It’s not uncommon for someone to lose track of their budget and inadvertently overdraw their account when paying a bill. Making a mistake isn’t a crime. Where you will run into legal trouble though is when you know your funds don’t have money and you make the payment anyway.
The term “worthless checks” may be a bit obsolete, as most of our transactions these days are digital. But that doesn’t make it any more lawful to withdraw money from an account with full knowledge that:
- There were insufficient fund in the account.
- That account doesn’t exist.
- That account was closed.
- They intentionally engaged in an act that would cause the recipient financial institution to issue a “refer to maker.” This is when the funds initially clear the maker’s account, but then are later flagged for fraud. Most common scenario is someone steal’s another person’s debit card information.
Although these can seem like minor offenses, the reality is that in Florida, they can be felonies. If you’re charged with passing bad checks in Florida, it is vital that you contact an experienced Broward financial crimes defense lawyer. We can help you fight charges like credit card fraud, forgery, embezzlement, worthless checks, identity theft, and more.
How Does Florida Define “Bad Checks” as a Crime?
F.S. 832.05(2)(a) states that it is a crime for someone to issue, make, delivery, draw, utter, draft, or use a debit card to exchange money – knowing full well there isn’t enough money in that account to cover the cost. Both individuals and businesses have a responsibility to avoid paying for goods, services, or other things of value with worthless checks.
(Similarly, if you deposit a check knowing that the funds from the account the check is drawing from are insufficient, that’s also a bank fraud crime under F.S. 832.05(4)(b).
For most people, overdraft of an account is an honest mistake. But if you tend to play fast-and-lose with your balance – even just knowing there’s a chance you might overdraw – that could result in legal consequences.
There are two exceptions to this:
- Your bank lets you know that you have insufficient funds. The check or payment doesn’t clear and the bank informs you that you have insufficient funds to cover the transaction. (You’ll likely be slapped with an overdraft fee as well.)
- Your payment was postdated. If you write a check or schedule a payment for a future date, the recipient is not allowed to try cash that check or take that money before the designated date on that check or payment form. If they attempt to do so and your account comes up short, you aren’t responsible for that. You knew there wasn’t enough in your account when you wrote the check or scheduled the payment, but you postdated it to a time when you anticipated there would be more money in the account (i.e., right after payday).
Will I Go to Jail for Bad Checks in Florida?
Short answer: Possibly. However, it’s unlikely if it’s a first-time offense, especially if the value was under $150.
Passing worthless checks valued under $150 is a first-degree misdemeanor, which can result in a sentence of up to 1 year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
However, if the value of those bad checks, debit card withdrawals, or fraudulent deposits was $150 or more, it’s a third-degree felony, which carries the possibility of up to 5 years in prison.
In all likelihood, you aren’t likely to go to prison unless the theft was extensive, repeated, and unambiguously intentional – but it’s possible, so you shouldn’t take your chances with a public defender if you can help it.
Even if you aren’t worried about jail or prison, consider that conviction for these offenses could prevent you from landing or keeping certain jobs. Employers seek integrity in their workers. A financial crimes conviction would stay on your permanent record, and employers will likely steer clear if they have any real choice about it (i.e., other applicants or workers who can do your job). You may be required to report the offense to certain professional licensing boards.
You will probably be ordered to pay restitution. If the theft occurred in conjunction with or in large part because of a substance abuse issue, you may be ordered to undergo rehab or addiction counseling or treatment.
The best way to mitigate the adverse impact of a bad checks conviction is to try to avoid it in the first place. That’s our top goal as your criminal defense lawyer. Barring dismissal, we can advocate for reduced charges and penalties by presenting evidence of mitigating circumstances.
Call Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
What Happens When You Write a Bad Check? July 12, 2021, By Justin Pritchard, The Balance
More Blog Entries:
Bill to End Depositions in Some Florida Criminal Cases Would Impact Defense, March 11, 2023, Broward Worthless Checks Defense Lawyer Blog