Penal Code 470 PC – Forgery

California Penal Code 470 PC is more commonly referred to as the forgery statute. Forgery is considered a white-collar crime. In many cases, the crime is very simple but the resulting loss to the victim is so severe that prosecutors aggressively seek out people suspected of committing forgery.

What is the definition of Forgery in California?

The statute makes it illegal to knowingly alter, make, or use any written document with the intent to commit any fraud. Simply put, it is a crime to create or alter a document in order to gain anything of value.

A forgery occurs when the suspect has the specific intent to commit a fraud and signs another person’s name or signature to gain a benefit. The benefit is often of a financial nature, such as taking a check belonging to another person and signing the true owners name without their permission.

Forgery can also take place when a person is falsifying a will or other legal document. This often happens in elder abuse cases in which a person, who is trusted by an elderly person, writes a will and copies the victim’s signature to gain a benefit.

The crime is not fully completed until the counterfeited item is passed onto another person. Therefore, it is still a crime to steal someone’s check and sign their signature. The crime of forgery is not completed until the check is handed over to the teller or deposited into an account. Up until that point, the crime of attempted forgery in violation of Penal Code Section 664/470 PC is the only white-collar crime committed.

The passing of the object completes the intent portion of the crime so that if the money was transferred, the victim would be defrauded. The prosecutor must prove two simple elements:

  1. Did the accused take or alter an item?
  2. Did they do the act with the specific intent to defraud.

If these two requirements are met, it does not matter whether the funds were transferred or that the victim was defrauded in any manner. The crime is fully completed upon the passing of the document or instrument.

The intent portion of the crime, as with all theft crimes, must satisfy the “specific intent” requirement. Specific intent refers to the actual knowledge of the wrong doing before the act occurs. The prosecution can prove this through circumstantial evidence; the manner in which the check is taken or how the item is passed will raise indicate the intent to take property.

An example of violating California forgery law is the writing of a check belonging to another person. If Person “A” owns a checkbook and Person “B” takes one of the checks from the book without permission, then a simple theft has occurred. But if Person “A” then writes out the check and signs Person “B’s” signature and deposits the check into his own account, then a forgery has occurred.

Cashing a forged check can be prosecuted under this code section even if the person passing the check did not write the check but instead received it from another person.

While a forged check is the classic example of a forgery, as technology has changed, so has the definition of forgery crimes. Credit card theft can also be prosecuted under Penal Code Section 470 PC. While the passing of the credit card of another person without their permission is a crime, it does not rise to the level of forgery until the credit card slip is signed after the card is used for a transaction.

It is also a crime to forging the signature or hand writing of another person if done so without permission.

The prosecution will be able to prove the forgery through testimony of the victim as well as using hand writing experts. Writing experts can compare the writing of the true owner of the check with that of the person who is being investigated. A person’s hand writing is considered as distinct as their finger prints. Law enforcement also uses advanced technology to retrieve DNA and finger prints off the document.

Defenses of a California Forgery

There are several defenses to the crime of forgery. Because the law is so complicated, it is important to hire a criminal defense attorney as soon as you learn that you are being investigated. Handling any forgery case in a pre-filing capacity may prevent charges from being filed against you.

  • Permission: This defense simply states that while the signature on the document is not that of the true owner of the document, instead, the owner of the document gave the suspect permission to sign their name.
  • Lack of passing of the item: One of the elements of the offense is the forgery is “passed” or “uttered” to another person. The mere writing of the document is not a completed forgery.
  • Lack of intent: The prosecutor must prove that the suspect “intended” to commit the crime.

The Penalties for a California Forgery

According to California Penal Code 470 PC, forgery can be either be filed as a felony or a misdemeanor. The prosecutor will make this determination based upon a number of factors. These factors include the suspect’s criminal record, the amount of the loss, and the age or status of the victim.

If the crime is charged as a misdemeanor, then the maximum penalty is a year in jail and a fine of up to $1000. However, if the case is filed as felony, the penalty can be extreme. Passing a forged check in excess of $400 can result in a three-year prison sentence and a up to a $10,000 fine. However, the felony sentence can be increased based upon the amount of loss or the prior record of the suspect. The three strikes law has significantly increased.