Where Bad Checks Go from a Financial Mistake to a Felony Crime

On Behalf of | Apr 18, 2023 | Criminal Defense

Writing bad checks can absolutely rise from a misdemeanor to a felony. And for anyone still using checkbooks, it’s vital to know where that line is and when you might need a Minneapolis criminal defense attorney on your side.

With the rise of online and mobile banking, we have to admit that checks are falling out of fashion but it still impossible to go entirely without checks for anyone with a diverse financial life. Some institutions, new jobs, and services require checks where nothing else will do, or a check is the most convenient of a few obscure options.

That said, if you are one of the remaining people with an active checkbook, there is one little law that every check-writer needs to know about. Whether you write checks regularly as a part of your business or only once or twice a year for specific purposes, always make sure that your account is capable of handling the check whenever it happens to be pushed through by the merchant.

Yes, we know this is obvious advice, and yes, everyone knows better, but bad checks continue to happen nonetheless.

Bad Checks

Writing a bad check, also known as issuance of a dishonored check, is what happens when a merchant goes to cash a check you have written and can’t get the money. Most merchants will try a couple of times, double check the numbers, make sure the check is flat, or whatever their processing system might need to acknowledge the check but the most likely culprit of any bad check is an empty or not-full-enough bank account. Bad checks used to be incredibly common because everyone had to keep meticulous financial notes in order to be sure how much money was currently in their bank account. Today, you can easily check this fact on your phone even if your circumstance suggests paying with a check.

With the recent change in the necessity of checks and the ease of balance-checking, one of the few remaining causes of a bounced check is when merchants wait a few days or weeks before cashing your check. While the account may have been in perfect shape the day you wrote the check, it’s all too easy for your account to be in a completely different state when the check is cashed. In fact, you may have even completely forgotten about the check after handing it over, so the bounce comes as a nasty surprise.

Bouncing One Check is a Misdemeanor

What most check-users don’t know is that bouncing a check really is a legal misdemeanor that can go on your record. This is considered a mild form of financial fraud assuming the amount of the check is under $500. If you issue a bad check worth less than $250, this is a minor misdemeanor which can result in up to $1,000 fine and 90 days in jail. Between $250 and $500, the dishonored check is considered a full misdemeanor with up to an entire year in jail and as much as a $3,000 fine.

This is as far as most people ever go. Mistakes at the grocery store, bank, school, or other check-friendly venues usually don’t exceed $500. This means that the vast majority of people who bounce checks are only at risk of a misdemeanor charge and most never see a courtroom. The trouble associated with a bounced check can be settled long before it becomes a legal consideration.

However, there is a point where bouncing a bad check goes from an easy to avoid misdemeanor to a full-blown life-ruining white collar felony.

Bouncing Three Bad Checks is a Felony

There are three different ways that a bad check can transform from a mistake into a felony crime. The first is bouncing a check over $500. This is considered a serious attempt to defraud the merchant who received the check and is therefore considered a more serious crime than having your bank-account unprepared for grocery costs.

The second way is to bounce checks from false accounts, something we’ll talk about in the next section. However, the third way to turn a bounced check into a misdemeanor is one that every check-user should be aware of. Bouncing three bad checks over the course of five days is seen as clear and overt criminal behavior. This is because many petty criminals looking to commit a lot of fraud in a short amount of time have done so with checkbooks because the checks will, at least temporarily, be accepted as legal tender for goods and services.

It may matter if you simply didn’t realize that your checking account was empty on a day you wrote several checks or if the merchant did not cash their checks until a day when your account was not prepared. However, the consequence for conviction can be up to five full years in prison and as much as a $10,000 fine for both large and multiple bounced checks.

Bad Checks from False Accounts

The final variation of bad checks becoming a felony offense is, thankfully, one that most people will never have to deal with. When criminals decide they want to commit some check fraud, one of the easiest ways to do this is to order a checkbook that designates a completely non-existent account number or checks where the randomized account number does not match the identity on the checks.

This is known as issuing checks from a false account and is a highly criminal act. Anyone caught writing checks for an account that doesn’t exist is undeniably committing check fraud and is assumed to be doing so knowingly.

Warnings and Opportunities Before Prosecution

If you’re looking at your checkbook in a new light, fortunately, we can assure that a bad check criminal charge is not the kind of thing that can sneak up on you. For the most part, everyone involved in the situation just wants to see the financial balance made right. Before a merchant can press charges, they must first send you a five-day notice about the bad check. When you receive this notice, you have five business days to get in contact with the merchant and make arrangements to pay them for the check amount plus whatever the bounce fee is they had to pay their payment processor.

If you don’t respond to the five-day notice, the merchant than takes their grievance to the police who issue their own ten-day notice to give you even more time to take note of the situation and make an effort to fix it. It’s likely not necessary to even pay the full amount all at once as long as you respond and work on the situation.

Even if you miss the five and the ten-day notices, if the bad check is your first offense with a fairly good reason for missing the deadlines, courts have been known to let you pay the check balance any time before the official court date in order to wipe the debt and the crime.

Prosecution for Refusal to Correct

However, if the court tries and fails to get you to make amends without prosecution or if this is your second offense to miss the fifteen warning days, you will be prosecuted, and felonies for check fraud are no joke. Felonies come with higher fines, longer prison sentences of five years or more, and a permanent black mark on your record.

If you are in a bad spot, whether you were on vacation when the notices came through or have been going through a rough financial patch and were unable to pay the checks in time, contact us today. We can provide you with an experienced Minneapolis criminal defense lawyer who will be dedicated to your case and this mess sorted out before it unnecessarily makes you a felon.

Disclaimer: The information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation. We invite you to contact us and welcome your calls, letters and electronic mail. Contacting us does not create an attorney-client relationship. Please do not send any confidential information to us until such time as an attorney-client relationship has been established.