CA Penal Code 476(a)

Bad Checks Law

Writing bad checks

California Penal Code 476(a)1 makes it illegal for anybody to knowingly pass bad checks.  In order to be prosecuted of passing bad checks the prosecutor must prove the three elements of the crime:

  1. That you willfully wrote, delivered and attempted to use a check
  2. That you were aware that there were insufficient funds to cover the full payment of the check
  3. You intended to defraud the recipient of the funds

California Penal Code 476(a) is a wobbler.  This means that the prosecutor can charge you with either a felony or a misdemeanor depending on your criminal record and the details of the case.  If you are convicted of passing bad checks as a misdemeanor then you will face:

  • Up to 1-year in county jail
  • Up to $1,000 in fines

In order to be convicted of California bad checks laws as a misdemeanor you must meet the following criteria:

  • The amount of checks that you fraudulently wrote was $450.00 or less
  • You don’t have a prior conviction for any of the following:
    • California Penal Code 476(a) – Bad Checks Law
    • California Penal Code 470 – Forgery
    • Any California forgery/counterfeit related offense
    • California Penal Code 484 – Petty Theft
    • A prior conviction similar charges in another state

If you are convicted of passing bad checks as a felony then you will face:

  • Up to 3-years in state prison
  • Up to $10,000 in fines

In addition to the above penalties you will also be forced to pay full restitution to the payee and fines up to $35.00.

However, some local districts will allow you to participate in a diversion program instead of jail time.  The diversion program allows you to pay restitution and attend an intervention program at your own expense in lieu of having to serve jail time.

Prosecuting Penal Code 476(a)

As previously stated, in order to be convicted of California bad checks law the prosecutor must prove the following elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. That you willfully wrote, delivered and attempted to use a check
  2. That you were aware that there were insufficient funds to cover the full payment of the check
  3. You intended to defraud the recipient of the funds

It’s imperative to have a full understanding of the crime in order to know what the prosecutor must prove for you to be found guilty.  The first element of the crime requires that you willfully wrote, delivered, or attempted to use a check.  Willfully simply means that you deliberately wrote, delivered, or attempted to use a check and that the incident was not an accident.

The first element of the crime also uses the words attempted to use a check this simply means that the prosecutor must prove that you tried to trick the payee in thinking the check was real and that there were sufficient funds.

The final element of the crime reads, you intended to defraud the recipient of the funds, this just means that the prosecutor must prove that your intentions were to defraud the recipient of the money.  You do not need to be successful in your attempt, only that you attempted to commit the crime.

If the prosecutor can prove these three element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt then you will be convicted of the crime and punished accordingly.

Defending Penal Code 476(a)

A skilled criminal defense lawyer will know the appropriate steps to take in order to prove you’re innocent of California’s bad check laws.  The first legal defense that your criminal defense lawyer will explore is whether or not you acted willfully.  If your actions were not intentional then you cannot be found guilty of the crime.  If, for example, you were coerced into writing a bad check then you cannot be found guilty of the crime because the action has to be performed intentionally.

Furthermore, if you truly believed that you had sufficient funds in the bank at the time you wrote the check then you cannot be convicted under California’s bad check laws.  The law is only intended to punish those who intentionally wrote a bad check, so if you unknowingly wrote a bad check then you shouldn’t be charged for the crime.

If you stopped payment of a check because you believed that the payee wasn’t entitled to the money then you cannot be punished for the crime.  The only way this legal defense works if you can prove that the other party doesn’t deserve the payment because of a legitimate dispute.

Finally, your criminal defense attorney will make sure that you are not the victim of mistaken identity.  If someone is writing bad checks in your name then it makes sense that you shouldn’t be charged for the crime.  However, it then becomes the responsibility of your attorney to prove that you are not the one at fault.

If you are facing California Penal Code 476(a) charges then it’s imperative to discuss your case with a skilled criminal defense lawyer with experience in California bad check laws.  Seppi Esfandi is a Certified Specialist in Criminal Law with over 13 years of experience defending clients for a variety of criminal matters, including California Penal Code 476(a) charges.

 

References

[1] Every person who makes, passes, utters, or publishes, with intent to defraud any other person, or who, with the like intent, attempts to pass, utter, or publish, or who has in his or her possession, with like intent to utter, pass, or publish, any fictitious or altered bill, note, or check, purporting to be the bill, note, or check, or other instrument in writing for the payment of money or property of any real or fictitious financial institution as defined in Section 186.9 is guilty of forgery.

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