Jail for Bad Checks is Possible

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“Can you go to jail for writing bad checks?” is a common and not always easily answered question. However, it is highly possible that criminal prosecution can happen in most unpaid bounced check cases. The good news is that many merchants choose not to pursue criminal action for bad checks, and that promptly paid returned checks are not eligible for criminal prosecution. With proper budgeting and only writing checks when there is actually money in a bank account, the problems of bad checks can be easily avoided.


Some bad checks cannot be prosecuted in the criminal justice system. Post-dated checks, which are noted as good after the date the check is actually passed, are ineligible for prosecution. This is because the merchant cannot reasonably expect a check dated in the future to be valid on the date it was given as a form of payment. Such checks establish a lending contract between the check writer and check recipient, and create a credit transaction.

In some states, such as California, checks drawn on out-of-state banks cannot be prosecuted as a crime. Many states also require the check writer’s government identification to be checked before accepting the payment. Failure to handwrite the identification numbers, such as a driver’s license or Social Security number, upon the check can also make it impossible to prosecute a check criminally.


Most bad checks are criminal misdemeanors, and may not necessarily lead to an automatic jail sentence. However, most states call for up to one year in jail for misdemeanors and bad check writing could lead to jail time at a judge’s discretion. There are also usually fines of as high as $5,000 for misdemeanor crimes, and any criminal conviction can make getting a job or even an apartment much more difficult.


Whenever you get a notice of a returned check, be sure to repay it promptly. Prosecuting bad checks requires the merchant to try to collect the unpaid debt before going to the police for criminal action. The best way to avoid any financial or legal problems with returned checks is to only write checks when you have the money in the account to cover them.

This post is part of the series: Trouble With Checking Accounts

Checking accounts can be a source of convenience–or major trouble. Learn about whether debt collectors can freeze your checking account or take your wages, the facts about bad check writing databases, and whether you can go to jail for bouncing checks.

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  2. Can You Go To Jail for Writing Bad Checks?