Check Fraud Law & Defense
PC 476, 476a(a) & 476a(b)
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.
Note: If the amount of the check is $950 or less the crime of check fraud is filed under PC 476a(a); if the amount of the check is over $950 the crime of check fraud is filed under PC 476a(b). Maximum jail or prison sentences vary depending on the charge that is filed (See Sentencing for PC 476a Crimes).
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.
Also, 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 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.
Sentence for PC 476 & 476a (Check Fraud)
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 prison.
PC 476: Passing or possession of a forged check, is charged as a misdemeanor or as a felony. 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 prison.
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 or prison (assuming the defendant does not have prior strike convictions). 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 or prison. Probation sentences come with probation terms that must be followed in order to avoid further punishment, including actual jail or prison. 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. For more information on work release or house arrest see sentencing alternatives.
Probation sentences are available in misdemeanor and felony check fraud cases; however, every check fraud case different and whether or not a probation sentence is granted upon a conviction for check fraud depends largely on the facts of the case and the defendant's criminal history.
Suspended or Split Prison Sentence: A suspended prison sentence is a predetermined prison sentence that does not have to be served unless the defendant violates a term of his or her felony probation. A split prison sentence is sentence that may be served partially in prison and partially out of prison on work release or house arrest. Suspended and split prison 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. For more information on suspended or split prison sentences see PC 1170(h).
Immigration Consequences: 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. For more information on crimes involving moral turpitudede see immigration consequences for convictions.
Three Strikes Law: PC 476, 476a(a), and 476a(b) are not considered, serious felonies, violent felonies, or strike crimes under California's Three Strike's Law.
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 check fraud convictions), and more.
Defenses to PC 476a: Check Fraud
Common defenses to check fraud crimes include: insufficient evidence, necessity, mistake of fact, 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.
For more information on defenses, including defenses to the crime of check fraud (PC 476a(a) and 476a(b)), or possession, or passing a forged or altered check (PC 476), see defenses.
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!
Criminal Defense Attorneys
PC 476, 476a(a) & 476a(b) Check Fraud Defense
Free Consultations 24hrs / 7days
Se habla español / Abogados de defensa criminal
All Misdemeanor & Felony Crimes, Including
Criminal Defense Attorneys, Serving
San Bernardino County
Alta Loma, San Bernardino, Colton, Fontana, Redlands, Yucaipa, Rancho Cucamonga, Rialto, Ontario, Chino, Upland, Victorville, Apple Valley, Hesperia, Highland
Riverside, Eastvale, Corona, Moreno Valley, Jurupa Valley, Norco, Banning, Beaumont, Hemet, Perris, Palm Springs
Los Angeles County
Los Angeles (Downtown Court), Pomona, West Covina
Closely Related Crimes
- PC 475 Possession of forged paper
- PC 476 Possess or pass a forged or altered check