Much of the discussion concerned how the district attorney’s office can assist businesses by prosecuting individuals who write bad checks. Adair said bad checks are an issue for businesses the entire year, but the amount of bad checks increases during the holidays.
“This time of year brings out the best in people — the caring for the needy, the time with family, but this time of year also brings out the worst in people,” Adair said. “It is this time of year that you see many people who try to take advantage of others. There are predators out there.”
For many years, individuals could not be prosecuted in Alabama for writing bad checks, because it was considered a debt.
“According to our country’s constitution, you can’t imprison someone for debt,” Adair said. “Writing a bad check was not a crime. It was considered civil debt and you would have to take someone to small claims court to try to recoup your money that way.”
Alabama’s laws changed and the Walker County DA’s check unit was created in 1987. Adair said since that time the division has collected more than $1 million in bad checks.
“Last year, we put $188,000 back in the hands of area merchants,” Adair said. “Our check unit was created to assist merchants and citizens, and that’s what it has done since that time.”
Businesses have two possible routes to handle bad checks, Adair said. A collection agency can be hired to make collections or businesses may prosecute through the district attorney’s office.
“If a bad check issue is sent to a collection agency, it cannot be prosecuted because it is considered a debt,” Adair said. “The advantage to using our office is jail is a potential punishment.”
Adair said his office collects on bad checks for no charge to businesses. The DA office does charge the writer of the bad check a fee for the collection.
“Those fees are one of the ways we help pay salaries at the DA’s office,” he said.
Each person who attended Wednesday’s forum received information from the district attorney’s office that included copies of the state laws concerning bad check writing as well as sample notification forms that could be used by businesses to notify someone they had written a bad check.
“Notification is a key for us to be able to get involved,” Adair said. “We put that sample notification form in there as a way to help make sure you are sending out the correct information.”
Adair also briefly spoke about shoplifting at the event. Alabama law allows merchants to stop and detain someone suspected of shoplifting if they have probable cause.
“I would say probable cause is if you think there is a 60 percent chance that a person is shoplifting,” Adair said. “Merchants can take someone into custody and detain a person for a reasonable amount of time. I would say that would mean hold them in an office until the police arrive.”
Adair said he didn’t recommend that merchants get physical with a possible shoplifter.
“The law does not allow citizens to use force to stop a shoplifter,” he said. “If it looks like things might get physical, just call the police.”
The district attorney’s office also has an investigator designated to follow business crimes. Carey Scruggs, a former chief deputy with the Walker County Sheriff’s Office, was recently hired to that position. Adair said he can be reached at 205-384-7272.
“We are here to help,” Adair said. “If you need us, call. Call our check unit. Call investigator Scruggs. Call me. We want to help our area businesses.”