In just about any transaction, people depend heavily on the ability of businesses and individuals to exchange trustworthy, accurate, and legitimate information, documents, or contracts. Committing forgery is hence a serious crime that can lead to harsh penalties. While this offense is often prosecuted at the state level, crimes like identity theft, forging federal documents, and counterfeiting money are federal offenses charged as felonies. If you face forgery charges, we invite you to contact Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm. Let us help you clear your name or fight the allegations against you to ensure the best possible outcome.
Forgery investigations are complex, far-reaching, and time-intensive. It is common for cases to make endless twists and turns as the authorities try to get to the bottom of an offense. This is more so when a case involves concealment or deceit used by a defendant to obtain services, money, or property they do not deserve. Enlisting a competent attorney the instant you know you are under investigation can increase the odds of enjoying a desirable outcome.
Forgery (Penal Code Section 470) Defined
Penal Code Section 470 describes forgery as the unauthorized and unlawful altering of a document with the intent to deceive another person, government entity, or organization. The crime can also be described as using deceit or lies with the plan to obtain a legal right, property, service, or money that you do not deserve.
Forgery is a white-collar crime that is considered a type of fraud. The intent to defraud or deceive another person is a crime even if an offense is unsuccessful and no one is tricked. A defendant also has a case to answer even if the violation does not result in monetary, property, or service losses.
For instance, John picks up a blank check from his friend’s backpack. He lists himself as the payee and even forges the account owner’s name and signature. Unfortunately, the bank teller raises questions about the signature and refuses to cash the check.
John is still guilty of forgery even though his attempt to obtain money he did not deserve was unsuccessful. The prosecution will simply need to establish that he forged the account owner’s signature with the intent to deceive.
A few common acts of forgery include:
- Signature forgery — Faking or duplicating the handwriting or seal of another person. It could also involve signing the name of a fictitious person on an official document
- Federal fraud — Falsifying or altering official documents like a government-issued ID or immigration documents
- Counterfeiting — When forgery involves creating fake money or legal tender
- Accounting fraud — The intentional manipulation of financial documents like checks or financial statements
Forgery laws that prohibit the altering or falsifying of documents are pretty broad. It is also an offense to alter any of the following documents:
- Stock certificates
- Last will
- Car or vessel ownership documents
- Power of attorney
- Lease documents
- Mortgage satisfactions
- Promissory notes
- Driver’s license, etc.
Penal Code Section 470 Elements
A forgery conviction attracts harsh repercussions that include fines and jail time. Like in all other criminal cases, the prosecution bears the burden of proof and must establish the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- The defendant committed any of the acts categorized as forgery
- The accused had the intent to defraud a person, institution, or government entity
There are various types of documents covered under Penal Code 470. Irrespective of the document involved, the prosecution can prove that you committed forgery if you:
- Signed another person’s name without their consent or proper authority
- Made critical changes to a document
- Tried to pass off a modified or false document as the genuine copy
Forgery Statute Of Limitations
California has a statute of limitations that governs forgery cases. The law gives victims of felony forgery up to 4 years following a crime or discovering an offense to take legal action. Victims have up to one year following an incident to press charges for misdemeanor forgery.
Penalties for Violating Penal Code Section 470
Violating Penal Code 470 is a wobbler offense. The prosecution can impose felony or misdemeanor charges based on the facts of a case and the defendant’s criminal past. Generally, forgeries of property, money, or services that lead to losses under $ 950 attract misdemeanor charges as long as the accused has a clean criminal past.
Also, the prosecution will consider the level of harm suffered by the victim(s) of forgery. Even if a defendant is a first-time offender, prosecutors can impose felony charges if a case involves severe criminal conduct. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can table mitigating factors to ensure minimal risk of the prosecution pressing felony charges.
When violating Penal Code 470 is charged as a felony, the penalty includes:
- Jail time for 16 months, 2 or 3 years
- A maximum fine of $10,000
When the accused is convicted of felony counterfeiting, they can serve time in jail for up to 5 years.
When convicted of misdemeanor forgery, the punishment is as follows:
- Incarceration for up to 1 year
- A fine not exceeding $1,000
If a felony conviction leads to probation, the defendant will undergo a 5-year probationary period. On the other hand, a misdemeanor conviction attracts a probationary period of up to 3 years. It remains imperative to understand that the court can order the defendant to pay restitution to the victim(s) irrespective of the sentence served.
Sentence Enhancements under Penal Code 186.11 (White-Collar Crime Enhancement Laws)
There are sentence enhancements a judge can impose because of the aggravating conduct of the accused. These enhancements can significantly increase a defendant’s jail term.
- When the loss incurred by victims is between $100,000 and $500,000, the defendant can serve an additional 1 or 2 years in prison.
- Forgery causing a loss of $500,000 or more can lead to an extra 2, 3, or 5 years in jail.
- Forging financial documents to defraud natural disaster victims leads to a 1-year additional jail sentence.
- Forgery allied with criminal street gang activities attracts an extra 2, 3, or 4-year imprisonment.
A felony forgery conviction can also result in the loss of certain rights or privileges. They include damaging immigration consequences for non-US citizens, loss of gun rights, and disqualification from obtaining specific professional licenses. Moreover, a felony conviction can pose challenges when finding a job or proper housing even after prison.
Best Defenses for Fighting Forgery Charges
Fighting forgery charges is complicated. It is essential to have an attorney that can sieve out valid defenses that can increase the likelihood of the jury delivering a not guilty verdict. The appropriate defenses can even have your case dismissed or the charges reduced.
Here are some of the best defenses to fight forgery charges:
No Intent to Defraud
One of the primary elements the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt is that you intended to defraud a person, organization, or government entity of money, property, or services. Therefore, you do not have a case to answer if you had no intentions to defraud.
For instance, it could be that you had reason to assume you had the authority to sign or stamp a specific document. A competent lawyer can help prove that your intentions were pure, leading to your acquittal or a case dismissal.
Forged Documents Lack Legal Significance
Under Penal Code 470, the law defines forgery as the tampering of documents with the intent to “defraud.” This means that a document lacking legal significance cannot help you secure money, incentives, property, or services you do not deserve. Generally, you have no case to answer if the prosecution cannot prove that you sought to gain or benefit.
For instance, you bought a book from the store and signed it using the forged author’s signature. You had no intent to sell the book but wanted to brag to your friends that your copy has the author’s handwritten autograph. Because you had no intention of obtaining financial benefits, the signed book lacks the legal significance to have you convicted of forgery.
Another valid defense is consent. For instance, it could be that you used the company seal to validate a specific document. Depending on your position within an organization, your lawyer can have your case dropped by arguing that your post gave you the discretion or authority to stamp the document in question.
You Had the Authority to Sign or Modify a Document
Moreover, your relationship with the victim can help establish that you have the authority to sign certain documents or contracts. For example, if the victim is your business partner or was your significant other at the time of an alleged crime, your lawyer can argue that you had the authority to sign or modify the said documents.
Also, you cannot be convicted of forgery if you have a power of attorney. The document authorizes you to act in the place of another person. This means you were within your rights to modify or sign a particular document.
It is possible to argue that forgery allegations are based on misunderstandings in some situations. For instance, it could be that you were preparing your financial statements to have your mortgage approved. You accidentally mixed the documents with those of your friend and submitted a few copies that did not belong to you. The mistake should ideally not be enough to have you convicted.
Lack of Legal Capacity
Also, there are persons exempt from facing forgery charges. Children or persons with mental disorders, for instance, are considered not to have the legal capacity to have the intent to defraud. Note that if you claim to be insane, this defense can prompt a psychiatric evaluation.
The coercion defense raises questions about a defendant’s intent. If you committed forgery because you were threatened with physical harm or harm to your loved ones, this implies a lack of intent to defraud.
Legal Motions Your Attorney Can File To Improve Your Acquittal Chances
Unfortunately, the above defenses alone cannot be enough to have you acquitted or your case dropped. Your attorney must be ready to put in hard work to increase the chances of a suitable outcome.
It is necessary to involve private investigators or even handwriting analysts to help unveil the truth in some situations. For instance, if a manager signs a document and blames the secretary after a deal goes stale, a handwriting analyst can help establish who signed the document.
On the other hand, a private investigator can help find persons that can testify in your favor, perhaps claiming you had the authority to sign or alter a specific document. The surest way to protect your rights, future, and best interests is to have a skilled criminal defense attorney in your corner.
Let us have a look at the motions your attorney can file to improve your acquittal chances:
Motion to Dismiss
A skilled attorney can file a motion to dismiss a case. The document seeks to have your charges dropped because the court lacks jurisdiction over your case. It could also be that the prosecution has failed to consider the statute of limitations or insufficient evidence, among other legal grounds.
Motion to Suppress Evidence
A motion to suppress evidence could come in handy if evidence were obtained through an illegal search or seizure. Even when facing forgery charges, any documents obtained during warrantless police searches cannot be tabled in court. If the judge grants the motion, a defendant is likely to have the charges dropped because the prosecution lacks a strong case.
Motion in Limine
A motion in limine seeks to prohibit documentary evidence or witness testimonies that can be legally offensive. A competent attorney will seek to block such evidence before it is tabled in court. Note that objecting after the evidence once presented can do irreversible damage leading to the jury being misled.
Motion to Suppress Statements Made to Law Enforcement
Law enforcement must follow strict rules and regulations during the arrest and interrogation phase. If the police illegally or improperly questioned you and you made incriminating or contradictory statements, the authorities must again not present these statements in court. Like contradictory witness testimonies and documentary evidence, comments from the police can be damaging to your case.
If the law enforcement officers failed to follow the rules and regulations established by the constitution and the U.S. Supreme Court, your attorney can file a motion to ensure that they cannot present evidence in the form of the statements you made during interrogations. Likewise, any statements made during private conversations with your attorney cannot be tabled in court.
Motion Directed At Improper Charges
The prosecution can be particularly aggressive when charging persons accused of forgery. A competent lawyer can tell when a defendant is overcharged even with accusations not supported by evidence. Filing a motion directed to improper charges can help reduce potential penalties and make obtaining a favorable plea bargain easier.
Offenses Related To Forgery
There are three crimes closely related to forgery. Depending on the facts of a case, the prosecution can charge forgery alongside or instead of the following offenses:
Penal Code 484f — Forging Credit Card Information
Penal Code 484f makes it unlawful to forge credit card information. You are guilty of the crime if you design, alter, create or emboss a credit card with the intent to defraud. The statute also describes the offense as the altering of instruments of money payment such as sales drafts or sales slips with the intent to defraud.
Forging credit card information is a wobbler offense that can attract misdemeanor or felony charges.
When charged as a felony, the crime is punishable by:
- Incarceration in state prison for up to 3 years
A misdemeanor conviction can result in the following penalty:
- imprisonment in county jail for up to 1 year
Penal Code 476 — Check Fraud
Penal Code 476 makes it unlawful to produce, write or pass a fraudulent or fake check. You are guilty of check fraud if you make, give, alter or publish a check with the intent to defraud another person or organization. The law encompasses other instruments of payment, including bills and notes.
Before conviction, the prosecution must prove that the following elements are actual beyond a reasonable doubt:
- The accused possessed, made, used, passed, or attempted to use a false, fictitious or altered check or bill to defraud another person of money or property
- The defendant willfully or deliberately used the document that they knew was fake, false, or altered
- The accused had the intent to defraud the victim
Like most fraud cases, check fraud is a wobbler offense. The prosecution can impose misdemeanor or felony charges based on a defendant’s criminal past, the number of aggrieved victims, and the losses involved.
A felony check fraud conviction is punishable by:
- A jail term of up to 3 years
Here is the penalty for a misdemeanor check fraud conviction:
- Imprisonment in county jail for up to 1 year
Penal Code 350 — Making or Selling Counterfeit Goods
Under Penal Code 350, it is illegal to possess, manufacture or sell goods with counterfeit trademarks. Prosecutors often impose misdemeanor charges, although a defendant risks facing felony charges if the involved goods are more than 1,000 units or their value exceeds $950.
When violating Penal Code 350 attracts felony charges, a conviction could result in the following penalty:
- Incarceration in state prison for a maximum of 3 years
A misdemeanor conviction for making or selling counterfeit goods is punishable by:
- Imprisonment in county jail for a term not exceeding 1-year
Penal Code 115 — Filing a False Document
Penal Code 115 criminalizes the act of willfully and knowingly filing, registering, or recording a forged or falsified document in any California public office.
For the prosecution to get a conviction, they must establish the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- The defendant provided documents for recording, filing, or registration with a California public office
- The accused filed the papers even with the knowledge that they were false or forged
- The document in question, if authentic, could have been legally filed
As vague as the term “document” may sound, it refers to any written paper, including pay stubs, property deeds, deeds of trust, timesheets, etc.
Violating Penal Code 115 is a felony. If convicted, the penalty includes:
- A jail sentence of up to 3 years
- A fine not exceeding $10,000
Health Safety Code 11368 — Forging or Altering a Prescription
Health Safety Code 11368 illegalizes altering or forging a prescription for narcotic drugs. It is also unlawful to use a prescription with a forged signature to possess or attempt to obtain narcotic drugs.
Narcotic drugs include controlled substances like morphine, cocaine, heroin, codeine, and Demerol, just to mention a few. On the other hand, a prescription can be given by authorized medical personnel verbally, in writing, or using an electronic transcription.
The prosecution bears the burden of proof and must establish that the following elements are actual beyond a reasonable doubt:
- You altered, forged or used a forged prescription
- The prescription was for controlled narcotics
- You knew that the prescription was false, forged, or altered
Violating Health and Safety Code 11368 is a wobbler offense attracting misdemeanor or felony charges.
The penalty for a felony conviction is as follows:
- Incarceration for 16 months, 2 or 3 years in state prison
A misdemeanor conviction for forging or altering a prescription is punishable by:
- A county jail sentence for a period not exceeding 1-year
Find a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
A forgery-related offense can lead to harsh penalties. It is essential to reach out to the Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm as soon as possible. Our decades of combined experience allow us to defend our client's constitutional rights and personal freedoms. We have in-depth legal knowledge and expertise in fighting for persons accused of white-collar crimes and can help create a solid defense strategy that has the best chance of yielding a favorable outcome. Call us now at 951-946-6366 for a free and confidential consultation.