Criminal offenses or accusations are life-changing experiences. Your job, family, freedom, and every other aspect of your life could be affected. Under such circumstances, hiring a topnotch criminal defense attorney is the best decision.
The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney is a top-rated, highly rated law firm that handles the case for clients facing forgery charges. Over the years, we have handled hundreds of criminal cases, including white-collar crimes.
TheLos Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney law firm provides consistent expert representation in all matters about misdemeanor and felony. We are known for our meticulous, hands-on strategy to handle cases to ensure our clients’ just and best outcome. For us, defending an accused in a criminal case is more than a professional duty.
We make it our responsibility to protect our clients’ rights and needs while maintaining and upholding our constitution and justice system’s integrity. With two decades of legal representation, our lead attorney is well-versed with the California Criminal Law and experienced handling all types of forgery cases for our clients.
What is Forgery Under California Law?
Under the Penal Code 470 PC, the California State Law defines forgery as deliberately engaging in unlawful activities to commit fraud. Such activities include recreating, signing, altering, or duplicating a written document. The written form could be in print, recorded, typed, or otherwise handwritten.
An example of forgery is when an individual signs a document with another person's name or signature, thus giving it a legal effect. Such a copy could be a contract, a bill, bank check, property deed, or a will. When a person writes a new or alters an original choice and passes it as a valid document, it is considered a forgery. The Penal Code 470 PC recognizes this as having the intent to defraud another person.
Forgery, as defined by the Penal Code 470, falls under different types of criminal conduct. It is important to note that the penal code for fraud does not include activities with no intent to defraud someone. This means that if a prosecutor cannot prove your intention to cheat someone, you cannot be convicted of violating the Penal Code 470. Let us examine some of these conducts prohibited by the forgery statute:
- Changing or signing a document using the name of another person
- Altering or falsifying a legal document
- Forging another person's handwriting, signature, or the seal of an entity
- Creating a counterfeit document and presenting it as a forgery
Elements of Forgery
Suppose you are accused of engaging in unlawful conduct that violates Penal Code 470 PC and proves beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty of the criminal charges of forgery. In that case, the prosecuting attorney must table all circumstantial evidence proving all the crime elements. These elements are facts that the accused engaged in criminal conduct and that the accused had specific intent to defraud the victim. The prosecutor must identify and present the forgery document in question. He/ she must prove that the suspect is the one who created, wrote, altered, or falsely signed the document. Lastly, he/she must prove that the accused acted with the intent to defraud the complaint.
You created, modified, altered, or was found in possession of a forged document
Contrary to popular belief, the crime of forgery goes beyond merely creating unauthorized documents. Even simple actions like changing details of an original document are considered a fraud. Moreover, being found in possession of a forged document or attempting to submit a form developed by another person could hold you liable for criminal charges.
California forgery and counterfeiting laws are strict if you aid or assist someone who engages in fraudulent activity. This means that you could be implicated in a criminal charge even if you were indirectly involved in the act of creating, modifying, or altering a document.
This is because forgery crimes require technology and professionalism. Even law enforcement agencies are well aware that it takes more than a single person to orchestrate and execute a fraudulent plan. Therefore, any involvement in criminal conduct, however minor, could implicate you.
You Deliberately Acted with the Full Knowledge that You Lacked Authorized Consent
Signing or falsifying a document to commit a fraud happens when you act with no victim’s prior consent. For instance, as an employee, you might perform duties that are not within your jurisdiction. It could be signing a form or a highly sensitive report that you are not permitted to sign. Hence, you can be convicted if the prosecution can prove that you acted deliberately and illegal while very much aware that you are not authorized to do so. In such circumstances, you will need a topnotch legal representation to maneuver through the complexities of a forgery charge. Your defense attorney must be able to contest the prosecutor's claims and prove your lack of intent. Fighting those charges to a favorable outcome like having them dropped or reduced, will depend on your defense attorney’s proficiency and competency.
Intent to Defraud
This is the most crucial element of forgery. The accused deliberately commits fraud with a pre-meditated plan to deceive or lie to the victim to deprive him/her of something valuable. Even if you are not successful in defrauding anyone, you are still guilty of an attempted forgery since you had the intent.
The prosecution does not necessarily have to prove that the fraudulent activity took place or that you benefited from it. The mere fact that you intended to deprive someone of something valuable through deceptive means is enough proof to incriminate you.
Note: You are not guilty of violating the Penal Code 470 if the prosecution fails to prove that you intended to defraud the victim. This means that if you unknowingly cheated someone, you are protected by the Intent Requirement.
Example: You give a quote of $70 for a service to a client. The client writes you a check, and you add a one before 70; thus, it appears like the amount to be paid is $170. Here, you intend to cheat both your client and the bank of the extra $100. By so doing, you acted to defraud your client and the bank. You are guilty of forgery by altering the check even if the bank detects the fraud, and you don't cash in the statement.
Another scenario is when you endorse a check in someone else's name and cashes the money without their permission. Or when you sign another person's name on a legal or financial document with the intent to gain monetary or personal benefits.
Statute of Limitations
The nature of the crime determines the statute of limitations for forgery. Is it charged as a misdemeanor or a felony? For the felony forgery, the District Attorney is required to press charges four years after the offense is alleged to have been committed. The limited-time to file for misdemeanor forgery charges is twelve months.
Penalties for Violating PC470
The crime of forgery is serious, and violating the Penal Code comes with heavy penalties. This is often referred to as the wobbler charge. Charges are filed at the discretion of the prosecutor, either as misdemeanor or felony. The prosecutor comes to this decision after determining the defendant's record, the extent of loss or damage suffered by the victim, and the victim's age or condition.
Under the new Proposition 47 of 2014 California State Law, forgeries associated with theft crimes are charged as a misdemeanor if the amount involved is below $950 and if the suspect has no criminal record.
Forgery felony charges depend on whether the offense is charged as a misdemeanor or felony.
Felony Forgery Penalty
- This attracts between 1 - 3 years in prison. For felony counterfeiting, you can spend another 2 - 4 years in custody in county jail.
- The fine is usually up to $10,000, and there is possible restitution.
- The court may decide to impose probation for a felony sentence. If this happens, you will be required to adhere to all probation terms and conditions, the breaking of which can result in additional criminal charges or termination of your probation. Some of these terms involve reporting to your probation officer and not engaging in any illegal activity.
- You can also be sentenced to community service for a given period
Misdemeanor Forgery Penalties
- Attracts a fine of not less than $1000
- You can serve a term in a county jail for one year or less
- You can serve up to 3 years in probation
- You can serve time doing community service, and there's a possible restitution
Misdemeanor charges usually involve checks, money orders, stock certificates, traveler's checks, and other related financial documents.
- If your fraudulent activity results in losses to the victims amounting to $500,000, you will be sentenced under the Penal Code 186.11(a)(3). You also get an extra 2 -3 years in jail.
- Defrauding a victim of natural calamity earns you another twelve months behind bars.
- Engaging in criminal conduct through aiding or abetting criminal gangs will lead to an additional four-year jail sentence.
If you are implicated in any of the above crimes, you will need a brilliant criminal defense specialist to help you maneuver through the complexities of the charges against you. Some common defenses your attorney will explore include:
- The defendant acted under the wrong belief that consent to sign or change a document was given by the person mandated to do so. For example, if a doctor directs an intern to sign a prescription and accidentally signs the wrong medication, the intern can have substantial legal grounds for defense.
- If the defendant committed the crime under pressure and severe threats that put his life or the lives of those around him in danger, it could be presented as a valid defense with proof that the defendant lacked intent.
- If permission was given to engage in criminal conduct. For example, the original owner of a document giving the accused full consent to sign their name on a document.
Document Was Not Passed
- Another element of the crime of forgery is when a document is not "uttered " to pass it as a crime thoroughly. It is an offense to steal someone's name or signature or to alter a document. However, for the crime to be fully complete, the forgery object must be passed on to another party to execute the crime. For example, you forge someone's signature on a check, but you do not cash it in. The nature of your offense is attempted forgery, which is not complete until you hand the check over to the bank. If the transaction is successful, you have defrauded the victim and violated the Penal Code. The instrument of forgery has to be passed for the crime to be complete.
Lack of Legal Capacity
- A person charged with forgery must intend to engage in the conduct. If the accused is proved to be mentally unstable, he may not have the capacity to understand his actions’ legal consequences. The same applies to children below the age of 18. The defense can argue that the accused lacked the legal capacity to commit forgery.
-The defendant can argue that his accusation is based on mistaken identity if he had no knowledge of the crime and was not involved in aiding or abetting it. It is a strong defense if the accused can prove he was falsely accused.
No Intent to Defraud
- Remember the intent requirement? You are not guilty of forgery if you acted without the intent to defraud. This defense protects you from being convicted of any accidental fraud. It is upon the prosecutor to prove that you worked with a purpose to commit illegal activity.
Pretrial Motions for Defense
Your defense attorney will need to present some legal motions to push for your case’s dismissal or expungement. Such activities are legitimate requests with supporting evidence such as transcripts and affidavits. They seek to have the presiding judge make informed and lawful decisions relevant to the case. A few examples of such motions that your Los Angeles Forgery Defense Attorney may present in a similar case include:
Motion to Dismiss
- This motion seeks for the dismissal of a case or charges. It can be supported by:
(a)Lack of satisfactory evidence to believe the accused is guilty of the charges.
(b) The prosecutor's failure to comply with the rules of the statute of limitations that requires charges to be filed and presented in court within the stipulated time limit.
(c ) Considerable circumstances of the case.
Motion to Suppress Evidence
-This is a formal request that seeks to have the judge exclude the presentation of evidence gathered by law enforcement, which violates the National Constitution or state laws. Most of the evidence gathered in forgery cases are documents obtained during police searches. Suppressing such evidence works to your advantage as the prosecutor's case could weaken and end in mistral.
Motion Against Illegal Charges
- Most prosecutors are known for their overcharging tactics to press multiple charges against the accused. This motion seeks to reduce possible penalties that the suspect is facing. It can also push for a more favorable plea for the defendant.
Motion in Limine
- This type of pretrial motion can be filed when there is a risk of a witness giving damaging testimony or evidence and seeks to limit such evidence or prevent them from being admissible during a trial. This defense motion challenges the qualifications and eligibility of a witness to give expert testimony. It is a useful tool in forgery cases as it suppresses damaging testimony or evidence.
Other Offenses Related to Forgery
Other crimes fall in the same bracket with forgery. These include:
- Check Fraud
- Credit Fraud
- Manufacturing or selling fake products
- Aiding and Abetting a Crime
This is classified as Penal Code 476 PC under California State Law and makes it illegal for you to write and issue a fake check with the intent to commit fraud. In this case, you could be charged with two crimes, which are a forgery and check fraud (PC476).
Credit Card Fraud.
This type of forgery falls under the Penal Code 484 of the California Statutes and prohibits the forging of another person's credit card information. As is the case with all types of forgery, you can be convicted of this crime if you acted with the intent to defraud the victim or an entity.
Manufacturing and Selling Fake Products.
Under Penalty Code 350PC, it is illegal to produce, sell, or have fake commercial goods. Violation of this code is punishable by state law. However, this is the only code where the prosecution doesn't need to prove an intent to defraud.
Aiding or Abetting a Crime.
This illegal activity falls under Penal Code 527 and is categorized as a misdemeanor. According to the California statute, it is a crime to assist someone acquires a driving license or any other government certification, while very much aware the person is not eligible to have it.
Conviction and Expungement
Under California law, a defendant facing criminal charges can file a petition after a probation or jail term. The petition seeks the court's permission to withdraw a guilty plea and have the case dismissed. If the petition is successful, an expungement sets the individual free from a conviction’s negative outcome. This is according to Penal Code 1203.4PC, which states that an expungement releases an individual from all penalties and disabilities that are associated with a conviction.
One such advantage is that potential employers do not need to know of an expunged conviction. This is further supported by California's ban the box law AB1008. This prevents prospective employers from seeking to know about a job applicant's past criminal record.
This expungement only applies if:
(i) The defendant completed the probation period successfully
(ii) The defendant successfully served and satisfied a jail term
The defendant can also get an expungement if any of the parties involved in the case flouts a probation term.
The process of filing and completing an expungement petition for a felony under California law takes between 4 - 5 months. However, some individuals are not eligible for expungement under state laws. Such individuals are people who:
- Have a pending or ongoing trial related to a criminal offense.
- Are currently on probation related to a criminal offense
- Have not fully completed their jail term
- Are convicted of sex crimes such as those involving minors
However, such people can get a California governor's pardon, a Certificate of Rehabilitation or a Commutation of a California prison sentence.
Find a Forgery Defense Attorney Near Me
Forgery is a serious white-collar crime which, if charged with, can negatively impact your life. The consequences go beyond prison terms and fines. This can result in job losses, economic downturns, damaged reputation, and other unpleasant social repercussions. A brilliant criminal defense attorney is crucial in navigating through the complexities of the forgery charge. Our Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney will help you fight the charges to a dismissal or a more favorable outcome. Contact us at 310-564-2605 for a free consultation and let us discuss how we can preserve your future.