Writing bad checks is a crime in every state. In Indiana, someone who writes a check when they know they do not have sufficient funds to cover the check can be sued in court by the recipient and also prosecuted criminally. The crime is called "check deception," and it can carry both fines and jail time.
Both types of actions, civil and criminal, must be brought within the applicable statute of limitations. Anyone receiving a bad check in Indiana will want to understand what this means in terms of an action against the check writer.
What Is Check Deception?
Check deception is what Indiana calls the crime of writing a bad check. But an accidental miscalculation of bank account funds will not result in a criminal charge. To commit check deception in Indiana, the person's behavior must be intentional. State law provides that, in order to be charged with check deception, the person writing the 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 those requirements are met, the person can be charged with check deception in Indiana. The crime is classified as a Class A misdemeanor, the less serious type of criminal offense. In certain cases, however, the writer of a bad check in Indiana can be charged with a Level 6 felony if the amount of the check is between $750 and $49,999. They can be charged with the more serious Level 5 felony if the amount of the check is $50,000 or more.
Indiana Bad Check Units
Many Indiana counties have a special unit in their prosecutor's office to handle check deception. A victim first must write a demand letter to the writer of the check setting a deadline for repayment. If this does not result in payment, the victim can just take a copy of the letter and the check to the county prosecutor's bad check office. The intention is to get restitution for the victim by bringing a criminal action against the check writer.
Prima Facie Evidence of a Bad Check
The general rule is that the prosecutor must prove every element of a criminal charge beyond a reasonable doubt. States can make things a little easier for the prosecutor by describing in a criminal statute what type of evidence is sufficient to meet that burden. This is called "prima facie" evidence. When prima facie evidence is entered in court, the burden of proof shifts to the defendant to overcome it.
Proving the Elements of Check Deception
In the case of the crime of check deception, Indiana's bad check law describes two types of prima facie evidence that make prosecution easier. First, the law states that a check returned by a bank for insufficient funds constitutes prima facie evidence that the check was presented to the bank and that it was properly dishonored for the reason provided by the bank.
The second type of prima facie evidence described in Indian's check deception criminal statute addresses the issue of the check writer's intention. It states that the fact that a person issued a check that was returned unpaid by the bank constitutes prima facie evidence that the person writing the check knew that it would not be paid or honored.
These provisions, taken together, mean that all a prosecutor has to do at a check deception trial in Indiana is introduce the returned check. That establishes both the person's act and their intention.
Criminal Statute of Limitations
It is in the interests of justice and fairness that, if a charge is to be brought against an individual for an alleged crime, it should be brought relatively close to the time that the act was committed. If charges were brought many years after the event, it could be difficult to find evidence and witnesses.
That is why Indiana, like all other states, sets up a window of time during which certain actions can be filed in court. The amount of time is different for different crimes – shorter for lesser crimes (misdemeanors ) and longer for serious crimes (felonies.)
Some very serious crimes have no statute of limitations and can be brought at any time. For example, in Indiana, there is no limitation period for a murder charge. Likewise, Indiana Class A felonies (committed before July 1, 2014) or Level 1 or Level 2 felonies (committed after June 30, 2014) may be filed at any time.
Statute of Limitations for Bad Checks
The statute of limitations for check deception in Indiana is two years if it is charged as a misdemeanor, five years if it is charged as a felony. That means that the prosecutor has a time frame of two years to charge someone for check deception if they write a bad check for under $50,000. If they fail to file a criminal action within that time limit, they lose the right to file at all.
Civil Cases for Check Deception
An individual or business that is the victim of check deception in Indiana can also sue the person who wrote the bad check in civil court. Small claims court is a good option for creditor claims that don't exceed $10,000.
Even if the amount of the check is small, suing in small claims court may be worthwhile if the defendant has funds. That is because of the additional claims that the victim can make. Under Indiana law, the victim of a bad check can also claim:
- Interest at 18 percent.
- Court costs.
- Attorney fees.
- Travel expenses to file papers and attend court.
- Costs to have witnesses testify.
Statute of Limitations for Civil Actions
Just like a prosecutor has to file a criminal action within a set window of time, a person wishing to bring a civil suit in Indiana also has a statute of limitations. The Indiana statute of limitations for a civil lawsuit to recover money for a check returned for insufficient funds is 10 years.
That means that the individual holding the bad check must file a civil complaint against the bad check writer within 10 years from the date the check was returned by the bank or financial institution. After that period passes, no lawsuit can be filed on the amount due.
- Findlaw: Indiana Criminal Statute of Limitations
- Findlaw: Indiana Code Title 35. Criminal Law and Procedure Section 35-43-5-5
- Morgan County, Indiana: Prosecutor's Bad Check Program
- Indiana State: Small Claims Court Rules
- Justia: Penalties for Stopping Payments or Permitting Dishonor of Checks and Drafts
Teo Spengler earned a JD from U.C. Berkeley Law School. 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 MA and an MFA in English/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.