States classify check fraud felonies based on the market value of goods obtained. Most states allow a 10- to 30-day grace period to "cover" a worthless check. Issuing a bad check is a misdemeanor, but felony theft and fraud charges may follow. A felony charge means a potential one or more years in prison. Anything else is a misdemeanor. Your state of mind makes a difference. Courts look at intent. If you did not know you didn't have the funds, you may have a valid defense. Past history escalates charges.
A felony is a penalty resulting in a possible one year or more in prison. The threshold for a bad check being either a misdemeanor or a felony varies by state, but is typically around $300. Issuing a bad check in New York is a class B misdemeanor by itself, but when the market value of goods crosses $1,000, $3,000 or $50,000, it's a felony with a penalty of up to 30 years in jail. In Florida, a worthless check is a first-degree misdemeanor carrying a potential sentence of up to one year in jail and fines up to $1,000. The same crime in New York is petit larceny. Oklahoma has the lowest felony threshold of $50.
Tendering a bad check to a business and obtaining goods or services is theft of service, fraud and larceny. Victims who gave service can allege fraud. Prosecuting a bad check is the job of the district attorney, who decides whether to charge the bad check as a first- to fourth-degree charge, with the harshest felony penalties for bad checks resulting in up to a 30-year penalty. Offenders may approach the court for dismissal of charges if they show payment of fines and restitution.
Penalties for a bad check conviction include community service, jail time, restitution, fines, court cost reimbursement and probation. In one example, the Los Angeles district attorney's office requires a victim to notify the offender to allow him to make good on the check. Bad check charges can restrict firearm licensing and voting. View the penal code of each state for a list of specific penalties, or visit the National Check Fraud Center's website for a list of penalties and statutes by state.
You may offer in your defense one of the following reasons for a bad check: the victim knew the check was bad at issuance, you were an employee who issued a check on behalf of a corporation, you didn't gain personal benefit or the bad check was truly accidental. Try to pay the check and bank fees plus penalties to potentially reduce or eliminate a criminal indictment.
Banks may deny loans, credit cards and mortgages to an offender. Employers may ignore your job application. You must disclose bad check charges when signing up for a professional examination.
Noel Cook began writing in 1988. She worked as a columnist for the "Seminole Beacon" in Seminole, Fla., and has legal expertise in taxes, wills, estates, trusts, bankruptcy, contracts and criminal law. Cook has a Juris Doctor from Florida Coastal School of Law.