Forgery Defense Attorney Los Angeles
Forgery charges against you? Tabibnia Law Firm has an experienced staff of forgery defense attorneys who may be able to defend your case. Los Angeles forgery lawyer Cyrus Tabibnia can best explain how to fight and win against charges of forgery.
What is Forgery crime?
Forgery is the act of creating or altering a written document in order to commit fraud.
Under California Penal Code Section 470, a wide range of behavior is prohibited.
- altering, or;
- falsification of documents.
Forgery can be considered a type of fraud or white collar crime, as the perpetrator’s goal is to deceive another person into believing that an item is genuine. Essentially, counterfeiting is creating a false product with the intent of damaging or defrauding another person. Forgery is committed when a document is forged or altered without the consent of the party whose signature appears on it. Signing someone else’s name on a document in order to make it appear that the person signed the document themselves is an example of this kind of conduct. It can also include more complex actions, like counterfeiting an official seal or editing a signed document in order to change its contents with the intent of defrauding others. Forgery may take many forms, such as presenting false evidence or preparing papers for another person without their knowledge.
The crime of counterfeiting is not considered complete until the fake item has been “uttered” or passed to another person. As a result, it is still considered to be a crime if you steal another person’s check and sign their signature. But the forgery isn’t complete until the checks have been handed over to the teller or deposited into an account. A person who attempts to forge a document or instrument is guilty of forgery under Penal Code Section 664/470 PC.
The completion of the crime is marked by the passing of objects. If this occurs, then there has been fraud committed against a victim. The prosecutor must prove two elements: first, that you took or altered an item; and second, that you did so with the specific intent of defrauding someone. As long as the two requirements are met (the passing of the document or instrument by you and its subsequent acceptance by a victim) it doesn’t matter whether any actual fraud took place, if money was actually transferred from victim to perpetrator. The crime is fully completed upon these actions taking place. The intent portion of the crime, as with all theft crimes, must be purposeful. Specific intent, a legal term, refers to the knowledge that an act is wrong before it occurs. The prosecution can build a case by using circumstantial evidence. How a person takes or passes an item may indicate their intent to commit theft.
The most well-known example of California forgery law, Penal Code Section 470 PC involves writing a check that belongs to someone else. If Person “A” gives a checkbook to Person “B,” and then Person “B” takes a check without permission that is theft. But, if Person “A” writes out a check and signs Person “B’s” name without permission, then he has committed forgery in California. An individual who cashes a forged check can be prosecuted under this code section even if he or she did not write the original check but instead passed it on to someone else. Technology has created a wide range of ways to create false documents, and as such, the definition of forgery has changed over time. Los Angeles credit card theft can be prosecuted under both Penal Code Section 470 PC and 471 PC. The passing of a credit card to someone else without permission is illegal, but the act does not rise to the level of forgery until it has been signed. Forging another person’s signature or handwriting without permission is illegal. The prosecution will be able to prove the forgery by using testimony from the victim and a handwriting expert. A handwriting analyst can compare the writing of a suspected check thief with that of the real owner. Handwriting is, for the most part, as distinctive as fingerprints. In addition to the physical documents, law enforcement uses advanced technology (such as DNA and fingerprinting techniques) in order to obtain evidence from recovered documents.
How to Fight Forgery Charges?
When charged with forgery, a defendant is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. At Tabibnia Law Firm, the Los Angeles forgery defense attorneys use a comprehensive approach that may include the following steps:
- Thorough Investigation — Investigating a case with the help of an outside expert, such as a handwriting analyst or private investigator, can greatly strengthen your client’s position. By using experienced criminal investigators, we can identify ways of challenging the prosecution’s case and highlighting its weaknesses. For example, the identity of a witness who could testify about the accused being given verbal permission to sign a document could be discovered during the investigation.
- File Legal Motions to Dismiss — Prosecutors often add charges to a case that are not appropriate or consistent with the facts. Motions to dismiss can limit the amount you have to pay or even lead to the dismissal of all charges.
- File Motions to Suppress Evidence —Police and other law enforcement agencies may not obtain evidence through unlawful searches or seizures.
Documents can be crucial evidence in forgery cases, but if the police did not obtain them legally—a violation called a ” Fourth Amendment search and seizure” violation —the documents might be suppressed from evidence at trial.
- Identify Lack of Fraudulent Intent — The prosecution must prove that you acted with fraudulent intent, but the true facts of the case might be different from what has been presented.
For example, if someone sent you a check but forgot to sign the check — and you sign the other person’s name — you could have a defense to forgery. In this example, the defense would be that you did not intend to defraud anyone; you were simply signing the other person’s name because they forgot to do so.
- Present a Valid Legal Defenses — The most common defenses against forgery charges include: lack of intent to defraud, permission from the owner to commit the act and coercion. These will be discussed in more detail later in this section.}
- Win the Case at Trial — An aggressive defense strategy can often be the best approach in a criminal case. Prosecutors must prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, but jurors shouldn’t convict you if there is no evidence that you intended to defraud anyone. A not-guilty verdict at trial will end the criminal case.
These steps are discussed in further detail. Forgery charges can have a significant impact on an individual’s life. Because forgery charges in California depend on the facts and circumstances of each case, seemingly innocent activities like signing your spouse’s name at the bank might lead to criminal prosecution.
The California Penal Code lists several types of forgeries that are illegal in the state.
Elements of the crime of forgery (PC 470)
The following are examples of conduct prohibited by the law:
- Signing another person’s name to a document
- Signing the name of a fictitious person
- Forging another person’s signature, or copying their handwriting without permission or a seal belonging to another person or entity.
- Forging, altering, counterfeiting or otherwise duplicating financial documents (such as checks) and using them for one’s own use. (See Penal Code § 470(d))
If you are charged with forgery, prosecutors must present evidence to prove each of the following elements:
- The person did not have permission or authorization to engage in the conduct.
- You knew that your actions were illegal.
- You engaged in the conduct to intentionally deceive another person or group. (See Penal Code § 470(a))
Prosecutors do not need to prove that the intended fraud took place or that you profited from it. For example, if you take a blank check from a co-worker’s desk and attempt to cash it at the bank without permission, writing yourself as the payee with an account owner’s forged signature—even if no money is obtained due to teller recognition of fake signatures—the offense will still be considered forgery. In addition to checks and promissory notes, the penal code lists other documents that could give rise to forgery charges.
The following documents are included:
- Lottery tickets
- Powers of attorney
- Last wills and testaments
- Vehicle or vessel ownership documents
- Mortgage satisfactions
- Stock certificates
- Money orders
The broad scope of the California forgery laws pertaining to legal documents means that someone in possession of a fake or altered driver’s license can be charged with a crime if they use it to mislead police—or anyone else, really.
Other Crimes Related to Forgery — PC 471.5, PC 529.5, PC 529.7, HS 11368, and PC 115
Other acts are prohibited under state laws related to or associated with forgery, including:
- Penal Code § 471.5: Altering and modifying medical records with the intent to defraud is a crime punishable as a misdemeanor.
- Penal Code § 529.5: The production, sale or transfer of fake government-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards is a crime punishable by fines up to $1,000 and one year in jail.
- Penal Code § 529.7: Helping someone obtain a driver’s license or government-issued identification card, knowing they are not entitled to it, is a misdemeanor.
- Health & Safety Code § 11368: It is a crime to alter or forge a prescription for narcotic drugs or to use such an altered prescription. The penalty for these actions may be six months in jail.
- Penal Code § 115: In California, it is a crime to file a document if you know that it contains false information or was fraudulently altered. Forging someone’s signature on a deed and attempting to file it with the appropriate government office is an example of this crime.
White collar crime is a broad term, ordinarily used to describe nonviolent crimes committed by business and government professionals. A person commits forgery if he or she obtains a signature on a document by misrepresenting the identity of that document, even if the signature is real. A person who claims to own property they are renting, but whose signature has been forged onto a document transferring ownership of the property to another person could be charged with forgery. The broad scope and complexity of the forgery laws in a state are illustrated by the fact that even if someone did not actually forge a check, he or she could still be charged with this crime if it was made out to an individual who never agreed to receive payment on its behalf. For example, if a person steals a check and forges the account holder’s signature on it without permission—intends to defraud both him/her as well as their own bank—the crime of forgery could be charged. Under California Penal Code §§470 and 476, Forgery charges can be filed against both the person who wrote a forged signature on the check and the friend who took it to his bank knowing that it was false. Forgery charges could be filed against both of them.
PUNISHMENT FOR A FORGERY CONVICTION
Forgery Can Be Charged as a Misdemeanor or Felony
In California, Forgery under Penal Code 470 (PC 470) is known as a “wobbler” offense—meaning that it may be charged as either a felony or misdemeanor. Prosecutors can choose to file charges as either felonies or misdemeanors.
Factors that come into play and affect the decision include :
- Facts of the case
- Criminal history of the accused
Under Proposition 47, a new California law regarding theft-related forgery offenses, If the value of stolen property is under $950 and there are no other criminal charges pending against a person, he or she will get a misdemeanor for theft-related forgery. There are many factors that can affect the decision about how a case is prosecuted. Factors such as harm done to victims, severity of criminal conduct, number of people victimized and value associated with forged items might all be considered when making this choice. Your criminal defense attorney’s experience and skill in bringing mitigating factors to prosecutors can persuade them to charge you with a misdemeanor rather than a felony.
Criminal Penalties and Jail Imposed for Forgery Convictions
The penalties for forging documents vary, depending on whether the crime is charged as a felony or misdemeanor and whether any “conduct enhancements” (additional punishments) can be applied.
Felony Forgery Punishment
- 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years in prison
- (2 or 4 years in prison for felony counterfeiting)
- Up to $10,000 fine
- 5 years probation
- Community service
Misdemeanor Forgery Punishment
- Up to 1 year in jail
- Up to $1,000 fine
- 3 years probation
- Community service
“Conduct Enhancements” Adding to Penalties
Conduct enhancements increase the punishment for a crime if specific behavior occurs.
- Causing loss over $500,000 (Penal Code §186.11(a)(2))
- Additional 2, 3 or 5 years prison
- Causing loss of $100,000 to $500,000 (PC §186.11(a)(3))
- Additional 1 or 2 years prison
- Committing forgery for criminal street gang (PC §186.22(b))
- Additional 2, 3 or 4 years prison
- Forging check to defraud victim of natural disaster (PC §667.17)
- Additional 1 year prison
** Note: None of the felony, misdemeanor, or enhancement punishments apply if a valid legal defense is presented or the case is otherwise won by the defense. Read about forgery defenses below.
Non-Jail Consequences of a Conviction
Felony charges involve longer prison sentences and higher fines than misdemeanors. In addition, a felony conviction can make it difficult or impossible to get certain jobs (such as positions that require background checks), vote or own firearms.
Among the rights you could lose are the following:
- The right to own or possess a firearm
- The ability to qualify for certain professional licenses
- Your ability to receive a security clearance for work
Facing a felony conviction could make it difficult to obtain employment or housing, because some employers and landlords will not consider hiring or leasing property to someone with a criminal record.
Defenses Against Forgery Charges
In criminal law, a valid legal defense is necessary for an accused to avoid conviction. Some of the possible defenses for a particular forgery case might include:
- Lack of fraudulent intent — If you did not have the intent to defraud, it may be possible to defend yourself against charges of forgery. Perhaps you mistakenly signed a document from your boss or spouse when you thought you were authorized to do so. Prosecutors have the burden of proving fraudulent intent, and evidence identified by the defense can help establish that no such intent exists. Like the other defenses, this one can result in a dismissal or an acquittal.
- Document Lacks Legal Significance — For a document to be considered forgery, it must have some legal standing. Forgery is usually a crime of trying to gain money or property from another party. If the fraudulent document did not grant you any benefits, gains or incentives, it could be argued that forgery did not occur because there was no loss of property or legal rights.
For instance, you may have copied someone else’s signature to show off to your friends without profiting from the forgery. In this situation, the document lacking legal significance would be applicable.
- Consent — Actual authority to sign or commit the conduct was given by someone authorized to give it.
- Mistake — One who signs or alters a document, under the mistaken belief that permission was given by someone with authority to give such permission—and acts in good faith based on this mistake—is not guilty of forgery. For example, if a supervisor directed an employee to sign a check and the employee mistakenly signed the wrong one due to confusion on his or her part—rather than intentional deception—the person may have a valid defense in court.
- Lack of Legal Capacity — A person accused of forgery must possess the intent to carry out the act. Individuals suffering from a mental disorder might be incapable of understanding the nature of their actions, as would young children.
- Coercion: If someone committed a crime at gunpoint or knifepoint, jurors might be more inclined to believe that the person was forced into committing the crime and is therefore not as personally responsible for it.
- Documents Authorizing the Conduct — The existence of a “power of attorney” (i.e., a document authorizing one person to act for another person) or another document authorizing the accused to act on behalf of another person is an applicable defense.
- Business relationship — Partners may sign contracts and other business documents on behalf of their company, as well as take other actions that bind the partnership. Existing business relationships can provide the authority needed to sign or modify a document. For example, a secretary may be authorized to sign the boss’s name when he or she is out of town.
- Mistaken Identity — The facts might support a defense that the accused did not have knowledge of the criminal conduct or did nothing to assist the person who, in fact, committed the crime.
These forgery defenses can help you avoid a conviction or get your case dismissed.
A successful outcome may depend on whether your attorney has experience and knowledge in arguing the appropriate defenses. To learn more about Defenses Against Forgery Charges, contact an experienced Los Angeles forgery defense attorney at Tabibnia Law firm. for a free consultation.
Legal Motions To Improve Your Chance of Success in Court
Legal motions can be used to dismiss charges or exclude evidence that has been improperly gathered. Motions are formal requests made to the judge by either party in a case, often accompanied by affidavits and exhibits. A motion is a request for the judge to take some specific action. Common motions that a Los Angeles forgery defense attorney at Tabibnia Law Firm may file for a related case include:
- Motion to Dismiss: A motion to dismiss seeks the removal or discontinuance of a case. A motion to dismiss the case, or a count in a multi-count lawsuit may be based on any of the following:
- lack of sufficient evidence to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt
- lack of jurisdiction to hear the case.
- failure of prosecutors to comply with the statute of limitations requiring charges to be filed and brought to trial within a specified time.
- other grounds for dismissal that may apply in the given circumstances.
- Motion to Suppress Evidence — This request asks the judge to exclude evidence that was obtained by law enforcement in violation of federal or state constitutional rights or statutory provisions. Police sometimes find evidence of a crime in documents they seize during searches. Suppression of evidence by the prosecution would seriously damage its case against you, making it impossible for the prosecutor to continue.
- Motion to Suppress Statements Made to Law Enforcement — If you were questioned by the police illegally or improperly, your attorney may ask for statements obtained during that encounter to be excluded from evidence. Law enforcement officers must follow rules established by the U.S. Supreme Court and state constitutions when questioning individuals suspected of committing a crime, as well as federal laws regarding search and seizure. Law enforcement officers must respect your right to privacy as outlined in existing laws.
- Motion in Limine — Motions “in limine” (a motion to limit witness testimony or documentary evidence at trial) can be extremely effective in forgery cases: they prohibit the introduction of legally objectionable material.
Defense counsel might raise an objection to the testimony at trial, but that would not undo the damage done by allowing jurors to hear the false, misleading or improper testimony. For example, a pre-trial defense motion in a forgery case might challenge whether a prosecution handwriting expert has the proper credentials and training to testify as an expert.
- Motion directed at improper charges — Some prosecutors file as many charges against a person as possible, even if the evidence does not support charging certain crimes. Motions to dismiss improperly filed charges can help reduce the penalties that an accused person might face.
It might also compel a prosecutor to offer a plea or sentence favorable to the accused.
To learn more about legal motions that may apply to your case, contact an experienced Los Angeles forgery defense attorney at Tabibnia Law firm. for a free consultation.
Winning a Forgery Trial
When facing forgery charges, focus on the trial process instead of plea bargaining. It can increase your chances of being acquitted. Important steps to take include :
- Spotting Mistakes in Prosecution’s Case —Proving that you committed forgery and intended to defraud is the burden of the prosecution. To convict a person of forgery, the prosecution must prove each and every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. If the prosecution fails to prove that you committed a crime, and your attorney effectively points this out in his or her closing statement, then a jury should find you not guilty.
- Raising Legal Defenses — An “affirmative defense” is an explanation of why the technical forgery occurred, but there are valid legal reasons to have committed it. In many cases, a successful affirmative defense will lead to an outright acquittal.
- Using Investigators and Expert Witnesses — Expert witnesses are essential to forgery cases brought by both the prosecution and defense. Sometimes, a lawyer will hire expert witnesses to help with the case. These experts can be used to find mistakes in the prosecution’s evidence and gather information that supports your defense. Defense attorneys might hire handwriting and document experts to show that documents introduced by the prosecution are not genuine.
- Hire an Experienced Forgery Attorney — Your chances of winning a trial can begin with the choice of your Criminal defense attorney. A Los Angeles criminal defense attorney with direct experience handling forgery cases and who formerly prosecuted forgeries will provide you with the greatest chance of success. It is because of this that Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer Cyrus Tabibnia has been retained to represent clients in a wide array of forgery-related cases.
HIRE LOS ANGELES FORGERY DEFENSE ATTORNEY
Whether you are under investigation for forgery or already charged with the crime, your best chance of success is with an attorney who knows how to fight and win forgery cases.