Bad Checks Law – California Penal Code 476a

California Penal Code 476a is the statute that criminalizes passing bad checks and could lead to harsh penalties. Some people are under the false impression that writing or passing bad checks for inexpensive items is just a minor crime with minimal consequences. However, if you intentionally bounce bad checks, you could face criminal prosecution and jail time.

In other words, PC 476a makes it a theft crime to present a check to a business when you know there are insufficient funds in the account – and you had the intent to commit fraud.

It should be noted the primary factor in proving a Penal Code 476a case is that you had knowledge your back account didn’t have the funds to cover the full amount of the check when it was presented.

It should also be noted that PC 476a cases also include a situation where you just make an attempt to pass a bad check in order to defraud someone – even if the check was not accepted. If a prosecutor can prove you knowingly wrote a bad check with intent to deceive anyone out property or money, you could be convicted.

A writing or passing bad check crime occurs the very moment you write a check for any amount you knew you didn’t have in the account. PC 476a is another California “wobbler” crime as the prosecutor has the discretion to file misdemeanor of felony charges – typically based on the details of the case and prior criminal record.

To give readers a better understanding of the writing or passing bad checks law described under Penal Code 476a, our California criminal defense lawyers are providing an overview below.

Definition of PC 476a Writing or Passing Bad Checks

California Penal Code 476a defines writing or passing bad checks as follows:

Anyone who willfully, with intent to defraud, makes or delivers a check for the payment of money when they know at the time there are not sufficient funds for full payment of the check.

In order for the prosecutor to convict you of Penal Code 476a, they must be able to prove – beyond reasonable doubt – all the elements of the crime listed under CALCRIM 1970 Jury Instructions:

  • You willfully wrote, delivered and presented a check
  • You knew there were not sufficient funds to cover the full amount of the check
  • You acted willfully and had a specific intent to defraud

These elements of the crime warrant further discussion. First, “willfully” writing, presenting, or attempting to use a bad check means it was a willful act – on purpose and deliberate – not a simple mistake.

It should be noted that attempting to use a bad check means the prosecutor has to show you made an attempt to trick the payee into believing it was a valid check that could cover the full amount.

The prosecutor has to also prove you had a specific intent to defraud – simply meaning that at the time you wrote the check – your intention was to defraud the payee of the money. It’s crucial to note that it’s not required that you successfully passed the bad check transaction – only that the attempt to defraud was made.

California Penal Code 476, check fraud, is a closely related crime to Penal Code 476a, writing or passing a bad check.  What’s the difference?

PC 476 check fraud primarily deals with making, passing, or attempting to pass, fake, fictitious, or altered checks with intent to defraud somebody out of money or property.  Penal Code 476a, primarily deals with real checks you pass, or attempt to pass, with insufficient funds.

Penalties for PC 476a Bad Checks

As stated above, writing or passing bad checks in violation of California Penal Code 476a is a “wobbler” crime that can be filed as either a misdemeanor or felony case. A prosecutor will typically base their decision of the severity of the crime and your prior criminal record.

It should be noted PC 476a penalizes criminal intent – not an actual outcome. If convicted of a misdemeanor, you are facing up to one year in county jail, and a $1,000 fine. This penalty would apply if the check was under $450 and you don’t have a prior PC 476a conviction, or a conviction for any of the following California crimes:

Penal Code 470 – Forgery
Penal Code 476 – Check Fraud
Penal Code 484 – Petty theft
Penal Code 487 – Grand Theft
Any counterfeit or forgery offense
Any similar type conviction from another state

If convicted of a felony case of PC 476a writing or passing bad checks, you will be facing up to three years a California state prison, $10,000 fine, and ordered to pay full restitution.

It should be noted the Los Angeles district attorney’s office might allow you to participate in a diversion program to avoid jail time. If you complete the program and pay restitution to the victim, you could get the charges dismissed.

Fighting PC 476a Passing Bad Check Charges

If you are facing writing or passing bad check charges in violation of California penal Code 476, our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer can use a wide range of strategies to obtain the best possible outcome on the case. The most common defenses include:

Belief there were sufficient funds

We might be able to make reasonable argument you believed there were sufficient funds in your account when you wrote the check. Recall that the elements of the crime above state the prosecutor has the burden of proof to show you knew there were insufficient funds in the account.

No Intent to Defraud

It should be noted this law is designed to penalize those to intentionally attempt to defraud someone out of money or property. Perhaps we can show it was a mistake – not an intentional act.

Mistaken identity

We might be able to make an argument that you are actually the victim of mistaken identity. For example, identify theft is common and perhaps we could show someone else attempted to pass a bad check using and signing your name.

If you are under investigation, or already charged with writing or passing bad checks under California Penal Code 476a, call our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers to review the details and options.

Cron, Israels & Stark is a criminal defense law firm with a record of success defending clients against all type of theft crime charges. We are located at 11755 Wilshire Blvd, 15th Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90025. We offer a free case evaluation at (424) 372-3112.