Passing bad checks laws are covered under California Penal Code 476(a). Many people don't fully realize that writing bad checks is a serious crime with potentially harsh legal consequences. You may have believed there was not much harm in writing a bad check for an inexpensive item at the store, but if you intentionally bounce a check in Los Angeles County, you could be criminally prosecuted.
In basic terms, it's a crime to write a check, knowing there are not sufficient funds in your bank account, and you intended to defraud. In other words, it's a crime to present a check to any business on an account you knew had insufficient funds and you had a specific intent to commit fraud.
Under Penal Code 476a, one of the key factors is that you must have had knowledge that your account lacked the funds to cover the full amount of the check. It also includes situations where you just attempt to pass a bad check to defraud another party, even if they rejected it.
If the prosecutor is able to prove you knowingly wrote a bad check with intent to deceive someone out of money or property, you could be convicted of writing a bad check under PC 476(a). A bad check offense is completed the moment you knowingly wrote a check for any amount you knew you didn't have.
California Penal Section 476a is a “wobbler, “which means the prosecutor has the discretion to charge you with either a misdemeanor or felony offense. They will typically base their decision on the details of your case and your criminal history.
A Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer at Eisner Gorin LLP might be able to successfully raise certain legal defenses to help you avoid a conviction. Now that we have covered an overview of passing bad checks, let's examine the legal definition, penalties, and legal defense below.
Passing Bad Checks Legal Definition
California Penal Code Section 476(a) describes the crime of passing bad checks as follows:
Any person who willfully, with an intent to defraud, makes or delivers a check for the payment of money knowing at the time there are not sufficient funds for the full payment of that check, is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail up to one year, or pursuant to Penal Code Section 1170.
Under the legal definition of PC 476a, the Los Angeles County prosecutor must be able to prove all the elements of the crime in order to secure a conviction. Under CALCRIM 1970, these elements include:
- You willfully wrote, drew, delivered and presented a check
- You knew there were insufficient funds to cover the full amount of the check
- You acted willfully with an intent to defraud
It's important to understand the above elements of the crime the prosecutor has to prove to convict you. As listed above, the first element of the crime states that you willfully wrote, delivered, or attempted to use a check. The critical word “willfully” means it was deliberate, on purpose, and not an accident.
Additionally, it states you “attempted to use,” meaning the prosecutor has to also be able to show you attempted to fool or trick the payee into believing it was a valid check and there were enough funds to cover the full amount. Next, the last element of the crime is that you had a specific intent to defraud the payee of the funds.
This means the prosecutor must show your intentions were to defraud them of the money when you wrote the check. It's important to make note here that you don't actually have to be successful in your attempt to defraud; just the attempt itself is enough to justify the criminal charges.
Under Penal Code 476a, if the Los Angeles County prosecutor is able to successfully prove all of the elements of the crime listed above beyond any reasonable doubt, you will be convicted of passing a bad check and be subjected to legal consequences. If you need more information, call a Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer at our office.
Bad Checks vs Check Fraud
A closely related crime to passing bad checks under PC 476a is check fraud under California Penal Code Section 476. Under this law, it's a crime to make, pass, or attempt to pass a fake, altered, or fictitious check with intent to defraud someone out of money or property. Under PC 476(a), passing bad checks law, it primarily deals real checks you pass, or attempt to pass, with insufficient funds.
Legal Penalties for Passing Bad Checks
A violation of the bad checks law under California Penal Code 476a is a “wobbler” offense. As stated above, this means the prosecutor has the discretion to file the case as either a misdemeanor or felony crime, typically decided by the exact nature of the crime and your criminal history.
Remember, PC 476(a) punishes your criminal intent, not the actual outcome of your actions. If you are convicted of a misdemeanor crime of passing bad checks, the legal penalties include up to one year in a Los Angeles County jail, and a fine up to $1,000, as long as the check you fraudulently wrote was $450.00 or less, and you don't have prior convictions California's bad checks laws, or:
- California Penal Code Section 470 - Forgery
- California Penal Code Section 476 – Check Fraud
- California Penal Code Section 484 – Petty Theft
- Any type of counterfeit of forgery offense
- Any out-of-state prior convictions for similar offenses
If you are convicted of passing bad checks as a felony crime, the legal penalties include up to 3 years in a California state prison, and a fine up to $10,000. You might also be ordered to pay full restitution to the payee. However, the Los Angeles district attorney's office could allow you to participate in a bad checks diversion program to avoid any jail time.
If you successfully complete this diversion program, which includes paying restitution and attendance in an intervention program, you could have your charges dismissed. Finally, you might also be required to pay civil damages under .
Legal Defenses for Passing Bad Checks
A Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer at our law firm can use a variety of legal defenses on your behalf against charges of violating California Penal Code 476(a), passing bad checks. These defenses include:
No willful act – Our criminal lawyers might be able to prove to didn't willfully write, pass or attempt to pass a bad check. An example could include a situation where you were forced or coerced into writing a bad check by another person. If we can cast doubt on this important element of the crime, you might be able to avoid a conviction.
Reasonable belief of sufficient funds – Our attorneys could make an argument you had a reasonable belief there were enough funds in your account when you wrote the check. Remember, PC 476(a) is designed to punish individuals who intentionally attempt to defraud other people out of money or property. If we can show it was an honest mistake, you should avoid a conviction.
Mistaken identity – In some cases of passing bad checks, our lawyers might be able to prove you are actually the victim of mistaken identity. For example, another person attempted to pass the bad check using and signing your name.
Contact our Criminal Defense Law Firm
If you have been accused of violating California's bad checks laws, under Penal Code Section 476(a), your best option is to contact the Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys at Eisner Gorin LLP. We can help you obtain the best possible outcome of your case. Contact us at 877-781-1570.