Legalese — Bad Checks

If someone writes you a bad check, can you have them sent to jail?  If you accidentally bounce a check, can you be arrested for it?

Well, not exactly, or, rather, not immediately.  The criminal charge itself is called “Deposit Account Fraud” and it occurs when someone writes a check “knowing that it would not be honored.” Of course, it’s awfully hard to prove that someone knows anything, since what someone knows is inside their brains.  So how do you prove that?

The law in Georgia about this, O.C.G.A. 16-9-20, gives some ways you can prove it:

  1. If the person writing a check didn’t actually have an account at the bank upon which the check was written. That would be pretty good evidence that the person writing the check knew the check was no good.
  2. If you tell the person who wrote the check that the check bounced via certified mail, registered mail, or statutory overnight delivery, and they don’t make good on it (and any fees associated with the check bouncing) within ten days of receipt of the notice. The law is even so kind as to give you a form for the notice.  The notice should say: “Dear X: You are hereby notified that the following instrument(s) [describe the check and the bank it came from] drawn and payable to ________, has/have been dishonored.  Pursuant to Georgia law, you have ten days from receipt of this notice to tender payment of the total amount of the instrument(s) plus the applicable service charge(s) of $_____ and any fee charged to the holder of the instrument(s) by a bank or financial institution as a result of the instrument(s) not being honored, the total amount being ______ dollars and _______ cents.  Unless this amount is paid in full within the specified time above, a presumption in law arises that you delivered the instrument(s) with the intent to defraud and the dishonored instrument(s) and all other available information relating to this incident may be submitted to the magistrate for the issuance of a criminal warrant or citation or to the district attorney or solicitor-general for criminal prosecution.”
  3. If the certified mail, registered mail, or overnight delivery package is returned undelivered when you mailed it within 90 days of the time you were given the bad check.

Generally speaking, if you are convicted of deposit account fraud, it is a misdemeanor.  If the check is for less than $100.00. you can’t be fined more than $500.00 and your sentence can’t be more than 12 months, either incarcerated or on probation.  If it is more than $100.00 but less than $300.00, the fine can’t be more than $1,000.00.  If there are two or more checks involved and each is less than $100.00, you can add them together.  If the check is more than $300.00 but less than $499.99, it is a misdemeanor of a high and aggravated nature.  If the check is for $500.00 or more, it is a felony, and the fine is anywhere from $500.00 to $5,000.00 and you can be put in jail for up to three years.  You could also have to pay restitution and be required to pay monthly interest on the restitution equal to 1% of the check you wrote, regardless of the outstanding balance.

So be careful if you stop payment on a check, especially if you don’t warn the person you gave it to.  Because if you stop payment on a check, then you know it won’t be honored.

Balancing a checkbook can be a confusing task, but once you’ve learned the trick it isn’t that hard.  I’m always surprised by how many adults don’t know how to do it.  Instead, they rely on the balance in their bank account, which isn’t a reliable indicator of how much is available to spend, because it doesn’t take into account uncleared checks.  If you live paycheck to paycheck, you might want to learn this useful skill so that you don’t find yourself in this bind.

Nothing in this article should be construed as legal advice.  It is being offered for informational purposes only.

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