What is Penal Code Section 115 PC (Filing False Documents)
Quick Look at Penal Code Section 115 PC
California prohibits knowingly filing, registering, or recording a false or forged document with a government office within the state. This prohibition is codified in Penal Code 115 PC. The most common cases involving Penal Code 115 PC have to do with the filing of false or forged real estate deeds or deeds of trust. However, Penal Code 115 PC applies to almost any type document filed with a California government office.
Exploring the Legal Definition of Penal Code 115 PC
To convict you of Penal Code section 115 PC, the prosecutor must prove all the elements of the crime. In other words, the prosecutor must prove certain facts before you can be found guilty. The elements of Penal Code section 115 PC are:
- You offered a false or forged document to a California government office to be filed, recorded, or registered OR caused a document to be filed, recorded, or registered in a California government office.
- When #1 was undertaken, you did so knowing the document was false or forged; and
- The document was such that if genuine, could have been filed, recorded, or registered in a California government office.
Let’s examine these elements more closely:
Offering or Causing a Document to be Filed:
You can commit a Penal Code section 115 PC violation by not only offering a false or forged document to be filed, recorded, or registered, but also by causing such a document to be filed, recorded, or registered. Under Penal Code 115 PC, “offering” means that you presented a document to a public office for filing, recording, or registered. Hence, you can be guilty of a Penal Code 115 PC violation even if the document is never actually filed, registered, or recorded.
Additionally you can be guilty of a Penal Code section 115 PC violation even if you did not actually file the document yourself. Causing someone to file, record, or register the document for you is sufficient criminal liability under Penal Code section 115 PC.
False or Forged documents:
California’s Penal Code 115 PC applies to a wide range of documents. It applies to a false or forged document that contains information that either:
- The government is required or permitted by law to rely on, OR
- Affects the rights of third parties, in the context of government laws or regulations, so that it might be filed in a California government office.
Typically, Penal Code section115 cases occur within the area of real estate, where the government accuses defendants of filing false or forged deeds of trust or title deeds. Penal Code section 115 cases can also occur with any type of type of document, and in recent years, prosecutors are prosecuting under Code section 115 PC the forgery and fraud in relation to a wide range of documents and transactions.
Knowing the document was false or forged:
To convict you of a violation of Penal Code section 115 PC, the prosecutor must prove that you knew that the relevant document was false or forged. Because it is difficult to actually demonstrate the exact intent or mindset of people, prosecutors must rely on circumstantial evidence to prove this element. And for that precise reason, a skilled defense attorney can attack the merits of the state’s case.
Penalties for Penal Code 115 Filing a False Document
In California, a Penal Code section 115 violation is considered a felony. If multiple documents were filed or recorded, you could be charged with separate counts of Penal Code 115 violations for each document filed, even if the documents involve similar matters or are closely related. If convicted, you could face the following penalties for each count: up to 3 years in a California state prison, felony probation, and a fine up to $10,000.
You will not be given probation if you had a prior Penal Code 115 conviction or if the prosecutor can show that one instance of your filing of false or forged documents resulted in more than $100,000 in damages to the alleged victim.
A Penal Code 115 conviction will also adversely affect professional licenses. The conviction may cause you to lose your license or make it difficult to renew your license.
Sentencing Enhancements for Penal Code 115
California courts also have the ability to tack on sentencing enhancements to your Penal Code section 115 PC conviction. In certain circumstances, such as the ones enumerated below, you could receive punishments in addition to the sentence you receive for the baseline Penal Code section 115 PC violation:
- If the document affects or encumbers the title or mortgage to a single family resident with up to 4 residential units, then you face an additional fine of up to $75,000.
- If a victim is harmed by a loss of more than $65,000 and it can be proved that you intended to cause such a loss, then you face an additional 4 years in prison.
- California also maintains an aggravated white collar crime enhancement, which could result in up to an additional 5 years in state prison and up to $500,000 in fines (or double the amount of the fraud, whichever is greater).
You could be subject to this enhancement if you did all of the following:
- Received two or more felonies involving fraud related crimes
- The felonies represent a pattern of criminal conduct;
- The felonies were committed against 2 or more victims or against the same victim on more than one occasion; and
- The felonies resulted in more than $100,000 damage to victims.
Immigration Consequences of a Penal Code 115 PC Conviction
If the prosecutor can prove that you committed a Penal Code section 115 PC violation with an intend to defraud your victims, then the conviction will be considered a “crime of moral turpitude.” Moral turpitude crimes subject non-citizens to immigration consequences. These include, but are not limited to, the following:
- If you receive a Penal Code 115 PC conviction with intent to defraud your victim within 5 years of your admission to the United States, then you may face deportation.
- You will become subject to deportation if you previously received a conviction for another crime of moral turpitude.
- A Penal Code 115 PC conviction will deem you “inadmissible.” This means you will not be allowed to reenter the country if you leave, obtain U.S. citizenship, or even apply for a green card.
What are the Legal Defenses for Penal Code 115 PC?
There are a variety of legal defenses available to fight a Penal Code section 115 PC accusation. An experienced and diligent attorney can review the specific circumstances of your situation to develop a strategy that utilizes all possible legal avenues to maximize the best possible outcome for your case. Some of the Penal Code 115 PC defenses include:
You did not know the document was false or forged:
Remember that one of the elements of Penal Code section 115 is that you knew that the document was forged or false. That you knew the document was false or forged might be an assumption on the part of the prosecution and rebutted by evidence to the contrary. The defense is commonly used when employees are accused of knowingly filing a false or forged document under Penal Code section 115 PC. An employee may not have had any knowledge of her employer’s devious schemes, and might have been just following orders. For example, Ed works for a property management company. Ed’s boss tells Ed to file a quickclaim deed. Unbeknownst to Ed, the signature on the quickclaim deed was forged, and the deed was falsely notorized. Ed files the document with the county recorder’s office. A few months later, Ed and his office are charged with a violation of Penal Code section 115 PC. In this scenario, Ed is not guilty of a violation of Penal Code section 115 PC because Ed was only following orders and had no knowledge of the fraudulent nature of the document that he filed.
You are facing a false or made-up accusation:
There are a variety of reasons why people face false criminal accusations. Penal Code section 115 charges are sometimes wrongly brought up during property disputes. In these cases, the best strategy is to build up the evidence supporting your version of the events. By strengthening your side of the case, a thorough criminal defense attorney can make it difficult for prosecutors to be able to prove what they believe to be their case against you beyond a reasonable doubt.
You had consent of the government or the victim to file the document:
Often times, prosecutors pursue a Penal Code section 115 case because they believe the defendant deceived a property owner into signing over a real estate deed or because the defendant forged the document. Prosecutors are suspicious because the property owner might be unsophisticated, disabled, or elderly. However, the reality could be that the person simply forgot they transferred title to you. In other instances, people change their mind or want to opt out of a deal. They therefore claim they are victims of fraud instead of holding their end of a bargain. In either case, you can avoid a Penal Code section 115 violation if you can present evidence that you had consent when a document was created.
For example, Sally and Sam enter into an agreement with Joe to purchase his home for $175,000.00. Sally and Sam pay Joe the majority of this purchase price. Joe, in return, signs a quickclaim deed gifting the home to Sally and appears before a notary to notorize the document. A few months before the purchase price of $175,000.00 was paid, Joe has seller’s remorse. He asks for his house back, and offers to return to Sally and Sam all the money they paid. Sally and Sam refuse to give the house back to Joe. Realizing that he has no other options, Joe cries fraud, claiming that he never signed the quickclaim deed gifting the house to Sally. In this scenario, Sally and Sam are not guilty of a violation of Penal Code section 115 because Joe signed the document, appeared before a notary to notorize it, and gave Sally and Sam permission to file it.
Similar Offenses to Penal Code 115 PC
The following offenses are often charged with, or in lieu of, Penal Code 115 accusations.
Perjury (PC 118):
California’s Penal Code section 118 PC prohibits intentionally giving false information when under oath. Penal Code 118 PC is commonly brought together with Penal Code 115 PC when someone knowingly provides incorrect information on a document and then tries to file, register, or record it with a California government office.
Penal Code 118 is classified as a felony and may result in up to 4 years in prison.
Senior Fraud (Penal Code 368 PC):
Penal Code section 268 PC was instituted to protect elderly people over 65 years of age from being financially targeted in a fraud scheme. Thus, if you are accused of a fraudulent scheme that victimizes someone over 65 years of age, prosecutors you may face a charge of Senior Fraud along with the underlying crime.
Penal Code 368 PC is considered a wobbler. This means that prosecutors have the discretion to charge the crime as either a felony or misdemeanor, depending on the specific circumstances of the offense. If charged with a felony, you could face up to 4 years in prison.
Forgery (Penal Code 470)
Penal Code section 470 prohibits any of the following activities when committed with the intent to defraud: signing someone else’s name, using a counterfeit seal, falsifying or altering a legal document, or presenting a false document as a genuine one. Therefore, if you forge a document and then try to file it in a government office, you most likely will be charged with both Penal Code section 470 and Penal Code section 115.
Just like Penal code section368 PC, Penal Code section 470 is a wobbler. If charged with a felony you could face up to 3 years in prison.
False Reports of Auto Theft (VC 10501)
California prohibits making or filing a false report of a stolen vehicle with the intent to defraud. This crime is codified in Vehicular Code 10501. The crime is classified as a misdemeanor for first time offenders.
Vehicular Code 10501 differs from the laws discussed above in that it cannot be charged in conjunction with Penal Code 115. If you filed a false report of car theft, California can only charge you with Vehicular Code section 10501.