Worthless Check Crimes
The criminal offense of obtaining property with a worthless check is a common charge prosecuted in Florida, including Tampa or Plant City, in Hillsborough County. The crimes are sometimes called “uttering a worthless check.” Such charges are considered a “crime of dishonesty.” This impeachable offense can impact your ability to find employment long after the criminal case is resolved.
In many of these cases, the person accused is not guilty of any criminal offense. The charge requires a showing that at the moment you wrote and presented the check that you knew the check was worthless. In most of these cases, the person who wrote the check thought the check was good, only to find out later that the check bounced due to poor financial planning or unexpected circumstances.
The prosecutor will often file a charging document in these cases called an information that alleges that:
- the defendant did unlawfully draw, make, utter, issue or deliver a check or draft for the payment of money drawn on the defendant’s personal or business account;
- the defendant, knowing at the time of the drawing, making, uttering, issuing or delivering of said check or draft that the account did not have sufficient funds on deposit in / or credit with such bank or depository with which to pay the same on presentation;
- the person who receive the check did not know and had not been notified prior to the drawing or uttering of the check and did not have reason to believe that the defendant did not have on deposit nor credit with the same bank sufficient funds to ensure payment of the check; and
- the defendant did obtain services, goods, wares or other things of value by means of said check or draft.
Although most people are not technically guilty, the State Attorney’s Office still aggressively prosecutes these cases. If you are not guilty you should hire an attorney, pay the restitution owed (if any) through the attorney’s trust account, and have your attorney fight to get the charges dropped.
Often hiring an attorney will actually SAVE you money in the short run and the long run. Entering a plea to a crime you didn’t commit without adequate legal representation is actually the most expensive way to resolve the case, in part, because the prosecutor will attempt to recover junk fees including a service charge, State of Florida Administrative Fee, and Clerk of Circuit Court fee. An attorney can often help you avoid any of those fees.
The Notice of Pending Charges Letter in Hillsborough County
The State Attorney’s Office in Tampa, Hillsborough County, FL, attempts to resolve many of these cases by sending out a “Notice of Pending Charges.” The notice comes from the Victim Assistance Program and typically says the following:
A criminal affidavit has been filed with our office, alleging that you have committed the offense of issuing a worthless check or checks. After our investigation and review of your criminal offense history, we have determined that you are eligible to participate in the Worthless Check Diversion Program. Failure to participate in the Diversion Program may result in NOTIFICATION OF EITHER A SUMMONS TO APPEAR IN COURT OR A WARRANT FOR YOUR ARREST. The penalties for issuing a worthless check are as follows:
- Misdemeanor – A term of imprisonment not exceeding one year and/or a fine not exceeding $1,000;
- Felony – A term of imprisonment not exceeding five years and/or a fine not exceeding $5,000.
The notice will tell you that to “avoid Criminal Charges” you must do all of the following:
- pay full restitution including the face value of the check, a service charge, the State of Florida Administrative Fee and the Clerk of Circuit Court Fee;
- bring the attached worthless check statement and cash or money order payable to: The Clerk of the Circuit Court, 800 E. Twiggs Street, Edgecomb Bldg., Room 101, Tampa, FL 33602.
- bring the paid receipt you received from the Clerk of Circuit Court to the Worthless Check Department, 419 N. Pierce Street, 3rd Floor, Tampa, FL 33602, no later than a date typically within three weeks of the date on the letter and attend a brief required educational class at this location.
Finally, the letter warns: ATTEND TO THIS MATTER IMMEDIATELY AS THERE WILL BE NO FURTHER NOTICE. Attached to the Notice of Pending Charge Letter you will find a Worthless Check Statement from the Worthless Check Division.
If you have questions about the notice of pending charges letter then contact an experienced criminal defense attorney at the Sammis Law Firm. Call (813) 250-0500.
Restitution in Worthless Check Cases
The prosecutors with the State Attorney’s Office in Hillsborough County are primarily concerned with the payment of restitution to the alleged victim as soon as possible. If you can work with an attorney to avoid many of the pitfalls that go along with this charge you may ultimately save not only your criminal record, but also money that would otherwise be paid for bond, fines and court costs, probation supervision fees, and other expenses that go along with an arrest and prosecution.
In a worthless check case, the payee may also file a civil suit against you to seek damages of up to three times the actual damages (or face amount written on the check), as well as attorney fees, bank fees and court costs.
Defenses under Florida Statute Section 832.05 for Worthless Checks
Statute Section 832.05 include a situation in which an individual writes a check to obtain some property or service from another individual when the person who wrote the check knows that there are insufficient funds to cover the check. Common defenses to the charge of obtaining property for a worthless check include the following:
You Did Not Know the Check Would Bounce or was Worthless
Under Florida law, a common defense to the criminal charge of obtaining property with a worthless check involves the “knowingly” requirement. Many people in Florida bounce a check because of difficult financial situations. The man or woman may write the check thinking that sufficient funds are in the account, but then later find out the check bounced because of account mismanagement or some other mistake that often occurs with someone under financial stress or does not properly balance their checkbook.
The Person Accepted the Check Knew or Should Have Known the Check was Worthless
It is a defense under Florida law to the bad check charge if the person accepting the check is notified prior to accepting the check or has reason to believe that there are insufficient funds in the bank to cover the check at the moment it is accepted. For instance, if you asked the person accepting the check to hold or delay depositing the check for even a brief period or gave the payee any other reason to believe that the check would not honored, then a defense may prevent a prosecution under Florida law.
It is a defense under Florida law to the worthless check charge if the person accepting the check accepts a “postdated check,” because the fact that the check is post-dated indicates to the person accepting the check that there are insufficient funds in the account at the moment the check is accepted.
If the person who issued the check subsequently “stopped payment” on the check, then the offense can not be prosecuted under this section of Florida law, but is instead prosecuted under Florida Statute Section.
Checks returned by the bank and stamped “Unauthorized Drawer’s Signature” usually involve a a forged check can not be prosecuted under this section, but can be prosecuted under the Forged Check statute.
Effect of Previously Bounced Check, Bad Check, or Worthless Check
Under Florida law, the statute specifically provides that the person who accepts the check does not have reason to believe that the person who presents the check does not have sufficient funds SOLELY because the person paying with the check has previously issued a worthless check to him or her.
Paying the Check Does Not Necessarily Prevent the Prosecution
The statute also specifically provides that payment of the dishonored check, draft, bill of exchange or debit card order does not constitute a defense or ground for dismissal of the charges. Although as a practical matter, if the check is immediately paid, it is unlikely that the State Attorney’s Office will go forward with a prosecution.
Even after the prosecution has begun, an experienced attorney can often force the prosecutor to drop the charges in exchange for the payment of restitution, particularly when one of the above-mentioned defenses can be used in the case.
The Worthless Check Charge Can Be Charged as a Felony or Misdemeanor
The offense of obtaining a worthless check is a first degree misdemeanor in Florida when the check is for an amount less than $150.00, punishable by up to 12 months in the county jail.
In the event the check is written for $150.00 or more, then the offense is a third degree felony punishable by up to five (5) years in Florida State Prison.
Reasons the Check is Dishonored
If the Bank Stamps the Dishonored Check with any of the following notations, the check can be prosecuted under the Worthless Check Statute:
- Insufficient Funds
- NSF (Non-Sufficient Funds)
- Account Not Found
- No Such Account
- Account Closed
- Closed Account
- NSF Unless Otherwise Indicated
- Refer to Maker
- Uncollected Funds
Separate Charge for Depositing a Check with the Intent to Defraud
Under subsection 3, it is a crime for any person by an act or common scheme to cash or deposit an item in a bank with the intent to defraud, which is a third degree felony punishable by five (5) years in Florida State Prison.
Duty of the Person Accepting the Check or the Payee
The person who accepted the worthless check has certain duties and obligations when attempting to prosecute the person who wrote the worthless check in Florida, including the following:
- Notice – Prior to initiating prosecution, the person who receives the worthless check must send the following letter (sample attached) or any letter in a substantially similar form Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested or First Class Mail.
- This letter must be mailed by First Class Mail, evidenced by the Affidavit of First Class Mailing or certified registered mail, evidenced by the return receipt.
- Notice must be mailed to the address on the check or the address given at the time the check was written. Even if the letter is returned undeliverable, this is sufficient notice under Florida Law.
You are hereby notified that a check, numbered ______, issued by you on ____________ (date) and payable to ____________________________ has been dishonored. Pursuant to Florida Law, you have 15 days from the date of this notice to tender payment of the full amount of such check plus a service charge of $_______ ** the total amount due being $__________ and ________cents.
Unless this amount is paid in full within the time specified above, the holder of such check may turn over the dishonored check and all other available information relating to this incident to the State Attorney for criminal prosecution.
You may be additionally liable in a civil action for triple the amount of the check, but in no case less than $50.00, together with the amount of the check, a service charge, court costs, reasonable attorney fees and incurred bank fees, as provided in Section 68.065 FS.
**$25.00 if the face value of the check does not exceed $50, $30 if the face value exceeds $50 but does not exceed $300, $40 if the face value is between $300 and $800, or an amount up to five percent of the face amount of the check (whichever is greater)
- Affidavit for Criminal Prosecution of Worthless Check Case in Florida – Each county in Florida, including Hillsborough County, Polk County, Pasco County, Pinellas County, and Hernando County, has specific requirements so that the State Attorney’s Office in that jurisdiction can attempt to prosecute the case. Visit the website of the State Attorney’s Office in the County in which the check was given in or mailed from for more information.
Resource Links for Bad Check, Worthless Checks, or Dishonored Checks in Florida
Pinellas County, FL – How to Process a Bad Check – Pursuant to Florida Statute 832, no criminal charges can be filed in a worthless check case (often called a “bad check”) when the person accepting the check has been expressly notified. Also find information about diversion programs for worthless check cases.
Pasco County, FL – State Attorney’s Office for Worthless Checks – Worthless Checks in Sixth Judicial Circuit of Florida the Clearwater, Pinellas County or Dade City or New Port Richey, Pasco County. The Bad Check Diversion Program (BCDP) is a program designed to obtain restitution for the payee.
Polk County, FL – State Attorney’s Office Worthless Checks Program – The Office of the State Attorney, 10th Judicial Circuit, prosecutes Worthless Checks and offers a Diversion Program for Worthless Check Offenders that can avoid resolution through the court system. The advantage of this program for merchants is that it increases the speed and rate of recovery.
Hillsborough County, FL – Worthless Checks – Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office information for worthless checks to help victims in appropriate cases obtain restitution through prosecution in court.
Worthless Check Unit for Tampa, Hillsborough County, FL – The worthless check unit in Tampa and Plant City, FL, provides assistance to victims of bad checks in Hillsborough County, FL.
Hernando County, FL – Worthless Check Diversion – Bradenton, Hernando County program to redeem worthless checks after complaints are filed by forcing the writer to pay restitution, and additional fees and costs, before a criminal prosecution warrant is issued.
Worthless Checks – Recent News Articles
Bad checks have become a thorn in side of some Manatee businesses – Worthless Checks in Bradenton, Manatee County. Chief Assistant State Attorney Ed Brodsky said his office has received about 5,000 reports of bad business and personal checks, also known as worthless checks …
Finding an Attorney for Worthless Check Cases in Tampa, FL
If you have an outstanding arrest warrant for any charge of uttering a worthless check then contact a criminal defense attorney at the Sammis Law Firm to represent you on these theft charges. We also help clients who have received a notice of pending charges and wish to avoid a summons or warrant being issued in the case. Call (813) 250-0500 today to discuss your case.
Our offices are located at 1005 N. Marion Street in downtown Tampa. We are experienced in fighting these types of cases and we can put our experience to work for you.
This article was last updated on Friday, December 2, 2016.