What happens if I pass a bad check without knowing?
UPDATED: October 10, 2012
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There are actually two issues at play with passing a bad check. The fact that one may not know an act is a crime when it is (allegedly) committed is not a valid defense. However, in charging someone with a crime, the state must always prove some type of intent to commit that crime.
The most common standard used by courts is "intentional and knowing." This means that the state must prove a person meant to do the act that resulted in the crime - check fraud in this instance.
To be charged with passing a bad check, a person had to know that there was not enough money in his or her account to cover the check when presented to a bank or merchant. Knowledge (or intent) that the check was not good when it was written it is an element of the charge. If the person wrote the check believing that there was enough money in the given account to cover it when presented, he or she hasn’t committed a crime because one of the elements of the crime is missing. Ignorance isn’t of the law: it's of his banking account balance.
If the state cannot prove that the person intended to violate the law, he or she might not be charged for check fraud; however, they can still be held accountable for a civil dispute and required to pay any fees associated with a returned check.
How to Resolve Passing a Bad Check
If you have accidentally committed an offense, the sooner you make attempts to resolve the situation, the more you demonstrate that you were not intentionally defrauding anyone. For example, if an individual forgot to deposit a payroll check before writing the bad check, realized the error the next day, and immediately tried to restore the merchant's loss; then his efforts will negate the intent element discussed above. Most people who are trying to steal goods or services with bad checks are not going to make immediate and sincere efforts to make the situation right again.
If it has been a while since the event, and you realize a mistake, you may want to contact an attorney to help you resolve the situation. The more time between the “crime” and your realization of having committed it, the harder it generally is for you to resolve it as a mere accident. However, an attorney may be able to help you get ahead of the criminal charges, or at least resolve them, before they become more serious. The main thing to remember is to not ignore the situation, even if it’s a mistake. Failure to take care of a mistake of this nature only results in more hot water.