Committing forgery is considered a serious offense that can result in harsh consequences. While this crime is often tried at the state level, offenses such as forging government papers, identity theft, and counterfeiting money are classified as federal crimes punishable as felonies. If you are facing forgery allegations, you can contact the Darwish Law in Santa Ana, CA. Our attorneys will tirelessly work towards having the criminal allegations against you dropped. If that’s not possible, we might be able to secure a plea deal for lesser charges or a reduced sentence.
An Overview of California's Forgery Charges
According to California PC section 470, forgery is classified as a white-collar offense that involves falsifying signatures, handwriting, seals, or counterfeiting legal papers to defraud the victim for financial or personal benefit. Authorities treat this type of offense seriously since exchanging or using such documents is critical in today's society.
As soon as people start making fake versions of such documents, they do so to defraud others for their money. This can harm individuals and organizations who fall prey to this tactic. California PC 470 specifies many ways an individual could be held responsible under this provision. These are as follows:
- Signing another individual's name, either fake or real, on a legal or financial document without authorization.
- Falsifying a document's seal or another individual's handwriting and presenting it as the original copy.
- Changing or falsifying records for financial benefit.
- Changing or forging legal documents, such as checks, court orders, or wills.
Materials prone to forgery include:
- Real estate deeds
- Money orders
- Stock certificates
- Lottery Tickets
- Traveler's checks
Elements of the Crime
The prosecution needs to demonstrate three things when it comes to forgery crimes. These elements consist of the following:
You Produced, Used, Modified, or Had in Your Possession a Forged Legal Document
Many people believe that forgery is simply the creation of a falsified document. However, altering the contents of an original document is considered fraud. Furthermore, if you're caught in possession of or submit a falsified document, you will be detained and charged with violating the provisions of California PC 470.
During their case presentation, the prosecutor needs to show that you changed, possessed, or created a corrupt legal document. Any change or modification made will compromise the legal submission of the report.
It is illegal to aid or assist someone else in committing forgery under PC 470. It implies that even if you didn't alter, use, or create the fake document yourself, you could still be held legally accountable. Authorities are aware that forgery demands the best expertise and technology.
As a result, the offense is rarely perpetrated by a single individual. Usually, a group of people is involved. As a result, California's aiding and abetting statutes are intended to ensure that anyone who participates in a larger plot to perpetrate fraud is charged for the offense, even if they had a minor role.
The most important aspect of forgery is the purpose or desire to perpetrate fraud. According to California PC 470, you can't be convicted if you have no intent to commit fraud. In this case, the goal of intent is to prevent false convictions for those who perpetrate forgery without intending to commit the offense.
Even if the individual you tried to defraud suffered no financial or property loss, your attempt alone would be enough to land you behind bars. The prosecution needs to demonstrate that you attempted or were successful in misleading another person or business by giving them falsified or altered details.
Lying to deprive an individual's legal rights and financial or property benefits reveals an intent to perpetrate fraud. If you are charged with violating California PC 470, you'll need an experienced and qualified criminal defense lawyer. A lawyer will gather crucial details regarding the case that would make it challenging for the prosecution to show intent or other factors, leading to a successful outcome.
The Copy Made Had Serious Legal Consequences
To prove this element, the prosecution must show that the document you made or altered had significant legal consequences. Even if the defendant engaged in fraudulent writing that demonstrates they made specific changes, it would not be considered forgery under California PC 470 if it had no major legal consequences. Documents are altered or fabricated for purposes other than the intended one.
As a result, the prosecution needs to show that the false information you made on the documents had serious legal consequences. If not, you won't be found guilty of forging documents.
You Knew That You Didn't Have The Own Consent
Acting without the report owner's consent includes signing or altering documents to commit fraud. As a worker, there are instances when you need clarification on the extent of your responsibilities or if you have the authority to carry out specific tasks. Therefore, if you modify or sign a report you weren't authorized to edit or sign, you could be convicted of the offense.
In this situation, you will require legal assistance to challenge the prosecutor's claim and demonstrate that you were unaware that you weren't authorized to do so despite altering or signing a certain document.
It's important to remember that if any of the elements mentioned above are not proven beyond a reasonable doubt, the judge or jury would have uncertainties, which could lead to a favorable verdict. As a result, you should retain the services of an experienced legal counsel since it will increase the chances of the allegations being dropped or reduced.
Common Penalties for California Forgery Crimes
In most cases, forging is considered a wobbler crime with severe consequences. The type of punishment issued by the court determines whether you are charged with a felony or a misdemeanor. The prosecution's decision is determined by the nature of the offense and the defendant's criminal history.
Other factors influencing the prosecutor's decision to press charges include the number of persons you have defrauded and the amount of money lost. If you are found guilty of a felony, you will face the following punishments:
- Court fines of no more than $10,000
- Serving time behind bars for 24 or 36 months
- Victim restitution. If the offense resulted in financial or property losses, the court would order you to reimburse or pay restitution to the victims for the damages incurred
- Felony probation that lasts no longer than sixty months
If the courts sentence you to probation following a felony conviction, you must adhere to all of the probation's rules. Some probation conditions include regular check-ins with the probation officer and refraining from illegal activities. The probation would be revoked, or new criminal charges could be filed if the probation terms are not followed.
If, on the other hand, the pursued charge is a misdemeanor, the following penalties will be imposed:
- Imprisonment for up to twelve months
- Court fines of not exceeding $1,000
- Summary probation for not more than thirty-six months – If the court orders informal probation, you won't be compelled to follow felony probation conditions
- Community labor
It is important to note that the prosecution needs to pursue misdemeanor charges against you if the following elements are met:
- You falsified a legal document in violation of PC 470.
- The victim suffers more than $950 in financial or property losses as a result of the document you are suspected of fabricating.
- The crime did not include identity theft.
- Your criminal history is free of any felonies or violent offenses.
The above-mentioned felony or misdemeanor sentences can be escalated under certain instances. These conditions include:
- Fabricating a financial report or document to defraud a disaster victim
- The presence of several individuals who have suffered property or financial losses as a result of your action
- If you cause property or financial loss worth more than $100,000, you will face an additional 24 months in prison on top of your underlying sentence
- The court will impose an additional five years in prison if your actions cause losses worth $500,000 or more
- A felony offense committed to aid a street gang, or criminal activity would lead to a 48-month sentence increase
Aside from the penalties outlined above, a conviction for a California PC 470 infringement could significantly impact your life. One of the effects could be losing your right to possess or own a firearm. A felony criminal background will also make getting a security clearance difficult.
Securing employment or getting a promotion would also be challenging in light of this. If you wish to evade these repercussions, you need to contact an experienced defense lawyer to fight the allegations.
Legal Defenses for Forgery Crimes
Most California PC 470 violations arise from business or legal settings. Being accused of this crime is distressing because of the serious repercussions that come with it. However, with the help of an experienced lawyer, you could avoid these consequences or receive a reduced term.
A lawyer can enroll you in a diversion program based on the circumstances of your case. The program enables you to undertake a one-day intervention class and make full restitution to the victims. If you’ve completed the diversion program, your criminal record will be erased and no longer be considered a prior record.
Similarly, a lawyer will present the following defense arguments to have the charges dismissed or reduced:
The Disputed Report Has No Legal Significance and is Not Fraudulent
The property's value or financial loss should be significant for the action to be considered a forgery. If the value of loss cannot provide you with any financial gain, your lawyer can claim that you did not perpetrate a crime. Furthermore, if the case in question does not deny anyone's legal rights, you did not commit forgery since your conduct had no legal significance.
Lack of Intent
Provisions of PC 470 are intended to punish individuals who engage in forgery intending to defraud. The key element used by the prosecutors to obtain a conviction is to show that you had the intention to commit fraud. The challenge is that the prosecution relies on the evidence in the case, which makes it difficult for them to demonstrate this element. If the prosecution team fails to establish this element clearly, your lawyer would argue that you had no intention of defrauding anyone.
However, this argument would be most effective if you're an employee following directions from your employer to sign or amend a legal document over which they had authority but later realized you played a part in a larger fraudulent scheme.
You can also use this argument if you possessed the corrupted documents but weren't involved in the falsification or alteration. Your lawyer will seek proof that shows you had no intention of violating the provisions of PC 470.
You Had the Owner's Consent
Forgery, according to PC 470, is defined as signing or altering a legal document on behalf of an individual without their consent or approval. Having permission implies the owner gave you their consent to alter the work or add their signature. Your lawyer can provide documents to prove that you had permission to engage in the manner you did. It would be easier to raise this argument with formal evidence of authorization to act in the owner's interests. However, you can always use this strategy with the assistance of a skilled criminal defense lawyer.
You Were Unaware
If you altered a document without realizing it, your lawyer could claim that you were unaware that your action would amount to fraud.
California law enforcement agencies are prohibited from applying coercive techniques to compel a witness to testify to perpetrating a specific offense. Therefore, if your charges or arrest resulted from forced confession, your lawyer can argue that the evidence gathered against you was gained through brutality, rendering it inadmissible before the court. If the evidence is rejected, the prosecutors have no choice but to reduce or drop the counts against you.
Forgeries usually occur in offices, large businesses, or formal contracts. Due to this, it is easy for one person to make a false accusation against another individual for selfish motives. Therefore, if you find yourself in this position, you can claim that the charges against you are unjustified. However, more than this argument is needed. You must produce evidence to indicate that the individual wrongfully accusing you is acting out of vengeance, malice, or self-guilt.
You Lacked Legal Standing
To be arrested and found guilty of a crime, you should be able to perpetrate the crime. Let's say you have a psychological or mental condition that makes it difficult to distinguish between good and wrong. The court will withdraw the allegations if your lawyer provides the requisite medical records to support your argument.
You could be falsely accused of violating PC 470 due to certain conditions. Since the prosecution would need to use evidence to prove you committed the offense, your lawyer could use the same facts to demonstrate that you weren't part of the plot or were unaware of the offense.
When forming partnerships with firms or individuals, you must sign certain documents to legally bind the contract. Your business partner could accuse you of forgery if things don't work out. If you were to be charged in this situation, your lawyer could present evidence that you had the authority to alter or sign the legally binding documents. This way, you could challenge the allegations.
The Handwriting on the Documents Isn't Yours
Most cases of forgery include the counterfeiting or forging of someone's handwriting. The major point of contention in court is about the owner of the handwriting in the document. If you are accused of reproducing someone's handwriting in a document, your counsel would need the opinion of a handwriting expert. The expert would assist you in demonstrating to the courts that the handwriting in the forged legal document is not yours.
The prosecution relies on an expert to develop their case. Therefore, it's important to challenge their claim with a professional assessment. The expert witnesses' testimony is not definitive, no matter how important it is. If the juror rejects the findings of your handwriting expert, it would be up to your defense lawyer to intervene and examine the applicable evidence laws to ensure that only the admissible evidence is presented to the court.
One of the basic requirements under forgery charges that your lawyer can use is that all handwriting samples be produced before any charges are filed. Assume you submitted the samples after the charges were filed. In such a case, it would be considered inadmissible since someone may submit samples that don't represent their handwriting after learning of their allegations.
Find a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
A misunderstanding or an honest mistake can sometimes result in you being arrested and accused of forgery. The offense is serious, and those found guilty risk harsh penalties. Fortunately, a criminal defense lawyer can use a variety of legal arguments to challenge the charges. If you are facing forgery allegations in Santa Ana, you can contact Darwish Law at 714-887-4810 for further legal counsel and discuss your case.