From time to time, you may be required to file documents with a government office in California. The state expects the documents you file are truthful and not falsified or forged. If you are arrested for filing false documents with any state agency, you will face prosecution under California Penal Code 115 PC. Violating PC 115 is a felony crime and attracts severe consequences. Common cases under this statute include filing of forged or false title deeds of trusts or real estates.
Any document filed with a government office must be truthful, failure to which you face criminal prosecution. When these allegations are leveled against you, the California Criminal Lawyer Group can help fight the allegations for the best outcome.
Defining PC 115 According to the Law
The best way of defining the crime of filing forged or false documents, as documented under PC 115, is by understanding the various elements of the offense. The prosecutor is expected to prove these crime elements before the court can convict you. If there is a doubt in the prosecutor’s evidence, the charges against you can be dropped or dismissed. These elements are:
You presented a forged or false document in a government office for registration or recording, or you facilitated the filing of a forged or false document for the same purpose in a government office
As you were doing this, you were aware the papers were forged or false
And if the documents were authentic, they may have been filed, registered or recorded in a public office
To fully understand these elements, you should know the meaning of various phrases as used in the statute.
Presented or Facilitated for the Filing of the Document
You can face charges and a conviction for filing forged or false documents when you:
Present a document in a public office to be registered, recorded or filed
Cause or facilitate for the documents to be registered, filed or recorded
Offering or Presenting a document for these purposes in a public office means you purposely brought the document to the offices. If the document is identified as a forgery and not filed, you are still guilty of the offense and could face charges. However, you can get charged with a lesser crime of trying to present a false or forged document.
For instance, you went to the office of your local county clerk to register a property deed. The document is notarized and signed, transferring property ownership from your father to yourself. Unfortunately, the clerk is your dad’s friend and knows that the two have had a strained relationship for years.
Because of these suspicions, the clerk engages the notary because their seal is used in the property deed. The notary clarifies that he never signed nor notarized the title deed and that the signature and seal are forged. After receiving this information, the clerk declines to register the deed but calls the police instead.
In such a case, you could face charges for violating Penal Code 115 and get convicted to jail, prison, or pay hefty fines. Similarly, when you cause forged or false documents to be registered, filed, or recorded, you can be charged with violating PC 115. This means you may have asked another person to file it on your behalf.
For instance, you run a fraud scheme where you target immigrants faced with a possible foreclosure of their homes. These immigrants are not native English speakers and have a challenge understanding or communicating in English. You take advantage of this and promise them that you can negotiate with the bank on their behalf to avoid the foreclosure. The immigrants trust you, and you present them with documents authorizing you to negotiate on their behalf. Unknown to the immigrants, the documents are authorizing the transfer of their home’s ownership to you.
As you carry out your scheme, you involve your secretary, who acts as a notary. You and your secretary go to the immigrant’s house to notarize the deed for the victim signs. Afterward, your secretary, together with the victim, goes to the government office to file the documents.
At the government office, it is discovered the transfer is fraudulent because the documents are false. Even if you never accompanied the victim and your secretary to the government office, you are guilty of violating PC 115. You will be convicted because you facilitated or caused the filing of the forged or false documents.
Forged or False Document
Government offices deal with various documents. This means that any document you file in a government office must be genuine and authentic, or it will attract charges of violating PC 115. The law prohibits the filing of forged or false documents if one of the below is the case:
The documents’ details are such that public offices rely on them according to the law
The documents details affect the rights of third parties in a manner that is legally contemplated by providing the documents for filing.
For instance, you fight and break up with your girlfriend over infidelity allegations. You accuse each other of violence, and you ask the court to issue a restraining order against your ex-girlfriend. When you receive the order, you are told you will be responsible for taking it to the marshal that will serve it to her.
Before submitting the order, you alter it to read that your girlfriend’s new boyfriend should also keep away from you and your ex-girlfriend. The officer suspects the alterations you made, and instead, they alert the police. After your arrest, you could be charged with filing a false document.
Another incidence where you may find yourself charged with violating PC 115 is if you forge the hours of your probation. For instance, you had a prior conviction where you were sentenced to community service for several hours. You are referred to the community center and collude with one of the supervisors to fill that you have completed the hours when you have not. You then present the completed form to the probation officer who discovers your deception. This can make you face charges for filing a forged or false document to a government official or office.
Knew the Documents Were Forged or False
As earlier discussed, a critical element of this offense is the knowledge that the documents were forged or false. If the prosecutor is unable to prove this element, it is unlikely you will be convicted. For instance, looking at the earlier example of foreclosure fraud, your secretary may not be very conversant with English. She believes the documents you send her to file are authentic.
If she is charged with violating PC 115, her lawyer can challenge the charges arguing she was not aware the documents were forged or falsified. On the other hand, you could face prosecution for these charges.
Penalties for Filing Forged or False Documents
In California, when you file a forged or false document, the prosecution could charge you with a felony offense. If convicted, possible penalties include:
Formal probation for one to five years
State imprisonment for sixteen, twenty-four, or thirty-six months
A fine not exceeding $10,000 instead of or in addition to the prison sentence
Note that for each falsified or forged document you file, you could face a separate charge. This happens even in cases where the filed documents are related closely. Additionally, you will not qualify for probation as a form of punishment if:
You hold a previous record for PC 115 violation
You get sentenced for more multiple counts for PC 115 violation, and because of your actions, the victim loses $100,000 or more
Sentence Enhancement in Penal Code 115 Violations
When convicted of this offense, a few aspects of the offense can enhance the penalties you receive. If the forged or false documents affect the title to a mortgage on one family dwelling with not more than four residential units, you will face additional fine not exceeding $75,000.
If, by your actions, a victim loses $65,000 or more and the prosecution proves you planned to cause the loss, you can face additional imprisonment of one to four years. The additional sentence is served consecutively with the original sentence.
If all the below are true, you will likely face the aggravated white-collar crime enhancement sentence in California. These are:
During the same criminal trial, you get convicted of at least two felonies on embezzlement or fraud, with one offense being a violation of PC 115
The felonies you are charged with are part of consistent and related criminal activities
You committed the crimes against two different victims or one victim but two or more felonies on different occasions
Your offense or actions made the victim lose over $100,000
When your sentence is increased under the white-collar crime enhancement, you may face an additional state imprisonment sentence between one and five years. Similarly, you can be fined instead of getting additional imprisonment.
The fine amount can be as high as $500,000, and in some cases, you could get fined double the crime’s value. In most instances, the court will look at the greater of the two and sentence you to that.
Consequences to your Immigration Status
Any crime that involves moral turpitude has adverse consequences on your immigration status. If the prosecution proves your intention to defraud, your crime is said to entail moral turpitude. As a result, you may get deported, and more specifically:
If in five years after getting admitted into the country you violate PC 115 and get convicted, deportation as a consequence is highly likely
If you have a prior conviction in your record that involves moral turpitude and you are now convicted of violating PC 115, you may get deported
If you have been previously convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude irrespective of when it occurred, you become inadmissible. This means, once you leave the United States, you cannot get back in, qualify to become a citizen or be eligible for a green card
Additionally, a crime involving moral turpitude has severe repercussions on your career if you require a professional license to practice. For instance, if you practice as a doctor or a lawyer, the professional body issuing your practicing license can deny you a license, meaning the end of your career.
Legal Defenses for Violating PC 115 in California
When you are accused of knowingly filing forged or false documents with a government office, you face felony charges and severely punished. You want to fight the allegations against you for an acquittal or a more favorable outcome.
You want to engage an experienced criminal attorney who understands Californian criminal law and how to navigate the legal system in your favor. Your attorney will study your case and develop defense strategies to help you overcome the allegations. Possible legal defenses your lawyer could use include:
You Presented the Documents with Permission
Many cases under PC 115 involve accusations of a defendant tricking a trusting homeowner into signing his or her property deed or forging their title deed’s signature. In many of these instances, the homeowner is usually disabled or elderly.
Even though a situation is suspicious, it’s not automatic you committed an offense. The homeowner could have signed the deed to their property and permitted you to file or register the title deed. Unfortunately, the property owner forgets about giving consent or changes their mind later after discussing it with a relative or friend.
With the help of your lawyer, you can prove the owner gave consent but changed their mind later and never informed you. If there were a witness to the incident, he or she could testify on your behalf. Character witnesses could also testify to your character and say you would not defraud the alleged victim. Equally, your lawyer can call an expert who could prove the property owner’s signature on the deed is genuine.
You Never Knew the Documents were Forged or False
One of the crime’s critical elements is knowledge that the document you were filing was forged or false. This can be challenging for the prosecutor to determine. If there is doubt that you were aware that the document was forged, you could be acquitted.
However, there are many times where a defendant is innocent and does not know the details of a document. For instance, if you worked as a personal assistant in a real estate company, your boss may be fraudulently acquiring property by getting property owners to sign the documents or forging their signatures. He or she sends you to file the documents to a government official, and you believe they are authentic.
On arriving at the government office, the officers are suspicious of your boss’s dealings, and they call the deed’s owner to confirm their consent. If the owner denies giving consent or signing the deed, you get arrested for filing forged or false documents. In your defense, you never knew that your boss gave you forged or false documents to file.
Your lawyer can argue your case that you were not aware of your boss’s dealings, and as such, you are not guilty of the offense. If your argument convinces the court, the charges against you are dismissed, but your boss is prosecuted.
The Allegations Against You are False
False accusations are common in criminal cases. You may be a victim of false allegations that require the aggressive defense to get an acquittal. False allegations are not uncommon where multiple parties owning one property or business have disputes. Family disagreements can also see one disgruntled member falsely accusing you of filing falsified documents.
Even if you know the allegations against you are false, the court does not know that, and you may end up convicted wrongly of the crime. To avoid a wrongful conviction, engaging an experienced attorney to defend you against the allegations is vital. Your attorney knows the loopholes in false allegations and investigating tactics to unearth the truth. When the court is convinced that the allegations were false, the charges against you get dismissed or dropped.
Expungement of Your Criminal Conviction
If you get convicted of this offense, the public can access your criminal record. A convicted felon faces many challenges in life, with one of them being a lack of trust. When everyone can see your past conviction, they will avoid engaging you even if you have excellent ideas.
Fortunately, the state of California allows defendants that have served their sentence to petition for the expungement of their records. When your record is erased, the public cannot access it, except law enforcement agencies. No one will victimize or discriminate against you because of your criminal past after your criminal record is expunged.
Your attorney will petition for your record expungement once you complete your sentence to the satisfaction of the prosecution and court. The court will hold a hearing for this, and your lawyer should give a convincing argument. If the prosecutor is not opposed to your request, and the judge is convinced it is the right thing to do, then the expungement is granted.
A related offense is that which can get charged together with or instead of PC 115, filing forged or false documents. Some common offenses related to this crime include:
PC 368 – Senior Fraud
If the person you are accused of defrauding or attempting to defraud is 65 years or over, it is considered financial abuse against an elderly according to PC 368. In this case, you will face prosecution for filing forged or false documents and financial abuse charges against the elderly.
If the offense involved an amount or property value of over $950, the financial abuse offense is a wobbler, meaning you face either a misdemeanor or felony charge. If convicted of senior fraud as a felony, the penalty is two or three or four years of state imprisonment.
PC 470 – Forgery
You are accused of violating PC 470 or California forgery laws if you do the below things:
You signed another person’s name
You faked another person’s handwriting or seal
You altered or falsified legal documents
You faked, altered, or presented a falsified financial statement as authentic
If you did any of the above actions on a document that requires recording and presented it to a public office for filing or recording, you would face two criminal charges. The prosecutor can charge you with violating PC 470 forgery and filing a forged or false document under PC 115.
Find an Experienced Criminal Attorney Near Me
Any criminal allegations are overwhelming and could result in severe punishment under the law, especially when not aggressively challenged. When charged with violating California PC 115, you need an experienced criminal defense lawyer and who can develop sufficient defense strategies. At San Diego Criminal Attorney Law Firm, we are passionate about defending our clients using the best strategies. Call us at 408-622-0204 to discuss your case further and prepare your defense.