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Unlawful Issuance of Bank Checks

Most people have seen the signs that hang in grocery store checkout lines and at convenience store counters that warn: “There will be a $50 fee on all returned checks!” However, not everyone may realize that writing a “bad check” in Washington State can have criminal consequences that go beyond that extra fee.

Unlawful Issuance of a Bank Check

On a basic level, Washington State law regarding bad checks make it illegal for a person to write someone a check as payment when the individual writing the check knows that he or she does not have sufficient funds in their bank account to cover that check. The term “check” is rather broad, covering any draft (other than a documentary draft) that is payable on demand and drawn on a bank. See RCW 62A.3-104(f). In addition to personal checks, this includes items like cashier's checks, teller's checks, and even money orders.

According to RCW 9A.56.060, any person who “with intent to defraud,” delivers a check or other bank draft as payment – knowing that he or she does not have sufficient funds or credit with the bank to meet the full amount of the check upon presentation – is guilty of “unlawful issuance of a bank check.” See RCW 9A.56.060(1).

Breaking down this statute, a couple of key distinctions arise:

  1. “Intent to defraud”: to be found guilty of unlawful issuance of a bank check, a prosecutor must show that a person intended to defraud another individual by passing the bad check or bank draft.
    • However, the simple act of giving a bad check or bank draft to another person when you know you do not have enough money to cover that check or draft is sufficient evidence to prove an intent to defraud, unless that evidence is rebutted. See RCW 9A.56.060(1).
    • In addition, this intent is not restricted just to individuals. A person who shows an intent to defraud an association or corporation has the requisite “intent to defraud” to be prosecuted under this section. See RCW 10.58.040.
  2. “Knowing”: the statute also requires that an individual know that he or she did not have sufficient funds in their bank account when they delivered the check in question.
    • “Knowing” implies that the individual was either aware of the circumstances (i.e., he or she actually knew their bank account did not have sufficient funds to cover the whole check) or that the result was practically certain to occur (i.e., he or she didn't know their exact balance, but was pretty sure the $10,000 check would overdraw his or her account).

Effect of Stop-Payment

Washington State law also makes it illegal in certain circumstances for a person to issue a check and then issue a stop-payment request to his or her bank, directing the bank not to honor that bad check. See RCW 9A.56.060(2). The statute provides that a person is also guilty of unlawful issuance of a bank check if they issue a check and subsequently request stop-payment from their bank with an intent to defraud and without otherwise arranging repayment of the debt within 20 days.

Criminal Penalties

The penalties associated with unlawful issuance of a bank check depend on the amount of the check or bank draft in question. If the bad check is for $750 or less, the crime of unlawful issuance of a bank check is a gross misdemeanor. See RCW 9A.56.060(5). The law requires the court to order anyone found guilty of unlawful issuance of a bank check of $750 or less to make full restitution of the check amount to the injured party. If the guilty offender is an adult, the court is also required to impose a fine of up to $1,125 – a set amount of which (usually at least $375) cannot be suspended or deferred. Further, if an individual is convicted of unlawful issuance of a bank check two times within any twelve-month period, the court must impose the entire $1,125 fine. See RCW 9A.56.060(5)(b).

If the bad check in question is for more than $750, then the crime of unlawful issuance of a bank check is a Class C felony. See RCW 9A.56.060(4). Under RCW 9A.20.021(1)(c), a Class C felony is punishable by a maximum of five years in a state correctional institution. Adult offenders can also be subject to a fine of up to $10,000. However, the exact penalties for the crime of unlawful issuance of a bank check are determined in each particular case by the Washington State Sentencing Reform Act (RCW 9.94A) and the Washington State Sentencing Guidelines.

Note that Washington law increases the penalty when an individual writes multiple bad checks as part of a common scheme. When a person is charged with a series of transactions that would each, individually, constitute the crime of unlawful issuance of a bank check, RCW 9A.56.060(3) provides that the court should add up the individual values of all of the bad checks in order to determine whether the total value of the checks exceeds $750. If the total value of the series of checks exceeds $750, then the Class C felony charge applies, regardless of whether each check individually was for a much smaller amount.

“Let My Extensive Experience as a Former Prosecutor Work For You.”

Unlawful issuance of a bank check is a serious crime that carries serious consequences. If you or a loved one has been arrested for, or charged with, writing a bad check in Western Washington, contact experienced criminal defense attorney Steve Karimi today for help. Mr. Karimi is a former prosecutor who is committed to putting his insight into prosecution strategies to work for you. He represents people facing misdemeanor and felony charges of all kinds and is dedicated to protecting your constitutional rights in criminal court. Don't wait, contact the Law Office of Steve Karimi today at 206-621-8777, or call our 24-hour hotline at 206-660-6200.

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If you were arrested or a loved one has been charged with a crime in Seattle or surrounding areas of Washington State, the Law Offices of Steve Karimi can help. Call 206-660-6200 24 hours a day for a free consultation.

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Named a "rising star" in criminal defense by Washington Law and Politics magazine, Mr. Karimi is a former prosecutor for King County who uses his insight into prosecution strategies to protect his clients' rights in criminal court.