Check Fraud Crimes
PC 476 Law, Sentence, & Defense
Information on the crime of cashing a check with insufficient funds with intent to defraud, more commonly known as check fraud, is found at California penal code sections 476a(a) and 476a(b).
To be found guilty of check fraud under PC 476a(a), the district attorney must prove that:
The defendant willfully delivered, or attempted to deliver, a check to another person or business
When the defendant delivered the check, he or she knew that there was insufficient funds in the account associated with the check, and
When the defendant delivered the check with insufficient funds it was with the intent to defraud the person or business
If a defendant causes the check to be delivered, by way of a runner or a third party, the defendant is still considered guilty of check fraud, so long as when the check was delivered the defendant knew there was insufficient funds in the account associated with the check and he or she intended to defraud the payee.
The crime of check fraud (PC 476a) is complete as soon as the defendant signs the check and delivers it to the person or business if the defendant knows there is insufficient funds in the account associated with the check and the defendant intends to defraud a person or business. It does not matter if the defendant was able to cash the check or that a person or business was actually defrauded.
If the check that the defendant attempts to pass is a forgery, fictitious, or altered, the defendant may also be charged with PC 476 (a forgery offense). This is true even if there is sufficient funds to otherwise cover the amount of the fictitious check.
Check Defined: For purposes of PC 476a, a check is considered a written document that is drafted in favor of another person or entity who is named as the payee of the written document. A check does not have to be a traditional bank issued check, but in almost all cases a bank issued check is the subject of the criminal allegation.
Sentence for PC 476 Crimes
PC 476a(a): Check fraud under $950, is charged as a misdemeanor. If found guilty of PC 476a(a), the defendant may be sentenced to a maximum of one year in jail.
PC 476a(b): Check fraud $950 or more, is charged as a felony. If found guilty of PC 476a(b), the defendant may be sentenced to a maximum of three years in jail.
PC 476: Passing or possession of a forged check, is charged as a misdemeanor or as a felony (wobbler). If found guilty of misdemeanor PC 476, the defendant may be sentenced to a maximum of one year in jail. If found guilty of felony PC 476, the defendant may be sentenced to a maximum of three years in jail.
Note: Misdemeanor PC 476 is charged when the face amount of the forged or altered check is for $950 or less; felony PC 476 is charged when the face amount of the forged or altered check is for more than $950.
Good Time Credit: If found guilty of misdemeanor or felony check fraud (PC 476a(a) or 476a(b)), the defendant may earn up to fifty percent (50%) credit off his or her jail or prison sentence for good behavior while in jail (assuming the defendant does not have prior strike conviction). The same good time credits (50%) applies to passing a forged or altered check (PC 476).
Probation Sentence: Probation is period of supervision instead of jail. Probation sentences are allowed in check fraud cases, but whether or not a defendant will be granted probation upon a conviction for check fraud depends largely on the level of sophistication involved in the case and the defendant's criminal history, if any. of the Probation sentences come with probation terms that must be followed in order to avoid further punishment, including actual jail.
Probation for felony PC 476a(b) charges is called formal probation where the defendant is monitored by a probation officer. Probation for misdemeanor PC 476a(a) is called informal or summary probation where the defendant is not monitored by a probation officer. Probation terms may include a short jail sentence, but jail sentences that are required as a term of probation may usually be served on work release or house arrest.
PC 1170(h): Suspended or Split jail Sentences are allowed in check fraud cases. A suspended jail sentence is a predetermined jail sentence that does not have to be served unless the defendant violates a term of his or her felony probation. A split jail sentence is sentence that may be served partially in jail and partially out of jail on work release or house arrest. Suspended and split jail sentences may be available in felony PC 476 and 476a(b) cases depending on the circumstances of the case and the defendant's criminal history.
Immigration Issues: PC 476, 476(a), and 476(b) are all crimes involving moral turpitude. A crime involving moral turpitude is a crime that is considered morally wrong or involves dishonesty. A conviction for a crime involving moral turpitude, including any check fraud crime, may lead to deportation or denial of reentry into the United States for non U.S. citizens.
Three Strikes Law: PC 476, 476a(a), and 476a(b) are not considered strike offenses under California's Three Strikes Law as check fraud cases are not considered serious or violent felonies.
In addition to a possible jail or prison sentence, if found guilty of check fraud (PC 476a), or possession of a forged or altered check (PC 476), the defendant may face any of the following punishments: probation or parole terms, criminal protective orders, professional licensing consequences (for licensed professional, i.e. doctors, dentists, lawyers, nurses, teachers, etc.), immigration consequences (for non U.S. citizens), penalty fines and fees, restitution, enhanced penalties for subsequent criminal convictions, loss of civil rights (including the right to own firearms for felony convictions), and more.
Defenses to PC 476
Common defenses to check fraud crimes include: insufficient evidence, necessity, mistake of fact (as to how much money the defendant had in his or her bank account at the time the check was written), statute of limitations, lack of jurisdiction, coerced confessions, illegal search and seizure, and more.
Note: If the defendant informed the person who received the check for cashing that there was insufficient funds, or likely insufficient funds, to cover the amount of the check, then the defendant is not guilty of check fraud under PC 476a(a) or 476a(b). In this situation there is a lack of intent to defraud because the defendant is giving the payee notice that the check might not be covered by the funds in the account.
If you are charged with check fraud, or passing a forged or altered check, under PC 476a(a), 476a(b), or 476, contact our criminal defense attorneys today for a free consultation. Our attorneys have successfully defended against hundreds of misdemeanor and felony charges and we will patiently explain your rights and defense options. Call today!
Quick Legal Reference
Crime: Check Fraud
Code: PC 476a(a) (CalCrim No. 1931 & 1935)
Wobbler: Yes. PC 476a(a) is a wobbler crime. This measn that PC 476(a(a) is charged as a felony or as a misdemeanor.
Incarceration: Felony PC 476a(a) jail sentence range: 16 months, 2 or 3 years (if probation not granted). Misdemeanor jail sentence up to 1 year.
Probation: Probation is allowed in PC 476a(a) cases (assuming other crimes or enhancements that bar a probation sentence are not present). Whether or not a probation sentence is offered by the District Attorney, or granted by the court, depends on several factors, including the defendant's criminal history and the facts of the case.
Work Release or House Arrest: In some cases, a probation sentence can include actual in-custody county jail, house arrest (electronic monitoring), or work release (or some combination of these penalties); however, most in-custody jail sentence orders that are required as a terms of probation are much shorter than the maximum jail sentence.
PC 1170(h)): Yes. PC 476a(a) is subject to PC 1170(h) sentencing. This means that any jail or prison sentence may be:
Split (half in-custody / half out-of-custody)
Suspended (possibly never served)
Served in county jail (not state prison)
Strike: PC 476a(a) is not a strike offense listed in California's Three Strikes law.
Credits: 50% good conduct credits available.
CIMT: PC 476a(a) is a crime involving moral turpitude, which means that an arrest or conviction could lead to the following:
Professional Licensing problems
Impeachment on credibility
Firearms: Felony PC 476a(a) convictions prohibit defendant from owning or possessing a firearm.
Bail: $25,000 (Felony); $5,000 (Misdemeanor) (San Bernardino)
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