It’s a fact that many don’t know – a bad check could get you sent to jail.
The Check Prosecution Unit for the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office recovered $28,398.15 in funds for local merchants during the month of January.
When a merchant, bank or common citizen receives a check from an account with insufficient funds, the bad, or “bounced,” check is brought to the Check Prosecution Unit of the Yolo DA’s Office. Last year, merchants brought $558,396.60 in bad checks to the DA’s office. Of that amount, $364,941.36 was recovered.
“Writing bad checks is a crime,” said Chief Deputy District Attorney Ann Hurd. “That’s something that everyone has to be aware of.“
The vast majority of those who write bad checks have no prior criminal history, Hurd said. Rather, they are mostly law-abiding citizens who have fallen on hard times.
“I think we’re going to start seeing more bad checks in these lean economic times,” she said.
In 2007, about 1,867 checks were deemed to possess insufficient funds. Last year, that number was 1,948 checks. Most of the time, a lot of little checks are written at once to fast food chains or grocery stores.
Often, people write a check believing they had more money in the bank or hoping the merchant would not cash the check immediately, Hurd said. The DA must prove that the writer had knowledge of their insufficient funds, which requires searching through bank records.
For the most part, the DA will try to work with those who have written the bad check, especially those without prior criminal history.
“We’ve tried harder to reach out to them,” Hurd said. “I think we in Yolo County are somewhat different.“
Unlike many DA’s offices, Yolo County processes all bad checks themselves. This is done in order to protect local businesses yet still remain in touch with those who have written the bad checks. However, the safety of the merchants is the DA’s biggest priority.
“The apparent success of the DA’s office in recovering funds, hopefully, will serve as a deterrent to individuals apt to write bad checks and attempt to pass them in Downtown Davis,“ said Davis Downtown Business Association Administrator Joy Cohan in an e-mailed statement.
Often, Davis businesses will report bad checks to DDBA in addition to making a police report. This way, information can be shared with all Davis merchants. If the Yolo DA is unable to recover the funds for a bad check from the writer, the merchant loses that amount of money and must then pursue the amount in a civil case.
Nugget Markets is one of the largest merchant companies in Yolo County and returns many checks to the Yolo DA each year. Another is UC Davis.
Alyse DeFazio, manager of the Student Accounting Division at UC Davis, said students with bounced checks will receive an invoice from Student Accounting requiring payment within 15 days. After 15 days, the student receives a second invoice and an additional 10 days to pay the item before their information is submitted to the Yolo DA. If the fee is for registration, the student may simply be dropped from his or her classes after 15 days.
“We encourage students who have bounced a check to be in touch with our office,” DeFazio said. “We understand that these things can happen. We want to be flexible and work with the students to make payment arrangements.“
But bad checks carry serious consequences if the charges are carried out. Any check written for over $200 that is returned for insufficient funds can result in a felony charge.
“You could actually wind up going to state prison,” Hurd said. “And some people do.“
RONNY SMITH can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.