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California Check Fraud Law & Defense

California Penal Code 476

The law on the crime of Check Fraud, commonly known as passing a bad check, is found at California penal code section 476.

To be found guilty of check fraud under PC 476, the district attorney must prove that:

  • The defendant willfully delivered, or attempted to deliver, a check to another person or entity,
  • 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 entity to whom the check was delivered.

For purposes of PC 476, 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, 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 476) is complete as soon as the defendant signs the check and delivers it to the payee if the defendant knows there is insufficient funds in the account associated with the check and the defendant intends to defraud the payee (victim). It does not matter if the payee never actually tries to cash the check. 

In other words, for purposes of check fraud under PC 476, it does not matter if anyone actually was defrauded or suffered financial or property loss.

If the defendant reasonably believed the the bank or creditor would not cash or honor the check than the defendant is not guilty of the crime of check fraud under PC 476. This is because the defendant under these circumstances does not intend to defraud the payee.

Also, if the defendant informed the person who received the check (the payee) that there was insufficient funds to cover the amount of the check then the defendant is not guilty of check fraud under PC 476. The burden of proving, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the person who received the check was not informed by the defendant that there was insufficient funds to cover the check is on the district attorney, not the defendant.

Sentence & Penalty for PC 476: Check Fraud

The crime of check fraud may be filed as a misdemeanor or as a felony in California. Both misdemeanor and felony check fraud charges are filed under PC 476. Both classifications are considered crimes of moral turpitude, which could lead to immigration and professional licensing consequences.

Whether the district attorney files misdemeanor or felony check fraud criminal charges under PC 476 depends largely on the facts of the case and the defendant's criminal history.

If the defendant is charged with misdemeanor check fraud under PC 476, he or she faces up to three years in prison. If the defendant is charged with felony check fraud under PC 476, he or she faces up to one year in the county jail.

In some case of check fraud it may be possible to reduce the charges to less severe criminal charges. It might even be possible to have the case dismissed depending on the evidence and available defenses.

PC 476 is not considered a serious or violent felony under California Three Strikes Law & Sentencing. Probation may be available upon a guilty conviction in some cases.

In addition to any jail or prison time that the defendant may face for any PC 476 conviction, he or she may also face some of the following penalties: probation or parole terms, stay-away restraining orders, professional licensing restrictions, immigration issues (for non-U.S. citizens), fines, restitution, enhanced penalties for future convictions, and more.

Defenses to PC 476: Check Fraud

There are several defenses that commonly apply to PC 476 charges; however, every case is different and if faced with a criminal charge you should contact a qualified and experienced criminal defense attorneys without delay. The following defenses tend to be common in check fraud cases: insufficient evidence, necessity, mistake of fact, statute of limitations, lack of jurisdiction, misjoinder, coerced confessions, and more.

If you have been charged with a violation of California penal code 476, check fraud, or passing a check with insufficient funds, contact our criminal defense attorneys today.

We have successfully defended against hundreds of criminal charges, including PC 476 allegations. We will patiently explain to you your rights and defenses associated with check fraud. There is no fee for the consultation. Call today!


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PC 476(a): Check Fraud

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Closely associated crimes to check fraud PC 476, include:

  • PC 475 Possession of forged paper
  • PC 476a(a) Pass a check with insufficient funds
  • PC 477 Counterfeiting
  • PC 470(a) Forgery
  • PC 529 False Personation

California Check Fraud  PC 476 Law & Defense

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