Although a growing percentage of financial transactions in the United States are completed electronically, good old-fashioned paper checks are still used with some regularity. If you use a check to pay for goods or services and the check is ultimately returned to the payee because the funds are not available to cover the check you could be charged with a criminal offense in the State of Florida. If you use traditional checks on a regular basis, you may be wondering “is writing a worthless check a crime?” In the state of Florida, it is important to understand what constitutes writing a worthless check under state law.
People “bounce” checks all the time for innocent reasons. Sometimes a simple mathematical error causes an account holder to overestimate the amount of available funds. Other times a technical error might result in a deposit not crediting in time to cover an incoming check. Florida criminal offenses involving checks are not intended to cover situations such as these. Instead, criminal offenses involving checks are intended to cover situations where an individual intentionally writes a check with the knowledge that the funds are not available to cover the check.
While there are a number of statutes that involve uttering worthless checks and/or fraudulent bank drafts the most commonly used statute is Florida Statute 832.05. Summarily, that statute makes it a criminal offense to utter a worthless check. A violation of that statute may be a misdemeanor of the first degree or a felony of the third degree. The offense is charged as a felony if the amount of the check is $150 or more. The statute does not apply to post-dated checks, meaning that as a general rule you cannot be prosecuted for writing a post-dated check that turns out to be worthless.
One way that the law attempts to ensure that someone who issues a worthless check by mistake is not prosecuted is by requiring the recipient of the check to notify the person who wrote the check that the check has been returned. The statutorily required notice gives the person who issued the bad check seven days from the receipt of a letter to reimburse the payee for the face value of the check along with a service charge. If the situation is not resolved after the proper notice has been given then the State may then decide to prosecute.
If you are convicted of a misdemeanor for writing a worthless check you can face up to one year in jail while a conviction for the third-degree felony equivalent carries up to five years in prison. Many counties offer a worthless check diversion program for first-time offenders. Typically these programs require a defendant to pay restitution, fines, and costs, in addition to completing a class aimed at educating the defendant about proper financial management. Usually, if the defendant successfully completes the program the original charges will be dismissed.
If you have been charged with writing a worthless check in Florida be sure to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately to discuss your options and what defenses you may have. Keep Calm Call Us®! 727-531-2926.