Be sure to check the status of your account before writing a check in Georgia. Writing a check from an account that is closed, or one that lacks funds, is a crime for which you may be prosecuted. You will always be given a chance to honor the check. But if you don't act quickly and pay what's due, you could be looking at a hefty fine and jail time.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
In Georgia, if you purposefully issue a bad check knowing the account is closed or there are insufficient funds, it is a criminal violation.
Is it Illegal to Write a Check Without Funds in Georgia?
Short answer: yes. it is. The Georgia Code makes it clear that you may be committing check fraud if you write a check from an account that is closed, or one that does not have sufficient funds to cover the check's full value. The crime is known as "deposit account fraud" and it works a bit like a fix-it ticket – you get a chance to correct the violation. The payee must send you a written notice that the check has been dishonored. You now have 10 days to pay up in cash, otherwise you may be prosecuted.
How Much Jail Time Can You Get For Bad Checks?
Penalties vary depending on the amount the check was written for – the higher the check's value, the greater the penalty. Generally, writing a bad check for less than $500 is a misdemeanor, carrying a fine of up to $500 and a maximum 12-month jail sentence. Any bad check you write over $500 or any check that's drawn on an out-of-state bank is considered a felony. Now, you're looking at a maximum fine of $5,000 and the chance of up to three years' imprisonment. You'll also need to pay court costs if you're convicted of deposit account fraud.
When Can Someone Be Prosecuted for Deposit Account Fraud?
The recipient will have to check certain boxes before you can be prosecuted for writing a bad check in Georgia. First, the person receiving the check must deposit it within 30 days. If she waits too long, you cannot be prosecuted. Second, the check must be given for "present consideration." This means that goods or services are delivered at the same time that the check is written. You cannot be prosecuted for writing a check that's not payable due to postdating. Third, the recipient must send you a written notice by certified mail within 90 days of receiving the check. The purpose of the notice is to let you know that your check is not good. If you don't pay up within 10 days of the notice, the payee can collect the check through the judicial system.
Criminal Citation and Bad Check Warrant in Georgia
If you have received a bad check and the payer has not responded to the 10-day notice, you have the option of starting a criminal prosecution. Procedures vary by county but generally, you'll take the check, the 10-day notice and the certified mail receipt to the Magistrate's Court where the check was passed and fill out an application. What happens next depends on the amount of the insufficient check. Most counties issue citations when the check amount is less than $1,500. This works like a parking ticket – the debtor won't get a criminal record if she pays the debt promptly. For larger checks, the Magistrate's Office typically will issue an arrest warrant. The only way the debtor can avoid a criminal trial is by paying the check and fine within a certain number of days.
Collecting Through the Civil Courts
If you forgot to deposit the check within 30 days, you still have the option of suing the debtor though the civil courts. The process involves filing a debt action in the county where the person resides. Georgia lets you claim the amount of the check plus damages up to twice the amount of the check or $500, whichever is lower. You can also charge a "service charge" of 5 percent of the check's value, up to $30, along with any bank fees you were charged because of the dishonored check. Be sure to include the additional fees in your 10-day demand for payment.
Georgia Bad Check Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations on debt in GA is two years for a misdemeanor and four years for felonies. So, in theory, a bad check could come back to haunt you up to four years after you wrote it. In reality, you'll learn if there's a problem much sooner. Remember, the recipient has only 90 days from the date of the check to send you a pay-up-or-else notice, so you'll learn pretty quickly if the check is not good.