Former Prosecutor

FIGHTING FOR YOU

Writing Bad Checks

Being charged with writing bad checks is not something that you should take lightly. This crime could result in misdemeanor or felony penalties. A conviction on one’s criminal record will have long-term consequences. Simply having any convictions could make it more difficult to find employment and could limit your housing opportunities, regardless of what type of crime(s) are listed on your record.

If you are facing a criminal offense for writing bad checks, it is highly recommended you find a criminal defense lawyer to help. An experienced legal defense attorney understands how to defend you and will fight hard to gain the best possible outcome.

For a more critical understanding of what it means to write bad checks, let’s take a look at how California defines it.

How does California define writing bad checks?

Writing bad checks is a section of the law that is included under the state’s bad check laws, PC 476. California outlines writing bad checks under Penal Code 476a which details when writing bad checks is a crime. The crime of PC 476a is committed if someone writes or passes a bad check, knowing the account connected to the check had insufficient funds to cover it. More specifically;

  • If a person willfully used or attempted to use a check or money order,
    • Willfully means the individual acted on purpose.
    • Used or attempted to use a bad check indicates the individual either directly or indirectly presented the check as real and genuine.
      • Making, drawing, or attempting to make or draw a check or order for payment falls under “using or making the attempt to use.”
      • Making or drawing a check or order takes place when the person writes it and signs it to authorize payment to the payee.
      • For instance, simply handing a check to the payee or filling out a check in front of the payee are both considered forms of purposely representing the check and/or money order as authentic.
    • A check or order for payment of money (money order) is a written/printed document that directs a bank, firm, or person to pay the individual who is named as the payee on the check or money order.
  • And at the time the check or order for payment of money was being used, there were insufficient funds to cover the full payment of the check,
    • Having insufficient funds does not mean the account has to be empty. If the account has money in it, but that amount is less than what the check or order is written for, it is still considered insufficient funds.
  • And the person using the check knew that were insufficient funds available in the account the check was connected to,
    • This means the individual knew about the inadequate balance before they decided to use or attempt to use the bad check.
  • And the person used the bad check with the intent to defraud the payee.
    • Intending to defraud means the person intends to cheat, deceive, lie, mislead, or trick another individual.
    • Even if no one is defrauded or suffers any financial losses, the person can still be charged with PC 476a. What matters most is whether the defendant intended to defraud or not.

Similar Offenses

It must be noted, you can face multiple counts of PC 476a, particularly in cases where more than one business/person was affected. There are associated crimes that could be charged in addition to any PC 476a offense. The following are just some of the offenses that are closely related to writing bad checks.

Remember, facing more than one crime will result in stacked penalties. This means if convicted of more than one offense you could face steeper fines and longer imprisonment in county jail or state prison.

California PC 470 – Forgery;

This crime is committed when someone falsifies a signature or fraudulently alters certain documents.

California PC 476 – Check Fraud;

Writing, making, or passing a fake or fraudulent check as real is a crime under this statute.

California PC 484 – Petty Theft;

Unlawfully taking or stealing another person’s property and that property is valued at nine-hundred-fifty dollars or less is a crime punishable under this statute.

California PC 484(f) – Credit Card Fraud;

Forging credit card information or presenting counterfeit credit cards is a crime under this statute.

California PC 487 – Grand Theft;

This crime is committed if someone unlawfully takes or steals another person’s property and that property is valued at or above nine-hundred-fifty dollars.

California PC 424 – Misappropriation of Public Funds;

If a public officer or someone entrusted with public funds (trustee of public funds) misappropriates or improperly uses the public funds, they are guilty of committing a felony.

California PC 350 – Making or Selling Counterfeit Goods;

This statute prohibits the making, selling, or possession for sale of any counterfeit or fake trademarks.

What The Prosecution Must Do

To get a conviction for PC 476a, writing bad checks, the prosecution must first prove beyond a reasonable doubt the facts of the case or elements of the crime.

Elements of the Crime

  • The defendant willfully used or attempted to use a check or order for payment of money, AND
  • At the time the check or order for payment of money was used, there were insufficient funds to cover the full payment, AND
  • The defendant knew that were insufficient funds available in the account the check was connected to, AND
  • The defendant used or attempted to use the bad check with the intent to defraud the payee.

It is important to remember, even if no one was defrauded or suffered any financial losses, the defendant can still be charged with PC 476a.

Who Can Be Charged

To get a better idea of who can face charges for PC 476a, take a look at the following examples. If you or someone you know can relate to any of these situations, contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as you can. Getting legal help as soon as possible will make facing these offenses feel less overwhelming.

Example 1:

Torin needed his car fixed and brought it to the mechanics. The bill was $400, so he wrote out a check for the amount, knowing there were insufficient funds in his account. He knew he had less than the amount needed for the bill but still chose to draw out a check. He could be charged with PC 476a for writing a bad check.

Example 2:

Dean was the manager of a small electronics store. The owner, Dave, was constantly going on vacation and left him a few money orders to cover the rent and general bills of the store. After two months of not hearing from his boss, Dean was down to 2 money orders left. He used one to pay the rent for the store and the other to cover the electric bill. Both were declined and Dean was facing a possible writing bad checks offense, however, he was unaware that the money orders were connected to an account that lacked the funds to cover the orders. It turns out, Dave had used the funds in the account to gamble in Las Vegas. Dave knew the account was depleted. Instead of informing Dean not to use the money orders, he neglected his job and left Dean to deal with the issues. In this case, Dean would not be guilty of PC 476a because he did not intend to defraud anyone and had no knowledge of the account having insufficient funds. On the other hand, Dave, the owner, knew there weren’t enough funds to cover the money orders he had printed out, yet he still allowed his employee to use them. Because Dave is the payor of the money orders, he could be charged with PC 476a.

Example 3:

Halinda owed her hairdresser $300. She did not have enough money in her account and did not want the check to bounce. Instead, she remembered she left her old checkbook in her purse. She wrote out a check from it, knowing it was connected to an old bank account she had closed last year. Halinda could be charged with writing bad checks, PC 476a.

There are legal defenses that a professional defense attorney would be familiar with and can use to dispute PC 476a charges. To challenge writing bad checks offenses, usually the most common legal defenses are looked to first. Remember, to be convicted the prosecution must prove all the facts of the case. If these elements are not present, then you should not be charged with this offense.

Lack of Intent

To be guilty of PC 476a, the intent to defraud the payee must be evident. If the defendant did not intend to defraud anyone, they should not be guilty of writing bad checks.

For instance, Sanjay went on a shopping spree at the mall and used checks to make his purchases. When he wrote out his fourth check to buy several new pairs of shoes, there were not enough funds in the account to cover it. Sanjay was suspected of writing bad checks and the shoe store called mall security to hold him until police arrived.

However, he honestly thought he had the funds to cover everything. Especially since his previous purchases via check had no issues. He had no intent to trick anyone and sincerely wanted to make legitimate purchases. Sanjay would not be guilty of PC 476a.

Did you use a post-dated check?

If the defendant post-dated the check and informed the cashier of it, it shows they did not intend to defraud anyone. Especially if the date on the check is written for their payday.

Dominic, for example, needed to buy groceries for his family and would often use the stores his friends worked at. He wanted to purchase $350 worth of groceries but knew his account would not have enough funds until his payday, which was two days away. Luckily, Dominic knew the manager who had allowed him to post-date checks before. He went to a cashier that he knew and informed them the check he wrote out was post-dated for the day after tomorrow. The cashier understood and accepted the check. At the end of the day, when everyone was counting out their tills, one of the new managers found the post-dated check and scolded the cashier for accepting it. The manager called Dominic and requested the full amount of the check. If not, he would be accused of writing bad checks and banned from shopping at their store again.

In this case, Dominic informed the cashier of the post-dated check which shows his lack of intent to defraud. Furthermore, the previous managers had accepted his post-dated checks before, because he showed a history of acting in good faith. None of his previous post-dated checks had ever been declined. The new manager was unaware of Dominic’s history with the grocery store. Once the bigger picture was presented, the PC 476a allegations were rescinded.

Did you inform the payee about the lack of sufficient funds?

If the defendant informed the payee that there were insufficient funds in the account associated with the check, they should not face a PC 476a offense. To be guilty of writing bad checks, the defendant must have intended to trick the payee by presenting them with a check or order that is supposedly legitimate. If they informed them about the lack of funds then the truth is out and no fraud had been committed.

Lily, for instance, needed to buy new work clothes because all of hers were stolen at the laundromat. She went to the goodwill store to make her purchases and informed the cashier that she did not have sufficient funds in her account to cover the check. She asked if it would be okay to post-date the check as she really needed these clothes for work. The cashier was sympathetic and accepted a post-dated check.

When the supervisor found the check, she falsely claimed it was likely a bad check. The supervisor accused the payor of PC 476a and wanted to follow through with legal consequences. Because Lily informed the cashier of the lack of funds, she is not guilty of writing bad checks.

Penalties for PC 476a

In most cases, this crime is usually a misdemeanor. However, it can become a wobbler, depending on the details of the case. This crime carries punishments similar to petty theft and grand theft. This means if the bad checks totaled at or under $950, you will most likely face misdemeanor charges. If the total amount exceeds $950, you could face a possible felony.

If convicted of writing bad checks as a misdemeanor, it’s likely because the total amount of the bad checks was under $950 and the defendant did not have prior convictions.

Misdemeanor;

As long as one year in county jail, and/or

Fines as high as one thousand dollars.

In cases where the defendant issued bad checks that totaled over $950 or they had prior convictions, the prosecution can pursue felony charges.

Felony;

A potential three-year sentence in county jail, and/or

Up to ten thousand dollars in fines. 

Will this impact my immigration status?

California has a list of crimes that, if convicted, will result in a change in immigration status for non-citizens. These are known as crimes of moral turpitude and writing bad checks is listed under them. Unfortunately, if convicted of PC 476a, a non-citizen could potentially be deported and marked as inadmissible, which means they will be refused re-entry into the U.S.

Will this affect my gun rights?

Under California’s felon with a firearm law, PC 29800, someone who is convicted of a felony cannot purchase, acquire, own, or possess a firearm. If the defendant is convicted of felony PC 476a, they will lose their gun rights.

Enhanced Penalties

It must be noted, regardless of whether the defendant is charged with a misdemeanor or felony, that does not exclude them from further legal consequences. The payee of the check or money order can also bring up civil court charges against the defendant. The payee can sue the defendant to try and recoup the total amount of the check. They can also sue for further punitive damages of up to $1,500.

Penalties for Similar Offenses

The consequences will only worsen if you face more than one of these offenses. If this is the case, retaining experienced and effective legal counsel should be a priority. A criminal defense attorney will understand the full gravity of the legal punishments if convicted, and they know what defensive route is needed to gain the best possible outcome.

Remember, being convicted of multiple offenses means you could face consecutive county jail or state prison sentences along with higher fines. This does not include the possible civil suits you could face as a result of the crime(s) committed. 

California PC 470 – Forgery;

Misdemeanor;

Summary (misdemeanor) probation,

As long as one year in county jail, and/or

Fines of up to one thousand dollars.

Felony;

Formal (felony) probation,

A possible three years in county jail,

Fines as high as ten thousand dollars.

California PC 476 – Check Fraud;

Misdemeanor;

Up to one year in county jail, and/or

Up to one thousand dollars in fines.

Felony;

As long as three years in county jail, and/or

Fines as high as ten thousand dollars.

California PC 484 – Petty Theft;

Misdemeanor;

Informal (summary) probation,

As long as six months in county jail, and/or

Fines as high as one thousand dollars.

California PC 484(f) – Credit Card Fraud;

Misdemeanor;

Summary (informal) probation,

Up to one year in county jail, and/or

Fines of up to one thousand dollars.

Felony;

Formal (felony) probation,

A potential three years in county jail,

Up to ten thousand dollars in fines.

California PC 487 – Grand Theft;

Misdemeanor;

Up to one year in county jail.

Felony;

As long as one year in county jail,

16 months, two or three years in county jail.

California PC 424 – Misappropriation of Public Funds;

Felony;

Formal (felony) probation,

Two, three, or four years in state prison, and/or

Up to ten thousand dollars in fines.

California PC 350 – Making or Selling Counterfeit Goods;

Misdemeanor;

Informal (summary) probation,

As long as one year in county jail, and/or

As much as ten thousand dollars in fines for individuals;

OR up to two hundred thousand dollars in fines for a business.

Felony;

Formal (felony) probation,

16 months, two, or three years in county jail, and/or

As much as five-hundred-thousand dollars in fines for individuals;

OR up to one million dollars in fines for a business.

Who Can Help

Are you or someone you care about facing any of the aforementioned charges? Do not attempt to face a PC 476a offense without reliable help. Trying to find a trusted criminal defense attorney does not have to be a stressful process either. If you are located in San Diego, Los Angeles, or Orange County, contact the Law Offices of Anna R. Yum. As a former prosecutor, Attorney Yum understands how hard the prosecution will fight to pursue a conviction.

Attorney Yum is an award-winning professional and considered one of the top criminal defense lawyers in California. You can expect exceptional legal representation from Attorney Yum who has earned a reputation as a highly trusted defense lawyer.

If you would like more information on PC 476a or any of the closely related offenses, we can help. Give us a call at 619-233-4433 to schedule your no-obligation, free consultation. You can also use our convenient online contact form. We welcome all inquiries.