The criminal offense of filing false documents is governed by PC 115, making it illegal to bring forged or false documents to a government office knowingly. PC 115 defendants face increased scrutiny from the police, prosecutors, and judges, and a misstep can land you in prison for years and destroy your hard-earned reputation, finances, and career. With so much at stake, you need skilled legal representation.
At Los Angeles Criminal Attorney, we recognize that every case is unique, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Our criminal defense lawyers can thoroughly examine your case and work with you to obtain the best possible outcome.
An Overview of California PC 115
PC 115 defines filing counterfeit or false documents as knowingly filing fake or forged documents with a public office.
Generally, filing false documents is white-collar criminal conduct that involves bringing fake or false real estate deeds, making it a common charge in mortgage fraud cases. It can also involve other lawful documents filed in public offices, like:
- Bail bonds and bail
- Lien for money
- Tax returns
- Fishing records
- Income statements
- Bank account details and records
- Immigration documents like passports and visas
- Document at the courtroom
- Birth certificates and identification cards
- Personal checks
A perfect example of this crime is forging an asset transfer deed that claims that you bought a home from a relative. You file the counterfeit document with the county recorder’s office. Then you obtain credit using the house as collateral. In this scenario, you can face PC 115 criminal charges for filing a false document.
Before filing the charges and convicting you, the prosecutor must prove all of the following:
- You knowingly procured or provided false document
- You filed, recorded, or registered the false instrument in a public office
- The instrument, if genuine, was right to file, record, or register
- You were aware that the instrument was a false or forged document
The prosecutor should prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you knowingly misinterpreted or altered factual details like monetary amounts, a description of events, ownership, or prices intending to defraud another person. If the prosecutor cannot prove the intent, they cannot convict you.
Penalties for Violating PC 115
Violation of this statute is a felony carrying the following maximum penalties:
- Fines of ten thousand dollars
- Three (3) years of serving time in prison
- Felony probation
If the judge awards formal probation as an alternative to being sent to prison, you should comply with the following conditions:
- Agreeing not to break any law
- Paying court costs
- Paying restitution
- Meeting with the probation officer regularly
- Performing community service
When imposing these terms and conditions, the judge must ensure they are reasonably linked to PC 115.
However, the defendant is ineligible for probation if:
- They have a prior filing false conviction, or
- The judge convicted them of more than one California PC 115 count that caused a loss exceeding $100,000
The defendant will face an aggravated white-collar crime enhancement if all these statements are correct:
- The defendant was found guilty of at least two (2) felonies involving fraud or California embezzlement (either can be PC 115) in a single criminal proceeding
- These felonies formed a criminal activity pattern
- The defendant committed the crimes either against more than two different people or against one individual on two different occasions
- The criminal behavior deprived the victim of an amount that exceeds $100,000
This sentencing enhancement is punishable by either of the following:
- Additional and consecutive one (1) to five (5) years in prison, or
- An additional fine of five hundred thousand dollars or twice the involved amount (whichever is )
A Conviction Carries Immigration Penalties
Filing false documents is a crime involving moral turpitude. You could be marked as inadmissible in the United States or deported as an immigrant.
PC 115 becomes a CIMT if you intend to defraud. That means your defrauding intent can result in negative immigration consequences.
A Penal Code Section 115 conviction will adversely impact firearm rights and privileges.
California law bans convicted felons from:
- Purchasing a gun,
- Possessing a gun, and
- Owning a gun.
PC 115 Expungement
A PC 115 defendant cannot obtain an expungement. It is because the crime is a felony punished in California state prison.
An expungement (PC 1203.4) allows the defendant to withdraw a no-contest or guilty plea, reenter a no-guilty plea, and dismiss their case. When the court grants expungement, it releases the defendant from many consequences of the conviction.
Fighting Your California PC 115 Criminal Charges
Your skilled criminal defense lawyer will closely review the case facts to determine the most effective legal strategy and obtain the best possible case results. Typical legal defenses include:
You Did Not Know the Document Was Fake or Forged
One element of the crime is that you knew the document you provided for filing was counterfeit or false.
Therefore, it is a defense to urge that you were not aware.
You Did Not File the Forged Documents with a Government Entity
PC 115 only applies if you present false documents to a public authority. Therefore, you can challenge the charge by arguing that you did not submit the documents to a government entity but to an individual or private firm/ employer.
While this defense can be effective, you could face another crime.
It is not uncommon for people to be falsely accused of this crime. Common reasons for false accusations include vengeance, property disputes, child custody battles, and anger.
You Had the Victim’s Consent to File the Documents
The prosecutor can file criminal charges when they believe you deceived the asset owner over their real estate deed or filed fake documents. The prosecutor is apprehensive because the alleged victim could be disabled, unsophisticated, or elderly. However, the truth could be the person forgot that they transferred their title to you.
Moreover, the individual can also change their mind and profess to be the alleged victim.
In both cases, presenting evidence that the victim gave permission when you drafted the document could assist you in avoiding conviction.
Your Filing was Accidental
There are instances where many drafts of an official document are made before the final bringing to a public office. It could be you accidentally hand-picked the wrong document and filed the copy instead of the right one. In this case, you may have an effective legal defense.
Some of the crimes charged together with or instead of PC 115 include:
PC 470 defines forgery as falsifying a signature or altering specific documents intending to defraud.
Forgery is a wobbler. A wobbler is a crime that the prosecutor can charge either as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the defendant’s criminal history and case facts. A misdemeanor is punishable by a year in county jail, while a felony conviction carries a three-year sentence.
Perjury Under PC 118
You violate the crime of perjury when you deliberately give false testimony under oath. An oath is an affirmation or any method authorized by law to affirm the truth of a statement.
Perjury is a felony that attracts:
- Up to four (4) years in California state prison
- Ten thousand dollars in fine
- Felony probation
PC 368 defines elder abuse as emotional abuse, physical abuse, neglect, or financial exploitation of a person at least 65 years.
If you bring forged or false documents and your actions lead to the financial exploitation of a senior citizen, the judge can convict you of either filing false documents or elder abuse.
Prosecutors charge elder abuse as a wobbler. A misdemeanor carries a one-year jail sentence, while a felony is punishable by a four-year sentence.
What to Do If You are Under Investigation for Filing False Documents
While filing false documents in California is often considered victimless, that is not true. Filing false or counterfeit documents can significantly affect businesses, consumers, and the government. That is why prosecutors often treat and punish the crime as seriously as violent criminal behavior.
If you believe you are under investigation for a white-collar crime, do not hesitate to contact a skilled and tenacious Los Angeles criminal defense attorney. The lawyer will work with you to avoid criminal charges and fight for your freedom and rights in court.
How to Know You are Under Police Investigation
To determine whether you should contact a lawyer, consider the following signs that a law enforcement agency is investigating you:
- The law officers knock at your door or call you
- The police officers contact your friends, relatives, spouses, or colleagues.
- You receive a connection or friend request on social networking platforms from strangers.
- You see police cars or unmarked vehicles near your business, office, or home, or you realize a person is following you.
Pre-Charge Investigations Process
Many individuals think that law enforcement officials arrest people while violating the law. Nevertheless, defendants get away before the law officials arrive. After the crime commission and law enforcers are notified, the officers will conduct investigations and identify the suspect before presenting their case to the district attorney (DA).
If this crime crosses state lines, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) will handle the investigation.
Police Interviews and Interrogations
The agency will assign a detective regardless of whether the police come to the crime scene. The law enforcer must identify the suspect, review the proof, and hunt leads. Generally, the officers interview several persons regarding the crime. If the agent wants to speak with you, it does not necessarily mean you are a defendant. Nevertheless, if the detective knocks at your door or contacts you, do not answer their questions or speak to them before engaging your attorney.
There are several reasons the agents may visit your work or home. They probably want to collect details about the suspect or the crime scene. You should never forget the need for legal representation regardless of the reason behind police questioning.
If you are a suspect, the police officers will ask you to go to the police station and take you to a controlled space where they can question and intimidate you. The interrogation aims to obtain a confession. Police officers are often skilled and trained in questioning suspects. They can play nice and ask you to tell your version of the story so they can clear all misunderstandings.
The detectives can also use other tactics like lying to you and claiming that they want to assist you and your loved ones.
If the officers think they have adequate proof that you violate the law, they will request the judge to issue your arrest warrant.
Steps to Take During the Investigation Process
The steps you take during the process can make the difference between being convicted and protecting your rights and freedom. Here are the steps to do.
Retain a Defense Lawyer
Working with a lawyer helps you know what is happening. You can figure out what the government officials are doing and what will happen to you.
If law enforcement officials reached out to you, they have your name. Your attorney can contact the official working on your case and learn what is happening with the government’s investigation. The police should know that you have legal representation and speak with your attorney instead of you. Allow your attorney to talk on your behalf. Whatever you say about the legal matter can get to the prosecution and be used against you in court.
If you learned about the investigation through a colleague or loved one that the police served a subpoena, you should discuss with your attorney about contacting the prosecution. Your decision depends on your case circumstances.
It would help if you worked with your attorney to gather relevant evidence about your case, including emails and documents. Give the legal expert as much information as possible. Attorney-client privilege ensures that your discussions with the legal counsel are confidential. It allows speaking with the attorney freely about your case without any self-incrimination fears.
The law enforcers can issue a subpoena to obtain records and documents that they believe are pertinent to your case. You should not ignore the subpoena; it can lead to criminal penalties. Nonetheless, you can review and challenge it. Your attorney should advise on what objection to raise and prevent you from giving police documents that can adversely impact your case.
Typically, pre-filing investigations are time-consuming and can take weeks, months, or even years. During this time, your lawyer should keep you updated about your case. Thanks to their constant contact with the police and prosecution.
Your attorney can also provide an objective perspective to assist you in the case investigation. They will do this by analyzing your case, highlighting the possible options, and helping you make informed decisions to ensure you obtain favorable case results.
During case investigation, police officers gather evidence that they will later submit to the D.A. Then, the prosecutor analyzes the evidence and determines whether it is adequate to pursue the criminal case. While the prosecutor may believe they have sufficient proof against you, they might have overlooked many flaws. Your lawyer can review this evidence and identify gaps that weaken the prosecutor’s case. Depending on the case facts, your lawyer can convince the prosecutor to reduce or drop the case before filing the official criminal charges.
Do Not Answer the Law Enforcer’s Questions
If law enforcers call, you should politely refuse to answer all questions.
If the officer request you to go to the police station, politely tell them that you will consult your lawyer first. Take note of the officer’s name, email, and phone number. Your defense legal expert should guide you on what to do.
If the officer comes to your workplace or home, do not allow them in unless they have a valid search warrant. A judge should sign the warrant. Politely tell them that you cannot answer questions about the case without your lawyer present.
What You Should Know about a Preliminary Hearing If Charged with PC 115
A preliminary hearing is held before a magistrate or judge to determine whether there is adequate evidence to hold you to answer for a trial regarding your criminal charges. The prosecution presents evidence and witnesses, subject to cross-examination by your defense attorney.
Typically, the judge schedules the hearing at the arraignment after the defendant enters a “not guilty” plea. Unless the court finds good cause to continue the criminal proceedings or you waive your right to the hearing, the hearing should happen within ten days of your plea or arraignment.
The objective of the hearing is for the judge to consider if:
- There is probable cause that a person committed an offense
- There is adequate probable cause you committed the crime
Although most criminal defense lawyers consider preliminary hearings as another routine, that is not true. It offers numerous benefits to defendants if properly utilized to obtain favorable case outcomes.
First, this court hearing offers you procedural rights that allow you to eliminate severe charges without merit. One right under PC 866a is presenting testimony and evidence to a possible level to prove the defense, negate a fact of the alleged crime, or impeach the testimony of a declarant testified to by a prosecution witness.” While it is not mandatory, your lawyer should give notice of their intent to contact witnesses and give an offer of proof to all witnesses to prove their testimonies’ nature.
Presenting your evidence can also prevent the cost and uncertainty of a jury trial. If a grand jury indicts you instead of having a preliminary hearing, your initial time to fight your charges would be at trial.
Generally, the preliminary hearing is your only opportunity to present your evidence and challenge the evidence against you before trial. Even when the judge at your hearing denies your request to present proof, you can challenge that in a motion to dismiss per PC 995.
PC 115 Frequently Asked Questions
Being charged with PC 115 can be a confusing experience, making it easy to make mistakes. That is why you require skilled legal representation. Below, you can find answers to some of the FAQs that can assist you in understanding California criminal charges.
What is Plea Bargain? Should You Accept the Prosecutor’s Offer?
A plea bargain is an agreement between the defendant and prosecutor that prevents the need to proceed to trial. The accused person pleads guilty to less severe charges and receives less severe penalties.
Whether you should accept the plea depends on your case circumstances. While accepting plea bargains is wise in most cases, you should not take the prosecutor’s initial offer without consulting your lawyer.
Do the Police Have to Read Me My Miranda Rights?
The law requires the police to read your Miranda rights if they arrest and interrogate you. Your best defense here is to remain silent.
The police can give Miranda warnings midway through an interrogation, but statements provided before the warning will be inadmissible and cannot be used against you.
Why Should I Hire a Private Defense Lawyer When a Public Defender Can Work for Me?
Most public defenders are highly trained and skilled lawyers. However, they have a huge caseload and are tasked with defending many defendants. The legal team at Los Angeles Criminal Attorney is experienced and can dedicate quality time to ensure comprehensive and effective representation and the most favorable case outcome.
Find a Seasoned White Collar Crime Defense Litigator Near Me
PC 115 is committed when you file false documents with a government agency. Just like all white-collar offenses, it is surprising how most people find themselves in legal trouble by making a simple mistake or failing to know the applicable law. The misconception that the crime is non-violent and should not be taken seriously has led many people to face severe criminal penalties and collateral consequences.
Our team comprises attorneys with the right knowledge, experience, and skills to defend you effectively. We can help you understand your defense options and work aggressively to advocate for you and your rights. Please call us at 424-333-0943 to discuss and analyze your case facts.