Paying with a bad check can become a serious criminal offense, even if the conduct itself does not seem particularly severe. If you have been arrested and charged with check fraud in New Jersey, it is important to understand the potential penalties you face and how courts decide these penalties. For help with your case, or for more information about your charges, contact the Law Offices of John J. Zarych’s Atlantic City check fraud defense lawyers.
What Are the Penalties for Check Fraud in New Jersey?
Under N.J.S.A. § 2C:21-5, it is illegal to knowingly write a check that you know will bounce. Usually, this crime is charged in cases where the person who wrote the check knew that they didn’t have an account at that bank, that the account was closed, or that there were insufficient funds in the account. This crime is not usually charged for issues of minor overdrafts.
Because this crime usually only covers severe cases of fraud or deceit, it can be a severe crime. However, the statute does grade the offense differently based on the amount of money involved, like other theft offenses:
- For amounts under $200, the crime is a disorderly persons This carries up to $1,000 in fines and up to 6 months in jail.
- For amounts of $200 or more but under $1,000, the crime is a fourth degree This carries up to $10,000 in fines and up to 18 months in prison.
- For amounts of $1,000 or more but under $75,000, the crime is a third degree This carries up to $15,000 and 3-5 years in prison
- For amounts of $75,000 or more, the crime is a second degree This carries up to $150,000 in fines and 5-10 years in prison.
While these guidelines give the standard, statutory penalty, the judge can alter your sentence at sentencing.
Sentencing Guidelines for Bad Checks in NJ
New Jersey’s legislature writes default penalty ranges for most crimes in New Jersey. Each level of crime has a general range that dictates the maximum and minimum penalty for jail time and a maximum fine for the offense. In addition to those ranges, N.J.S.A. § 2C:44-1(f) sets the following presumptive sentences for each crime level:
- 7 years for a second degree crime
- 4 years for a third degree crime
- 9 months for a fourth degree crime
However, judges are permitted to ignore these ranges and presumptions and order a final penalty within the statutory limit if they can point to factors at sentencing that justify this. Normally, judges will try to stay within the statutory range, but judges can go outside this range if it is justified.
If the judge is going to work within the statutory range, they will typically look to factors like prior offenses and the severity of your specific offense to decide your final sentence. For instance, a bad check offense for a check worth $2,000 would be a third degree crime with up to $15,000 in fines and 3-5 years in prison. A judge may decide that if this is your fourth theft offense and you repeatedly tried to avoid police and discovery of your crime, you could face the full 5 years and $15,000 fine. For a first-time offender who admitted to the crime, the minimum 3 years and a low fine to cover the $2,000 check might be warranted.
Judges will typically only deviate downward or upward from the statutory minimum or statutory maximum if there are extraordinary circumstances. However, a judge may order a “suspended sentence” and allow you to go on probation in some cases, avoiding jail time.
Judges look at many factors when sentencing someone for a crime, but the following are all common factors that will influence a judge’s decision to increase or decrease the penalties:
- Cooperation with the police and investigation
- Willingness to admit to the crime
- Willingness to pay restitution or return stolen goods
- Lack or presence of a prior criminal record
- Openness to rehabilitation
- The defendant’s risk of repeat offending
- The effect incarceration will have on the defendant’s future, job, and family
Probation for Check Fraud in NJ
Probation is a very popular sentence for fourth and third degree crimes. Instead of sending the defendant to jail for the crime, the judge can order the defendant to undergo supervision, attend crime prevention classes, perform community service, and pay restitution while on probation. This places restrictions on your life, such as requirements not to talk to known offenders, to report your address and job status, to stay within the state of New Jersey, to perform random and scheduled drug testing, and to submit to searches of your person and your home. If you can complete probation without violations, your sentence will end. If you violate your probation, the judge may send you straight to jail on a predetermined sentence.
PTI for Check Fraud in NJ
New Jersey has programs for first-time offenders that can help them avoid severe penalties and eventually clear their criminal record of convictions for these offenses. The Pretrial Intervention Program (PTI) is commonly used as a “diversionary” program for people charged with crimes of fourth degree or higher to avoid penalties by taking classes, performing community service, and undergoing other restrictions similar to probation. If you are charged with a disorderly persons offense, similar agreements may also be available to drop the charges against you in exchange for community service, restitution, and rehabilitation.
Atlantic City Check Fraud and Bad Checks Lawyers Offering Free Legal Consultations
If you or a loved one has been charged with issuing a bad or fraudulent check in New Jersey, call the Atlantic City criminal defense lawyers at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych. For a free consultation on your check fraud charges, information on the potential penalties you face, or help appealing your check fraud sentence, call our lawyers today at (609) 800-2942.