California Penal Code §476 sets forth the crime of check fraud in California. Like the other articles in the Fraud section of this website, Check Fraud is a Crime Against Property and can be found in Chapter 4 of that section. Pursuant to the statute, it against the law to use, make, or possess a check with the specific intent to defraud another person. As a practical matter, the only proof the Prosecution needs to show is that the Defendant gave the check to another person, and asserted that it was a valid check.
If you or a loved one is under investigation for, or has been arrested for, check fraud it is essential that you contact a skilled attorney immediately. The benefits of having skilled representation cannot be overstated. Contacting an attorney early on in the process will have a beneficial impact on the outcome of your case in a number of ways.
First, if you are under investigation and have retained the services of a dedicated Criminal Defense attorney, they will be able to protect your constitutional rights, and in some circumstances have evidence removed. The United States Constitution regulates the manner in which some evidence against the accused is obtained. Frequently officers over step their bounds in attempting to obtain evidence against a criminal Defendant, this triggers what is known as the Exclusionary Rule. The Exclusionary Rule requires that evidence, which was obtained in violation of the Defendant’s constitutional rights, be excluded from the evidence that is submitted to the jury. Frequently, if evidence is excluded, the entire case against the Defendant falls apart, and the Defendant walks away a free person.
Similarly, if you have been arrested for Check Fraud and have retained an attorney immediately, your attorney can protect your Constitutional rights and potentially exclude certain evidence. However, there is another benefit to having an attorney in your corner at the outset of the case against you. Once you contact Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer and attend your FREE initial consultation, you will have an opportunity to provide your attorney with all the information of what occurred leading up to, and after, your arrest. Providing this information while it is still fresh in your memory will allow you to give a clear, concise, and accurate account of what happened; this includes details you may have forgotten over time because you felt they were unimportant. At LACL we know that to the truly exceptional attorney, no detail is unimportant. Often times, the smallest detail is the difference between an acquittal and a conviction.
Contacting Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer early on will provide them additional time to prepare a theory of defense unique to you and your case. It is a well-known fact that the District Attorney’s Office and the Public Defender’s Office is inundated with work, and simply cannot provide the same thorough preparation for a case as Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer. As such, the more time LACL has to prepare your case, the more likely it is that they are more prepared for your case than their adversaries. This is not to say that the attorneys at the District Attorney are anything other than stellar, but as a practical matter they cannot dedicate themselves to the same extent to every case as Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer.
At Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer, we strive to provide the very best service to our clients. We understand that when an individual is accused of a crime, it is a frightening experience and having someone there to guide you through the process is helpful. We also understand that knowing what you are being accused of helps alleviate some of the stress associated with facing criminal charges. The remainder of this article will discuss the specific elements of Check Fraud, the penalties associated with a conviction for Check Fraud, and what Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer can do to help you if you have been accused of Check Fraud.
The following is a non-exhaustive list of conduct an individual could engage them, which would expose them to charges for check fraud under California Penal Code §476:
- Stealing someone’s check book, writing in an amount, forging their signature, and presenting it to a bank in an effort to obtain quick cash.
- Taking an existing check, and altering the amount of the check, in an effort to obtain more money.
- Using a check you know is fake, because someone told you it was fake.
- Utilizing machines, or a computer, or anything else, to create a fake check.
To be convicted of Check Fraud in California, the Prosecution must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- You made or used a bill, check, or other legal document with the intent to obtain money or property;
- You knew the document was false
- When you used the false bill, check, or other legal document, you used it with the intent to defraud the recipient; AND
- When you were in possession of the false bill, check, or other legal document, you intended to present the writing as a genuine document.
It is a fundamental aspect of criminal law that the Prosecution must prove every element of the crime a Defendant has been accused of beyond a reasonable doubt. If the Prosecution fails to meet their burden, a Defendant cannot properly be convicted of Check Fraud. Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer has decades of combined experience representing individuals accused of criminal conduct, and is familiar with every element of Check Fraud. At Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer, we pride ourselves on providing superior service to our clients, and part of that service includes keeping our clients informed. Keeping in line with our dedication to our clients, the remainder of this article will focus on: (1) the elements of Check Fraud and what they mean, (2) the penalties you may face if you are convicted of Check Fraud; and (3) what Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer can do to assist you if you are accused of Check Fraud.
What is a fake bill, check, or other legal document?
The first element the Prosecution must prove is that you made or used a bill, check, or other legal document with the intent to obtain money or property. This element is straightforward, if you attempt to use a fake bill, check, or other legal document, and while doing that you intend to pass it off as genuine for the purpose of payment, you can be convicted of check Fraud in California. The document must be altered or forged, and the Defendant must “utter” the check before a conviction can be had against the Defendant.
(1) Altered Bills, Checks, or other legal documents
The law in California is well established as it relates to “altering” a bill, check, or other legal document. “altering” occurs when you add, erase, or change information on a document, and the ultimate result is a different document than the original, despite its appearance of being an authentic document.
There are an infinite number of examples of what constitutes “altering”, below are common examples of conduct that can result in a conviction for Check Fraud:
- Altering the date on a check
- Altering the amount of money on a check
(2) What Does it Mean to “utter” a Document?
In addition to altering a bill, check, or other legal document, the Prosecution must also prove that he Defendant “uttered” the check before they can obtain a conviction for Check Fraud. A Defendant has “uttered” a bill, check, or other legal document when they tried to use the altered document by presenting it to another person as an authentic document for the purpose of payment. If the Prosecution can show that the Defendant attempted to use the altered document, the first element of Check Fraud will have been proven.
Knowledge that the document has been altered
The second element the Prosecution must prove is that the in addition to “uttering” an “altered” document, the Defendant knew the document was an altered document. If the Prosecution cannot prove this element beyond a reasonable doubt, a Defendant cannot be convicted of Check Fraud. As a practical matter, the Prosecution will have to prove what the Defendant knew through circumstantial evidence. Circumstantial evidence is susceptible to attack from a skilled attorney.
Dan recently sold his car to Dennis, who gave Dan a check for $3,000. Dan owed Victor $3,000 so he endorsed the check to Victor. Victor deposited the check in his bank account, and the bank flagged it as an “altered” check. Dan cannot be convicted of Check Fraud under the second element of the crime, because there is nothing to suggest he knew, or should have known, that the check was a fake. Dennis may be convicted if he knew the check he provided Dan was a fake.
What is the requisite intent to be convicted of check fraud?
The third element the Prosecution must prove in order to obtain a conviction for Check Fraud is that when the Defendant “uttered” the check, they did so with the purpose of defrauding the recipient of that check.
California Penal Code §476(a) clarifies that the crime of Check fraud requires that the check be “uttered” (see above for the definition of “utter”) for the purpose of making a payment to another person.
In addition to the previous elements, the Prosecution must also prove that the Defendant specifically intended to fool the recipient into believing they were actually receiving something of value. With specific intent crimes, it is irrelevant whether or not the accused succeeded in their attempt. A Defendant’s success may have an impact on the sentencing phase of the trial however. Ultimately, the crime of Check Fraud occurs when the Defendant completes the act of “uttering” a fake document (the “actus reas”) with the intent to deceive another person (the “mens reas”). In short, if you intended to trick the recipient, the crime of Check Fraud is complete.
Representing a document as genuine
The last element that the Prosecution must prove is that the Defendant attempted to use the bill, check, or document as though it was a legitimate document. This is generally proven by words or conduct. For example, if Dan is buying a car, and the sale price is $3,100 and Dan presents a fake check that says $3,100, Dan’s conduct will be sufficient to show that he intended to represent the check as genuine.
What are the Penalties if I am Convicted of Check Fraud?
Check Fraud can be brought as either a felony or a misdemeanor in California. The form of the Check Fraud charge against you will be based on the facts of your individual case. Some of the facts the District Attorney will look to while deciding how to bring the charge against you include: (1) prior criminal history, (2) who the Victim is, (3) the impact your fraud had on the victim; (4) whether you were successful in your efforts to defraud; and (5) the amount of money you attempted to defraud another person with.
If you are convicted of misdemeanor Check Fraud, you will face incarceration in county jail for a maximum period of one (1) year and/or a fine up to one-thousand ($1,000) dollars.
If you are convicted of felony Check Fraud, you will face incarceration in a California State Prison for a period ranging from sixteen (16), to two (2) or three (3) years and/or a fine not exceeding ten-thousand ($10,000) dollars.
I Have Been Accused of Check Fraud, How Can Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer Help Me?
As noted above, the crime of Check Fraud can be brought as either a misdemeanor or a felony in California, and this determination is made based on the facts surrounding your case. Contacting Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer immediately will provide you the best opportunity to have the charge dismissed, reduced, or brought against you as a misdemeanor offense. Regardless, a conviction will remain on your criminal record if you are convicted. This will have an impact on your future, especially your job prospects. Employers typically conduct a criminal background check in an effort to screen candidates for positions with their company. Many employers view convictions for fraud or theft as a red-flag, and are hesitant to hire anyone with that type of criminal background. As such, it is important to have competent representation throughout the entire legal process so that you have a chance to avoid the harmful consequences of a conviction. The attorneys at LACL are dedicated to providing the very best representation to you and your case.
If you or a loved one has been accused of Check Fraud, contact Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer at 310-502-1314 today for a FREE consultation.