Writing Bad Checks – What is the Penalty?

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Bounced checks happen to most people from time to time, especially in an era of constant ATM withdrawals and paying for purchases with debit cards which deduct money directly from your checking account. In most cases, if you accidentally bounce a check, and contact the payee as soon as you realize the error, they will allow you to pay them the value of the bounced check, along with any service charges which they may have incurred as a result of your check being returned.

[NOTE: Articles and answers on DearEsq., while written and published by lawyers, do not constitute legal advice, and no attorney-client relationship is formed by your reading of this information. You should always consult with an attorney for any legal situations.]

But what happens if it goes beyond that? What if the payee actually initiates legal action? A reader wonders this when they write “I have to go to court on a Passing Bad Check charge soon. What will happen? Will I be able to make restitution or will I be jailed?”

Unfortunately, it’s really difficult to predict what will happen, as it depends on so many variables, including the state in which the event occured, and what events lead up to the filing of legal charges. Passing bad checks is a crime, but for the individual, with the occasional bounced check, it rarely rises to that level.

Under ordinary circumstances, if the bad check passing charge is a first offense, and the defendant was not trying to avoid paying the check, and the check bounced due to an honest mistake or circumstances beyond their control, it is likely that they will be allowed to make restitution – maybe even make payments – as well as being ordered to pay all of the plaintiff’s (the payee’s) legal fees and costs.

However, if this is not a first offense, or if the bad check was written intentionally, knowing that it would not clear, then probation or even some time as a guest of the state may be in their future.

Recommended reading:
The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous & Broke

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Author: Anne P. Mitchell, Esq.

Anne P. Mitchell, Esq. is a noted family law expert, Internet law expert, and Professor of Law at Lincoln Law School of San Jose. She is the author of "Surviving Divorce: the Single Father's Guide" and "The Email Deliverability Handbook"