Passing a bad check in Missouri is a class A misdemeanor unless the amount is $750 or more or the defendant wrote the check on a non-existent account, in which case it is a class E felony. Multiple checks passed within a 10-day period can be added together to reach the $750 threshold. Most Missouri counties have a bad check unit. This unit will usually send a written notice to the defendant giving them a 10-day period to pay the check before charges are filed. If the bad check is charged as a forgery, it is a class D felony.
Passing a Bad Check Definition
Per RSMo 570.120, passing a bad check can be committed in two different ways. In the following definitions, “check” can mean a personal check, any other similar sight order, or any other form of presentment involving the transmission of account information for the payment of money. This can include electronic debits and automatic bank drafts.
The first way a person can be guilty of passing a bad check in Missouri occurs when they make, issue, or pass a check with the purpose to defraud, knowing it will not be paid. This subsection allows the state to prosecute defendants without giving them a 10-day period when they can show that the person knowingly set out to commit fraud.
The second way a person can be guilty of passing a bad check in Missouri occurs when they make, issue, or pass a check knowing that there are insufficient funds in the account or that there is no such account and they fail to pay the check within 10 days after receiving written notice that the check bounced. This is the normal way passing a bad check is prosecuted. Most counties have a bad check unit that is responsible for sending the written notices and initiating prosecution. Under this subsection, the state does not have to prove that there was a purpose to defraud. Failure to pay after having been given written notice is taken as evidence of fraudulent intent and knowledge.
The statute stipulates that the notice must be “an actual notice in writing.” To satisfy this, most counties will send a demand letter that the defendant must actually receive. This can also be done by a service of summons or warrant as long as they provide notice of the 10-day payment period and indicate that there will be no prosecution if the check is paid in that period. Refusing to accept delivery of the notice will not prevent the state from prosecuting.
In addition to the normal fees or costs associated with criminal prosecution, the state may collect administrative handling fees if they take action. These are limited to $25 for checks less than $100, $50 for checks of $100 to less than $250, and 10% of the face value for checks $250 or over, not to exceed $75. If you are looking to pass bad checks but want to get the best fee value for your buck, checks in the $250 to $499 range or over $750 are the smart play.
The prosecuting attorney is also instructed by statute to collect a fee of $5 per bad check to be sent to the Missouri office of prosection service fund. They may also collect a “reasonable” service charge to be passed on to the person defrauded by the bad check. This is usually limited to $25.
Can a Bad Check Be Charged as Forgery?
Yes. The offense of passing a bad check has its own statute, and prosecutions usually proceed under that, but the same elements that support a bad check prosecution will also allow for a forgery prosecution. Forgery is a more serious charge, a class D felony. Generally, forgery will be charged when the check is passed as part of an organized scheme by a professional con artist or if the defendant is a persistent, known offender.
There are certain instances in which most counties' bad check units will not proceed with prosecution. These include postdated checks, checks that are agreed to be partial payment or to be held, third-party checks, checks under a certain amount (usually $25), and checks marked return to maker or uncollected funds.