In your lifetime, you can find yourself in a situation where you need to file, register or record documents with the government. Ensure the instruments you are reporting are accurate and not counterfeit documents because filing false documents is a criminal offense under PEN 115. The crime is a felony and invites severe sentences, including thirty-six months in prison and hefty court fines. Therefore, if these claims are filed against you in Riverside, CA, the Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm is ready to help you devise legal defense strategies for a favorable outcome.
Legal Definition of Filing a False Document
According to PEN 115, it is a crime to knowingly procure or offer a false document or instrument to be recorded, filed, or registered in a California government office as a genuine document.
Usually, false instrument filing is a white-collar crime and consists of recording a forged instrument like a title or real estate deed.
In this case, a document or instrument refers to anything that can be filed in a California public office like immigration papers, tax returns, or even bail bonds. Many other situations could result in PEN 115 violation charges. To help you understand these situations, the Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm has highlighted the various elements of this offense below:
You Presented or Caused the Filing of an Instrument or Document
Under this element, you will be guilty of filing a false document when any of the following occurs:
- You present or offer an instrument for filing, recording, or a registration in a government or public office
- You cause or enable the filing, registration, or recording of the false document
Offering, in this case, means you willingly presented the documents to a public or government office in California. Nevertheless, filing a false document only happens when the documents are not discovered as forged during recording or filing. If the person receiving the instruments notices that they are false before registering, you will be guilty of attempted filing of a forged instrument. However, alleging that you presented the documents for recording is not enough to convict you of the crime. The prosecutor must provide evidence to back up their allegations. They will rely on statements from people who saw you walking into the office, like the public officer recording the documents or the front desk employee.
Other witnesses include individuals who were there to record or file documents. Anyone in the queue where you waited to be served can be a witness if they observed you and can identify you qualifies to be a witness.
Similarly, even if you do not file the documents in person, facilitating or procuring someone else to present them is illegal, you will be guilty of a PEN 115 violation. The prosecutor can use the individual you procured to file the docs on your behalf as a witness to enable them to provide critical information to the court and jury of your intentions to file a forged instrument. When such a witness testifies in court against you, chances are high the prosecuting team will obtain a conviction. Nonetheless, this should not scare you if you contact an attorney on time. The attorney will convince the individual not to testify before the prosecuting team approaches them, leaving you with a strong case.
Apart from witnesses, some government offices have surveillance cameras that record anyone entering or leaving the offices. Therefore, when no one is willing to testify against you, this surveillance footage will come in handy after a thorough evaluation. It will help point out when you entered the office and present documents proving a crime occurred.
For purposes of this statute, a public office refers to a government entity or agency that offers general services, including a record-keeping establishment, a department office, or a public employer’s office.
You Were Aware the Instruments Were Forged at the Time of Filing or Recording
Public offices handle all types of documents. Therefore, any instrument you register with these offices must be authentic. Otherwise, you will face charges for filing false documents. The law criminalizes recording false documents with a public office if:
- The instruments are in a way that public offices are allowed to depend on them by the statute
- The instrument’s info affects third-party rights in a fashion legally anticipated by presenting the document for registration in a public office.
Cases of filing or recording false instruments are common in the real estate industry where the states accuse you of forging or deed of trust or title deed. Today, you could face filing false document charges concerning various instruments or transactions.
On top of showing the document presented was false, the prosecuting team must demonstrate that you were aware of this at the time of the crime and wanted to obtain financial or other fraudulent benefits through your actions.
Proving your document's nature at the presentation time is not easy. It is a mental factor with no physical signs, unlike physical activity. Therefore, the prosecuting team relies on circumstantial evidence to prove you knowingly or presented the forged documents on purpose. Each case has unique circumstances, and it is up to your criminal attorney to use various techniques to trace the events that unfolded, resulting in the crime. An excellent example of having criminal intent is when you facilitate or procure someone else to present the documents on your behalf, even when circumstances allow you to do it in person easily. In these cases, the prosecutor will assert that you used another person to do your dirty work because you knew the documents being filed were forged.
Similarly, the prosecution can rely on your behavior or conduct when presenting the documents to prove unlawful intent. The prosecutor would request further investigations conducted on a public officer if you insisted on seeing a specific public officer. The inquiries aim at establishing whether you conspired with the government worker to push the recording or registration of the false documents.
Also, investigations can point to your digital data to prove you were aware the documents you are filing are forged. The prosecutor will refer to the websites you visited, your online conversations, and any computer software you used to duplicate the documents to demonstrate knowledge the documents were false.
You Deliberately Altered Critical Info on the Paperwork to Commit Fraud
Based on your case’s nature, the prosecutor can be forced to demonstrate your direct involvement in manipulating or altering data to facilitate your illegal intent. The referred data depends on the documents you are alleged to have falsified. Prosecutors prove this fact when they want to charge you with an additional charge for a different crime but related to filing a false instrument.
Assume you are an accountant with a firm and manipulate or alter a tax report. You will be held responsible for the offense of filing forged documents. However, before a conviction happens, the prosecutor must demonstrate your role in the crime, whether you did it in person or procured someone else to make the changes on your behalf.
Sometimes, the evidence of alteration can be visible. When you use white-out to introduce false information in a form, the prosecutor will find it easy to prove you changed the original report and therefore guilty of PEN 115 violation.
Legal Penalties for Filing False Documents
The jury will find you guilty when the prosecutor demonstrates all the above elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. PEN 115 violation is a felony, and upon conviction, you will face jail or prison incarceration for three years. Alternatively, the court will impose a monetary court fine of at most $10,000, formal probation in place of a jail or prison sentence. However, not everyone is eligible for probation, primarily if you have a prior conviction for filing a false instrument, multiple PEN 115 violation priors, or your victim lost at least $100,000 from your actions.
PEN 115 Violations Sentence Enhancement
A few sentence enhancements will apply in your PEN 115 violation case, depending on your case's circumstances. When the falsified instruments adversely impact the title of a mortgage in a family apartment with up to four residential units, the court will require you to pay an additional monetary fine of $75,000 on top of the penalties provided under PC 115.
Also, when your actions cause the victim to lose a minimum of $60,000 and the prosecuting team can demonstrate you had illegal intent for the victim to lose the money, you will face sentence enhancement ranging from twelve to forty-eight months.
Furthermore, California laws still maintain the aggravated white-collar crime sentence enhancement that results in an additional sixty months in state prison and no more than $500,000 court-imposed fines or double the fraud amount, which is higher. You will face this kind of enhancement when the following is true:
- You are convicted for at least two felonies involving fraud or embezzlement, with one of these crimes being filing a forged document in the same trial.
- The felonies represent a pattern or are part of related criminal conduct
- The felonies have been committed against two victims or one victim on at least two different occasions
- The felony crime resulted in $100,000 damages to the victim
An increase in your sentence under the white-collar offense sentence enhancement will result in twelve to sixty months of incarceration on top of the initial penalties. Again, the court has the discretion to impose a monetary fine in place of the additional prison incarceration, as indicated earlier.
Filing forged documents involve the intent to defraud, and for this reason, it is a crime of moral turpitude. Offenses like these in California can result in deportation and other consequences like:
- Possible deportation if the PEN 115 violation only happened within five years of admission into the country
- If you have a prior moral turpitude offense conviction, a subsequent breach of PEN 115 will result in deportation
- You will be ruled inadmissible in the U.S. if you have a prior conviction for a moral turpitude offense. With your immigration status inadmissible, you will be denied citizenship or re-entry into the United States.
In addition to the immigration consequences, if you are a professional license holder, a sentence for a crime of moral turpitude will result in collateral punishment. The agency issuing the license can deny you one, ending your career. Lack of employment will have other ripple effects that can change your life forever, so you need to fight PEN 115 violation charges with everything you have. The best way to contest the charges is by hiring a Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm to evaluate the case and prepare valid defense theories.
Legal Defenses for Filing Forged Documents
The punishment for filing forged instruments with a public office is severe and life-changing. Fortunately, an experienced white-collar crimes attorney can help you fight the charges for a favorable outcome. One of the best defenses your attorney can use for the case is asserting that you were not aware the documents you were filing were forged or false. The critical element in these cases is being aware that the documents are forged at filing. The prosecution finds it challenging to prove this element because they rely on circumstantial evidence to show your mental status at the time of the crime, which creates room for doubts in the jury's minds.
Your attorney needs to cast more doubt in the jury's minds about your knowledge regarding the forgery. If you are an employee or a personal assistant to your boss, the attorney can argue that you lacked knowledge of the fraud or your employer’s intent. Instead, you were following instructions. This argument will cast doubts in the jury's minds about your understanding of the boss’s dealings, resulting in a case dismissal, and your employer will be the person to face the charges.
Similarly, the attorney can claim that you have permission to present the documents for filing. The defense applies when you are accused of filing forged documents after tricking a trusting, disabled, or elderly property owner into signing their title deed’s signature or forging their signature. Even though all the evidence will point towards you, you can still avoid a conviction by claiming that the victim signed the deed and procured you to file it on their behalf. Sadly, after signing and giving you the responsibility to file the documents with the government office, they forgot they permitted you to file the paperwork or changed their mind.
Proving you had consented but later withdrawn is not easy. You will need a witness to back your claims. Again, your attorney can invite character witnesses to testify to your behavior and assert that you cannot be guilty of the fraud allegations against you. An experienced attorney will even bring in expert witnesses to analyze the signature on the document to demonstrate it belongs to the homeowner or is genuine, acquitting you of the charges.
Another defense against the charges is asserting that you are not the person who filed the forged documents. The prosecutor must show the jury that you or someone else filed the forged documents. Therefore, if it is a fact that you did not file the documents or cause another person to file them, your attorney will argue that someone else did it without your facilitation, making you not guilty of the crime.
Lastly, your legal team can assert that the victim made up the allegations or falsely accused you of filing forged documents. False allegations are common in PC 115 charges, especially where a property dispute is involved. One party falsely accuses the other of a crime to gain an advantage in dispute resolution. Besides, family disagreements can be the source of false allegations.
If you are falsely accused of a crime, the court is not aware and will consider the evidence provided. Even when you are innocent, you can be sentenced for the crime. Therefore, having an attorney by your side is critical in avoiding a conviction because they will gather evidence to tell your side of the story. The attorney will unearth the actual events and make it impossible for the prosecuting attorney to prove their case beyond reasonable certainty.
Expunging a Criminal Record
Sometimes, the evidence against you can be overwhelming, making it impossible to avoid a sentence. Even in these situations, the Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm will be helpful as our attorneys will help you file for an expungement of your conviction. The sentencing will haunt you later in life without clearing your record because of the collateral consequences.
Your attorney will file a motion to expunge at the court where the conviction happened. A hearing will then be set where the court listens to the arguments of both sides before issuing a verdict. If you meet all the requirements for expunction, your motion to expunge will be granted, and the court will give instructions to all relevant agencies to seal your record. Your criminal record will no longer be visible to the public when this happens. You can confidently tell a prospective employer or landlord that you have never been convicted without breaking the law.
Note that an expunction will be much easier if the prosecutor is not opposed. However, if they are opposed, it is an indication you do not meet some of the law's requirements, which could result in your motion being denied.
Several offenses can be charged alongside or in place of filing forged instruments. Some of these offenses are:
Elder Abuse or Senior Fraud
PEN 368 criminalizes neglect, financial, physical, or emotional abuse against a person aged 65 or older. Therefore, when you file a forged document that results in financial abuse of a senior citizen, you will face either filing forged instruments or senior fraud charges.
The penalties for the offense depend on the property’s value. When the value is over $950, the crime is a wobbler. A felony conviction for elder abuse will result in twenty-four, thirty-six, or forty-eight months in state prison.
PC 470 Forgery
According to PEN 470, it is illegal to engage in any of the following activities:
- Sign someone else’s name
- Fake another individual’s handwriting or seal
- Alter or falsify legal instruments
- Fake, change, or offer for recording or filing a forged financial instrument as a genuine
Forgery differs slightly from a PC 115 violation on the issue of presenting the documents to a public or government office. With a PC 470 violation, you only need to alter a legal instrument or signature but not present them in a public office. However, with a PC 115 violation, you must submit the documents for filing in a government office after forging. Therefore, you will face two separate charges when you alter an instrument or signature and present it for recording in a government office. One will be for committing forgery and the other for filing forged documents.
PEN 118 Perjury
PEN 118 defines perjury as the deliberate sharing of false information under oath. The offense is charged alongside PEN 115 violation when you deliberately provide inaccurate information and then try to file, register, or record it with a government office, knowing that the info is false.
Perjury is filed as a felony, and upon conviction, you will face a state prison incarceration of 48 months.
False Reports of Auto Theft
Vehicle Code 10501 makes it illegal to file or record a false report of a stolen automobile to commit fraud. For a first-time offender, the offense is filed as a misdemeanor. The only difference between filing false reports of car theft and filing forged documents is the two crimes cannot be charged together. The prosecutor will prefer one charge based on solid evidence.
Find an Experienced White Collar Crimes Attorney Near Me
When you are charged or being investigated for filing a forged document in Riverside, you should contact the Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm to start formulating defenses for your case. This kind of white-collar crime is a serious one and requires the skills and expertise of an attorney with experience in these cases. Call us today at 951-946-6366 to review your case and find legal options to exploit for a favorable outcome.