If a promissory note agreement is signed in lieu of criminal charges, and one party defaults on payment, can criminal charges still be pressed?

I work in Bank security and wondered If a customer negotiates a bad check that results in a loss for the Bank, and we enter into a promissory note agreement with that customer, in lieu of criminal charges, and this customer defaults on their payments, can we still go after this customer criminally? I was always under the assumption that criminal and civil were entirely separate. However, I am now being told by multiple police departments that if we enter into a promissory note agreement, then it is now a civil matter and we can no longer criminally prosecute. Is this true?

Asked on June 9, 2009 under Criminal Law, New Jersey

Answers:

M.S., Member, Connecticut Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

You are wise to generally make the distinction between criminal and civil cases.  However, in order to answer your question it is necessary to further that distinction.  In very basic terms, in civil cases, an individual or a corporation sues another individual/corporation.  In criminal cases, the state prosecutes an individual.  The state's prosecution may be based upon a police report or warrant, which may in turn be based upon a complaint filed by an individual or a corporation.  The simple answer to your question "can we still go after this customer criminally" is no.  As a corporation, you never had the ability to "go after" the customer.  Rather, you had the ability to file a complaint with the police, who then have the discretion as whether or not to pursue criminal charges.  It sounds like, in your situation, the police have declined to pursue charges in light of your subsequent agreement regarding the promissory note.  The police may in fact, be correct, that if the issue of default on behalf of the customer is contested, this matter may be properly treated as a civil rather than a criminal matter.


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