Forgery is considered a “white collar” crime. It means creating a falsified document to your benefit.

Types of Forgery in California

Forgery by signing someone else’s name

To commit forgery by signature, you need to:

  • Sign a name that is not your own on a legal or financial document.
  • Sign that name without authority to do so.
  • Know that you did not have authority to sign that name.

Forgery by counterfeiting or forging someone else’s handwriting or seal

You are guilty of California forgery when you counterfeit or forge someone else’s handwriting or seal on a document, intending to commit a fraud.
This kind of forgery can apply to any kind of document, but it must be a document that can be used to perpetrate a fraud.

Forgery by altering, corrupting, or falsifying legal documents

You can violate California’s forgery laws by altering, corrupting, or falsifying a legal document with the intent to commit a fraud. This kind of forgery does not need to involve the signature, handwriting, or seal of anyone else.

Forgery by falsely making, altering, or publishing specific documents

This category of forgery includes two types of of behavior:

  • Falsifying, altering, or counterfeiting a more comprehensive list of documents – most of them related to money and/or property rights,
  • “Publishing” a fake or altered document from that list – trying to pass the document off as genuine.

There are as many as forty different documents that can be the cause of a California forgery charge. They include:

  • Checks
  • Traveler’s checks
  • Money orders
  • Promissory notes
  • Lottery tickets
  • Stock certificates
  • Real estate leases
  • Property deeds and mortgage documents
  • Contracts
  • and many more.

Aiding and abetting California forgery

If you help someone commit any of the above acts, then you can be charged under California’s aiding and abetting laws.
Even if you didn’t forge a document yourself, you can be prosecuted under the aiding and abetting laws if you:

  • Knew someone else intended to commit forgery
  • Intended to help that person commit forgery
  • Assisted, encouraged or instigated the other person’s act of forgery in any way

Penalties of Forgery

Forgery is considered a “wobbler” in the law, which means that it can be a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on:

  • The circumstances of the crime, and
  • The defendant’s criminal history.

Forgery can only be prosecuted as a misdemeanor if the following are true:

  • The forged document is a check, bond, bank bill, note, cashier’s check, traveler’s check, or money order;
  • The value of the forged check or other document is not more than $950; and
  • The defendant is not also convicted of identity theft.

The potential penalties for forgery as a misdemeanor include:

  • Up to one year in county jail,
  • A fine of up to $1,000,
  • Informal probation, and/or
  • Payment of restitution to any victims.

If you are charged with felony forgery the penalties may include:

  • Sixteen months, two years or three years in county jail,
  • A fine of up to $10,000,
  • Informal or formal probation, and/or
  • Payment of restitution to any victims

Legal Defenses

The facts in California forgery charges can be complicated. A good forgery defense lawyer can help you use those facts to assert legal defenses that can help you beat the charges.

Common legal defenses to California forgery charges include:

  • You didn’t intend to defraud anyone

  • If you didn’t have the intent to defraud anyone, then you didn’t commit forgery. Maybe you thought you had the authority to make changes to a document or had the authority to sign someone else’s name. Or perhaps you misunderstood instructions from your boss causing you to sign his or her name when you didn’t actually have the authority. In cases like these, your defense attorney may be able to use lack of intent to get the forgery charges dismissed.

  • The document that was allegedly forged could not deprive anyone else of their legal rights

  • In order to be charged with forgery in California, the allegedly forged document must have the capacity to deprive someone of a legal right. If you alter a document that has no legal significance then you can’t be charged.

  • You were falsely accused

  • It’s not unusual for someone to be falsely accused of forgery by someone else who is trying to avoid getting caught for his or her own mistakes. It is important that you have an experienced criminal defense attorney who can investigate into what really happened.

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