While signing someone else’s signature without permission is the best-known method of forgery, it is far from the only type under California law. This crime may also be accomplished by falsifying or changing documents or forging a seal. Because forgery crimes are typically performed to defraud someone of money or property, most people charged with these offenses will also face fraud charges. If you have been accused of forgery, please call an attorney as soon as possible to discuss your case.
What is the Crime of Forgery?
California forgery laws prohibit falsifying someone’s signature, creating a false document, or altering a document. Only some types of documents are covered by the law. Different forgery offenses under the law include:
- Forging someone’s signature to commit fraud, charged under 470(a) (PC).
- Replicating someone’s handwriting to commit fraud, filed under 470(b) (PC).
- Falsifying the seal of another person or institution, charged under 470(b) (PC). For example, making your own copy of the official seal used by the local college bursar’s office and using it to create falsified documents. Note that forging a government seal to create a document that appears to be state-sanctioned is a distinct offense covered by Penal Code 472 (PC).
- Changing or falsifying a legal document or a document related to money, property, or finances, filed under 470(c) or (d) (PC), depending on the type of document in question. For example, making a fraudulent check or changing the name on a housing deed. Note that knowingly filing a falsified document with a public office, such as a court or passport office, is a separate offense under 115 (PC).
What are the Elements of Forgery?
For the prosecution to prove that someone committed forgery, they must be able to show the defendant falsely signed, created, or altered a document to commit fraud. In other words, just signing someone else’s name isn’t automatically forgery, even if you do it on a legal document. Similarly, it is not a crime to show that you can copy someone’s handwriting or to do so to play a harmless prank on a friend. Instead, the forgery must be performed for the purpose of fraud. If you didn’t intend to commit fraud, you didn’t commit forgery.
Additionally, under 470(c), the document must be a legal document such as a will or court record, and under 470(d) (PC), the document must be some type of financial or real estate paperwork, such as checks, bonds, lottery tickets, property deeds, contracts, etc.
Is Forgery a Felony?
Under 470 (PC), forgery is a wobbler, meaning it can be filed as a misdemeanor or felony. As a fraud-related crime, the severity of the charges are based on the value of goods or services that someone was attempting to defraud the victim of, as well as the defendant’s criminal record and the specifics of how the offense was performed.
When the crime involves the forgery of a check, money order, or other document that would cause the victim to lose less than $950 in money or property, the offense is considered a misdemeanor. If the value of the property was over $950, the decision of whether forgery will be charged as a misdemeanor or felony will largely be left up to the prosecutor. A skilled forgery defense lawyer can often convince the D.A. to file these charges as misdemeanors.
Forgery of a seal is always a felony.
What is the Penalty for Forgery in California?
Forgery is punishable by up to one year in county jail when charged as a misdemeanor. As a felony, this crime is punishable by up to 3 years in state prison.
Defenses to Forgery Charges
One of the best ways to fight these charges is by showing the prosecution does not have enough evidence. After all, they must prove you participated in a forgery and intended to commit fraud. Proving intent is often challenging.
Unfortunately, many people accidentally provide the prosecution with proof of their intent by saying something during police interrogations that can be used as evidence later. Always work with a forgery defense lawyer as soon as you believe you may be under investigation for this crime.
Related Criminal Charges
Because the intent to commit fraud is a cornerstone of this charge, it is almost always charged alongside other offenses. For example, if someone forges someone’s signature on a check or credit card slip, they can also face check fraud or credit card fraud charges. Similarly, anyone who presents forged documents to a public office will face charges under 115 (PC).
If you have been accused of forgery or believe you may be under investigation, please call (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free consultation with forgery attorney Peter M. Liss to discuss your situation.