check writer steals property with a value of less than $500 it is a Class B misdemeanor, which carries penalties of up to 90 days in jail and a $250 fine. If someone steals property valued from $500 up to $1,000, it is a Class A misdemeanor, which carries penalties of up to one year in jail and a $500 fine.
A person with three misdemeanor convictions in five years will see the penalty increase to a Class D felony. A person can also receive a Class D felony charge if they steal property valued between $1,000 and $10,000. Stolen property valued between $10,000 and $1,000,000 is a Class C felony, which carries a prison sentence of five to 10 years.
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.