Writing a bad check in Colorado potentially exposes you to both civil and criminal liability. The civil law imposes collection fees and damages in addition to liability for the bad check. Criminal penalties include fines and jail time, depending on the amount of the bad check. In either case, Colorado law provides a statute of limitations that shields you from these liabilities after a certain passage of time.

Civil Liability for Bad Checks

Colorado Revised Statute 13-21-109 governs civil liability for bad checks, which can be imposed in one of three ways. Subsection (1)(a) states you can be sued for the face amount of the check plus any actual damages caused by tendering the bad check. Subsection (1)(b) permits imposition of a bad check charge not exceeding $20 unless the bad check is assigned to a collection agency, in which case the agency is permitted to impose a charge equal to 20 percent of the check, plus recover the costs of collection. Subsection (2) allows the creditor to sue you for three times the amount of the bad check as long as the creditor follows the specific notice requirements set forth in subsections (3) and (4) of the statute.

Civil Statute of Limitations

To enforce a claim for any back check liabilities, the creditor or collection agency must file a lawsuit before expiration of the statute of limitations. If the statute expires before the lawsuit is filed, the creditor or collection agency can be barred from suing to enforce the claim. As in most states, Colorado's statute of limitation laws set forth varying time limits depending on the type of claim involved. If the creditor or collection agency pursues the claims provided for in subsections (1)(a) or (1)(b) of Colorado Revised Statute 13-21-109, the six-year statute of limitations set forth in Colorado Revised Statute 13-80-103.5 applies. However, a claim under subsection (2) to impose damages equal to three times the amount of the bad check is limited to two years under Colorado Revised Statutes Section 13-80-102(k).

Criminal Penalties for Bad Checks

If you tender a check knowing that it will be dishonored by the bank, you can be charged with fraud by check under Colorado Revised Statute 18-5-205. Misdemeanor or felony charges may apply, depending on the amount of the check. The lowest level charge is a Class 2 misdemeanor for checks under $500. Checks between $500 and $1,000 are Class 1 misdemeanors, and checks of $1,000 or more are felonies. If you tender more than one bad check within a six-month period, the checks will be added together to determine the level of charges. The minimum penalty is three months to one year in county jail for a Class 2 misdemeanor conviction with a fine ranging from $250 to $1,000.

Criminal Statute of Limitations

A statute of limitations also applies to some types of criminal charges. In these cases, a prosecutor is prohibited from filing criminal charges for a crime after a certain number of years have passed. Criminal statute of limitations are provided for in Colorado Revised Statute 16-5-401. For Class 1 and 2 misdemeanors for passing a bad check, the limitation period is 18 months. For a felony charge of passing bad checks, the limitation period is three years. The limitations period starts from the date the crime was committed.