In California, forgery encompasses a range of fraudulent behavior, from bad checks, to falsifying documents, to faking a seal or signature. Anything that involves trying to pass a false document as genuine with the intent to defraud can be considered forgery and is prohibited by California Penal Code Section 470-483. Forgery is considered a white-collar crime and is laden with strict penalties. It can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor in California. As a misdemeanor, forgery can be punishable by up to one year in jail, a $1,000 fine, or both; as a felony, it can come with anywhere from 16 months to three years in a county jail and/or a $10,000 fine in serious cases.
Because forgery cases can be so subjective, the importance of representation from an experienced forgery lawyer cannot be undervalued. Spolin Law—headed by former prosecutor, attorney Aaron Spolin—has an outstanding trial record that lends credence to its thorough and investigative approach. The firm’s history of success is a calculated result of its ability to effectively file legal motions and build compelling defenses for judges and jurors.
If you or someone you know has been charged with forgery, don’t hesitate to contact us at (310) 424-5816 to learn how we can help your case.
Punishments for Forgery
The penalties for forgery depend on the circumstances of the crime and the criminal history of the accused. Under Proposition 47, a forgery charge can be classified as a misdemeanor if the forged document meets the requirements of being:
- A check of any kind, bond, bank bill, or money order
- The value of the forged document is not more than $950
- The accused is not being charged with identity theft
Whether your forgery charge is classified as a misdemeanor or felony, you may be facing informal probation, required payment of restitution to any victims, or required attendance in a bad check diversion program, along with the possible fines and jail time mentioned above.
Aside from criminal penalties, forgery can also come with civil consequences. Banks may close your accounts or refuse to issue checks to you if you are convicted of check fraud. Services that report patterns of bad check writing may blacklist you to other banks and retailers, making it incredibly difficult for you to open future accounts or obtain a loan. Additionally, your credit report may be ruined if you are sued for a bounced check. If your forgery charge results in a criminal record, you may also have trouble securing a job, apartment, or home.
Legal Defenses to Forgery Charges
Defenses for forgery charges can be approached from a variety of angles. As stated above, anything that encompasses trying to pass a fraudulent document as genuine for your own benefit can be considered forgery. Therefore, effective legal defenses to allegations of forgery include:
- Lack of intent – If you did not have the intention to defraud, you could argue that you were unaware of the ramifications of signing another’s name to a check or other important document. Perhaps you mistakenly thought you were authorized to sign a document from your boss or spouse. Sometimes, ignorance does not equate to criminality in the law’s eyes.
- The document had no legal significance – To be considered forgery, the document in question must have some sort of legal importance. Usually, forgery occurs when one party is trying to secure money or property from another. If the fraudulent document does not allow you any incentives, gains, or benefits, it could be argued that forgery did not take place because the document did not rob someone else of their legal rights or assets. For example, you may have copied a celebrity’s autograph to brag to your friends, without receiving any monetary benefit from the forgery. Here, the document lacking legal significance would be applicable.
- Unqualified handwriting expert – Often in forgery cases, a handwriting expert is consulted to help determine whether a document was forged. The requirements for a handwriting expert’s testimony are only that they have examined an adequate number of your writing samples to draw a valid conclusion, and that they work in a profession where they must compare writing samples often. Sometimes, testimonies by handwriting experts are not sufficient enough to lead to a guilty verdict. California law allows other parties who have “personal knowledge” of your handwriting to testify their opinion on whether forgery took place. Therefore, just because a handwriting expert believes you forged a signature does not mean that a jury must believe you did too.
- The copying of a signature was authorized – If the forgery in question involves a signature, a possible defense could be that the one whose signature was forged authorized the forger to use their signature. An example of authorization would be if your friend asked you to pick up groceries for them, and allowed you to use their credit card and signature. In this case, there was no intent to deceive or defraud, so it can be argued that forgery did not take place.
- False accusations – Sometimes, workplace associates or business colleagues will falsely accuse others of forgery to cover up mistakes made in their own business dealings. Being falsely accused could qualify as a defense to forgery, but you will need the assistance of a forgery attorney to help prove your case.
If executed successfully, these legal defenses could result in a non-guilty verdict or dismissal of forgery charges. To learn more about defenses to forgery charges, call The Spolin Law at (310) 424-5816 to speak to a member of our legal team.
Consult with a Forgery Attorney
Choosing the right attorney to defend your forgery charges is critical to avoiding a felony on your record. This decision can impact your credibility, reputation with colleagues and future employers, and financial future. As penalties for forgery include years of jail time and heavy fines, a lawyer seasoned in forgery proceedings can mean the difference between a guilty and non-guilty verdict.
Spolin Law’s founder, attorney Aaron Spolin, is a former economic crimes prosecutor and has reach successful outcomes on hundreds of criminal cases, including white-collar crimes. Spolin Law’s success sets us apart from other law firms through our negotiation of favorable plea deals with prosecutors, hiring of private investigators and other experts, and push for non-jail sentences at sentencing hearings.
For a free consultation and to learn more about how we may help you, call Spolin Law at (310) 424-5816.