Forgery is the creation or alteration of a document, signature, or something else with the intent to deceive or defraud someone. These modifications aim at defrauding the victim of the property or value the forged document provides. Under Penal Code 470, forgery is a wobbler offense. You can face misdemeanor or felony charges. A conviction on either charge results in significant penalties. Having a criminal defense attorney on your side can improve your chances of contesting the charges and achieving a favorable legal outcome in your case. Contact our Anaheim team of attorneys at the California Criminal Lawyer Group if you or a loved one faces forgery charges.
Forgery Under California Law
You will face forgery charges under Penal Code 470 for engaging in any of the following activities:
- Signing another person’s name without the individual’s approval.
- Forging or counterfeiting a seal on a document or another person’s handwriting.
- Falsifying or changing a legal document and/or
- Forging, altering, or falsifying specific documents.
In summary, activities that fit the forgery definition in law generally fall into three categories, namely:
- Signing another person’s name.
- Effecting significant changes to a document.
- Attempting to pass off false documentation as genuine.
Penal Code 470 in California covers a wide range of documents. The following is a non-exhaustive list of documents whose alteration or forgery could result in criminal charges under PC 470:
- Checks — A check is a written order directing a bank to pay a certain amount of money to a specific person or entity. Forgery of a check could involve altering the amount, payee, or signature.
- Money orders — A money order is a prepaid payment that can be used as a substitute for cash. You will face charges of forgery of a money order if you alter the payee or the money order amount.
- Bonds — Bonds are written promises to pay a certain amount if conditions are unmet. A bond is formed when the perpetrator alters the terms of the bond or creates a fake bond.
- Legal documents — For purposes of PC 470, legal documents include contracts, deeds, or wills. Offenders target these documents to defraud the legitimate owner. In most cases, these documents are altered, or a fake document is made and passed off as the original.
- Identification documents include driver's licenses, passports, or social security cards that could be forged to gain access to certain benefits or privileges.
- Contracts — A contract is an agreement between two or more parties. It is legally binding. Further, it outlines the terms and conditions of a transaction or relationship. Contracts serve various purposes. For example, they are applicable in business agreements, employment contracts, or real estate transactions.
- Lottery tickets — Lottery tickets are a form of gambling that involves the chance to win a prize. Forgery of a lottery ticket could include creating a fake ticket or altering the winning numbers on an actual ticket.
- Traveler’s checks are prepaid checks holders use as a secure and convenient alternative to cash when traveling. Banks or other financial institutions typically issue them. Tourists or travelers often use them to carry money without the risk of theft or loss.
- Property deeds transfer real estate ownership from one person or entity to another. They are typically recorded with the county recorder's office in the jurisdiction where the property is located.
- Stock certificates — Stock certificates are physical documents representing company ownership. The company issues them to its shareholders, typically used to facilitate the buying and selling of stocks.
Note: This is not an exhaustive list. Any document or instrument used intending to defraud could be considered in a PC 470 violation case.
What Prosecutors Must Prove in a Forgery Case
A jury will only find you guilty of forgery if the state proves the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- You made, altered, or possessed a document.
- The document was false, and you knew it was fraudulent.
- You intended to defraud or deceive another person or entity.
- The instrument was purported to be genuine and designed to be used as such.
- You lacked the authority to make, alter, or possess the document.
In addition to these general elements, prosecutors must prove specific elements depending on the type of document or instrument forged. For instance, in a case of check forgery, the prosecution must demonstrate that you intended to present the forged check as authentic. They must also prove that a bank or another financial institution issued the check.
Note: The burden of proof is on the prosecution to demonstrate each element mentioned above. The jury could return a not-guilty verdict if they cannot prove any elements beyond a reasonable doubt.
An Intent to Defraud
Intent to defraud is a critical element in a forgery case. It refers to the offender’s goal to deceive or cheat someone by creating or altering a document with a false representation of a material fact.
In other words, to be convicted of forgery, the prosecution must show that you knowingly and willfully made, altered, or used a forged document intending to deceive or defraud someone.
For example, an individual who alters the payee's name on a check could face forgery charges. The prosecution has to establish that the person intended to deceive or defraud the intended recipient of the check. Similarly, suppose someone forges a property deed to transfer ownership to themselves or a third party. In that case, they may be charged with forgery if the intention was to deceive or defraud the property's valid owner.
Proving an intent to defraud can be challenging. It often requires a thorough understanding of the facts and circumstances surrounding the forgery. Prosecutors rely on the defendant's actions and statements, the timing and manner of the forgery, and the financial or other benefits gained from the crime to support the case.
Legal Defenses You Can Raise in a Forgery Case
Though forgery is a serious offense, it is not indefensible. You can raise several defenses to challenge the charges. The choice of which defense strategy best suits your case depends on the facts of the case. Each defense strategy targets specific elements of the case. Engage an experienced criminal defense attorney to determine the best strategy for the best legal outcome.
Lack of an Intent to Defraud
“Intent” is a critical element in a forgery case. Prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you acted with the intent to deceive or defraud the victim when you created or used a forged document.
For example, suppose you signed a document using another person’s name because you believed you had the authority. In that case, you could argue that you did not intend to deceive or defraud anyone.
You must substantiate your claims when asserting a lack of intent to defraud the victim. You will need to present evidence that shows you lacked the intent to deceive or defraud anyone when you created or used a forged document. You could use several methods, depending on the facts and circumstances of your case. Here are a few potential strategies:
- Witness testimonies — You might present testimony from witnesses who can attest to your state of mind when the alleged forgery occurred. For example, if you signed using another person’s name and at the time you believed you had the authority to do so, witnesses who were present and observed your actions could testify that you did not appear to be trying to deceive anyone.
- Documentation — Your attorney could also present documents or other evidence that supports your claim. Your attorney is likely to submit previous documents that you signed similarly and which did not result in you gaining an unfair advantage at the victim’s expense. This approach will reinforce that your actions, though wrong, show a lack of the specific intent to defraud.
- Expert testimony — Experts are pivotal, too, in forgery cases. Your attorney could introduce expert testimony from a handwriting expert or another qualified professional who can testify about the nature of the alleged forgery and whether it was likely intentional or accidental.
- Lack of financial gain — A lack of financial gain indicates a lack of intent to deceive or defraud.
Mistake or Accident
Demonstrating that you acted in good faith and had a legitimate reason for creating or using the document in question can go a long way toward establishing your innocence in the case. For example, if you signed a document on behalf of a company and believed you had the authority to do so. In this scenario, the forgery resulted from a mistake or accident rather than a deliberate attempt to deceive.
This defense is successful only when you show that you did not intentionally create or use a forged document. Further, you must demonstrate that any mistake or accident was an honest and reasonable mistake.
Some examples of situations where a mistake or accident defense could be appropriate include:
- Accidentally signing another person’s name on a document because you believed you had the authority to do so.
- Misunderstanding the terms of a document and inadvertently creating a forged version.
- Failing to recognize that a document you received was a forgery created by someone else.
You can rely on circumstantial evidence when using this defense. For example, if the alleged forgery was part of a broader transaction or agreement. You can present evidence that shows that your actions were consistent with your understanding of the transaction or contract rather than an attempt to deceive.
You Were Falsely Accused
Most company work environments are highly competitive. It, therefore, doesn’t come as a surprise that some individuals could accuse their colleagues of forgery to eliminate the competition. In other instances, accusers could falsely claim the defendant engaged in the crime as an act of revenge. All these are grounds to challenge the forgery charges.
Proving that you were falsely accused can be challenging. However, there are a few steps you can take to try to prove your innocence. Here are some possible approaches:
- Present evidence that you did not create the document in question — You can present proof that you did not make the document in question. For example, you could argue that you were absent when the document was signed. Alternatively, you could assert that you lacked access to the materials required to produce the document.
- Demonstrate that the document is not a forgery — It is crucial to present evidence that challenges the prosecution's assertion of a forged document. One approach is to present evidence that the document's signature or other identifying features are genuine.
- Hire a forensic document examiner — In some cases, hiring a forensic document examiner to analyze the document in question could be helpful. These experts can examine the instrument to determine whether it is a forgery and may be able to provide expert testimony in court.
The courts can dismiss your charges if you prove you were falsely accused.
Police Officers Coerced You Into Confessing
Coerced confessions are likely, especially if law enforcement officers are pressured to complete the investigations for the case to proceed to trial. If you have been forced into confessing to forgery, you can assert the same as your defense in the PC 470 violation case.
Note: A coerced confession is obtained through force, threats, or promises of leniency or reward, and it is not admissible in court.
Attorneys use several steps to challenge the charges emanating from coerced confessions. They include the following:
- Documentation of the circumstances of your confession — It is best to write down everything you can remember about the circumstances surrounding your admission. It includes details, including the length of your interrogation, whether the officers offered you food, were given food or water, threatened you with physical harm or imprisonment, and promised you leniency or rewards. All these are useful in proving your case.
- Obtaining witness testimony — Defense attorneys can also get statements from witnesses about the police integration or the circumstances surrounding the arrest and interrogation. Witnesses could include individuals present during your interrogation, like other police officers or other suspects.
- Request a pre-trial hearing — Your attorney could request a pre-trial hearing to present the merits of your coerced confession assertions to the judge. In the hearing, your attorney will request that your confession be excluded from the evidence.
- Hire an expert witness —Criminal defense attorneys also hire expert witnesses to testify about coercion's effects on the reliability of confessions. An expert witness can explain how specific interrogation techniques can lead to false confessions.
If your confession is excluded from the evidence, the prosecution could lack sufficient evidence to proceed to trial. Hence, it is unlikely that a jury will convict you. Your attorney will argue that there is no evidence to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Penalties if Convicted of Forgery
Forgery is a wobbler offense. Meaning the district attorney can choose to pursue misdemeanor or felony charges.
PC 470 violations are misdemeanors if the forged document is a money order, check, or similar instrument worth $950 or less. If the jury finds you guilty of a misdemeanor violation, a conviction will result in the following penalties:
- Summary or misdemeanor probation instead of jail time,
- A maximum jail sentence of one year and/or
- A fine of no more than $1,000.
If the state charges you with a felony violation, a conviction will result in the following penalties:
- Formal or felony probation instead of jail time,
- A jail sentence not exceeding three years and/or
- A fine of up to $10,000.
Impact of a Forgery Conviction on Your Immigration Status
A forgery conviction can have negative immigration consequences for non-citizens. It is deemed a "crime involving moral turpitude" (CIMT), an offense that can have serious immigration consequences, including deportation or inadmissibility.
Some potential defense strategies take the immigration consequences into account. Thus, your attorney could negotiate a plea bargain requiring you to plead guilty to a lesser offense that does not involve moral turpitude or fighting the charges in court to try to avoid a conviction altogether.
Impact of a Forgery Conviction on Your Gun Rights
Felony convictions impact gun rights. Penal Code 29800 prohibits individuals who have been convicted of a felony offense from owning, possessing, or purchasing firearms or ammunition. A violation of Penal Code 29800 is a felony offense, punishable by up to three years in state prison. Additionally, individuals who violate this law could face additional charges and penalties.
Statute of Limitations
The district attorney can only bring forgery charges within a specified period, the statute of limitations.
The period varies depending on whether the offense is a misdemeanor or a felony. For felony forgery, the statute of limitations is four years from the date of the crime or the date on which the offense was discovered, whichever is later.
For misdemeanor forgery, the statute of limitations is one year from the date of the offense.
Expungement of a Forgery Conviction
You can have your forgery conviction expunged from your records. This will free you of the negative consequences of a sentence. Thus, you will be better positioned to secure employment, housing, or credit.
An expungement under Penal Code 1203.4 allows a convicted person to petition the court to set their conviction aside and dismiss the charges.
To be eligible for an expungement of a forgery conviction, you must complete your probation or obtain an early termination of probation. Additionally, you must not have committed any new crimes since the guilty verdict. You must also pay all fines, restitution, and other court-ordered fees.
Note: An expungement does not entirely erase the conviction from your record. However, it does show that the conviction has been dismissed. The conviction could still be visible to law enforcement agencies. Certain government agencies could still access the conviction for specific purposes, for example, immigration proceedings.
Crimes Related to Forgery
The following offenses are related to forgery.
Under Penal Code section 476, check fraud occurs when someone fraudulently makes, alters, forges, or counterfeits a check or attempts to pass the check with the intent to defraud. Prosecutors must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt to secure a conviction for check fraud under PC 476:
- You altered, forged, or counterfeited a check or attempted to pass a check.
- You had the intent to defraud.
- The check was fake or altered in some way.
Check fraud is a wobbler. If charged as a misdemeanor, you will face the following penalties if convicted:
- A maximum of one year in jail and/or
- A fine of up to $1,000.
If prosecutors charge you with a felony, you will face the following penalties if convicted:
- A maximum of three years in jail and/or
- A fine not exceeding $10,000.
Forgery of Credit Card
Credit card fraud, per Penal Code 484f, occurs when someone uses someone else's credit card or credit card information without their consent with the intent to defraud. A jury will only find you guilty if the prosecution proves the following elements as accurate:
- You used someone else's credit card or credit card information.
- The use was without the owner's consent.
- You had the intent to defraud.
Credit fraud is a wobbler. If charged as a misdemeanor, you will face the following penalties if convicted:
- A maximum of one year in jail and/or
- A fine of up to $1,000.
If you are charged with a felony, you will face the following penalties if convicted:
- A maximum of three years in jail and/or
- A fine not exceeding $10,000.
Find an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
Convictions for forgery are consequential. You thus need legal aid and the representation of an experienced attorney. A skilled attorney can help you navigate the legal process, protect your rights, and work toward the best possible outcome for your case. At California Criminal Lawyer Group, we have a proven track record of successfully defending clients facing forgery cases in Anaheim. Contact our team at 714-766-0965 for assistance and a free case assessment.