Public offices rely on accurate documents and records, and filing a false document could lead to the loss of billions of dollars. Filing false documents is a white-collar crime and a felony. On top of incarceration and paying fines, you have to deal with the consequences of a criminal record. The record could affect your ability to secure employment, acquire professional licenses, educational opportunities, and housing. At Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer, we understand that these consequences could be life-altering. We stop at nothing to protect your rights and from being falsely accused or overcharged.
When is Filing a False Document an Offense?
Under Penal Code 115, it is an offense for you to knowingly record, register, or bring a counterfeit or false document in a public office within California.
To be found guilty, the prosecutor must prove these facts of crime:
- You submitted documents for recording, registration, or filing with a public office.
- You knew that your documents were either false or counterfeit when you brought them.
- If your documents were authentic, you could have filed them legally.
PC 115 is a white-collar crime that often involves filing forged or false real estate deeds. While this makes it common charges for mortgage fraud criminal cases, it could also include other legal documents, such as:
- Bail bonds
- Tax returns
- Bank account records
- Personal checks
- Fishing records
- Identification cards
- Birth certifications
- Immigration documents
A perfect example of a PC 115 violation involves a condition where a person forges a property transfer deed which states the individual bought a house from a loved one. The accused takes the forged deed and brings it to a public office. Then the accused acquires a loan using that property as security. In this case, the defendant will face both mortgage fraud and PC 115 charges.
Penalties, Sentencing, and Consequences Attracted by PC 115 Charges
Violation of PC 115 is prosecuted as a felony, and it carries the following penalties:
- Fines of ten thousand dollars
- Three years of incarceration
Although the court might award probation in place of serving time, you are not eligible if any of the statements below are accurate:
- You are found guilty of more than one count of Penal Code 115, and the total loss caused exceeds $100,000
- You were previously convicted of PC 115
Additionally, the judge could impose sentencing enhancement if all the statements below are correct:
- You were sentenced for at least two fraud and embezzlement California felonies in one criminal proceeding.
- Felonies are a series of criminal behavior.
- The crimes are committed against one person on more than two occasions or against two (2) different alleged victims.
- The conduct is alleged to have deprived the victims of at least one hundred thousand dollars.
The sentencing enhancement might result in:
- Addition fines of $500,000 or twice the fraud amount (whichever is higher)
- A prison sentence that ranges between one and five years
Please note, a conviction cannot be expunged. California laws say that defendants do not qualify for expungement if defendants served their sentence in prison.
PC 115 Carries Adverse Immigration Consequences
PC 115 is one of the crimes considered as crimes involving moral turpitude if the accused acted with the intent to defraud. Should a non-citizen violate this statute, he/she may be:
- Marked as inadmissible (The defendants won't be allowed to reenter the U.S.A if they left, apply for green cards, or acquire United States Citizenship) or
A Conviction Affects Your Gun Rights
A conviction might affect your firearm rights. According to the law, a convicted felon should relinquish the entitlement to:
- Own a firearm
- Possess a firearm
- Buy a firearm
How to Fight Your PC 115 Charges
While PC 115 charges carry penalties that could negatively affect your career, life, and future, there are numerous legal defense strategies to fight the allegations. Your qualified defense attorney could analyze the case facts and develop a legal strategy that leverages all possible avenues to get the most satisfactory case outcome. Common legal defense strategies include:
You Were Falsely Accused
False accusation is a common phenomenon. Common reasons why alleged victims raise false allegations include:
- Property distribution disputes
- Family dramas
Your experienced attorney has previously handled similar cases and can conduct independent investigations to prove that you are unjustly blamed.
There Wasn't Any Public Office Involved
You can only be convicted of PC 115 if you submitted a false or forged document to a public agency. Therefore, you could argue that you did offer your document to a public office but a private organization or employer.
Even if you prevail in the case, you might be prosecuted under another California statute, provided your document was forged or false.
Lack of Knowledge
You can be sentenced for PC 115 if you submitted your documents for filing and were aware that they were forged or false.
In other words, it is a legal defense for you to prove that you did not have this knowledge.
You Had the Alleged Victim's Permission to Bring the Documents
The prosecutor also brings PC 115 charges when they think a person deceived the asset owner into signing over a real estate deed or because the individual faked the documents. The prosecution is more apprehensive because the victim could be elderly, unsophisticated, or disabled. Nonetheless, the truth may be the individual forgot that they transferred the title to the defendant.
A person can also change his/her mind and profess to be a victim. In both cases, presenting proof that the victim consented when you created the document could help you avoid a sentence.
Related Offenses to PC 115
Here are offenses commonly charged alongside or instead of filing a false document. They include:
California PC 118 makes it an offense for you to give false statements while under oath. It's a felony that is punishable by ten thousand dollars in fine and a maximum of four (4) years in California state prison.
The difference between PC 115 and PC 118 is that the former involves false documents while the latter involves false testimonies or statements.
Per PC 470, it is illegal to alter specific documents or falsify signatures fraudulently.
Unlike Penal Code 115, you don't have to submit forged documents to a public authority to break forgery laws. All you need is to change a signature or document.
PC 368 makes it an offense to emotional or physical abuse, financially exploit or neglect any person aged 65.
If you bring false documents and lead to financial exploitation of the senior citizens, you could be prosecuted with either PC 115 or PC 368.
An Overview of the Pre-filing Investigation and Criminal Process in California
If you have been prosecuted for filing a false document, it is paramount to know the California criminal process. And if you have questions about your case or have been arrested for the offense but not yet charged, you need to consult with a qualified criminal defense lawyer.
An allegation can be defined as a notice to law enforcers that you violated the law. It can stem from sources, including police officers, citizens, or even regulatory authorities.
Generally, pre-filing investigations involve law enforcers analyzing the case elements to decide whether law enforcers could recommend that the prosecutor files a charge against you. Here, the police might question the defendant or witnesses or even search your property.
The prosecution has the discretion whether to file the charges or not. In other words, if the prosecution thinks the police did not provide strong adequate evidence, they could decide not to pursue your case further or ask police officers to gather more proof.
After the police gather proof and send the charges to a District Attorney, one of the following outcomes will happen:
- The DA will file a charge against you.
- The DA might decide to finish the investigations without charges.
- The prosecutor might request the law enforcers to investigate further and return the case to the DA for analysis and decision.
As a result, it is paramount to have a lawyer to persuade the prosecutor not to press charges against you or consider lesser criminal charges. Suppose the law enforcement has not yet presented their evidence to the prosecution. In that case, your defense attorney could present your story to law enforcement to correctly represent the case facts in the defense.
During the pre-filing investigations, the defense lawyer will protect you from law enforcers' questioning. They will also advise you of your constitutional rights discussed in the section below. Anything a defendant tells the police will be used against them in a court of law. You are entitled to refuse to answer questions or even make statements, even if you've not read the Miranda rights or been arrested.
The prosecution team's duration to respond to your case depends mainly on the severity and type of your offense. Remember, California Penal Code 115 PC is charged as a felony, and the prosecutor should file the charges within three years from when you committed the crime.
Should the prosecutor decide to file a charge, your arrest warrant might be issued. The arrest involves being taken into police custody to hold you until your trial.
The arresting police should have a reasonable belief that the accused violated the law (probable cause).
Your defense lawyer should convince the prosecution to agree to recommend a bail reduction or even being released on your OR (own recognizance) after your arrest. In other words, you'll be released based on the promise to attend all your court hearings. If the legal expert could persuade the court to release you from custody without posting bail, you could save lots of money that you could have paid to your bail bonds agency.
Bail and Arraignment
The arraignment is the formal court proceeding where the court tells you the criminal charge against you plus your rights. No witnesses will testify against you during your arraignment, and the prosecutor will not present any proof. The judge will also schedule dates for your future court hearings.
Another aspect where your attorney could be instrumental is during your bail hearing. The advocate could save lots of money by seeking a bail reduction; a defendant is entitled to reasonable bail. The judge could permit the bail hearing to occur during your arraignment. They could also require your defense attorney to bring a formal motion and tell the prosecution of the intent to pursue bail reduction.
Entry of Plea
During your arraignment hearing, you might enter a plea of:
- No contest
- Not guilty
It means you don't admit guilt but will stipulate that the prosecutor has satisfied your crime facts. Moreover, you could request a continuance, and the hearing will be continued later to retain a skilled defense attorney.
What are Your Constitutional Rights as a Defendant?
Defendants have numerous constitutional rights that should be honored throughout the criminal process. If you are aware of your rights, you can take the necessary steps to protect them.
- Right to a speedy trial — There are numerous statutes of limitations that impose time limitations on the prosecutor. Once the timeframe expires, the prosecutor cannot bring the charges against you.
- Equal protection — The 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution offers all citizens equal protection. It makes preferential treatment illegal, and a defendant should not face harsher penalties due to their age or race.
- Right to confront the accuser — You are entitled to cross-examine witnesses that speak against you, including the alleged victim.
- Presumption of innocence — All defendants are presumed innocent until they have been proven guilty. The jury shouldn't step into the case with a preconceived notion of your guilt and should objectively weigh the proof presented against you.
- Entitlement to have legal representation — The 6th Amendment to the U.S. constitution gives accused persons the entitlement to an attorney during the trial. If you cannot afford to hire legal counsel, the court could appoint a public defender. The attorney could explain the criminal process and advise you on what to expect. Additionally, they can help you negotiate a plea bargain if it is in your best interests.
- Freedom from double jeopardy — Double jeopardy happens when a defendant is charged at least once for one offense. Per the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, it is illegal for the federal government to bring similar charges under a federal crime when the state has already prosecuted based on the state offense.
- Right to a public trial — The 6th Amendment to the U.S Constitution allows public trial in criminal cases. It is a fundamental right because the presence of ordinary citizens, the press, and your loved ones could help make sure the court observes your constitutional rights linked to the trial.
How Does Plea Bargain Apply to the Criminal Case?
If you are reading this, odds are your relative has been accused of PC 115, and the prosecution asks them to take the deal. The plea bargain happens when the prosecutor offers to lower your criminal charges if you plead guilty and then surrender your right to trial.
The prosecutor could offer to lower your charge if you testify against another person involved in this offense. Additionally, they might request to drop a lesser charge if the defendant pleads guilty to the crime. Determining whether to engage in plea bargain negotiations isn't a decision to make without consulting an experienced defense attorney.
It is in the district attorney's interest to get you to agree to a plea bargain because it is an easy and quick closure to your case. However, the plea bargain might not be in your best interests if you did not violate the law.
Most criminal cases do not proceed to trial and are closed early when both parties agree to the plea bargain. Either the prosecutor or your lawyer could initiate the negotiation.
Plea bargains are common for numerous reasons:
- Both the prosecutor and defendant do not have the uncertainty that comes with a jury trial.
- The prosecutor saves money and time involved in your trial.
- You might save yourself, your loved one, and your livelihood from stigma.
- You could face harsher penalties if found guilty.
What Happens If You Did Not Violate Filing False Documents Charges?
If indeed you did not violate the law, it is unsensible to accept a plea bargain and plead guilty. However, many accused persons take a plea deal annually because they do not have a skilled defense attorney who could take the case to trial.
Your competent attorney will investigate the case, obtain police reports, interview witnesses, and hire expert witnesses to testify in court. In other words, they will work to get your charges dismissed. And if your case proceeds to trial, the legal counsel will present a strong case to the court.
Find Legal Representation Near Me
If you've PC 115 charges, you should engage an established criminal defense attorney. Don't volunteer details to your employer, police, or any individual other than the defense attorney. Anything you say could and will be used against you. You cannot overlook the essence of having legal representation and remaining silent. The prosecution team is an expert at twisting and changing words and could land you in trouble. Contact one of the lawyers at Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer at 310-502-1314 to book the initial free consultation. We can answer your question, address your concerns, and together develop a winning legal strategy.