Forgery, a California white-collar crime, is charged against defendants who sign names of other people or fictitious persons to any money order, check, cashier’s check, note, bank bill, bond, or draft intending to defraud. California Penal Code 470 PC punishes forgery crime. Before the court can find you guilty, the prosecution must prove certain elements of the crime explained in this article beyond a reasonable doubt.

If convicted, you could pay fines, serve time in prison/ jail, and suffer collateral consequences. You want to hire a competent criminal lawyer when you face forgery charges in Los Angeles. At Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer, we have tried and tested attorneys with many years of experience.

Our lawyers could help you have forgery charges dismissed or reduced. We employ world-class tactics when building our clients’ legal defenses. Should you or someone you know faces forgery allegations, do not hesitate to contact us, and we will leave no stone unturned.

The Legal Definition of Forgery Under PC 470

Per California PC 470(a), forgery involves signing someone else’s name to documents or any of the items listed under PC 470(d), knowing that you have no authority to sign and with the intent to defraud. Documents and parts of documents detailed under PC 470(d) are:

  • Banker’s bills
  • Bonds
  • Checks
  • Contracts
  • Deeds
  • Driver’s license
  • Government seal
  • Identification card
  • Medical records
  • Money orders
  • Obligations
  • Receipts
  • Telegraph

California PC section 470(b) states that forgery happens when you forge or counterfeit someone else’s handwriting or seal with the intent to defraud. Penal Code 470(c) PC details that forgery occurs when you falsify, corrupt, or alter any record of a codicil, will, or conveyance.

Types of Forgeries Per California Laws

Various types of California PC 470 forgeries include:

  1. Signing Someone Else’s Name

Before the jury can convict you for violating PC 470 or signing someone else’s name, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you:

  • Signed another person’s name, whether genuine or fake, on a legal or financial document
  • Had no authority to append a signature on the document
  • You appended the signature knowing you had no authority to do so

Example: You stumble upon your friend’s check, endorse it with your friend’s name, and cash the check. After receiving the cash, you keep it and do not inform your friend about it. Since your friend hadn’t allowed you to cash the check, you are guilty of forgery.

  1. Faking A Seal Or Someone Else’s Handwriting

Note that you could commit this type of forgery with all sorts of documents, including those not detailed explicitly under PC 470(d). All that is needed is that the document, in some way, performs a fraudulent course of action. Therefore, this forgery type is common with documents involving financial, property, or legal rights.

Example: You want to apply for a security-guard job but do not possess a firearm license. You then photocopy a license document containing a government seal. You also change the name appearing on the license with your own. You then include your fake license in the job application. You are guilty of faking a government seal and altering the document.

  1. Falsifying, Changing, or Faking A Legal or Financial Document

You commit this type of forgery when handling legal documents, including a title deed, court record, or will. You can be found guilty of this forgery type even if you do not falsify a seal, handwriting, or signature. The primary focus is on the entire document.

Example: You are unhappy because, on their will, your father allocates a bigger share of his estate to your younger sister, Mary.

When your father passes on, you sneak into his room and replace the will that favors you with the one that does not. Even if you did not fake the signature, seal, or father’s handwriting, you committed forgery. Forgery happens because you had the intent to pass on the favorable will as the genuine version.

  1. Changing, Counterfeiting, Publishing, or Altering Documents

You commit this type of forgery through two methods, including:

  • Counterfeiting, changing, falsifying documents that primarily pertain to property or financial rights
  • Submitting or publishing a particular kind of document as if it were genuine when you have counterfeited, faked, or altered it

Example: You operate a scam where you target the elderly who have difficulty paying their hospital bills. You meet Karen, who cannot pay her monthly prescriptions. You assist Karen and have her sign various papers without telling Karen what she is signing. Karen inadvertently signs over the deed to her home over to you. Even if you did not sign Karen’s signature, you committed the action that resulted in deceptive signing. Under PC 470, the deed transfer is a fraudulent paper, and you are guilty of forgery.

  1. Aiding and Abetting Forgery

Penal Code 470 prohibits helping someone else commit forgery. You still could face charges even if you did not falsify or present the document yourself. The government knows that it takes high-level skills and technology prowess to commit forgery. You face forgery charges if:

  • You knew that someone else intended to violate PC 470
  • You intended to help the culprit violate PC 470
  • You encouraged, assisted, or prompted the person’s forgery.

What the Prosecutor Must Prove

The court can find you guilty of forgery if the prosecution proves beyond a reasonable doubt particular elements, including:

  1. You had zero authority to sign someone else’s name or a fictitious individual to a document or part of a document.
  2. You knew you had no authority to append a signature on the said document.
  3. You signed the paper with the intent to defraud
  4. The value of the forgery amounted to over $950
  5. As a misdemeanor crime, the value of the forgery was below $950

Intent to defraud

Forgery laws details that you intend to defraud if:

  1. You deceive someone else or lie to them.
  2. You deceive someone into depriving them of property, money, or legal right.

Note that you act with the intent to defraud if:

  • No one was defrauded.
  • No one suffered a financial, property, or legal loss.

Possible Penalties for Penal Code 470 PC

In California, forgery is a wobbler offense. A wobbler is an offense where the prosecution could decide whether to charge you with a misdemeanor or felony. If charged as a misdemeanor, possible penalties include:

  • A fine not exceeding $1000
  • A jail sentence not exceeding one year
  • summary/ misdemeanor probation

If the prosecutor charges you with forgery felony, possible sentences include:

  • A fine that does not exceed $10,000
  • A prison sentence not exceeding three years
  • Formal/ felony probation

Note that the prosecutor can only charge you with a misdemeanor forgery if:

  • The altered document is a money order, check, or a similar instrument.
  • The instrument is valued below $950.

Collateral Consequences

If you face a conviction for a forgery crime, you could suffer various collateral consequences. These consequences refer to additional penalties to the court sentencing, and they include:

Immigration Consequences for Committing Forgery

Your conviction for forgery could affect your immigration. In California, forgery is among offenses involving moral turpitude. These crimes could make a non-citizen be:

  • Considered inadmissible
  • Deported

Impact on Your Gun Rights

A PC 470 conviction could make you lose your gun ownership rights. In California, it is prohibited for convicts to possess or own a gun. Loss of your gun rights mainly applies if you face a forgery felony charge and are convicted.

Loss Of Section 8 Eligibility

If you cannot afford housing in California, the authorities offer you schemes called Section 8 housing programs. Under the programs, the government helps you find housing within your financial means. If convicted for forgery, you lose trust and are ineligible for section 8 housing.

Loss Of Unemployment Benefits Eligibility

You can apply for unemployment benefits in California if you meet the government’s requirements like being totally or partially unemployed, available for work, and physically fit to work. You are considered ineligible for unemployment benefits upon forgery conviction.

Loss of Social Security Benefits

Incarceration is among the reasons the Social Security Administration (SSA) can end your disability benefits. If you are convicted for either a misdemeanor or felony, your benefits are stopped permanently or temporarily after one month upon a forgery conviction.

Expunging a PC 470 Conviction

You have a right to expunge your forgery conviction in California. Forgery law details that an expungement frees you from several hardships attached to convictions. With the help of your lawyer, you could have your criminal record sealed if:

  • You complete your probation sentence.
  • You complete your jail term.

Statute of Limitations for Forgery in California

Under California forgery laws, the status of limitations depends on whether you are charged with a misdemeanor or a felony. The prosecution could file felony charges up to four years after your forgery crime is discovered. The prosecutor has up to one year to file your forgery charge if it is a misdemeanor crime.

Legal Defense Strategies to PC 470

When facing forgery charges in California, you could use various legal defenses with your criminal attorney’s help to challenge the case. These include:

  • You had no Intent to Defraud

California law needs you to act with the intent to defraud before the court can find you guilty of forgery. However, you bear the burden of proving that you did not act with intent. For instance, you could have forged a document as a prank and had no intent to deceive.

  • You Were Accused Falsely

Several PC 470 cases develop from complex legal or business dealings. Other cases occur in workplaces where someone else could falsely accuse you of forgery to cover up their guilt. Your attorney could use this defense to argue that the allegations are false.

  • Your Confession was Coerced

You could use coerced confession as legal defense if you are charged after a confession. The law prohibits the police from using excessive force to make suspects confess to crimes. If you have proof that the law enforcers forced you to confess, then:

  • The court could dismiss the confession from the prosecution’s evidence.
  • The judge could dismiss the case if you were forced to confess to an offense you never committed.

Related Offenses to Forgery

Offenses related to forgery are those which the prosecutor could charge you together with or in place of PC 470. These are:

  1. Credit card fraud – PC 484(f)

Penal Code 484(f) PC prohibits you from forging credit card information. You violated this statute when you alter a credit or debit card or counterfeit a debit or credit card. You also violate PC 484(f) when you sign another person’s name during a transaction that involves a debit or credit card without the person’s permission.

The D.A must prove that you knowingly altered the card and acted with intent to defraud. The prosecution could file charges for the crime as a felony or misdemeanor. If charged as a misdemeanor, the possible sentencing is up to a one-year jail term. If charged as a felony, forgery is punishable by not more than three years in prison. You want to hire a competent lawyer to help you build strong defenses like no probable cause, no intent to defraud, and you did not know.

  1. Check fraud – PC 476

California Penal Code 476 prohibits you from faking, passing, writing, or making a fraudulent check. The prosecutor must prove that you knew that the document was altered or false. They also must prove that you had the intent to defraud by using the document as genuine.

Like forgery, a PC 476 violation is a wobbler. You are guilty of forgery if you commit check fraud. Before the prosecution decides to charge you with a misdemeanor or felony, they look into the case’s facts and your criminal history.

Possible penalties upon conviction are not over a one-year jail term or a fine not more than $1,000 if charged with a misdemeanor. If the prosecution charges you with a felony, possible penalties include serving not over three years in state prison or paying not over $10,000 in fines.

  1. Making or Selling Counterfeit Goods – PC 350

California PC 350 prohibits manufacturing, possessing for sale, or selling counterfeit trademarks. Violating PC 530 resembles California forgery crime. The prosecutor must prove that you knowingly possessed the mark for sale. The court cannot convict you for only possessing counterfeit products. The prosecution must prove that you had the intent to sell the products.

Counterfeit trademarks include knock-off versions of branded products. The fake brand is identical with or confusingly similar to a trademark registered under:

  1. The United States Patent and Trademark Office
  2. The California Secretary of State

The counterfeit product must also be used, be intended to be used, or appear similar to the goods or service for which the genuine brand is registered. The court sentences defendants depending on the number and value of the fake brands involved.

Sentencing for a First Offense PC 450

If you violate PC 350 as a first offense, the D.A could charge you with a misdemeanor, but under the circumstances, including:

  • The counterfeit items involved must be lesser than 1000
  • The knock-off products should have a market value lower than that required to commit theft - $950

Possible punishments for misdemeanor convictions include:

  • Serving jail term for not more than one year
  • Summary/ misdemeanor probation
  • Paying a fine of not over $10,000 for individuals and $200,000 for businesses

Note that your PC 350 crime becomes a wobbler if the number of counterfeit products exceeds 1,000, or their value is over $950. The prosecutor has the discretion to decide whether to charge you with a felony or misdemeanor.

If charged as a felony, possible penalties include formal probation, a jail term of 16 months, two years, or three years, and a fine of not above $500,000 for individuals and $1,000,000 for business entities. The court could order an asset forfeiture of all knock-off products, machines used to make the fake marks, and vehicles used to transport the goods.

Sentencing for a Second and Subsequent PC 450 Offense

The punishment for selling and manufacturing counterfeit products is harsher if it is your second or subsequent offense. You also face harsher punishment if you sell or manufacture counterfeit products that cause severe bodily harm or death to someone else after the goods’ use. In the case of counterfeit goods causing death, the crime is considered a felony.

  1. Bad Checks - PC 476(a)

California PC 476(a) prohibits using or writing a check knowing that the bank cannot clear it. Like forgery crime, the prosecutor must prove that you with the intent to defraud. If you are accused of a bad check crime, the prosecution could charge the crime together with forgery.

Find a Los Angeles Criminal Attorney Near Me

If you or someone you know faces arrest, charges, or is under investigation for forgery, you want to hire a competent criminal attorney. California laws punish forgery crimes harshly, for instance, many years of jail/ prison terms, hefty fines, and losing various rights.

Your lawyer could look into your case, find loopholes, and cast doubts in the prosecutor’s evidence. At Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer, we have experienced criminal defense attorneys. Thanks to many years of experience, we have successfully helped many clients have their forgery cases dismissed or reduced the lesser charges. Contact us for more information and schedule your no-obligation meeting at 310-502-1314 if facing charges in Los Angeles, CA.