Anyone care to offer theories on how poorly this will proceed?
Prosecutors in some Maryland and Virginia counties have adopted a potent tactic to discourage check-bouncing: threatening writers with prosecution if they don’t attend “bad check school” run by private contractors.
It is a way for the counties to make money — they get a portion of the fees the companies charge people who attend the courses — and law enforcement officials say the practice saves resources for fighting more serious wrongdoing.
But critics say the private companies violate the law when they send out letters warning check bouncers to attend classes or face prosecution. The critics add that in most states, it is not a crime to write a returned check unless there is intent to defraud. And federal law bars debt collectors from making false threats.
I’ve never bounced a check, but let’s assume I make an innocent mathematical mistake in balancing my checkbook and send too much money to an investment account. Should I receive a letter from a private contractor, threatening me with prosecution if I don’t make restitution? What responsibility does the party that accepted my check have to verify my check before accepting it? Technology makes this possible. Companies institute policies regarding returned checks. What is the burden upon the state to first determine that evidence exists that a crime was committed? Should the state convey that power to a private contractor?
Who needs questions, though, when logic like this can prevail:
“I don’t have to use prosecutors to take these cases to court,” said Glenn F. Ivey, the state’s attorney in Prince George’s County. “The homicide rate is up, carjacking is up, sex offenses are up, armed robberies are up. I could probably use about 10 more prosecutors to handle violent crimes alone. So to the extent there’s a program like this that allows us to get good results on restitution, it’s a good way to go.”
In Maryland, a contractor charges those who attend the courses a $35 administrative fee, which is split with the counties, and $125 more for the class itself, an eight-hour session on financial responsibility.
Local prosecutors say the threat of prosecution for not participating is legitimate. “The general rule is we prosecute” people who fail to repay bad checks, said Frank R. Weathersbee, the Anne Arundel state’s attorney. Maryland law allows people 10 days to make good on a bounced check, he said. If check-restitution programs are curbed, he said, “you’re just setting us back a step, making it easier for bad-check writing.”
So, some criteria seems to exist. That’s reasonable. But, curbing check-restitution programs run by private contractors does nothing to make it easier to write bad checks. Messrs. Ivey and Weathersbee do not know that, if writing bad checks is so prevalent and dangerous, it’s reasonable to find more state funding for curbing it? The police power, and the prosecution of law-breakers, is a legitimate use of taxpayer funds. Ask for the necessary funding. It’s not too much to ask.
But really, what could possibly go wrong with this:
The Maryland counties have hired American Corrective Counseling Services Inc. The largest of the few private check-restitution companies, ACCS operates in 140 counties in 16 states. ACCS President Michael Schreck said the company sends 10,000 to 15,000 notices a week and conducts about 2,500 classes a year.
Retailers typically allow consumers at least 10 days to make good on a bounced check and pay a service charge. After that, retailers may either continue to try to collect the checks on their own, send them to a debt-collection firm or forward them to the prosecutor’s bad-check program.
When ACCS gets the checks, it sends check writers a notice using the local prosecutor’s letterhead. ACCS’s name is never used in communications with check writers or on the telephone hotline that ACCS operates.
I realize I’m being hyper because no one entrusted by government oversteps limits and abuses their newly emboldened authority.