Various actions describe forgery. Fraudulently altering legal documents or falsifying a signature are all cases of forgery. Individuals will forge another person’s handwriting, sign in someone else's name, falsify legal records, or counterfeit documents, including money orders, checks, and bonds. The state's decision to aggressively prosecute forgery cases is the goal of forgery. As you will see, convictions result in significant penalties. You can challenge the charges with the assistance of an experienced team. Call the Los Angeles Criminal Attorney for more information.
Legal Definition of Forgery Under State Law
As mentioned earlier, various activities fit the legal definition of forgery. You could face charges for violating several laws, depending on what you did. Forgery laws include Penal Code 470 through Penal Code 472. Penal Code 470 defines forgery, which offers the elements prosecutors must establish as accurate for a jury to convict a defendant.
PC 470 defines forgery as an act by an offender, with the intent to defraud, to knowingly sign the name of another individual or fictitious person on a document without having the authority to do so. You can therefore face forgery charges for any or all of the following activities based on this definition.
- Signing another person’s name without the individual’s approval
- Falsifying or changing a legal document, for example, a court record or will
- Forging or counterfeiting someone else’s handwriting or a seal on a document, and
- Forging, falsifying, or altering certain documents — These documents include bonds, checks, contracts, money orders, contracts, property deeds, lottery tickets, traveler’s checks, and stock certificates
The law places the burden of proof on the prosecution. They must prove the following beyond a reasonable doubt:
- You committed any of the acts detailed above, and
- You acted with the intention to defraud the victim.
Let us look at each element in detail to understand forgery better.
Activities Deemed as Forgery
Several acts from Penal Code 470 through Penal Code 472 would result in forgery charges. All are summarized into three categories:
Forgery by Signing Another Individual’s Name to a Document
Signing someone else’s name onto a document without his/her permission violates PC 470(a). Prosecutors must show that:
- You signed another person’s name
- The signature appears on a specific document
- You had no permission to do so, and
- You knew you had no permission to do so.
The documents considered include those that allow property and money to exchange hands.
Forgery by Faking a Handwriting or a Seal
You will face PC 470(b) violation charges for faking another person’s handwriting or seal. Prosecutors could also allege you created or altered a document that allowed you to defraud the victim of property or money.
Forgery by Changing or Faking Specific Documents
Prosecutors will pursue a conviction under PC 470(c) for altering or faking legal documents, including wills, court judgments, conveyances, and deeds.
If charged with a PC 470(d) violation, prosecutors will have to prove you signed a document that transfers title or any other legal document and attempted to pass or offer the documents as genuine, knowing that the documents are altered, false, a forgery, or a counterfeit.
An Intent to Defraud
The state proves an intent to defraud by showing that you deceived or lied to the victim and you aimed at depriving the victim of his/her property, money, or some legal right. You act with the intent to defraud even if no one is actually defrauded or suffers legal, financial, or property loss.
Prosecutors rely on direct and circumstantial evidence to prove intent. Direct evidence relates to the facts of the case, for example, a check signed in the victim’s name and his/her forged signature on the document. In the absence of direct evidence, the state relies on circumstantial evidence. They will highlight your actions, statements, and relationship with the alleged victim. The jury uses the evidence to infer your intent.
Examples of Forgery
Some typical acts of forgery include the following:
- Signature forgery — Falsely reproducing another person’s signature.
- Prescription forgery — Forging a doctor’s prescription or signature, modifying a prescription with the intent to obtain medicine.
- Art forgery — Writing an artist’s name on art to appear original or genuine.
Forgery Under Federal Law
Forgery’s definition under federal law is similar to that provided under U.S. federal law 18 U.S.C. § 471 defines forgery as altering, making, or possessing false material or documents with the intent to commit fraud.
In most cases, forgery is handled at the state level. Federal prosecutors are only involved if the forgery case involves organized sophistication or significantly large sums. Forgery becomes a federal case depending on the victims, the document, and the agency involved.
For example, the use of forged checks in a local grocery store falls under the state’s jurisdiction. However, forging a federal contract or similar paperwork will result in federal charges.
Penalties for Forgery Under Federal Law
You could face up to 20 years in federal prison if convicted of forgery. The sentence depends on the aggravating or mitigating circumstances in your case. The judge, guided by Title 18 U.S.C.3553(a), will determine the penalties you will face. The factors provided for under Title 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) include the following:
- The severity of the offense
- The need for restitution
- Your criminal past and character
The following are the likely penalties if found guilty of forging.
- Up to 10 years in federal prison for forging federal contracts, powers of attorneys, deeds, or contacts to obtain funds from the United States government or its agencies according to Title 18 U.S.C. § 495
- Up to 10 years in federal prison and fines for forging an endorsement or signature on a Treasury security, check, or bond according to Title 18 U.S.C. § 510
- Enhanced penalties if you forged government-issued identification or other legal documentation to subsume someone else’s identity for financial gain or to commit a federal crime, for example, a violent crime or drug trafficking offense. The judge will rely on Title 18 U.S.C. § 1028
Legal Defenses You Can Raise
Working with an experienced attorney to identify the best defense for your case is in your best interest. Your attorney will assess your case and determine the defense most likely to result in the best legal outcome. Here are some of the common defenses he/she can use.
You are a Victim of False Accusation
Forgery is most prevalent in business dealings and involves significant sums of money. A bad business deal could translate to a substantial loss. It is thus possible to falsely accuse you of forgery after suffering a loss.
Two scenarios could lead to someone falsely accusing you of forgery.
The first occurs when someone alleges you forged a document to conceal his/her involvement in the crime. This scenario mostly plays out in office environments, where one worker forges a document and accuses another to shift the focus onto the accused. The actual offender could go as far as planting evidence in support of his/her allegations.
As for the second scenario, your accuser could mistakenly or deliberately accuse you of forgery out of a need for revenge for a past wrong, anger, or jealousy. Consider the following example.
Jim and Jackie co-own a business. Jackie engaged in a business deal in which she profited but did not tell Jim. Years later, Jim discovers the agreement, is angry, and never gets past the betrayal. Later, during the annual auditing of the business, auditors uncover a forgery incident. Before the auditors conclude their investigations, Jim quickly accuses Jackie of forgery.
Without concrete evidence that Jackie committed forgery, Jackie is not guilty. Past bad actions do not make you guilty of the current crime.
Defense attorneys conduct independent investigations to ascertain the truth. Police detectives likely overlooked some crucial leads or evidence that could absolve the defendant of the crime.
You Had No Intent to Defraud
Prosecutors must show an intent to defraud the victim for the jury to return a guilty verdict. Intent, however, takes work to prove. The state must demonstrate that your actions cannot be mistaken to mean anything other than an intention to defraud the victim. However, the alleged victim or another individual could mistake a prank for an intent to defraud.Thus, the actions in this scenario lack the intent needed for a conviction.
Police officers can be aggressive in their interrogation tactics. They could employ deceitful tactics, deny suspects food and water, and threaten to take illegal actions to secure a confession. These tactics are illegal.
If your attorney establishes the use of intimidatory or deceitful tactics in your case, the judge will exclude the coercion from the evidence. Without further evidence, the judge will likely dismiss your case.
Penalties for Forgery Under State Law
Forgey is a wobbler offense. You can face misdemeanor or felony penalties if convicted. The District Attorney's choice of whether to pursue misdemeanor or felony charges depends on the circumstances of your case.
Prosecutors factor the following in their decision.
- The severity of the offense
- Your criminal record — Specifically, if you were convicted of similar charges. Prosecutors aim to establish a pattern of fraud or convictions for violent offenses. You will likely face felony charges if they prove any of the two as accurate.
- The type of forgery offense
- Your level of cooperation with law enforcement officers
- Your age
- The amount of money involved in the case
- The potential of you engaging in criminal conduct in future
- The strength of the prosecution’s case against you
- Whether you possessed, showed, or allowed a forged driver’s license or ID card to be displayed to defraud another individual.
You will face misdemeanor charges if:
- You did not commit an identity theft
- The forgery involved a money order, check, or similar instrument worth $950 or less
- You have no prior convictions for eligible offenses — These crimes include sexual offenses, vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, a solicitation to commit murder, possession of a weapon of mass destruction, assault with a machine gun on a peace officer, and a serious or violent felony punishable by death or life in prison.
A conviction on misdemeanor charges results in the following penalties:
- A jail sentence of up to one year,
- A fine not exceeding $1,000, or both.
- Summary probation instead of jail time.
A conviction on felony charges results in the following penalties:
- A jail sentence of 16 months, two or three years,
- A fine not exceeding $10,000, or both.
- Formal probation instead of jail time.
Additional Consequences of a Forgery Conviction
When convicted of felony forgery, you lose your right to bear arms. According to Penal Code 29800, it is a crime for a felon to purchase, receive control of, or possess a gun. If found in violation of this statute, you will face additional charges, whose conviction will result in up to three years in prison.
However, the law allows you to request the courts restore your rights. Talk with your attorney for assistance.
As for non-citizens, a conviction on forgery charges could negatively affect their status since forgery is a crime involving moral turpitude. The law allows for the deportation of non-citizens involved in crimes involving moral turpitude.
Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations provides the timeline within which the district attorney can charge you with forgery. The timeline depends on whether the state pursues misdemeanor or felony charges.
Prosecutors can only charge you with a misdemeanor within one year of committing forgery. As for felony charges, prosecutors can only charge you with forgery within four years after you allegedly committed the crime.
Expungement of a Forgery Conviction
Penal Code 1203.4 allows convicts to have their convictions expunged from the records. Thus, any individual running a background check on a convict will not see the past conviction.This statute allows you to withdraw a no-content or not guilty plea and re-enter a not guilty plea to having the case dismissed.
Expungement releases you from the negative consequences of a conviction. Therefore, you can secure employment, credit, or a house, opportunities individuals with a criminal history find hard to secure.
However, expungement is only available to you if you prove the following:
- You completed your probation
- You did not serve time in prison for your offense.
The courts will deny your expungement request for your criminal records if you are:
- Facing criminal charges
- On probation, or
- Serving time for forgery.
Engage your defense attorney for more advice on expunging your forgery conviction.
Offenses Related to Forgery
Prosecutors can opt for or include additional changes for offenses related to forgery. These crimes include the following:
- Producing or selling counterfeit products, a crime under Penal Code 350
- Check fraud, a crime under Penal Code 476
- Credit card fraud, an offense under Penal Code 484f
- Fraudulent use of a credit card, a crime under Penal Code 484g
- Altering or forging a prescription, an offense under Business and Professions Code 4324
Producing or Selling Counterfeit Products
You will face prosecution for knowingly selling, manufacturing, or possessing counterfeit trademarks for sale. Penal Code 350 targets individuals who pass counterfeit marks as legitimate products from registered brands. Counterfeit marks are fake brands or trademarks that are confusingly similar to or identical to a product registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office or the California State Secretary.
Penalties for Producing or Selling Counterfeit Products
Penalties vary depending on the quantity and value of the counterfeit products.
If the quantity of counterfeit products is less than 1,000 and the value is less than $950, the offense is a misdemeanor. A conviction results in a jail sentence of up to one year, a fine not exceeding $10,000, or both. If charges are levied against the business, the entity will face a maximum fine of $200,000.
The crime is considered a wobbler if the total value of the goods involved in the case exceeds $950. Convictions on misdemeanor charges result in the penalties mentioned above. Felony convictions, on the other hand, result in a prison sentence of 16 months, two or three years, a maximum fine of $500,000, or both. Entities guilty of a felony violation will pay a maximum of $1,000,000 in penalties.
According to Penal Code 476, check fraud occurs when you pass, make, alter, or publish a fraudulent or fake check aiming to obtain a product or service of value.
If the jury finds the following to be accurate, it will find you guilty:
- You made, used, possessed, or attempted to use or pass a false, altered, or fictitious bill or check for payment of property or money — A fake or fictitious check includes checks drawn from non-existent banks and checks endorsed by a non-existent individual.
- You knew the document was altered or fake — Altering refers to adding, changing, or erasing an aspect of the check, and
- You intended to defraud another when you acted.
If you are charged with possessing a false check, prosecutors must additionally prove that you possessed the check and intended to use or pass the document as genuine.
Penalties for Check Fraud
An individual who commits check fraud is guilty of forgery. The offense is a wobbler.
You will serve the following penalties if convicted on misdemeanor charges:
- A jail sentence not exceeding one year
- A fine of up to $1,000 or both
You will serve the following penalties if convicted of felony charges:
- A jail sentence of 16 months, two or three years
- A fine of up to $10,000 or both
Credit Card Fraud
It is a crime under Penal Code 484f to knowingly and unlawfully forge debit or credit card information. You forge credit card information when you:
- Alter a debit or credit card
- Counterfeit or create a fake debit or credit card, and
- Sign another person’s name during a transaction involving a debit or credit card without the individual’s consent with an intention to defraud.
Penalties for Credit Card Fraud
PC 484f violations are wobbler offenses. Misdemeanor violations result in a jail sentence of up to one year upon conviction. Felony violations, on the other hand, attract a prison sentence of up to three years.
Fraudulent Use of a Credit Card
You will face prosecution under Penal Code 484g when you use another person’s debit or credit card to obtain services, goods, or money when you know that the card is forged, fake, invalid, expired, or that it belongs to another.
The value of the services, goods, or money determines the extent of the violation and, subsequently, the penalties upon conviction.
If the total value is less than $950, you will face petty theft charges, a misdemeanor, whose penalties are:
- A jail of up to six months,
- A fine of up to $1,000, or both.
If the total value is less than $950, you will face grand theft charges, a wobbler, whose penalties are:
- A jail of up to three years,
- A fine of up to $1,000, or both, for a misdemeanor violation, or
- A jail of up to six months,
- A fine of up to $10,000, or both, for a felony violation, or
Additionally, you could face further penalties if you have a prior record or other aggravating circumstances.
Altering or Forging a Prescription
You will face charges under Business and Professions Code 4324 for the following acts:
- Altering or forging a prescription
- Signing another person’s name on a prescription — The person can be actual or fictitious. Additionally, the name can be a doctor’s or a patient’s name, or
- Possession of drugs obtained using a forged prescription.
The offense is a wobbler. A conviction on misdemeanor charges will result in up to one year in jail, a maximum fine of $1,000, or both. A conviction on felony charges results in 16 months, two or three years in jail, a maximum fine of $10,000, or both.
Contact a Los Angeles Criminal Attorney Near Me
Reach out to the Los Angeles Criminal Attorney for assistance if you are under investigation or are already facing forgery charges. We will review your case and discuss your legal options. For more information, please contact our team at 424-333-0943.