Forging, Counterfeiting, or Possessing a Fraudulent Public "Seal"
California Penal Code 472 PC

Charged with possessing a fake California driver's license?  Forging a vehicle registration card?  Counterfeiting a resident alien card?

Don't despair, we can help.

Our law firm, comprised of former police investigators and prosecutors, has the inside knowledge that allows us to provide you with the most comprehensive defenses available.  We will do our best to get you cleared of the charges.

Below, our California criminal defense attorneys1 address these and similar types of fraud offenses by addressing the following:

1. The Legal Definition of "Forging, Counterfeiting, or Possessing a Fraudulent California Public 'Seal'"
2. Legal Defenses
3. Penalties, Punishment, and Sentencing
4. Related Offenses

If, after reading this article, you would like more information, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.

1. The Legal Definition of Forging, Counterfeiting, or Possessing a Fraudulent California Public "Seal"

Engaging in acts of

  • forgery (that is, knowingly altering, manipulating, or creating a written document or instrument with the intent to obtain an undeserved personal gain), and/or
  • counterfeiting (that is, altering, manipulating, or creating an imitation of an item intending to pass it off as genuine)

subjects you to prosecution under California's fraud laws.  Simply put, a fraud is a deliberate deception in order to secure an unfair or unlawful gain.

One of these laws relates to forging, counterfeiting, or possessing public seals.  This law codified under California Penal Code 472 PC, states,

"Every person who, with intent to defraud another, forges, or counterfeits the seal of this State, the seal of any public officer authorized by law, the seal of any Court of record, or the seal of any corporation, or any other public seal authorized or recognized by the laws of this State, or of any other State, Government, or country, or who falsely makes, forges, or counterfeits any impression purporting to be an impression of any such seal, or who has in his possession any such counterfeited seal or impression thereof, knowing it to be counterfeited, and willfully conceals the same, is guilty of forgery."2

Public seals

A "seal" is any design or emblem that is exclusively associated with a person or entity that, when seen, is used to identify the "sealed" written instrument or other product as genuine and authentic.

Examples of the types of forged or counterfeit public seals that are prohibited under this law include (but are not limited to):

  • "The Great Seal of the State of California" (such that appears on a California driver's license or state-issued I.D. card),
  • a government seal (such as those used by local law enforcement agencies like police departments and prosecutor's offices), and
  • corporate seals (used by businesses to authenticate and identify their products and documents).

Note that the alleged forged or counterfeit seal may be a seal from this state or may be from any other state, government, or county.3

The prosecution's case

Before the prosecutor can convict you of this offense, he/she must prove the following three facts (otherwise known as elements of the offense):  That you

  1. possessed a counterfeited public seal (or an impression of a public seal),
  2. knew the seal or impression was counterfeit and willfully concealed that fact, and
  3. acted with the specific intent to defraud another person.4

But what is a specific intent to defraud?

Specific intent to defraud

A "specific intent to defraud" may be inferred almost anytime someone makes or possesses a false document, since the obvious inference would be that the maker / holder intends to deceive someone.  This type of forgery necessarily implies an attempt to create a legal right or obligation.

You can be convicted of this offense even if no one is actually deceived or defrauded by your actions...it's simply your intention to defraud that makes it a crime.5

Example: Defendant was arrested for possessing a gun in violation of Penal Code 29800 PC California's felon with a firearm law.  When the police searched the defendant prior to booking him, they discovered a legal resident alien card in his wallet.

When police examined the card, they discovered, among other things, that the writing within the seal was illegible, the fingerprint was in the wrong place, the ink on the card was the wrong color, the card did not contain a point of entry on the front of the card, and the card did not have a legitimate number.

As a result, the defendant was convicted of Penal Code 472 PC possessing a forged or counterfeit seal on his resident alien card.

Defendant appealed his case on a number of grounds, one of which was the fact that he believed that since he hadn't "presented nor furnished the resident alien card to obtain money or property of value" there was insufficient evidence to support the prosecutor's position that he had the specific intent to defraud.

However, the court ruled that the fact that the defendant possessed the card that bore his photograph would create an assumption that he was entitled to certain rights and/or benefits (such as the right to work).  It was also used to secure a Social Security card in the defendant's name.  Based on these facts...and by virtue of the fact that the defendant possessed such a card...the court ruled that there was "substantial evidence" to support an "intent to defraud."6
2. Legal Defenses

There are a variety of legal defenses to Penal Code 472 PC California's law against forging, counterfeiting, or possessing a fraudulent public seal that a California criminal defense lawyer could present on your behalf.  Some of these include (but are not limited to):

You didn't have the specific intent to defraud

As Van Nuys criminal defense attorney Darrell York7 explains, "If you didn't have the specific intent to defraud, you aren't guilty of this offense.  This means that if, for example, you possessed a document or written instrument that you honestly believed was genuine, you haven't violated this law."

You are innocent

And, of course, if you are innocent of the charge(s)...that is, the seal you possessed wasn't forged or counterfeit...we will immediately remedy the situation and clear your name.  The police...like anyone else...can make mistakes or jump to incorrect conclusions.

Police misconduct

But if the police acted inappropriately...and innocent "mistakes" aren't to blame...we can also help you fight your case by arguing that the cops are guilty of police misconduct.  This could be the case if, for example, the police

3. Penalties, Punishment, and Sentencing

Forging, counterfeiting, or possessing a fraudulent public seal is what's known in California law as a wobbler and subjects you to punishment under California's forgery law.  A "wobbler" is an offense that prosecutors can charge as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on

  1. the facts of your case, and
  2. your criminal history.

If you are convicted of Penal Code 472 PC as a misdemeanor, you face up to one year in a county jail and a maximum $1,000 fine.

If you are convicted of this offense as a felony, you face 16 months or two or three years in the California state prison and a maximum $10,000 fine.9

4. Related Offenses

There are a number of offenses that may be charged in addition to or in lieu of forging, counterfeiting, or possessing fraudulent public seals.  The following are some examples.

Offenses involving fraudulent driver's licenses or identification cards

There are at least four crimes that regulate fraudulent activity involving driver's licenses and identification cards.  These include

  • Penal Code 470a PC

Penal Code 470a PC California's law against forging or counterfeiting a California driver's license or identification card prohibits in any way altering or counterfeiting a driver's license or I.D. card.

This offense is a wobbler, punishable by either

  1. imprisonment in the state prison for a maximum of three years and a maximum $10,000 fine, or
  2. a maximum one-year county jail sentence and a maximum $1,000 fine.10
  • Penal Code 470b PC

Similarly, Penal Code 470b PC California's law against displaying or possessing a forged or counterfeit driver's license or identification card prohibits exactly that -- displaying or possessing a driver's license or identification card that has been forged or counterfeited in violation of Penal Code 470a PC above.

Violating this law also subjects you to

    1. up to three years in the state prison and a maximum $10,000 fine, or
  1. a maximum one-year county jail sentence and a maximum $1,000 fine.11
  • Vehicle Code 13004 VC

Vehicle Code 13004 VC California's law against illegal or misuse of an identification card punishes a variety of acts that constitute illegally using and misusing I.D. cards.  Some of these include (but are not limited to):

  • possessing a forged or fraudulently obtained identification card,
  • using another person's I.D. card, and
  • duplicating another person's identification card.

Violating this law subjects you to up to six-months in a county jail and a maximum $1,000 fine.12

  • Vehicle Code 13004.1 VC

Vehicle Code 13004.1 VC California's law against manufacturing or selling counterfeit identification cards prohibits manufacturing or selling I.D. cards that are substantially similar to those issued by the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

A conviction for this offense subjects you to a misdemeanor, punishable by a $1,000 fine and completion of a minimum of 24 hours of community service.13

If you are guilty of any of the above offenses...and the driver's license or I.D. card has a forged or counterfeit seal on it (such as those found on California state-issued driver's license or I.D. cards)...you could be charged with one of these specific offenses and Penal Code 472 PC.

Vehicle Code 4463(b) or (c) -- Counterfeit disability placards

If you engage in any activity that involves forging, counterfeiting, or possessing a fraudulent disability placard, you face prosecution under Vehicle Code 4463(b) or (c) California's law prohibiting counterfeit disability placards.14

If convicted of this misdemeanor offense, you face between $250 and $1,000 in fines and up to six-months in a county jail.15 And...in addition to or in lieu of these fines...the court may impose a maximum $2,500 civil penalty.16

And if you allegedly commit this offense...and the placard displays a forged or counterfeit seal...prosecutors could also charge you with violating Vehicle Code 4463(b) or (c) and Penal Code 472 PC.

California Vehicle Code 31 VC -- False information

If you knowingly provide false information to a peace officer...either verbally or in writing, you violate Vehicle Code 31 VC California's law against giving false information to a police officer.17 If convicted, you face a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.18

And if, for example, you provide the officer with a forged or counterfeit

  • registration paper,
  • driver's license,
  • identification card, or
  • any other document that bears a counterfeit or forged seal,

you may additionally violate Penal Code 472 PC.

California Penal Code 538d PC -- Impersonating a peace officer

If you wear or exhibit a police uniform, insignia, badge, etc., with the intent to fraudulently convince another person that you are a police or other law enforcement officer, then you are guilty of the California crime of impersonating a police officer.19

Penal Code 538d PC specifies that you can be guilty of impersonating a peace officer if you exhibit, make, sell or transfer a counterfeit police badge, insignia or certificate, with the intent that it be used to impersonate a police officer.20 So defendants accused of making or possessing counterfeit law enforcement identification documents may be charged with both forgery of a public seal and impersonating a peace officer.

Impersonating a peace officer is a misdemeanor carrying a maximum county jail sentence of six (6) months to one (1) year, depending on the circumstances.21

Call us for help...

For questions about Penal Code 472 PC California's law against forging, counterfeiting, or possessing fraudulent public seals, or to discuss your case confidentially with one of our California criminal defense attorneys, do not hesitate to contact us at Shouse Law Group.

We have local criminal law offices in and around Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities.

For information about Nevada forgery law, go to our page on Nevada forgery law.

Legal References:

1Our California criminal defense attorneys have local Los Angeles law offices in Beverly Hills, Burbank, Glendale, Lancaster, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Pasadena, Pomona, Torrance, Van Nuys, West Covina, and Whittier.  We have additional law offices conveniently located throughout the state in Orange County, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities.

2California Penal Code 472 PC - Forging, counterfeiting, or possessing a fraudulent California public seal.

3See same.

4People v. Castellanos (2003) 110 Cal.App.4th 1489, 1493.  ("In this case [a case dealing with a violation of Penal Code 472 PC [California's law against forging, counterfeiting, or possessing a public seal] the jury was instructed with CALJIC No. 15.00, which provides in pertinent part: "In order to prove this crime, each of the following elements must be proved: [¶] 1. A person had in his possession a counterfeited impression of a public seal; [¶] 2. That person knew the impression to be counterfeit and willfully concealed that fact; and [¶] 3. That person acted with the specific intent to defraud another person."")

See also Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instruction CALCRIM 1925 -- California's law against forging or counterfeiting a public seal.  ("To prove that the defendant is guilty of this crime, the People must prove that: 1 The defendant (forged/[or] counterfeited) a seal [or (falsely made[,]/[or] forged[,]/[or] counterfeited) an impression representing a seal] of (this state[,] /[or] a legally authorized public officer[,] /[or] a court of record[,] /[or] a corporation[,]/[or] a public seal legally authorized or recognized by any state, government, or  country); AND 2 When the defendant did that act, (he/she) intended to defraud.")

See also CALCRIM 1926 -- California's law against possessing a fraudulent public seal.  ("The defendant is charged [in Count] with possessing a counterfeit (government/public/corporate) seal [or an impression of a counterfeit (government/public/corporate) seal] [in violation of Penal Code section 472]. To prove that the defendant is guilty of this crime, the People must prove that: 1 The defendant possessed a counterfeit seal [or an impression of a counterfeit seal] of (this state[,]/[or] a legally authorized public officer[,]/[or] a court of record[,]/[or] a corporation[,]/[or] a public seal legally authorized or recognized by any state, government, or country); 2 The defendant knew that the seal [or impression of the seal] was counterfeit; 3 The defendant willfully concealed the fact that the seal [or impression of the seal] was counterfeit; AND 4 When the defendant possessed the seal [or impression of the seal], (he/she) intended to defraud. Someone commits an act willfully when he or she does it willingly or on purpose. Someone intends to defraud if he or she intends to deceive another person either to cause a loss of (money[,]/[or] goods[,]/[or] services[,]/[or] something [else] of value), or to cause damage to, a legal, financial, or property right. [For the purpose of this instruction, a person includes (a governmental agency/a corporation/a business/an association/the body politic).]")

5See CALCRIM 1925.  ("Someone intends to defraud if he or she intends to deceive another person either to cause a loss of (money[,]/[or] goods[,]/[or] services[,]/[or] something [else] of value), or to cause damage to, a legal, financial, or property right. [For the purpose of this instruction, a person includes (a governmental agency/a corporation/a business/an association/the body politic).] [And also written in CALCRIM 1926]...[It is not necessary that anyone actually be defrauded or actually suffer a financial, legal, or property loss as a result of the defendant's acts.]")

See also People v. Morgan (1956) 140 Cal.App.2d 796, 801.  ("Whether the forged instrument is one of a particular name or character or, if genuine, would create legal liability, is immaterial; the test is whether upon its face it will have the effect of defrauding one who acts upon it as genuine.' People v. McKenna, 11 Cal.2d 327, 332, 79 P.2d 1065, 1068. 'In the case of a forgery of an instrument it is not necessary that the forged writing create a valid and legally enforceable obligation in order to constitute the making of it a forgery. It is sufficient that it may possibly deceive another and was prepared with intent to deceive and defraud another.")

6People v. Castellanos (2003) 110 Cal.App.4th 1489.  Defendant was convicted of Penal Code 29800 PC California's felon with a firearm law and possessing a forged or counterfeit resident alien card in violation of Penal Code 472 PC.

7Van Nuys criminal defense attorney Darrell York uses his former experience as a Glendale Police Officer to represent clients throughout the San Fernando Valley, and in Pasadena, Burbank, Glendale, Lancaster, Los Angeles, and Ventura.

8If you suspect that you were the victim of an illegal search and seizure, our California criminal defense lawyers will research your case to find out whether the police violated California search and seizure rules...a defense which can help you win your case.

9California Penal Code 473 PC -- Forgery; punishment.  ("Forgery is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison, or by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than one year.")

See also California Penal Code 18 PC -- Punishment for felony not otherwise prescribed; alternate sentence to county jail.  ("Except in cases where a different punishment is prescribed by any law of this state, every offense declared to be a felony, or to be punishable by imprisonment in a state prison, is punishable by imprisonment in any of the state prisons for 16 months, or two or three years; provided, however, every offense which is prescribed by any law of the state to be a felony punishable by imprisonment in any of the state prisons or by a fine, but without an alternate sentence to the county jail, may be punishable by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding one year or by a fine, or by both.")

See also California Penal Code 672 PC -- Offenses for which no fine prescribed; fine authorized in addition to imprisonment.  ("Upon a conviction for any crime punishable by imprisonment in any jail or prison, in relation to which no fine is herein prescribed, the court may impose a fine on the offender not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000) in cases of misdemeanors or ten thousand dollars ($10,000) in cases of felonies, in addition to the imprisonment prescribed.")

10California Penal Code 470a PC -- Forgery or counterfeiting of driver's license or identification card; intent; punishment.  ("Every person who alters, falsifies, forges, duplicates or in any manner reproduces or counterfeits any driver's license or identification card issued by a governmental agency with the intent that such driver's license or identification card be used to facilitate the commission of any forgery, is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison, or by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than one year.")

See also California Penal Codes 18 and 672, endnote 9, above.

11California Penal Code 470b PC -- Display or possession of forged driver's license or identification card; intent; punishment.  ("Every person who displays or causes or permits to be displayed or has in his possession any driver's license or identification card of the type enumerated in Section 470a with the intent that such driver's license or identification card be used to facilitate the commission of any forgery, is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison, or by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than one year.")

See also California Penal Codes 18 and 672, endnote 9, above.

12California Vehicle Code 13004 VC -- Unlawful acts.  ("It is unlawful for any person: (a) To display or cause or permit to be displayed or have in his possession any canceled, fictitious, fraudulently altered, or fraudulently obtained identification card. (b) To lend his identification card to any other person or knowingly permit the use thereof by another. (c) To display or represent any identification card not issued to him as being his card. (d) To permit any unlawful use of an identification card issued to him. (e) To do any act forbidden or fail to perform any act required by this article. (f) To photograph, photostat, duplicate, or in any way reproduce any identification card or facsimile thereof in such a manner that it could be mistaken for a valid identification card, or to display or have in his possession any such photograph, photostat, duplicate, reproduction, or facsimile unless authorized by the provisions of this code. (g) To alter any identification card in any manner not authorized by this code.")

See also California Vehicle Code 40000.11 VC -- Misdemeanors.  ("A violation of any of the following provisions is a misdemeanor, and not an infraction: (a) Division 5 (commencing with Section 11100), relating to occupational licensing and business regulations. (b) Section 12500, subdivision (a), relating to unlicensed drivers. (c) Section 12515, subdivision (b), relating to persons under 21 years of age driving, and the employment of those persons to drive, vehicles engaged in interstate commerce or transporting hazardous substances or wastes. (d) Section 12517, relating to a special driver's certificate to operate a schoolbus or school pupil activity bus. (e) Section 12517.45, relating to a special driver's certificate and vehicle inspection for the transportation of pupils to or from school-related activities by a passenger charter-party carrier as defined in subdivision (k) of Section 545. (f) Section 12519, subdivision (a), relating to a special driver's certificate to operate a farm labor vehicle. (g) Section 12520, relating to a special driver's certificate to operate a tow truck. (h) Section 12804, subdivision (d), relating to medical certificates. (i) Section 12951, subdivision (b), relating to refusal to display license. (j) Section 13004, relating to unlawful use of an identification card. (k) Section 13004.1, relating to identification documents. (l) Sections 14601, 14601.1, 14601.2, and 14601.5, relating to driving with a suspended or revoked driver's license. (m) Section 14604, relating to unlawful use of a vehicle. (n) Section 14610, relating to unlawful use of a driver's license. (o) Section 14610.1, relating to identification documents. (p) Section 15501, relating to use of false or fraudulent license by a minor.")

See also California Penal Code 19 PC -- Punishment for misdemeanor; punishment not otherwise prescribed.  ("Except in cases where a different punishment is prescribed by any law of this state, every offense declared to be a misdemeanor is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding six months, or by fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both.")

13California Vehicle Code 13004.1 VC -- Manufacture or sale of similar identification document prohibited; penalties.  ("(a) No person shall manufacture or sell an identification document of a size and form substantially similar to the identification cards issued by the department. (b) A violation of this section is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of one thousand dollars ($1,000), no part of which shall be suspended, and the person shall be required to perform not less than 24 hours of community service during hours when the person is not employed and is not attending school.")

14 Code 4463 VC -- California's fraudulent vehicle registration law.  ("(b) A person who, with intent to prejudice, damage, or defraud, commits any of the following acts is guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction thereof shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail for six months, a fine of not less than five hundred dollars ($500) and not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), or both that fine and imprisonment, which penalty shall not be suspended: (1) Forges, counterfeits, or falsifies a disabled person placard or a comparable placard relating to parking privileges for disabled persons provided for by a foreign jurisdiction, or forges, counterfeits, or falsifies a disabled person placard with intent to represent it as issued by the department. (2) Passes, or attempts to pass, as true and genuine, a false, forged, or counterfeit disabled person placard knowing it to be false, forged, or counterfeited. (3) Acquires, possesses, sells, or offers for sale a genuine or counterfeit disabled person placard.  (c) A person who, with fraudulent intent, displays or causes or permits to be displayed a forged, counterfeit, or false disabled person placard, is subject to the issuance of a notice of parking violation imposing a civil penalty of not less than two hundred fifty dollars ($250) and not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), for which enforcement shall be governed by the procedures set forth in Article 3 (commencing with Section 40200) of Chapter 1 of Division 17 or is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for six months, a fine of not less than two hundred fifty dollars ($250) and not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), or both that fine and imprisonment, which penalty shall not be suspended.")

15See same.

16California Vehicle Code 4463.3 VC -- Additional civil penalties; convictions; forgery, alteration, counterfeit or falsification of disabled person placard.  ("In addition to, or instead of, any fine imposed for conviction of a violation of subdivision (b) or (c) of Section 4463, the court may impose a civil penalty of not more than two thousand five hundred dollars ($2,500) for each conviction.")

17California Vehicle Code 31 VC -- False information to peace officer.  ("No person shall give, either orally or in writing, information to a peace officer while in the performance of his duties under the provisions of this code when such person knows that the information is false.")  If that written information contains a forged or counterfeit public seal, the prosecutor could charge the offender with VC 31 and Penal Code 472 PC California's law against forging, counterfeiting, or possessing a fraudulent public seal.

18California Vehicle Code 40000.5 VC -- Misdemeanors.  ("A violation of any of the following provisions shall constitute a misdemeanor, and not an infraction: Section 20, relating to false statements. Section 27, relating to impersonating a member of the California Highway Patrol. Section 31, relating to giving false information. Paragraph (3) of subdivision (a), or subdivision (b), or both, of Section 221, relating to proper evidence of clearance for dismantling.")

See also California Penal Code 19 PC -- Punishment for misdemeanor; punishment not otherwise prescribed.  ("Except in cases where a different punishment is prescribed by any law of this state, every offense declared to be a misdemeanor is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding six months, or by fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both.").

19 Penal Code 538d PC - Impersonating a peace officer [may be charged along with possessing a counterfeit seal].

20 Same.

21 Same.

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