Check fraud under Section § 2C:21-5 of the New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice involves issuing bad checks as payment for goods and services. This may appear to be a relatively minor offense considering that most people have probably bounced a check or two at least once in their lives. However, depending on the amount of money a bad check was made out for, your charges could be very serious. Defendants convicted of check fraud in Atlantic City may face penalties as small as fines or as severe as jail time.
If you are charged with or stand accused of check fraud, you should contact an attorney immediately. The consequences may range from mild to extremely harsh and you will need a lawyer to help you determine what penalties you face and how to best defend yourself in court. Reach out to our experienced Atlantic City check fraud defense attorney at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych. Call (609) 616-4956 to schedule a legal consultation free of charge.
Defining Check Fraud in Atlantic City
In Atlantic City, a person commits check fraud when they issue a check as payment of money, knowing that the check is bad. The check could be issued anywhere to anyone to constitute fraud, but it most often occurs in retail and business transactions. Accidentally bouncing a check is not check fraud and is not a criminal offense. However, if you try to use a bad check knowing the money is not there to back it up, you have committed check fraud. Law enforcement and prosecutors will examine the evidence and circumstances surrounding your case to determine if you knew the check was bad.
Someone who issues a fraudulent check is presumed by the court to have known the check was bad if certain circumstances exist. Knowledge of the bad check is presumed when the defendant had no account on which to draw funds, or if the defendant fails to make good the bad check in at least 10 days after being notified that payment was declined. Once this knowledge is presumed, it is up to the defendant to prove that they lacked any knowledge that the check was bad. If you have issued a bad check and are facing charges of check fraud, call our experienced Atlantic City check fraud defense attorney so we can help your case.
“Check Kiting” Charges in Atlantic County
In New Jersey, there is no crime titled “check kiting.” While this is the typical name of the scheme that people commit, the charges usually come under N.J.S.A. § 2C:21-5 for “bad checks.” This offense covers intentionally writing a check from an account that you know has insufficient funds to support the check, which is the core illegal act in a check kiting scheme.
Check kiting usually refers to a scheme that takes advantage of the delay between when a bank allows you to access funds from a check and when the account’s balance is updated. In this scheme, people commonly write checks from an account that has insufficient funds. Then, they will write a check from another account to refill the first account in time for that check to clear. Then they will chase the funds by writing additional checks. Sometimes people will use fraudulent transactions from stores or other businesses or financial institutions to help cover the costs as well.
The core issue in these schemes is that either the recipient of the check or the financial institution is ultimately harmed because there is no money to cover the transaction. Either the business that received the check will give out goods or services without being paid or the bank will cover the funds even though there is not enough money in the accounts to cover the transactions. This is the harm the crime punishes.
Check Fraud Penalties in Atlantic City
The penalties and punishments for issuing fraudulent checks in Atlantic City range from insignificant to severe, depending on the value of the fraudulent checks. Check fraud involving certain dollar amounts are charged as different levels of crime with different corresponding penalties:
- Fraud under $200 is a disorderly persons offense with up to 6 months in jail and fines up to $1,000.
- Fraud of $200 or more but under $1,000 is a fourth degree crime with up to 18 months in prison and fines up to $10,000.
- Fraud of $1,000 or more but under $75,000 is a third degree crime with 3-5 years in prison and fines up to $15,000.
- Fraud of $75,000 or more is a second degree crime with 5-10 years in prison and fines up to $15,000.
The amounts in these cases will typically be combined if the fraud was part of one concerted effort. That means that if you wrote 50 $1,000 checks as part of the same fraud scheme, you could be charged with one count of fraud of $50,000 instead of 50 counts of $1,000 fraud. A charge for conspiracy to commit check fraud is like facing a second count of check fraud and could double the penalties.
For check fraud under $200, the charges will only be a disorderly persons offense and you will likely only pay a fine or serve minimal jail time. If the bad check is worth more than $200 and under $1,000, you may be charged with a crime of the fourth degree punishable by no more than 18 months in prison. Check fraud involving an amount of $1,000 or more and under $75,000 will be a third-degree crime and punishable by incarceration for 3 to 5 years. Finally, check fraud involving $75,000 or more will be a second-degree crime and punishable by 5 to 10 years in prison. The penalties for check fraud are commensurate with the amount of money defrauded from the victim.
If a defendant has issued multiple bad checks, they may face charges for each bad check that was issued. Multiple bad checks mean multiple potential prison terms. For example, one fraudulent check for $500 is punishable by up to 18 months in prison. However, three fraudulent checks each worth $500 will be charged as three separate offenses, each with a prison term of up to 18 months, adding up to a maximum of 54 months, or four and half years, in prison. One small bad check may not seem like a huge deal, but multiple larger checks will quickly turn into a very serious problem.
Courts consider many factors when setting your penalties within these ranges. For instance, if you were involved in a criminal conspiracy but you were a low-level actor, you may face lower penalties than those who ran the operation. Other considerations and mitigating circumstances may also lower your sentence, potentially allowing you to serve probation instead of jail time. You may also qualify for a diversionary program called PTI if this is your first offense, potentially avoiding prison and a criminal record altogether. Talk to a lawyer about qualifying for PTI and lowering your sentence.
Defenses to Check Fraud in Atlantic City
People issue bad checks all the time. Most people have probably accidentally bounced a check before. The key element of check fraud is that the defendant knew the check was bad when they issued it. The defendant issued a bad check as payment for a good or service knowing that the vendor would not receive the payment due to them. This means that a good defense for check fraud charges involves proving that you did not know the check was bad when it was issued. Contact our experienced Atlantic City check fraud defense attorney to discuss the details of your case.
Prosecutors will presume your knowledge of the bad check if there was no bank account connected to the check from which money could be drawn or if you failed to correct a bad check after being notified that payment was declined. Possible defenses include demonstrating that there was a valid bank account connected to the check, and the lack of funds was due to some mistake or oversight. You could also argue that you never received notice that payment was declined, so you could not have had an opportunity to correct the bad check. If either of these circumstances or a similar circumstance applies to your case, please call out experienced Atlantic City check fraud defense attorney at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych immediately.
When Issuing a Bad Check Becomes a Crime in Atlantic County
Mistakes happen, especially when it comes to managing finances. If you do not have enough money in your checking account or accidentally write too many checks too close together, you may find your checks bouncing. Unfortunately for retailers or service providers who accepted your check as payment, a bounced check means they did not get paid. If you continue to keep the goods or accept the benefit of the services that you “paid” for with a bad check, those goods or services are effectively stolen.
If you rectify the error quickly, move additional cash to your checking account or pay again with cash, the problem may be corrected; nothing was stolen, and no one was taken advantage of. This kind of accident rarely results in criminal charges, but misunderstandings happen, and charges could result out of those misunderstandings. Fortunately, these charges should not stand because the definition of bad checks crimes in NJ is very specific.
To be arrested and convicted of a crime for issuing a bad check or funds transfer under N.J.S.A. § 2C:21-5, the government must prove that you knew your check was going to be bad when you wrote it. If the government can prove you had actual knowledge that your account did not have the money to clear the check, that can lead to a conviction. However, it is unlikely that prosecutors can get that kind of information, and the law instead assumes that you had knowledge the check would be bad if either of these conditions is met:
- You did not have an account with the bank you issued the check from.
- The bank refused the check and you did not fix the issue within 10
Writing a check that you can’t support because you do not have an account or the account was recently closed is difficult to do without knowledge, and the court can assume that you violated this offense if you had no account. Additionally, the court can assume that you had knowledge that the check was bad if you waited more than 10 days to correct the payment error or return the goods.
Penalties for Writing a Bad Check in Atlantic County
Getting goods or services by writing a bad check is functionally equivalent to theft. Since no one was actually paid for the goods or services, the government sees a bad check crime as the same as theft and uses very similar penalties which classify the crime differently based on the amount of the bad check, money order, or wire transfer:
- Writing a bad check for under $200 is a disorderly persons This carries up to 6 months in jail and fines up to $1,000.
- Writing a bad check for $200 or more, but under $1,000, is a fourth degree This carries up to 18 months in jail and fines up to $10,000.
- Writing a bad check for $1,000 or more, but under $75,000, is a third degree This carries 3-5 years in prison and fines up to $15,000.
- Writing a bad check for $75,000 or more is a second degree This carries 5-10 years in prison and fines up to $150,000.
In many cases in New Jersey, judges are unwilling to assign jail time for first offenders or those facing low-level offenses. As long as the crime is a disorderly persons offense, a fourth degree crime, or a third degree crime, you may be able to avoid jail time. Instead, you will likely face penalties including probation and supervision. However, if you have prior convictions, you may nonetheless face jail time.
In some cases, you may be able to apply to the Pretrial Intervention Program (PTI). This program allows first-time offenders charged with serious crimes to participate in rehabilitative programs rather than face criminal penalties. Similar opportunities may be available to have low-level disorderly persons offenses dropped after crime prevention classes, community services, and other efforts to prevent reoffending.
Call Our Atlantic City Check Fraud Defense Lawyer for a Free Legal Consultation
Charges of check fraud may land you with fines and possible prison time in Atlantic City. Please do not take these charges lightly because they can lead to very serious consequences. If you or someone you know has been charged with or accused of check fraud, contact our experienced Atlantic City check fraud defense attorney at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych. Call (609) 616-4956 to schedule a free legal consultation with a skilled lawyer who can help your case.