Forging Deeds California Penal Codes 115 & 115.5 PC

Amidst California's real estate boom and bust, the incidence of forging real estate deeds has become very common. Lots of people get prosecuted and go to jail.

Unfortunately, however, many of the people who get implicated in these schemes are actually innocent.

We're a statewide law firm of real estate fraud attorneys1 that defends people in this situation. We've prepared the article below to explain the law regarding fording deeds in California (Penal Codes 115 and 115.5), the penalties and sentencing, and the common tactics that lawyers use to defend and protect their clients.

1. The Legal Definition of Forging Deeds

1.1. Examples

2. Defenses

2.1. You had consent to enter into a transaction
with the property

2.2. You didn't have fraudulent intent

2.3. False accusations / mistaken identity

3. Penalties, Punishment and Sentencing

3.1. Sentencing enhancements

4. Related Offenses

4.1. Penal Code 487 PC grand theft

4.2. Penal Code 470 PC forgery

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

In addition, you may also find helpful information in our related articles on California's Fraud Laws; California Real Estate and Mortgage Fraud; Identity Theft; Penal Code 487 PC Grand Theft; Penal Code 470 PC Forgery; Civil Code 2945.4 California's "Foreclosure Fraud" Law; Civil Code 890 California's "Rent Skimming" Law; Phantom Help Scams; Predatory Lending Schemes; Illegal Property Flipping; Crimes of Moral Turpitude; How Criminal Convictions Affect Professional Licenses; and California Legal Defenses.

1. The Legal Definition of Forging Deeds

Forging deeds is one type of California real estate and mortgage fraud.  Penal Code sections 115 and 115.5 PC make it a crime if you knowingly

  • attempt to file, register or record a forged deed2 and/or,
  • file a forged deed.3

Of course, these sections assume that you have already forged the deed in question.  You violate Penal Code 470 PC California's forgery law when you knowingly alter, create, or use a written document for your own benefit or gain.4

1.1. Examples

Forging of real estate deeds in California occurs most typically in two types of situations.  The first takes place when an individual forges the property owner's name and transfers title to him/herself.  The individual then turns around and sells the property to another person.

The second common situation involving deed forgery takes place when an individual forges the property owner's name, transfers the property to him/herself and then takes out loans against the property.

Both scenarios have the potential to allow the forger to obtain large amounts of money in a relatively easy manner.

Oftentimes the person who is looking to forge a deed targets homes that have large amounts of equity.  Quite frequently, these types of homes are owned by elderly individuals...individuals who are considered "easy prey" because they are more vulnerable to fraud, given their perceived lack of sophistication when it comes to scams.  If you are accused of forging a deed...and that deed rightfully belongs to an individual who is older than 65...prosecutors could also charge you with violating California's elder abuse laws.5

A similar offense takes place when an individual forges escrow documents in order to obtain escrow deposits to which he/she is not entitled.  This is another rising form of California real estate fraud.

2. Defenses

Fortunately, there are a variety of legal defenses to California's laws against forging deeds that an experienced real estate fraud defense attorney could present on your behalf.  Some of the most common include (but are not limited to):

2.1. You had consent to enter into a transaction with the property

If you obtained consent...that is, legitimate consent...from the property owner to transfer title to yourself, then you are not guilty of this offense.  This might be the case if, for example, you are a trusted employee of an unsophisticated homeowner who decides he/she wants you to have the property and instructs you to take care of the transfer.

As Ventura criminal defense attorney Darrell York6 explains, "If you obtained consent to transfer title to yourself...even consent to sign for the homeowner...and are then accused of forging a deed, you must consult with a California criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible.  An experienced attorney can help prove that you didn't have fraudulent intent and that you are innocent of the charge(s)."

2.2. You didn't have fraudulent intent

Similarly, if the prosecutor can't prove that you acted with the specific intent to defraud, you should be acquitted of the charges.  This is because fraud offenses necessarily involve fraudulent intent...without it, there is no crime.

2.3. False accusations / mistaken identity

Let's say that someone uses your name without your consent (a form of identity theft).  Perhaps that individual forges a deed and transfers the title into your name, intending to pose as you as he/she carries out the transaction in an effort to escape his/her own liability.  Given these circumstances, you have done no wrong.  In fact, you are the one who got victimized.

It is not at all uncommon for innocent people to be accused of committing crimes they didn't commit.  We understand this.  If you have been falsely accused of forging deeds, we have the inside experience that allows us to clear your name and demonstrate your innocence.

3. Penalties, Punishment and Sentencing

Penal Code 115 PC California's law prohibiting forging deeds is a felony, punishable by 16 months or two or three years in the California state prison and a maximum $10,000 fine.  Each forged deed that you attempt to file, register or record counts as a separate violation of this section. This means that for each violation, you face an additional three-year sentence and an additional $10,000 fine.7

Penal Code 115.5 PC California's law against filing a forged deed is punishable by a maximum $75,000 fine in addition to any other punishments that are imposed in connection with this offense.8

3.1. Sentencing enhancements

In addition to the penalties noted above...and to any other penalties that might be imposed with a conviction for this offense...a conviction for forging deeds in California subjects you to

  • an additional and consecutive one-to-four years in the California state prison if you deprived the homeowner of more than $65,000,9
  • an additional and consecutive one-to-five years in the state prison and either a maximum $500,000 fine or double the amount of the fraud, whichever is greater, if you deprived the homeowner of more than $100,000 and you have been convicted of two or more felonies involving fraud in the same criminal proceeding (∗this penalty may even be imposed on top of the additional one-to-four years that is added on by the punishment just referenced above),10 and
  • professional discipline if you hold a California professional license (fraud offenses...typically categorized as crimes of moral turpitude...are criminal convictions that can affect professional licenses).11
4. Related Offenses

There are a variety of offenses that are related to the crime of forging deeds.  Some that may be charged in addition to Penal Code sections 115 and 115.5 PC and some that may be charged in lieu of these sections.  The most common two crimes are grand theft and forgery.

4.1. Penal Code 487 PC grand theft

You violate Penal Code 487 PC California's grand theft law anytime you unlawfully take another person's property worth more than $950.  This offense is what is known as a wobbler.

A "wobbler" is a crime that prosecutors can file as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on

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

If convicted of grand theft as a felony, you face 16 months, or two or three years in the state prison and a maximum $10,000 fine.  If convicted of the misdemeanor, you face up to one year in a county jail and a maximum $1,000 fine.12

This means that if you deprive a homeowner out of more than $950, prosecutors could charge you with forging deeds and grand theft.

And if you are caught forging deeds before you actually collect any money, prosecutors could still file charges for attempted grand theft.  If convicted, you face one-half of the punishment just described.13

4.2. Penal Code 470 PC forgery

You violate Penal Code 470 PC California's forgery law when you knowingly alter, create, or use a written document for your own benefit or gain.  Forging deeds is, therefore, a direct violation of this law.

Forgery is also a wobbler, subjecting you to the same penalties described under California's grand theft, described above.

Call us for help...
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If you or loved one is charged with Penal Codes 115 & 115.5 PC forging deeds and you are looking to hire an attorney for representation, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group. We can provide a free consultation in office or by phone. We have local offices in Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley, Pasadena, Long Beach, Orange County, Ventura, San Bernardino, Rancho Cucamonga, Riverside, San Diego, Sacramento, Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose and throughout California.

Additionally, our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys are available to answer any questions about Nevada's forgery laws and Nevada mortgage fraud laws.  For more information, we invite you to contact our local attorneys at one of our Nevada law offices, located in Reno and Las Vegas.14

Legal References:

1Our California real estate fraud 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.  If you have been accused of forging deeds, please contact us at Shouse Law Group for a free consultation.

2California Penal Code 115 PC -- Forging deeds.  ("(a) Every person who knowingly procure or offers any false or forged instrument to be filed, registered, or recorded in any public office within this state, which instrument, if genuine, might be filed, registered, or recorded under any law of this state or of the United States, is guilty of a felony. (b) Each instrument which is procured or offered to be filed, registered, or recorded in violation of subdivision (a) shall constitute a separate violation of this section. (c) Except in unusual cases where the interests of justice would best be served if probation is granted, probation shall not be granted to, nor shall the execution or imposition of sentence be suspended for, any of the following persons: (1) Any person with a prior conviction under this section who is again convicted of a violation of this section in a separate proceeding. (2) Any person who is convicted of more than one violation of this section in a single proceeding, with intent to defraud another, and where the violations resulted in a cumulative financial loss exceeding one hundred thousand dollars ($100,000). (d) For purposes of prosecution under this section, each act of procurement or of offering a false or forged instrument to be filed, registered, or recorded shall be considered a separately punishable offense.")

3California Penal Code 115.5 PC -- Filing forged deeds.  ("(a) Every person who files any false or forged document or instrument with the county recorder which affects title to, places an encumbrance on, or places an interest secured by a mortgage or deed of trust on, real property consisting of a single-family residence containing not more than four dwelling units, with knowledge that the document is false or forged, is punishable, in addition to any other punishment, by a fine not exceeding seventy-five thousand dollars ($75,000). (b) Every person who makes a false sworn statement to a notary public, with knowledge that the statement is false, to induce the notary public to perform an improper notarial act on an instrument or document affecting title to, or placing an encumbrance on, real property consisting of a single-family residence containing not more than four dwelling units is guilty of a felony.")

4California Penal Code 470 prohibits fraudulently signing another person's name or a fictitious person's name on a variety of written instruments.

5Penal Code 368 PC California's elder abuse law. ("(d) Any person who is not a caretaker who violates any provision of law proscribing theft, embezzlement, forgery [such as forging deeds], or fraud, or who violates Section 530.5 proscribing identity theft, with respect to the property or personal identifying information of an elder or a dependent adult, and who knows or reasonably should know that the victim is an elder or a dependent adult, is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or in the state prison for two, three, or four years, when the moneys, labor, goods, services, or real or personal property taken or obtained is of a value exceeding four hundred dollars ($400); and by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or by both that fine and imprisonment, when the moneys, labor, goods, services, or real or personal property taken or obtained is of a value not exceeding four hundred dollars ($400). (e) Any caretaker of an elder or a dependent adult who violates any provision of law proscribing theft, embezzlement, forgery, or fraud, or who violates Section 530.5 proscribing identity theft, with respect to the property or personal identifying information of that elder or dependent adult, is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or in the state prison for two, three, or four years when the moneys, labor, goods, services, or real or personal property taken or obtained is of a value exceeding four hundred dollars ($400), and by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or by both that fine and imprisonment, when the moneys, labor, goods, services, or real or personal property taken or obtained is of a value not exceeding four hundred dollars ($400)...(g) As used in this section, "elder" means any person who is 65 years of age or older.")

6Ventura criminal defense lawyer Darrell York uses his former experience as a Glendale Police Officer to represents clients at the Ventura Hall of Justice, the Van Nuys courthouse, the Pasadena courthouse, the Burbank courthouse, the Glendale courthouse, the Lancaster courthouse, the San Fernando courthouse, and the Criminal Courts Building.

7California Penal Code 115 PC -- Forging deeds, endnote 2, above.

See also 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 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.")

8California Penal Code 115.5 PC -- Filing forged deeds, endnote 3, above.

9California Penal Code 12022.6 -- Taking, damaging or destruction of property; commission of felony; additional punishment.  ("(a) When any person takes, damages, or destroys any property in the commission or attempted commission of a felony, with the intent to cause that taking, damage, or destruction, the court shall impose an additional term as follows: (1) If the loss exceeds sixty-five thousand dollars ($65,000), the court, in addition and consecutive to the punishment prescribed for the felony or attempted felony of which the defendant has been convicted, shall impose an additional term of one year. (2) If the loss exceeds two hundred thousand dollars ($200,000), the court, in addition and consecutive to the punishment prescribed for the felony or attempted felony of which the defendant has been convicted, shall impose an additional term of two years. (3) If the loss exceeds one million three hundred thousand dollars ($1,300,000), the court, in addition and consecutive to the punishment prescribed for the felony or attempted felony of which the defendant has been convicted, shall impose an additional term of three years. (4) If the loss exceeds three million two hundred thousand dollars ($3,200,000), the court, in addition and consecutive to the punishment prescribed for the felony or attempted felony of which the defendant has been convicted, shall impose an additional term of four years. (b) In any accusatory pleading involving multiple charges of taking, damage, or destruction, the additional terms provided in this section may be imposed if the aggregate losses to the victims from all felonies exceed the amounts specified in this section and arise from a common scheme or plan. All pleadings under this section shall remain subject to the rules of joinder and severance stated in Section 954. (c) The additional terms provided in this section shall not be imposed unless the facts of the taking, damage, or destruction in excess of the amounts provided in this section are charged in the accusatory pleading and admitted or found to be true by the trier of fact. (d) This section applies to, but is not limited to, property taken, damaged, or destroyed in violation of Section 502 or subdivision (b) of Section 502.7. This section shall also apply to applicable prosecutions for a violation of Section 350, 653h, 653s, or 653w. (e) For the purposes of this section, the term "loss" has the following meanings: (1) When counterfeit items of computer software are manufactured or possessed for sale, the "loss" from the counterfeiting of those items shall be equivalent to the retail price or fair market value of the true items that are counterfeited. (2) When counterfeited but unassembled components of computer software packages are recovered, including, but not limited to, counterfeited computer diskettes, instruction manuals, or licensing envelopes, the "loss" from the counterfeiting of those components of computer software packages shall be equivalent to the retail price or fair market value of the number of completed computer software packages that could have been made from those components. (f) It is the intent of the Legislature that the provisions of this section be reviewed within 10 years to consider the effects of inflation on the additional terms imposed. For that reason this section shall remain in effect only until January 1, 2018, and as of that date is repealed unless a later enacted statute, which is enacted before January 1, 2018, deletes or extends that date.")

See also People v. Beaver (2010) 186 Cal.App.4th 107.  Statute providing for enhanced punishment where a defendant "takes, damages, or destroys any property in the commission or attempted commission of a felony, with the intent to cause that taking, damage, or destruction," is not limited to theft-related offenses; it applies to any felony that causes a taking, damage, or destruction of property.

10California Penal Code 186.11 PC - Aggravated white collar crime enhancement.

11To learn more about how criminal convictions...such as forging deeds...can affect professional licenses, please visit our pages on professional license issues (which are organized by individual professions).

12California Penal Code 489 PC -- Grand theft, punishment.  ("Grand theft is punishable as follows: (a) When the grand theft involves the theft of a firearm, by imprisonment in the state prison for 16 months, 2, or 3 years. (b) In all other cases, by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year or in the state prison.")

See also Penal Codes 18 and 672 PC, endnote 7, above.

13See endnote 12, above.

See also California Penal Code 664 PC -- Attempts.  ("Attempts; punishment.  ("Every person who attempts to commit any crime, but fails, or is prevented or intercepted in its perpetration, shall be punished where no provision is made by law for the punishment of those attempts, as follows: (a) If the crime attempted is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison, the person guilty of the attempt shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for one-half the term of imprisonment prescribed upon a conviction of the offense attempted...(b) If the crime attempted is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail, the person guilty of the attempt shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail for a term not exceeding one-half the term of imprisonment prescribed upon a conviction of the offense attempted.")

14Please feel free to contact our Nevada criminal defense attorneys Michael Becker and Mike Castillo for any questions relating to Nevada's theft and fraud laws. Our Nevada law offices are located in Reno and Las Vegas.

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