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Property Offenses

Negotiating A Worthless Instrument

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The following is not legal advice but is for information only. Legal advice is when an attorney applies the law to a person's individual circumstances and advises them on their legal options or potential exposure to legal harm, which a web page clearly does not.

This offense should appear with other forgery-type offenses on this site, but given how often it is charged, it has its own page. Often it covers writing a bad check.


Firstly, the relevant statute uses the term “negotiable instrument” and a check covers it. However, its broader meaning as “an unconditional promise or order to pay a fixed amount of money, with or without interest or other charges described in the promise or order.” There are other conditions, but that’s broadly what is covered.


The offense itself is relatively straightforward. A person has to intentionally issue or negotiates a negotiable instrument knowing that it will not be honored by the person or entity (“drawee”) expected to pay - such as a bank. Again, the so-called bad check is what this charge is most often used for. The prior knowledge (intent) that, say, there are insufficient funds when the check was written is crucial here. A mistake is not covered, and had happened, another case that led to a bank account being seized would also not be covered if the person didn’t know their money would be seized.


As with many offenses, there is a default class of offense, which determines a potential sentence if found guilty. However, the face value of the “negotiable instrument” makes the charge and potential sentence more serious the higher the amount. By default this is a class E offense - a minor misdemeanor equivalent - if the value is less than $500. For a value between $500 and $1000 it is a class D misdemeanor equivalent, but a felony equivalent for greater values. Between $1,000 and $10,000 it is a class C, and for more than $10,000 it is a class B offense.


A person with two or more specific prior convictions (like theft) will also have a charge elevated to a felony equivalent. That could be if the bad check was for $5 since it is the person’s prior convictions that are relevant nit the value.

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