Forgery involves altering, making, use, or possession of false documents in an attempt to commit fraud. You will be charged with forgery if you sign another person's name on a check or falsify a report, which creates your financial gain. The society relies significantly on the ability to exchange and produce legitimate documents. Forging documents is a practice that could have significant adverse effects on businesses and individuals. A conviction for forgery in California attracts severe legal penalties in the form of a prison sentence and hefty monetary fines. Therefore, it is crucial to enlist competent legal guidance if you are facing these charges. At California Criminal Lawyer Group, we work hard to ensure the best possible outcome in your criminal case.

Overview of Forgery Charges in California

Under California law, forgery is the act of altering, making, possession or presenting a document that is falsified. Our society has a significant reliance on the use and presentation of materials. When falsified documents are given, the act could have detrimental effects on individuals and businesses. This is because most forgery offenses are committed in an attempt to have financial gain. There are several ways through which an individual can commit forgery, including:

  • Signing another person's name on their document without their consent

  • Altering or falsifying a legal document. Materials that are more prone to falsification could be checks, court orders, or will

  • Forging a seal on a particular document or another person's handwriting and presenting them as original

  • Falsifying documents for financial gain from the altered content

Materials that are a frequent target in forgery include:

  • Money order

  • Checks

  • Travelers' checks

  • Lottery tickets

  • Property deeds

  • Persons will

  • Stock certificates

  • Legal contracts

Before you are convicted for fraud in California, the prosecutor is required to prove these elects of crime:

You Made, Used, Altered or were in Possession of the Forged Document

Most people assume that forgery is all about making a false document. However, altering the details of an original document is considered fraud. Also, if you are in possession of the forged documents and try to present a fake report which you did not forge, you will be arrested and charged under Penal Code 470. During the hearing, the prosecutor is required to show that you altered, possessed, or made a false document. Also, it should be clear that the alteration affects the legal representation of the material in question.

A False Writing

Not all writing that shows alteration will qualify for the definition of forgery. For you to be punished for fraud, the copy you made or your modifications must have a significant legal effect. Records are considered false if it is fabricated or altered to represent something other than the intended purpose. If the prosecutor does not prove that your acts affected the document, you cannot get convicted for forgery.

An Intention to Commit Fraud

An intent to defraud is one of the most crucial elements of forgery in California that a prosecutor is required to show before a forgery conviction an intent to commit fraud can be proven by showing that you tried to deceive another person by giving or altering information. Also, it should be clear that you lied in an attempt to deprive the individual of some financial benefit, property, or legal rights. 

If you lacked an intent to defraud another person, it might be difficult for the prosecutor to convict you for this offense. However, it is crucial to understand that even when no one was defrauded, and there wasn't financial or property loss, you can still get convicted for forgery. If you are facing forgery charges, it is crucial to have a knowledgeable criminal attorney at your side. Your attorney can help you gather information, which makes it difficult for the prosecutor to prove the elements of the crime successfully.

The Knowledge That You Did Not Have Permission

Forgery occurs when you act in the place of another person without permission. Sometimes you may not know the scope of your duties and whether or not you have the authorization to take specific measures. During your trial, the prosecutor is required to show that you were aware that you did not have consent to sign or alter the documents that resulted in fraud.

If one of the above elements is not proven, doubt will be created in your criminal case. Therefore, competent legal guidance will be very crucial.

Penalties for California Penal Code 470

In California, Penal Code 470 is a wobbler. The prosecutor can charge the offense as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances of the crime. Also, the nature of your criminal records will play a vital role in sentencing. Other factors that would influence the court's decision in a forgery case are the number of individuals who were victimized and the extent of the acts in terms of losses.

When forgery is charged as a misdemeanor, a conviction will attract the following penalties:

  • A two or three years prison sentence

  • Fines that do not exceed $10,000

  • Victim restitution. If you robbed an individual of their finances or property as a result of forgery, you would be required to compensate the victim for the losses they suffered.

  • You face up to five years of felony probation. When you are sentenced to probation after a felony conviction, you will need to follow all the terms of probation. The rules of formal probation in California include regular check-ins with a probation officer and keeping off any criminal activities. Failure to obey the terms of probation will attract criminal charges for probation violation.

On the other hand, you will be subjected to these punishments for a Penal Code 470 misdemeanor conviction:

  • A jail sentence of up to one year

  • A maximum of $1,000 in fines

  • Informal probation for a maximum of three years is imposed. If you get subjected to informal punishment, you are not required to follow the terms which apply for felony probation.

  • Community service

Some circumstances can prompt enhancement of penalties during a Forgery conviction, including:

  • Forging a financial document to commit fraud against a victim of a disaster is an aggravating factor to forgery criminal charges.

  • Presence of multiple victims who suffer from your actions

  • Causing a loss that exceeds $100,000 will attract up to two years of an additional prison sentence

  • If the loss that results from your forgery causes the damage of $500,000 or more, you may have to spend up to five years more in prison

  • Committing forgery to aid street gang activities will cause your prison sentence to get enhanced with four years

Besides the legal penalties forgery charges carry, a conviction will cause severe effects on your life. If convicted of a felony, you are likely to lose your rights to use and own a firearm. Also, your felony criminal record could make it challenging to receive a security clearance and, in return, affect your ability to obtain employment. However, by getting competent legal representation, you have a chance to avoid a conviction and all the consequences that come with it.

Common Defenses to Challenge Forgery Charges in California

Most forgery criminal charges arise from business or legal settings. Getting arrested and charged with forgery can be devastating. This is because it may result in severe consequences for your life and career. The ability to rely on a valid defense is very crucial if the case has to result in your best interests. With guidance from a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney, you can present the following arguments to help reduce or dismiss your charges:

  • Lack of intention to commit fraud - Proving the intention to commit fraud is one of the critical factors in a forgery case. This is a burden that can be difficult for the prosecutor to show. If your intent to defraud is not clearly explained, you may use this argument as a defense in your case. A lack of intent to defraud is a defense that could help you, especially when you possessed a forged document that you did not take part in altering.

  • The documents in question lack legal significance - For your action to be considered forgery in California, the forged document needs to produce a significant financial or legal gain. If the false report is not able to bring you some benefit, you can argue that the offense did not take place. For example, if you happen to have forged a celebrity autograph intending to brag to your mates without receiving any financial gain, you cannot be convicted for forgery.

  • Consent - You commit an offense under California Penal Code 470 if you sign or alter a document on behalf of another person without their permission. Having consent means that the owner of the report gave you a right to make alterations or sign the material for them. However, for this defense to be successful, you will need to produce a document indicating that you had the authority to act in the manner which you did. If the consent was not done in writing, it might be difficult to argue your case. Therefore, it is crucial to have a top-notch legal representative.

  • Lack of knowledge - You may alter or sign a document without understanding the changes you made amounted to fraud. In this case, you can argue you committed forgery by mistake, or you did not know that your actions resulted in fraud.

  • Lack of legal capacity - An individual who is arrested and charged with forgery must have the ability to commit the crime. A person who suffers from a psychological or mental condition may be incapable of acting on behalf of another. However, vital to understand that this defense may need to be backed up by medical records.

  • Coercion - If you are coerced or threatened to commit an offense by writing or signing a document, you can use it as a defense. Proof of pressure will also help show that you did not intend to defraud.

  • Business relationship - When you are in a business or partnership with another person, you are likely to have a right to sign contracts and binding documents about the company. Sometimes when a business or the relationships are not going well, you can be accused of forgery. By producing a contract or document that shows your right to alter or sign a document, you may have a chance to fight forgery charges.

  • Mistaken identity - Some circumstances could cause you to be mistakenly identified as the person who committed a forgery offense. With guidance from your criminal defense attorney, you can use these facts to prove that you didn't know about the forgery acts, and you did not play a part in the action. This defense is more likely to be useful if you are charged with forgery for possession of a fake document.

  • False accusations - In some cases, forgery charges arise as a result of legal and business dealings that go sour. Out of spite, revenge, or an attempt to cover self-guilt, a person may falsely accuse of committing forgery. Therefore arguing false accusations is a viable defense for your forgery charges.

  • Coerced confessions - This is a defense best if you are arrested and charged with forgery after a confession. California law forbids the police from using coercive measures to get a witness confession. If you can show that the evidence against you obtained through forced confessions or brutality, the evidence could get dismissed.

Offenses Related to California Penal Code 470

Forgery involves alteration writing or signing false documents. There is a wide range of materials that could be forged, thus leading to other offenses. The following are offenses that are related to falsification and can get charged with or instead of California Penal Code 470:

  1. Credit Card Fraud

In California, credit card fraud is defined as the use of another person's credit card in a fraudulent manner. This offense is charged under California Penal Code 484g and arises from use if altered, stolen, forged, or revoked debit and credit cards. However, credit card fraud charges will be reliable if it is clear you had an intention to commit fraud when you used the card. Also, the lack of consent from the cardholder is a crucial element required before a conviction is made.

The credit card is one of the standard documents subject to forgery. Therefore, you can be charged with credit card fraud as well as forgery. If you used the credit card to commit fraud amount to less than $950, you would be sentenced for petty theft. Under Penal Code 484, petty theft is a misdemeanor which carries the following penalties:

  • Up to six months of a jail sentence

  • Fines not exceeding $1,000

If the amount you defrauded with the forged credit card exceeds $950, the offense is considered grand theft, which can be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor. A felony conviction will result in the following punishment:

  • A prison sentence for up to three years

  • $10,000 of monetary fines.

Should you find yourself facing credit card fraud charges alongside forgery, you should consider contacting a criminal defense attorney.

  1. Committing Forgery to Aid a Street Gang

California Penal Code 186.22 makes it an offense for an individual to participate in a crime to aid a street grand. For this offense, a criminal street gang is considered as an organization with more than three people who have an identifying symbol and are engaged in a series of illegal activities. Before you get convicted for aiding a gang, the prosecutor must show that:

  • You were actively participating in street gang activities

  • You willfully participated in the crimes perpetrated by the gang

If you forged documents in an attempt to benefit the street gang, you would receive an enhanced penalty. Committing an offense to aid a street gang can be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor. The nature of your charges will depend on the criminal activity undertaken and the losses incurred. The penalties you suffer when you get convicted for aiding a criminal gang as a misdemeanor is a one-year jail sentence and $1,000 in fines.

When the offense you committed to aiding a street gang is severe, you may face a felony conviction. In this case, you face a prison sentence of up to three years and pay fines amounting to $10,000.

  1. Check Fraud

Under California Penal Code 476, you committed check fraud by writing, making, or attempting to pass a fake check. A prosecutor must prove these facts to show that you committed the offense:

  • You made, used or passed a phony check to pay for a service or property

  • The prosecutor must also show that at the time you used it, you were aware of its false nature

  • You had an intention to defraud when you performed the acts

If you get arrested for possession or use of a fake check, you will be found guilty for forgery. Therefore, it is common that you face both charges. A conviction for check fraud attracts a one-year jail sentence when charged as a misdemeanor. When charged as a felony, the offense is punishable by a three years prison sentence.

Also, a conviction for check fraud will have negative consequences on your immigration status. Especially when the offense is charged as a felony, a non-citizen could end up getting deported or rendered inadmissible. Getting competent legal representation is of great importance when battling check fraud charges.

  1. Selling Counterfeit Goods

It is an offense to manufacture, sell, or possess counterfeit goods. California Penal Code 350 seeks to punish individuals who make or sell fake versions of a branded product. When charging you with this crime, it must be clear that you were aware of the counterfeit goods, and you wanted to present them as the original.

The selling of counterfeit goods has a considerable resemblance to the crime of forgery and can be charged alongside Penal Code 470. However, the penalties you are subjected to for violating Penal Code 350 will depend on the value of fake goods you possess. The presence of a prior conviction for the same offense will cause an increase in the punishment imposed after a conviction. When you get charged with making and selling counterfeit goods, an intention to commit fraud is not required.

  1. Offering and Preparing False Evidence

Preparation and presentation of false testimony is an offense that arises when one presents false written evidence in a legal proceeding. Since Penal Code 132 deals with written, it is likely that the declaration, presented documents are a result of forgery. A conviction for this offense is often based on the following elements:

  • You prepared, forged or altered a written document

  • You falsified the materials intending to present it in a legal setup

  • You had the intention to deceive others

Presenting false evidence in a legal proceeding is a felony which is punishable by up to three years in prison with substantial monetary fines. If you or your loved one is facing charges that are related to forgery, there are defenses that you can prepare and present to help you avoid a conviction.

Fight Forgery Charges with Guidance from a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

Forgery is an offense that attracts severe legal consequences after a conviction in California. Sometimes a genuine mistake you make, or misunderstanding can lead you to be arrested and charged under Penal Code 470 of California. Fortunately, there are defenses you can present in court in an attempt to fight the criminal charges. If you are facing forgery charges, we invite you to contact the California Criminal Lawyer Group. Our attorneys are experienced in criminal law, and they will help you understand the rules governing forgery to build a robust legal defense. We serve clients throughout San Jose, CA, to ensure your best interest in the case. Contact us today at 408-622-0204 to discuss more details of your case.