What Constitutes "Forgery" in California?

“Forgery” pertains to the unauthorized signing, creating, or altering of a document or object. For example, a person can commit forgery by knowingly altering a will, using a fake driver’s license, or signing a false check. The possibilities are practically endless. To secure a case dismissal, acquittal, or charge reduction, a defendant’s legal team needs to prove that the accused wasn’t intending to defraud a person or institution for personal or financial gain.

Per California’s Penal Code Section 470, a forgery offense can be committed in the following ways:

  • Signing a real (or fictitious) person’s name while lacking the legal authority
  • Altering or falsifying legal documents (such as a will, codicil, conveyance, etc.)
  • Forging or counterfeiting another person’s handwriting or seal
  • Altering, falsifying or publishing any of these documents:
    • Contracts
    • Checks
    • Bank bills
    • Bonds
    • Money orders
    • Lottery tickets
    • Traveler’s checks
    • Cashier’s checks
    • Leases
    • Property deeds
    • Stock certificates
    • Gift certificates
    • Debt release notes
    • Notary stamps
    • Account receipts
    • Stock certificates

A White-Collar Wobbler

A defendant can face misdemeanor or felony punishments depending on the magnitude of the offense, the amount of loss suffered, and the defendant’s criminal history. Because Proposition 47 passed in 2014, forgery is now considered a misdemeanor offense so long as the value of the forged document doesn’t exceed $950. Fortunately, California’s Three Strikes Law doesn’t recognize forgery as a serious or violent crime.

If charged as a misdemeanor, a defendant could be sentenced to:

  • Up to 1 year in jail
  • Punishable by fines up to $1,000
  • Restitution to the victim
  • Court fines
  • Community service

If charged as a felony, a defendant could be sentenced to:

  • 2-3 years in prison
  • Punishable by fines up to $10,000
  • Restitution to the victim
  • Court fines
  • Community service

As previously stated, the crime of forgery necessitates an intent to defraud. Oftentimes, people sign documents on behalf of their friends or family members without realizing they lack the legal authority to do so. These defendants would likely not be guilty of forgery because their intent isn’t to defraud another person. Likewise, the document in question needs to be associated with a scheme to defraud someone of their money or property – don’t worry, you won’t go to jail for writing that fake letter of recommendation!

Retain Exception Legal Representation

If you’re under investigation for a forgery-related offense, contact the white-collar crime attorneys in Temecula. We understand that a forgery case is highly dependent on subjective information and evidence. By listening to your story and investigating your case, we can develop a litigation strategy that reflects your legal objectives and secures a positive case outcome.

Contact Hanson, Gorian, Bradford & Hanich at (951) 506-6654 to schedule a consultation.


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