How Much Jail Time Can You Get for Bad Checks?

Estimated read time 4 min read

Writing bad checks can quickly turn a financial problem into a criminal problem. Depending on the amount of the check, it can result in serious penalties that include imprisonment and fines.

To be convicted of this crime, the prosecution must prove that you knew at the time you wrote the check that your account did not have enough money to cover it. This is why it is important to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney right away.


Many people mistakenly write checks their bank account can’t cover on occasion. This happens due to a late paycheck, auto-payment or other unavoidable circumstances. When this occurs, most banks penalize the defendant with an overdraft fee. However, when this is done on purpose with the intent to defraud someone, it becomes a crime known as writing bad checks.

Depending on the amount of the check, a conviction for this crime can result in jail time, a fine or both. A first-time offender can expect to be charged with a misdemeanor if the amount is less than $200.

The prosecution must prove the defendant knew the bank account was insufficient to cover the check. This may be easy to do if the defendant was not careful when reviewing their bank statements or did not monitor their cash flow. The defendant must also know the purpose of writing the bad check. If the intention was to trick or defraud, the defendant may be charged with a felony under PC 476a.


If the person writing the bad check knew that they did not have funds to cover the amount of the check when it was written, they could be guilty of a felony under California law (PC 476a). This offense would likely also involve restitution to the payee for the face value of the check plus service charges and interest.

In most cases, a first-time offender of this crime will not receive jail time if convicted. However, the severity of the punishment can vary greatly depending on the circumstances of each case and any prior convictions a defendant may have.

To convict someone of this crime, the prosecution must prove that the defendant knew they did not have funds to cover a check when it was issued and that the check was post dated. If the defendant informed the payee that the check was post dated and they did not intend to defraud them, this should not be considered a felony crime.

Civil Penalties

When someone writes a check without the money in their account to cover it, this is considered bad check fraud. In many cases, this may be simply a mistake that they didn’t realize would not clear, or it could be a deliberate act of deception meant to steal the payee’s money.

The prosecution can often use bank records to prove that a person was aware they didn’t have the funds in their account when they wrote the check. This is why it is important to always check the balance of your account before writing a check.

If a defendant is convicted of this offense, they can be ordered to pay restitution in the amount of the bad check plus service charges, interest, and attorney’s fees. This is in addition to any criminal penalties they may be subjected to. The victim may also be able to pursue civil damages for any additional losses they suffered as a result of the bad check.


Bad checks are a common form of fraud that can ruin your credit. Many banks and check cashing businesses will not allow you to open a checking account if you have a history of writing bad checks. In some cases, the crime can also impact your employment or housing situation.

If you are charged with passing a bad check, you need an attorney who can provide an effective defense. It is important to contact an experienced white collar criminal lawyer as soon as possible.

Your attorney may be able to prove that you did not have the money to pay for the goods or services that you received from the payee of the check. In some cases, the evidence may include a stop payment on the check, which can prevent you from being prosecuted. It is also important that you are present during your trial to testify on your own behalf. Otherwise, the prosecution will have to rely on the evidence provided by other witnesses.


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