Most people have endured the embarrassment of having a check bounce. But In Pennsylvania, a bounced check could potentially land you behind bars. For people who are suspected to have intentionally wrote a bad check, legal ramifications including prison, fines, and a criminal record could be imposed if found guilty of this criminal offense.
If you have been accused of committing the crime of passing a bad check, your first and immediate step should be to consult with an attorney. An attorney can provide you with various legal options, and work towards getting your sentence reduced or completely dismissed. Your next step should is to understand what you're up against. Bad check charges are unpredictable. Many defendants perceive the crime they've been accused of as minuscule, and think they'll only acquire misdemeanor offenses. Nonetheless, a small detail in a bad checks case can quickly elevate what a defendant thinks is a misdemeanor crime to a felony crime.
Pennsylvania Law on Passing Bad Checks
According to Pennsylvania statutes, a person commits the criminal offense of passing a bad check if he or she “issues or passes a check or similar sight order for the payment of money, knowing that it will not be honored by the drawee.” Due to the nature of this crime, it is rarely charged by itself. If you received profit in the form of money, goods or services through the issuing of a bad check, you can potentially be charged with “theft by deception.” Specific crimes like “theft of services” and “receiving stolen property” could also apply to your case as well.
People have conjured up a variety of ways to commit this offense, ranging from writing a check on an account that no longer exists and writing post-dated checks, to refusing to act on the notification of insufficient funds to cover the amount of the check. Essentially, the act of writing a check that one knows they cannot cover can result in a “bad checks” charge.
Proving Bad Check Cases
In the matter of bad check cases, the prosecution must provide comprehensive and clear evidence that supports two essential elements: the defendant is, in fact, the issuer of a bad check, and that the said defendant intentionally wrote a bad check.
Proving that a defendant was the issuer of a bad check is the easiest element to prove. In today's times, the protocol of the majority of financial institutions, check cashing establishments and stores requires that a check issuer's ID is photocopied when making out a check. If this evidence somehow is unavailable, a prosecutor can rely on eyewitness testimony and video surveillance footage in efforts to identify a defendant.
Additionally, the prosecution must prove that the defendant knew the check wouldn't clear at the time it was issued or cashed. In the eyes of the court, this element is instantaneously established in cases when the check is conjoined to a bank account that is closed, or if the bank branded the check as counterfeit. Proving this element becomes complex in cases when an account has insufficient funds, or in cases with missed payments. It's a possibility that the defendant made a genuine mistake, and did not intend to pass a bad check.
Similar to most other theft offenses, the grading of a bad check can potentially be enhanced to a felony criminal offense in one instance. However, this depends on the circumstances of a case and the existence of prior offenses of this nature.
- Summary offense: If the check amounts to less than $200
- Third degree misdemeanor: If the check is $200 or more but less than $500. Upon conviction, a defendant will be facing up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $2,500.
- Second degree misdemeanor: If the check is $500 or more but less than $1,000. A defendant will be sentenced a maximum prison penalty of two years and a fine up to $5,000.
- First degree misdemeanor: If the check is $1,000 or more but less than $75,000. A defendant can be sentenced to up to five years in prison and a fine of $5,000.
- Third degree felony: If the check is $75,000 or more, of if it is a defendant's third or subsequent offense within a five-year period. If convicted, a defendant will be facing up to seven years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000.
In addition to these penalties, defendants will be required to pay restitution covering the check amount to the victim of bad check, along with service charges and the amount of interest that was accrued.
Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Attorney
A conviction for a bad check charge can compromise your reputation, your career, and most importantly, your freedom. With so much at stake, you need the help of an attorney who can make the necessary preparations for your trial and offer you viable legal options for your case. An experienced attorney will be able to determine your eligibility for diversionary programs and work towards reducing your restitution and other charges.
With over 15 years of experience, attorney Joseph D. Lento has represented clients who have acquired both misdemeanor and felony bad check charges. Due to his extensive trial experience and genuine concern for his clients, he's helped them prevail in court, and he can do the same for you. For a consultation, contact him today at 215-535-5353.