Writing bad checks is a crime that is punishable by law. Some bad checks are written intentionally. Others are not. California has a law in place that allows innocent check writers to escape expensive penalties, while, at the same time, protecting merchants from loss. California law also ensures that check writers who intentionally attempt to defraud merchants are held accountable for their actions.
Check Writer Notified
When a check bounces in California, the merchant is responsible for notifying the check writer of the bounced check. If the check writer's telephone number is listed on the check, the merchant can immediately notify the check writer via telephone. However, the merchant is also required to notify the check writer via certified postal mail. By using certified mail, the merchant can prove that notification was made to the check writer. The postal mail notification is generally sent to the address that is listed on the check.
Opportunity to Pay
Under California law, once the check writer has received written notification, he has 30 days to make restitution for the bad check. Partial restitution is not acceptable. If full restitution is made for the bounced check, the merchant must return the original bounced check back to the check writer. Full restitution includes a bounced check fee, as well as the costs associated with mailing the notification. This bounced check fee will vary by merchant. However, California law allows a maximum bounced check fee of $25 for the first check and up to $35 for all subsequent checks.
Reported to District Attorney
If the check writer does not make full restitution for the bounced check according to the established deadline, the merchant can report the check writer to the District Attorney's (DA's) office. Once the matter goes to the DA, the merchant has the right to request the face value of the check, reimbursement for mailing the notification and a statutory penalty. The statutory penalty can be up to three times the amount of the bounced check, not exceeding $1,500. The merchant will provide the DA with the bounced check, as well as a copy of the notification that was sent to the check writer. Once the merchant turns the matter over to the DA, it is the responsibility of the DA's office to collect restitution for the check.
The District Attorney's office will notify the check writer that her bounced check has been reported. This notification is made via a summons, delivered by the local law enforcement. The DA's notification will advise the check writer of the time frame for which full restitution must be made for the check. If the check writer fails to make full restitution according to the deadline that is set by the DA's office, a warrant will be issued for her arrest. If arrested, the check writer can face one to three years of jail time, depending upon the amount of the check. Checks for more than $450 are considered a felony offense, therefore requiring three years of jail time. However, checks for less than $450 are considered a misdemeanor, requiring one year of jail time.
- State of California Department of Justice: Consumers -- Bad Checks
- County of Marin District Attorney: California's Bad Check Law
- Southern California Defense Blog; What You Need to Know About California's Bad Check Law; May 2010
- Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office: Bad Check Restitution Program
- Kern County District Attorney's Office: Checkbusters