Writing a check is intended to transfer money from the account of the check writer to someone else, often for goods purchased or services rendered. When it turns out the check is bad – written on a nonexistent account or an account with insufficient funds – it becomes a problem and, in the state of Indiana, it can be a crime.
Under Indiana law, someone who writes a check when they know they do not have enough money to cover the check is liable to the recipient for damages and can also be prosecuted criminally. The crime is known as check deception and carries fines and jail time.
Writing a Bad Check
Indiana terms the crime of writing a bad check "check deception." But that term doesn't apply to someone who simply makes a mathematical error when balancing their funds. This accident will not land them with a criminal charge in Indiana. To commit check deception, the person's behavior must be intentional.
State law requires that the person writing the bounced check must do so "knowing that it will not be paid or honored by the credit institution upon presentment in the usual course of business." If that is met, the person can be charged with check deception.
In Indiana, check deception is classified as a Class A misdemeanor, the less serious type of criminal offense. A felony is the more serious type of crime. In certain cases, the writer of a bad check can be charged with a Level 6 felony in Indiana. That happens when the amount of the check is between $750 and $49,999. The person can be charged with the more serious Level 5 felony where the dishonored check amount was $50,000 or more.
County-enforced Bad Check Laws
Many Indiana counties have a special unit in the county prosecutor's office to prosecute check deception. While bad-check writers can be sent to jail, the intention of the program is to get them to pay what they owe by using the criminal charges as leverage.
In order to qualify, a victim of check deception must first write a letter to the maker of the check demanding payment and setting a deadline for repayment. If this does not work, the county prosecutor's bad check office takes it from there.
Proving the Check Deception Charge
It is not always easy to prove someone's intention when they do something wrong. This is true for bad check cases too, where the state must prove that the person knew they did not have enough funds to cover the check. The prosecuting attorney must usually prove every element of a criminal case with a very high standard of proof – beyond a reasonable doubt.
State laws make this proof easier for the prosecutor by setting out in the criminal statute the evidence that is sufficient to meet the burden. This is termed "prima facie" evidence. When the prosecutor offers prima facie evidence in court, the burden of proof shifts to the defendant to overcome the evidence.
Evidence Needed for Criminal Prosecution
When it comes to check deception, Indiana's bad check law sets out two types of evidence that make it easier for the prosecutor to prove their case:
First, the bad check laws in Indiana state that the fact that a check is returned by a financial institution for insufficient funds is prima facie evidence that the check was presented to the bank and that it was properly dishonored for the reason provided by the bank. Note that the check writer can still prove that this was not true; the prima facie evidence simply transfers the burden of proof. If the defendant wishes to make that argument, they must prove to the jury or court beyond a reasonable doubt, that the check should not have been dishonored.
The second type of prima facie evidence set out in the check deception criminal statute in Indiana has to do with the intention of the check writer. The law states that the fact that a person wrote a check that was returned unpaid by the bank is considered prima facie evidence of the person's intention. This means that the fact that the check was returned for insufficient funds establishes that the person writing the check knew that it would not be paid or honored.
These provisions make it much easier to prosecute a bad check case in Indiana. All an Indiana prosecutor needs to do at a check deception trial is put into evidence the returned check. The check itself establishes both the check-writer's action and their intention.
Bad Check Criminal Statutes of Limitations
It is much easier for everyone, including someone accused of a wrongful act, to defend themselves close to the time of the event rather than years later. That is the purpose of statutes of limitations. They set out a particular window of time in which different actions must be brought. If charges could be filed decades after an event, the person charged might have a hard time locating evidence and witnesses.
Indiana, like every other state, has enacted laws that set up windows of time during which certain actions can be filed in court. These are called statutes of limitations. The more serious the charge, the longer the limitations period. Some very serious crimes, like murder, have no limitations period and can be brought at any time. All Indiana Class A felonies (committed before July 1, 2014) or Level 1 or Level 2 felonies (committed after June 30, 2014) may also be filed at any time.
However, there is a statute of limitations for check deception in Indiana. It is for a period of two years when charged as a misdemeanor, five years if it is charged as a felony.
Civil Action for Bad Checks
Anyone who is the recipient of a bad check in Indiana also has the right to sue the check writer in civil court. These are usually filed in small claims court since most bad check creditor claims don't exceed $10,000, the monetary limit for small claims actions in Indiana.
Just as a prosecutor has to file a criminal action on a bad check in Indiana within two years or five years, an individual or a business that wants to bring a civil suit for a bad check also has a statute of limitations in which to do so. The Indiana statute of limitations for a civil lawsuit for a payee to recover money for a check returned for insufficient funds is 10 years.
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.