Check fraud is considered a severe offense, attracting either felony charges or misdemeanor charges. Based on the losses suffered by the crime victim, as the accused, you may have to deal with serious legal repercussions. These consequences arise after you face accusations and are placed under arrest.
While the court process is well established, representing yourself in the case may be hectic and costly. On the other hand, working with a criminal defense attorney increases the chances of a successful case outcome. Since the attorneys are well versed with the subject matter, they indulge in in-depth research for your benefit.
By contacting the California Criminal Lawyer Group, you will have competent and experienced defense attorneys. Over the years, our lawyers have handled multiple check fraud cases, equipping us with the required skills to take on your matter. Further, we will provide personalized services specially suited for your unique case circumstances. Subsequently, your criminal lawyer will not just apply legal principles without careful consideration, as it may be detrimental. Instead, they will conduct due diligence to improve the chances of a favorable case outcome.
The Nature of the Offense
Check fraud is among the many forms of fraudulent operations in the country. It is prohibited under section 476 of the California Penal Code and may attract felony or misdemeanor charges. Additionally, check fraud falls within the forgery category, primarily because it involves falsifying a check in several ways.
Since check fraud is a white-collar crime, law enforcement officers may have difficulty detecting unlawful operations. Despite this, persons receiving checks are well trained to scrutinize the documents before approving them. Due to the high expertise levels, you may easily be identified as a fraud for presenting a false check, leading to legal consequences.
Since check fraud is a wobbler crime, the prosecutor handling your case will have to prove your engagement in all the offense elements. The process requires the prosecution team to gather sufficient evidence to prove each element beyond a reasonable doubt.
You should note that while the burden of proof on the prosecutor is strict, the judge may allow some arguments regardless of the quality of evidence. However, the constitutional right to a fair hearing should always be upheld to prevent unfair conviction.
If you believe that your trial hearings involve unfair procedures, you can request your criminal defense attorney to follow up on the issue with the relevant department. Doing so will ensure your rights remain protected for a smooth hearing.
Elements of Check Fraud
In any criminal case, the prosecutor bears the burden of proof to demonstrate that you played a role in the offense. The criminal burden of proof upholds a high standard, requiring the prosecutor to prove each crime element beyond a reasonable doubt. As a result, the prosecution team liaises with investigation officers to access all relevant information that qualifies as evidence.
Once the prosecutor is ready to proceed, you will receive a summons to enter a court appearance. Since the prosecutor must prove that all elements of the crime were present in your case, your defense lawyer should prepare a strong defense strategy.
Subsequently, anticipating what the prosecutor will present may give you an advantage. This is because your attorney will prepare on how to counter the accusation. If the presiding judge finds your defenses credible, you may receive an acquittal or a significant sentence reduction. The elements of crime associated with check fraud are:
You Possessed or Passed a Fake Check
Firstly, the prosecutor must pin you to the unlawful activity by proving that you possessed a fabricated check. However, your involvement may not have been direct, as you may organize others to undertake the crime on your behalf. As a result, the prosecutor is interested in demonstrating the specific activity you engaged in qualifying as illegal.
Where possession is the unlawful act in question, there should be sufficient proof to show that you were in control of the fabricated checks. Control includes directing third parties to deliver the checks or retaining them in your office, home, vehicle, or person. Most check fraud charges involving possession occur after you are arrested with the checks on you.
However, proving possession is not the only factor for the prosecutor’s consideration. They must also show that you possessed the fabricated checks intending to defraud. For example, a delivery service provider who faced arrest after the checks were retrieved can successfully defend their case. This is because they are unaware of the contents in delivery and cannot form a criminal intention.
Some cases may also involve offenders who are directly involved in making these false checks. Check fabrication or alteration may occur in various ways, provided you intend on changing the contents. Firstly, you may have added false details like new amounts to be dispatched or a third name to change identity.
Alternatively, you may be guilty of fabrication for changing the details in the check, particularly the names and amounts made out to the receiver. The prosecutor must show the specific action leading to document alteration in court, as the claim alone is unsubstantial. For example, if the investigation officers suspect you scanned and printed copies of the fake checks, they should back the claims.
Finally, alternation also occurs when you delete information from the document to create a different identity. Commonly offenders will replace the original holder’s name with their own by changing the check digitally. Other methods may include working closely with personnel mandated to create check templates to fabricate them for your benefit.
Passing the fraudulent checks involves presenting them to a cashier or any other authorized receiver. If the forgery closely resembles a genuine check, you may even receive the benefits you seek. These include purchases, paying employees, or making down payments. If the prosecutor proves that either or all of these elements were present, you are likely to face legal repercussions.
You Passed, Used, or Made the False Document Knowingly
An accused person must have criminal intent when acting, as this separates them from innocent parties. Hence, the prosecutor will also focus on showing that you knowingly used, passed, or created the fabricated documents for unlawful purposes.
In criminal cases, proving the offender's intent is not a straightforward process, as the element involves the accused’s mental engagement. Nonetheless, investigation officers are trained to identify specific behavioral patterns associated with committing crimes.
For example, most guilty parties will have few original checks on top of the fabricated ones. They may use them for comparison to ensure that their copies resemble the genuine checks as closely as possible. Moreover, investigators may retrieve papers used to practice signatures, meaning that you wanted to use another person’s signature for the fraud.
Employees in a financial institution charged with check fraud may also demonstrate criminal intent in various ways. For example, they may remain behind after hours to create false checks under false pretenses of working overtime.
By retrieving all these details from investigation officers, the prosecutor has sufficient proof to demonstrate the presence of criminal intent. Further, any utterances or confessions revealed during or after arrest may also be useful for the prosecutor. However, the context of the words should be relevant to the case.
You Intended to Defraud the Receiver of the Check
Finally, the prosecution team should show that you intended to defraud the check receiver by passing it off as an original. Usually, fraud is depicted as using misrepresentations or pretenses to obtain benefits that do not belong to you. Under check fraud, the crime element is depicted based on the unoriginal document submitted to the receiver for remittance of funds.
Proving your intention to defraud requires the prosecutor to demonstrate that you knew what you were doing was wrong. To show this, the investigation officers may present information regarding your efforts to conceal the truth. For example, destroying checks may reveal that you had criminal intention as they reveal your aim to destroy evidence.
Similarly, your fraudulent intentions will be uncovered by proving that you knowingly lied about the identity of the check holder. The prosecutor may choose to use the hindsight approach since you will face the trial under arrest.
For example, they may present an argument stating; you were arrested because you presented a false check. Thus, had you succeeded in presenting the check, you would have successfully defrauded the victim.
You should remember that your case may still be prosecuted even if you did not defraud the innocent third party. This is because the prosecutor’s main goal is to show that you wanted to engage in fraud. Nonetheless, tricking the innocent third party into releasing the funds may yield harsher legal repercussions compared to an unsuccessful operation.
Penalties for Check Fraud
As the law dictates, offenders found guilty of check fraud will receive penalties under section 476 of the Penal Code. However, since the offense is a wobbler crime, the punishment issued will depend on the charge entered soon after your arrest.
The judge reads the penalties issued after the conclusion of your trial in a separate session called the sentencing hearing. You will receive your penalties and begin serving them soon after the session based on sentencing policies and restrictions. The two categories of punishment and their consequences are:
Misdemeanors are often the outcome of less serious involvement in check fraud. For example, if you only attempted to commit fraud but did not succeed, you may receive the punishment as retribution.
Further, misdemeanors are available where your case included mitigating factors.
Therefore, confessing to the crime or opting out of the fraud may be a mitigating factor. Nonetheless, the penalties will still apply because unlawful action and criminal intent are present in the case. As a result, you will face the following penalties:
- Spending up to one year in county jail.
- Fine payment amounting to up to $1000.
On the other hand, the judge can issue felony penalties for offenders involved in more serious versions of the crime. The penalties range from cashing in a substantial amount using a false check or fabricating the checks in large volumes.
Additionally, felony punishments are available if aggravating factors were present in the case circumstances. For example, using threats or force after the check receiver notices the forgery is an aggravating factor. The judge may enhance or reduce your sentence according to the losses or harm you caused.
The two felony penalties for check fraud are:
- Spending up to three years in county jail.
- A fine payment of up to $10,000.
Although judges often issue either of the punishments, some may decide to order both incarceration and fine payment. The decision is often aimed to enhance the punitive measures set against offenders. Despite this, the judge should have a credible reason for issuing both sentences against you.
Effects of Your Actions on Immigration
On top of dealing with incarceration and the possibility of paying fines, residents may have to deal with additional consequences regarding their immigration status. The outcomes of your case will influence your likelihood to remain in the country significantly, especially if you face felony charges.
Among the most common consequences is deportation, whereby the guilty party ceases to be a resident in the United States. Subsequently, the federal government will direct you to return to your country of citizenship.
On top of this, you may lose access to the country in the future based on your criminal record. This means that you may miss an entry chance even as a tourist or when making business trips. These restrictions can be quite inconvenient, especially if you have important matters to handle in the country or would like to visit a loved one.
Further, the government may also withhold you from acquiring your American citizenship by naturalization. This process requires the applicant to refrain from any criminal activity within a specific period before their citizenship is approved. Hence, since you will have violated the guidelines, your entitlement to citizenship also ceases.
Due to the direct effects of the offense on your status, you want to consult your criminal attorney as soon as possible. With their assistance, you can prepare to meet the relevant immigration officers and discuss the possibility of deportation. However, having your attorney present may not guarantee that you remain in the country, as the decision to deport you may fall within a different legal field.
Factors Influencing the Sentence Issued
Since the judge holds discretion on the sentence to issue, using various factors as a reference. Doing so will help prevent instances of giving unfair punishment or disproportional penalties.
Using the references as a guide, the judge can cite reasons for the final decision to help you understand why you receive a specific punishment. The following are important factors influencing your sentence:
Your Criminal Record
Usually, past offenders face several disadvantages after a second or subsequent arrest and trial. Their criminal records disclose their history, meaning that the judge can assess any past altercation with the law. While the previous offense may not be as severe as the current one, you may deal with the repercussions of an enhanced sentence.
Despite the possibility of an enhanced sentence, your criminal defense lawyer may plead leniency with the court. If you decide to try the approach, you want to ensure that you met all sentencing requirements in the past case.
For example, you ought to have completed your probation term, if any. The judge may need to verify the presented details with your past probation officer, so you must have their contact information.
Whether You Acted Alone
Moreover, the penalties may be enhanced or reduced accordingly based on whether you acted in a group or individually. This is because organized crimes often result in the loss of substantial amounts, mainly if the plan goes undetected. For example, if you worked in a syndicate that produces and passes hundreds of fraudulent checks, you and other respondents may face harsh penalties.
On the other hand, individuals who acted alone and were unsuccessful with the fraud may receive more lenient punishments. The reasoning may be that you did not intend to acquire large sums of money, nor were you successful in your attempt. However, you should always remember that the judge holds discretion in issuing the penalties, so the sentence may not align with your expectations.
Whether Your Case Involved Aggravating factors
Lastly, any offense that includes aggravating factors will result in harsher penalties. In comparison, meeting the regular elements of crime yields predictable case outcomes, including shorter jail sentences and less court fine amounts.
The considered aggravating factors in the offense include using force, threats, and involvement in theft when committing the crime. For example, if you threaten someone who intended to flag your check as fabricated, the judge may issue a harsh sentence based on the threats.
Additionally, theft is a punishable offense by itself, so stealing checks and passing them for fraud is also an aggravating factor. Since the prosecutor may charge you with one offense under check fraud, the judge will ensure that your sentence covers all other illegal activities. Hence, stealing or directing someone to steal on your behalf may lead to a sentence enhancement.
Defenses Applicable to Check Fraud Cases
As a defendant, you will have a chance to present your defense arguments after the prosecutor concludes their presentation. The allowance to defend yourself aims at promoting your constitutional right to a fair trial. Therefore, you want to take advantage of the defense hearing to increase your chances of a positive outcome.
When working with a criminal defense attorney, they will conduct due diligence and research on available evidential sources. Finding helpful evidence may be pivotal to your case because it promotes credibility. In return, the judge will have to consider the defense and issue orders accordingly carefully.
However, you can only receive an acquittal or charge reduction if your defense overpowers the prosecutor's initial presentation. By doing so, the prosecution team will not have met the standard of proof in criminal cases.
- You did not know the check was false
- You did not intend to defraud the victim
- You received consent to change the checks
- You face false accusations
While these defenses are relevant to check fraud cases, you should remember that they may not all apply to your matter. Hence, analyzing your case facts and determining the best defenses would be the most appropriate strategy.
When your criminal defense attorney chooses one or two defenses, you are in a better position to provide a strong argument. This is because your attorney will have gathered the required proof, drafted the defense, and prepared for a counterargument.
Subsequently, we recommend consulting your attorney on your defense strategy before the trial begins for a comprehensive plan. Additionally, you want to follow up on the case as it continues because some circumstances may require a different defense plan.
Contact an Anaheim Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
When you or a loved one faces a check-fraud charge, the next step to take may be unclear. As a result, being arrested, arraigned in court, and going through a trial may catch you off guard, leading to inadequate defense strategies in court. Consequently, you may face incarceration or pay hefty fines despite having a fighting chance.
You can avoid adverse outcomes by working with a criminal defense attorney. With their help, you will anticipate the prosecutor’s strategy and work towards defending your position. Further, a reasonable attorney will offer guidance even beyond the trial period in case of future occurrences.
At California Criminal Lawyer Group, your check fraud case will be well presented from the start to the end. Our lawyers are invested in providing the best criminal defense strategies to cast reasonable doubt on the prosecutor’s presentation. Moreover, you will be involved in the case preparation process, as your participation may be critical in a successful outcome. Fighting off check fraud charges requires a strong defense team to take care of your matter diligently. If you need the services of a criminal defense attorney, call us today at 714-766-0965.