Californians must file legitimate documents in government offices for many reasons, including keeping authentic records. All the documents filed must be genuine and valid to avoid criminal prosecution. Most people do not consider paperwork to be a serious crime. However, prosecutors prosecute the crime of filing false or forged documents aggressively, and a conviction carries serious consequences, such as imprisonment, hefty fines, and permanent harm to an offender’s reputation.
If you have been accused of filing false documents, your best option is to talk to an experienced white-collar crime lawyer as soon as possible. At California Criminal Lawyer Group, we have extensive experience handling white-collar offenses, including filing false or forged documents, and have achieved successful results for clients.
We are committed to aggressive legal representation and advice for those charged in Anaheim and the surrounding areas. We have helped many clients have their charges dismissed, reduced, or obtain a lenient penalty. Call us for a consultation, during which we will evaluate your case and advise on the next steps.
Defining the Crime of Filing Falsified Documents
California PC 115 is the California law that describes the criminal offense of filing falsified documents. Under this law, "filing false documents" means consciously filing false or forged documents with a government or public office. Filing false documents is categorized as a white-collar fraud violation.
Documents covered under PC 115 include any instrument filed or recorded in a government office, such as:
- Immigration documents (like passports, visas, et cetera).
- Bail bonds.
- Tax returns.
- Lien for money.
- Fishing records.
- Personal checks.
- Income statements and tax returns.
- Bank account records.
- Documents at the courthouse.
- Birth certificates and ID cards.
- Pay stubs.
- Real estates property documents, such as property deeds, deeds of trusts, and quitclaim deeds.
Most PC 115 violations involve filing forged or false real estate property documents. In these situations, and considering the kind of document in question, the prosecution could file charges under PC 115, California mortgage fraud statutes, or California real estate fraud statutes.
An example of a Penal Code 115 violation is forging a property transfer deed that states a family member sold you the home and filing it with the county records office. Next, you secure a considerable loan and use that home as collateral. Here, you could be charged with filing false documents and mortgage fraud.
How the D.A. Proves a PC 115 Violation
For the judge to find you guilty of filing false or forged documents, the prosecutor must prove these elements:
You Offered a Document to a Government Office for Registration, Recording, or Filing or Made a Document to be Issued to a Government Office for Registration, Recording, or Filing
Offering simply means presenting a document or causing a document to be presented at a public office for filing. For the prosecution to demonstrate this element of a PC 115 violation, it must show you presented the document in person to a public office or made someone else do it on your behalf. Under this law, a public or government office is an entity that dispenses public services. Thus, a government office could be a county record-keeping office, a public employer’s office, or a departmental office.
When you show that you presented the document in person, the prosecution may subpoena the witnesses who were present when you arrived at the office to testify. Possible eyewitnesses include the receptionist who took your documents and any other office staff whose duty it was to take the documents from you.
Furthermore, eyewitnesses could include people in the government office who came for the same reason you did—to present documents for registration or recording. Therefore, if one of the individuals with whom you sought the same services saw you and will help the prosecution’s case, they will likely be subpoenaed to testify.
If you caused someone else to offer the documents for you, the prosecution might need them to testify against you. Consequently, the party may disclose critical information about your intention of providing the office with the forged or falsified documents for filing. Your attorney can move quickly and talk to the person to convince them not to testify before the prosecuting attorney approaches them.
Surveillance footage is another source of evidence for the prosecutor to prove you offered the documents in person. The prosecuting attorney will want to review the government office's surveillance footage. They will analyze the video and note essential facts. Since the main objective is to substantiate criminal activity, surveillance footage is helpful.
It is critical to note that the judge may still find you guilty of violating PC 115 even if the forged or falsified document was not successfully filed. In other words, simply attempting to file false documents is sufficient.
You Knew that Document Was Forged or False When You Provided It
The primary factor the prosecutor must prove is that you consciously misrepresented or altered information with the intent to defraud. The prosecution can prove this element by showing you were aware of the characteristics of the document you provided to the government office.
Providing enough evidence of an accused's knowledge is generally challenging. This is because knowledge is primarily a mental element that is not readily revealed, unlike physical elements. Therefore, the prosecution will use circumstantial evidence to prove your knowledge and fraudulent intent.
Because circumstances differ for every case, the prosecution may apply varying techniques to backtrack your steps to when you perpetrated the criminal activity. For example, illegal intentions could be inferred if you paid somebody to take the document to the government office despite being capable of quickly doing it yourself. In this case, the prosecution can argue you were attempting to evade possible criminal liability after offering the false document.
Alternatively, evidence could also arise from your attitude while presenting the false document. If you wanted to see only a specific staff member in the government office, the prosecution might require that investigation officers thoroughly investigate the particular staff member. The main objective will be establishing whether you conspired with the staff member to present the false document without anybody else realizing it. fabricated
Finally, the investigation may result in scrutinizing relevant digital data to find any conversations or visited sites that show you were aware of the false document. For example, if the prosecution suspects you of falsifying paperwork, scrutiny of the digital data may reveal that you used computer software to copy the details on the documents. If you had any conversations with counterparts, that could also provide essential clues that could assist the prosecution in proving its case.
The Instrument Was of the Type that, If Valid, Could be Lawfully Filed
The prosecution must demonstrate that the false document would be lawfully filed if you offered it in its valid version. Evidence of this element would come from submitting the document you presented before the court and comparing it with the original copy. The prosecution would request that the court judge scrutinize both documents and deduce that they resemble each other and that your document could be accepted if filed legally.
Additionally, the prosecution may include your intent in submitting the false document to show you had attempted to present an illegally made document for your dishonest gain. For example, producing a false real estate deed can trigger scrutiny that would later become additional evidence for the prosecution to present against you.
Legal Defenses Against 115 PC Violation Charges
Defense attorneys can apply various legal strategies when challenging the PC 115 violation charges against defendants to achieve the most favorable outcome. An experienced lawyer will thoroughly evaluate all the specific case facts to determine the best defenses they can apply. Based on your case, your legal counsel may be able to demonstrate that:
- You were unaware the document was forged/false.
- You did not take the document to a government entity for filing.
- You were wrongly accused.
- The presentation was accidental.
- You had permission.
- Mistaken identity.
- You had o fraudulent intent.
Lack of Requisite Knowledge
Remember, you can only be convicted of filing false documents under 115 PC if you gave out a document to be registered or filed that you knew was forged or falsified. This means the judge cannot convict you if your lawyer can prove you had no requisite knowledge.
Not a Public Office
Penal Code 115 only applied if you offered an instrument to a public or government entity (like the state's DMV office or a county recorder's office) for filing. Thus, you can challenge PC 115 charges by proving that, even though you may have presented a forged or fake instrument for filing, it was not a government office to which you took the document.
You could have offered the documents to a privately owned company or employer. However, even if this defense is successful but the document is found to be forged or false, the prosecution could charge you under another law.
People are frequently wrongly accused of filing falsified documents. Someone can wrongfully accuse another of filing falsified documents because of property disputes, revenge, or family drama. If this occurred in your case, you could argue the "false accusations" defense if you were unfairly blamed.
The Accident Defense
Sometimes several draft documents are prepared before the official documents are filed or registered in a government office. Your lawyer may successfully assert that you accidentally took and presented the wrong draft copy for filing instead of the intended official documents, meaning you did not act intentionally.
You Had permission to File the Document
PC 115 violation cases often involve allegations that the defendant deceived the victim into signing a document, but it might not have been illegal. If that occurred in your situation, your lawyer might successfully argue that the victim consented to you signing and filing the document but later decided to withdraw the consent or forgot about giving it.
Your attorney may successfully assert that you did not present the forged document. To be convicted under PC 115, the prosecuting attorney must prove you presented the document for filing or made somebody else offer it. Therefore, if the facts support it, your legal counsel can claim that you did not present the document or made someone else offer it, and you have been mistaken for someone else.
No Fraudulent Intent
One of the elements the prosecution must prove is that you willfully presented false documents for filing with the intent to defraud. Your lawyer may be able to assert that you never specifically intended to defraud anybody and, instead, it was simply a mistake—known as a mistake of fact defense.
Penalties for Filing Falsified Documents
Violating PC 115 is a felony offense. The violation will subject you to a fine not exceeding ten thousand dollars and incarceration for a period not exceeding three years. Whereas a judge might grant you felony probation in place of imprisonment, you are ineligible if this is factual:
- You are sentenced for two or multiple counts of Penal Code 115, and your violations led to the victim/victims losing over one hundred thousand dollars, or
- You have been convicted of violating Penal Code 115 in the past.
If sentenced to felony probation, the judge will require you to comply with certain terms and conditions, including:
- Regularly meeting with your probation officer.
- Paying restitution to the victim involved.
- Performing community service.
- Community supervision.
- Completing a treatment program.
- Agreeing to random police searches.
- Paying court costs.
- Agreeing not to Violate any other laws while out on probation.
You commit a probation violation if you fail to comply with the probation conditions the judge imposed against you. Note that the above are only a few examples of probation conditions in the criminal justice system. The judge can order any activity as a condition. This is the case if the condition is reasonable and logically related to the crime of filing falsified documents.
Should you fail to comply with the probation, the judge will schedule a probation violation hearing. Several possible repercussions exist for a probation violation. The judge can:
- Modify the probation terms and include harsher conditions,
- Warn you and reinstate the same terms,
- Revoke probation and impose the original prison sentence for filing falsified documents.
Various sentencing enhancements might apply if you are found liable for violating 115 PC. For example, the judge will order an additional fine of up to 75,000 dollars if the false documents did impact a family's home mortgage. And if your violation deprived the victim or victims of over sixty-five thousand dollars in losses and the prosecuting attorney can prove you aimed to inflict the losses, you may be subject to up to four additional years in prison.
There is also the so-called "aggravated white-collar crime" sentencing enhancement that you will face if all these elements are factual:
- You are pronounced criminally liable for two or multiple felonies involving PC 503 embezzlement or fraud (any of which could be 115 PC, falsified instruments) in the same proceedings.
- Your felony offenses disclose a sequence of criminal behaviors.
- You perpetrated the felony crimes against multiple distinct victims or a single victim on two or several distinct instances.
- Your act purportedly made the involved victim lose over ten thousand dollars.
The aggravated white-collar crime sentencing enhancement can subject you to up to five more years in prison and an additional court fine of not more than 500,000 dollars or twice the fraud amount, whichever is more.
Violating PC 115 can cause adverse immigration consequences. California law labels certain violations as crimes of moral turpitude. If you are an immigrant and commit any of the moral turpitude crimes, you could be labeled inadmissible or deported.
One court in California has ruled that violating 115 PC is an offense of moral turpitude if acted with fraudulent intent. Thus, if you committed your crime with this specific intent, you may be considered inadmissible or face deportation.
A conviction under PC 115 will also adversely impact your firearm rights. California statute provides that any convicted felon must renounce their right to purchase, own, or possess a firearm. Since filing false documents is considered a felony offense, being pronounced guilty will result in you being stripped of your firearm rights.
Note that you cannot have your criminal record expunged if you are found guilty of filing falsified documents. You do not qualify for a conviction record expungement if your crime is punishable by time in prison. However, you can petition for a conviction record expungement if the judge sentenced you to felony probation. Petitioning is possible if you complete the probation sentence and do so without violating any condition. Although, note that a judge might, at their description, grant your petition for a conviction records expungement and even do so if you violated a condition.
A conviction record expungement can free you from the challenges of a conviction, such as difficulty securing employment, renting an apartment, securing a loan, or obtaining college admission.
Related Crimes to a PC 115 Violation
Various crimes closely relate to filing forged or false documents (PC 115). They are elder or senior abuse, forgery, perjury, and grand theft.
PC 470, Forgery
Penal Code 470 is the state's law that criminalizes fraudulently altering particular documents or someone else's signature. Unlike a PC 115 violation, you do not need to present a forged document to a government office to break the PC 470 law. Altering a signature or document suffices.
Forgery is considered a wobbler violation. A wobbler is a crime the D.A. can charge as a misdemeanor or felony based on the case facts and the defendant’s criminal history. A misdemeanor conviction will subject you to informal probation, up to $10,000 in fines, and a 12-month jail term. A felony conviction carries felony probation, up to ten thousand dollars in fines, and a jail sentence of three years as punishment.
PC 368, Elder Abuse
Penal Code 368 is the state's law that criminalizes elder abuse. This law describes elder abuse as the emotional or physical abuse, financial exploitation, or neglect of anyone 65 years of age or older. If you file false documents and they lead to the financial exploration of someone 65 years of age or older, the prosecution could charge you under Penal Code 115 or 368.
Elder abuse is also a wobbler. A misdemeanor carries a jail sentence of 12 months, a fine of up to six thousand dollars, and victim restitution as punishment. A felony liability carries victim restitution, a fine not exceeding ten thousand dollars, and a prison term of not more than four years.
PC 118, Perjury
Under PC 118, it is a criminal offense to commit perjury. Perjury refers to giving false testimony or statements when under oath. Whereas PC 115 applies to false or forged documents, PC 118 involves false testimony or statements. Perjury is deemed a felony punishable by up to ten thousand dollars in fines, felony probation, and a prison term of not more than four years upon conviction.
PC 487, Grand Theft
According to Section 487 of the Penal Code, you commit grand theft when you illegally steal another person’s property valued at $950 or more. The crime is a wobbler and is punishable by up to three years in prison for a felony conviction and up to 12 months in jail for a misdemeanor conviction.
VC 10501, Falsified Reports of Auto Theft
According to VC 10501, making or filing a false report of a stolen motor vehicle with the intent to defraud is unlawful. This violation is deemed a misdemeanor for first-time offenders, punishable by a maximum of six months in jail and up to $1,000 in fines.
A second or subsequent conviction is a wobbler. In this case, a misdemeanor conviction will be punishable by up to 12 months of incarceration, while the punishment for a felony conviction includes a period not exceeding three years in prison.
Find a Knowledgeable Criminal Attorney Near Me
Call a skilled defense lawyer to schedule a consultation for a case evaluation if accused of filing falsified documents or any other white-collar crime. If you are arrested or charged in Anaheim, CA, we at the California Criminal Lawyer Group can help. We can assist you in understanding your next move and developing a solid defense to obtain the best possible outcome. Call us at 714-766-0965 to kick off the process of regaining your freedom.