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Bank manager’s concern over check results in local man’s arrest

by | Sep 28, 2017 | Criminal Defense

In the digital age, you might have wondered whether anyone in the banking industry is paying attention to small cues that something just isn’t right with a check. In the old days, the signature might be matched to a sample before funds were released. In today’s world, it’s easy to assume that computerization has moved us beyond that kind of personalized attention.

Apparently, that’s not the case at the PNC Bank on North Atherton Street in State College. Recently, a bank manager got intimately involved when a 26-year-old man cashed a check for $3,500.

The signature seemed odd. The address on the check was old, and the check number was out of sequence with other recent checks. He felt that was enough to suspect that something was wrong. He called the customer — who denied having written the check. She claims her daughter’s boyfriend had been living in her house and must have found an old checkbook.

The bank manager went further. He held the cashed check for police and had bank security provide a photo of the check-casher, which the bank customer used to identify the daughter’s boyfriend.

The man, 26, is now charged with felony forgery and theft by unlawful taking or disposition. He is also charged with a misdemeanor count of receiving stolen property. His bail was set at $50,000, which he has been unable to meet.

This may sound like small-town care in the modern world. There are some potential problems. The bank manager’s actions were meant to be protective of a customer’s interests, which is laudable. However, he is not a trained investigator.

He called the customer, learned whom she suspected, and provided a single photo — not an array of photos — for identification. She was already expecting to see her daughter’s boyfriend in that photo; she may have seen only what she expected.

Unfortunately, we don’t know anything about the quality of that photo. It may have been a clear, crisp image that would be easy to use for identification — but it was more likely a still shot taken from a surveillance video. It could have been blurry, dark or taken from an odd angle.

If the live-in boyfriend is innocent, this casual ID may have essentially robbed him of the presumption of innocence. Even if he is guilty, do we want ordinary citizens to be taking on the role of investigator in this way?