California Laws Against Bad Checks

California Laws Against Bad Checks

In California, it is illegal to knowingly issue a check from an account that has insufficient funds to cover it. Under penal code 476a, passing bad checks in the amount of $950 or less is a misdemeanor and punishable by imprisonment for up to one year. When the total amount of the bad checks is greater than $950 or the drawer has priors for check fraud or forgery, prosecutors may file the charge as a bad checks felony. Like any serious charge, a bad checks felony could result in a substantial prison sentence.

Being arrested for violating bounced check laws is like being arrested for anything else. Shortly after the arrest, usually within 24 hours, the defendant will appear in court and a judge will make a ruling regarding bail. Sometimes judges will release defendants on the sole condition that they sign a promise to appear. Usually, however, the judge will set a monetary bail amount to ensure a defendant’s appearance in court.

Monetary bail amounts are generally quite high. It is not unusual for a bail amount to be $5,000 or more. Because many people do not have that much disposable cash, bail bonds agencies offer to post a defendant’s bail for a fraction of the actual bail amount, usually around 10 percent. 

In the case of a $5,000 bond, then, the defendant would have to pay the bail bonds agency $500 and a processing fee, which is generally between $50 and $100. This brings the total cost of freedom down to a manageable amount, but there is a catch: The defendant will not get any of this money back, even if the charges are dismissed or he is found not guilty in a criminal trial. Still, most people would argue that the expense is worth it.

People who utilize a bail bonds agency should be aware that conditions often apply. The bond can be revoked if a person who is out on bail misses a court appearance or violates some other bail condition. When this happens, the defendant could be jailed until the case is resolved. The conditions of bail are communicated to defendants upon their release and might include abstaining from drugs and alcohol, staying away from certain premises or anything else a judge deems appropriate.

Penalties for Bad Checks

The crime of issuing bad checks can carry civil penalties as well as criminal ones. In California, knowingly writing a check with insufficient funds will result in the drawer’s obligation to pay back both the check’s face value and a penalty charge, which can be as much as $35 for each check.

The penalties for bad checks are numerous. Along with possible incarceration, the monetary punishments will likely be stiff. In addition to the face value of the checks and the associated penalties, people charged with writing bad checks will probably face legal expenses including bail, legal representation, and court fees.

Defenses to Penal Code 476a

There are a few viable defenses to penal code 476a. Perhaps most importantly, penal code 476a requires intent. In other words, the crime of issuing bad checks only occurs when the drawer knowingly writes a bad check with the intention to deceive or defraud. Bounced check laws are not written to punish forgetful people, and proving for a fact that a defendant knew the check was bad is not easy.

Although prosecutors may have difficulty proving intent, it is sometimes possible to avoid formal charges altogether. If people know they are being investigated for passing bad checks, they may be able to get in front of the charges by hiring an attorney. A good attorney might be able to work with prosecutors on a civil compromise and avoid the criminal charges.

Knowingly passing bad checks is a serious crime and carries serious penalties. People accused of writing bad checks should be proactive; it may be possible to prevent the situation from snowballing. Most importantly, when accused of issuing bad checks, people should be careful not to give investigators what they need to convict them. Even what seems like a small detail may provide investigators with proof of intent, so it is important that people remain silent and only speak with their attorneys.

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