Are You Really Going To Jail For Bouncing A Check In New York?

Are You Really Going To Jail For Bouncing A Check In New York?

By |February 6th, 2012|

bounced check criminal liability new yorkWhen you owe money, you may be tempted to write a post-dated check to the debt collector. If it doesn’t clear, you could be in trouble under New York law for a bounced check. Feel like playing the odds?

When you’re contacted by a debt collector, he or she is going to do whatever it takes to get some money out of you. It’s part of the job, after all. If you’ve got the funds, terrific.

If not, you can bet that you’ll be asked to give a post-dated check. If it’s returned as a bounced check, you’re sure to start getting threats of criminal prosecution. The debt collector figures (and rightfully so) that the fear of being locked up in prison for a bounced check is going to make you do anything to get the money together to pay off the debt.

Criminal Liability In New York For Bouncing A Check

Article 190 of the New York Penal Code covers criminal liability for a bounced check. Under the law, if you )or anyone authorized by you) writes a check that doesn’t clear due to insufficient funds then it is treated as a Class B Misdemeanor.

That translates into twice the check amount of $500, whichever is greater. You can also be put into jail for up the 3 months.

Sounds bad, right?  Stop sweating and read on.

Defenses To Prosecution

Want to avoid being prosecuted? If you bounce a check, all you need to do is make good on the funds within 10 days. In addition, employees who sign checks on behalf of their employers can avoid prosecution by showing that they were merely following orders of an employer or of a superior officer or employee generally authorized to direct the employee’s activities.

In other words, a bounced check prosecution can disappear by making good on it or just showing you were doing it in furtherance of your employment.

No harm, no foul.

Post-Dated Checks And Criminal Liability

Under the Penal Law, a check is “any check, draft or similar sight order for the payment of money which is not post-dated with respect to the time of utterance.” Therefore, a bouncing a post-dated check is not going to subject you to criminal liability under New York law.

Those Wily Debt Collectors

Of course, every debt collector should know the New York law specifically omits post-dated checks from the rule of criminal liability. If they don’t, that’s a failure of training; agreeing to work on New York accounts is going to presume you know the rules of the game.

Those threats of criminal prosecution, therefore, are full of hot air. Depending on your situation, those threats may give rise to a debt collector’s liability under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. It’s a good idea to check in with a lawyer if this sort of scenario happens to you, just to be sure either way.

Image credit:  williamcromar

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About the Author:

I've been a consumer protection lawyer since 1995, working to help people end their bill problems. I'm a faculty member at the Student Loan Law Workshop, a nationally recognized speaker, and a long-time member of both the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys and National Association of Consumer Advocates.