Bad checks are any money order written for an account that either does not exist or does not have enough funds to cover the amount. Sometimes, bad checks can result from an honest mistake. Other times they are an outright attempt to defraud a bank or business. If a person bounces one check, meaning that the bank refuses payment due to insufficient funds, then he/she may face additional fees and penalties. However, a person with a history of bad checks or who does not pay after a bounced check may eventually face criminal charges.
What is a Bad Check in NJ?
Under N.J.S.A. 2C:21-5, a person who is caught issuing or passing a check or similar sight order for the payment of money while knowing that it will not be honored by the drawee/bank, then he/she can be convicted of issuing or passing a bad check in NJ.
In New Jersey, one is presumed to have known that the check or money order (other than a post-dated check or money order) would not have been paid for if any of the following occurred:
- The person did not have an account with the drawee/bank at the time the check or money order was issued.
- The payment was refused by the drawee/bank for lack of funds.
- A deposit was made for collection (or upon presentation to the drawee/bank within 46 days after issue) coupled with a failure to make good within 10 days after receiving notice of the refusal (or after the notice was sent to the issuer’s last known address)
If none of the above-mentioned circumstances are applicable to one’s situation, then one will not be presumed to have known that the check would not have been honored. In this case, the prosecutor will bear the burden of proving such knowledge.
What Are the Penalties for Bad Checks in NJ?
A bad check worth less than $200 is a disorderly persons offense in New Jersey. Penalties include 6 months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. If the check’s value is between $200 and $1,000, the offense is a fourth-degree crime (felony) with the potential for up to 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine. If the check or money order was for more than $1,000 but less than $75,000, it is a third-degree crime, which can mean up to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000. Bad checks valued at more than $75,000 are a second-degree crime, with a punishment of up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $150,000.
|Value of Bad Beck||Offense||Incarceration||Max. Fine|
|Less than $200||Disorderly persons||Up to 6 months||$1,000|
|$200 - $1,000||Fourth degree||Up to 18 months||$10,000|
|$1,000 - $75,000||Third degree||3 to 5 years||$15,000|
|$75,000+||Second degree||5 to 10 years||$150,000|
Aside from jail time and a serious fine, a conviction for passing a bad check in NJ will result in a criminal record that could impact one’s future. Think about it: criminal convictions are a matter of public record and most employers run criminal background checks before hiring. Moreover, most employers view financial dishonesty as an outright bar to employment. Bad checks are a type of fraud and reflect on one’s apparent level of honesty and trustworthiness. This means that it will be extremely difficult to find a job if convicted of passing a bad check in NJ.
Defense to a Charge of Bad Checks NJ
There are many honest reasons why a check may have bounced and/or a person may not have attempted to rectify it. A person can beat a charge of writing a bad check in NJ if any of the following are true:
- The check was cashed more than 30 days after it was issued.
- The check did not have the correct signatures.
- A hold was issued for the check in question but was not honored by the bank.
- The notice of the bounced check was not issued or received.
- The check issuer and recipient were aware the check was post-dated (meaning it was filled out with a future date) but the check was deposited prior to that date.
It is also important to reiterate that if a person is not presumed to know the check was bad, and the prosecution cannot prove that he/she knew as much, then he/she cannot be convicted.
State v. Kelm, 672 A. 2d 1261 confirms that the statute for bad checks (2C:21-5) does not require proof of an intent to defraud. The case states, “N.J.S.A. 2C:21-5 does not contain any such requirement, merely knowledge at the time the check is issued or passed that it will not be honored by the drawee.” The judge also affirmed that post-dating a check does not exclude it from the presumption of knowledge that the check would not be paid unless the payee attempted to deposit it prior to the date in question.
Expunging a Conviction for Bad Checks in NJ
A conviction for writing a bad check in NJ can be expunged from one’s criminal record if the person is otherwise eligible. In order for a petition to expunge a criminal record to be approved, one must have no more than 5 disorderly persons convictions or 1 felony and 3 disorderly persons convictions. Thus a person convicted of writing a bad check and theft by deception for an amount greater than $200 would not be eligible, as both offenses would be fourth-degree indictable offenses (felonies).
If the person is eligible for an expungement, he/she must wait 5 years (or 6 if there is a felony on the record) after the completion of any sentencing and repayment of any fines. In addition, during the waiting period, he/she must not be convicted of any other offenses. If the expungement is granted, then the record will not come up in most background checks and he/she can legally deny that the conviction(s) occurred.
Common Questions About Bad Checks
What is a demand letter for a bounced check?
Many New Jersey businesses that have been issued bounced or other bad checks or money orders will send a demand letter to the payer requesting the money owed plus addition money in “damages.” The amount requested can be up to $100 or triple the amount owed, whichever is greater. However, a person cannot issue a demand letter for more than $500 more than the check amount.
How much money does a bad check have to be in order to be a felony in NJ?
A bad check valued at $200 or more is an indictable offense (felony) in NJ.
Will I go to jail if I’m being charged with passing a bad check? Will I have a criminal record?
In many cases, a charge for bad checks in NJ carries a presumption of non-incarceration for a first offense. This means that a person may be able to avoid jail time for a first-time charge of a bad check. However, a conviction still means having a permanent criminal record that can haunt a person for years. Moreover, if the person has an existing criminal history, or if other criminal charges are leveled against him/her relating to the same incident, then he/she could still be sentenced to time behind bars. Thus, even if a person is facing a first-time charge of a bad check, it is critical that he/she hires an attorney to assess the facts and build an effective defense with the best chance of avoiding jail time and a criminal record.
Is check forgery the same as a bad check?
Forging a check is a fourth-degree crime and is a separate offense from attempting to issue the forgery. The latter would be considered a bad check and result in a person being charged with both crimes. In addition, these acts could expose one to other charges, such as theft by deception.
What is the statute of limitations for bad checks in NJ?
It is recommended that a person report a bad check within 90 days. However, the statute of limitations on a disorderly persons charge is 1 year and for an indictable offense, it is 5 years.
Is it illegal to bounce a check in NJ?
It is illegal in New Jersey to write a check one knows will bounce. However, in most cases, the person may not necessarily be charged unless no effort is made to reimburse the payee or if it is a recurring problem. In addition, the greater the amount the more likely one is to be charged for the offense.
Who Should I Contact?
If you or a loved one has been charged with writing a bad check or any other criminal offense in New Jersey, contact an attorney for help. The lawyers at Rosenblum Law are skilled criminal defense attorneys with experience helping people prove their innocence and protect their rights. Email Rosenblum Law or call 888-815-3694 today for a free consultation about your case.