Everyone's done it at one time or another--accidentally bounced a check. You get your statement from the bank and realize your error. Or worse, you get contacted by someone, a creditor, a utility company, your nephew whose birthday check bounced, and you realize you screwed up and didn't balance your account correctly. You wrote a check when you didn't have enough money in your account to cover the face value of the check. It happens to everyone with a checking account at some point in their lives.
But sometimes, depending on the circumstances, it can be a crime. Just ask Darrell Armstrong, assistant coach for the basketball team the Dallas Mavericks. He was arrested Tuesday for a warrant out of Las Vegas for an incident dealing with non-sufficient funds. The details of Armstrong's case haven't yet been released, but it brings into the spotlight a crime that is very little known. In Florida, it is called "Issuing a Worthless Check" and it can be either a misdemanor or a felony, depending on the amount of the check.
In Florida, under Statute 832.05(2), if a person draws or issues a check and presents it as payment, either by cashing it or using it to purchase goods, and the person knows at the time he writes the check that there aren't sufficient funds in the account (or on credit) to pay the check, it's a crime. If the value of the check is less than $150, it's a first degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail. If the check is for $150 or more, it's a third degree felony, punishable by up to 5 years in prison. Those are some very steep penalties for a bounced check.
The reason this charge is little known is because of the knowledge element. The person writing the check has to KNOW that it will bounce. For the average person who bounces a check, that's not the case; it's usually an accident or an accounting error. The bigger problem is not only does the person writing the check have to know it's a bad check, but the prosecution has to be able to prove that he knew it was bad. That's a huge hurdle to cross. It's one of the most difficult aspects of criminal law to try to prove what someone knew and when. Without an admission, it's extremely difficult to do.
Meanwhile, we await the facts of Armstrong's case coming to light to see exactly what he's accused of and whether or not the prosecution can prove it under Las Vegas law. He has posted a $40,000 bond and has returned to his coaching position in the interum.