Forging or Counterfeiting a Driver's License/ Identification Card
California Penal Code 470(a) PC

Charged with forging a fake driver's license or I.D. card?

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In this article, our California criminal defense attorneys1 provide an overview to understanding Penal Code 470(a) PC California's law against forging or counterfeiting driver's licenses and/or I.D. cards.

1. Penal Code 470(a) PC -- Forging or Counterfeiting a California Driver's License or Identification Card

California's fraud laws prohibit acts that involve forgery and/or counterfeiting.

Penal Code 470 PC California's forgery law defines forgery as knowingly altering, manipulating, or creating a written document or instrument with the intent to obtain an undeserved personal gain.2

Counterfeiting is defined as altering, manipulating, or creating an imitation of an item intending to pass it off as genuine.

One offense that is directly in violation of these fraud laws is Penal Code 470(a) PC forging or counterfeiting driver's licenses or identification cards.

Penal Code 470(a) PC states,

"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."3

Some common violations of this law include (but are not limited to):

  • changing the birth date that appears on a driver's license or identification card,
  • changing the name that appears on the card,
  • changing the physical description or altering the photograph that appears on the card, and
  • changing the expiration date that appears on the card.

Note that nothing in the code states that the license or I.D. card has to be a California driver's license or identification card...any government issued license or I.D. card will do.  What's relevant is that you engaged in the act of counterfeiting or forgery in this state.

2. Legal Defenses

There are a variety of legal defenses to California's law against forging or counterfeiting a driver's license or identification card that a skilled California criminal defense attorney can present on your behalf.

You didn't intend to commit a fraud

As Palm Springs criminal defense attorney Michael Scafiddi4 explains, "One of the best defenses to any forgery / fraud type of case is that you lacked fraudulent intent.  And while it's true that the defense that will be most applicable to your individual case will vary, this is typically one of the strongest."

With respect to this particular offense, if you didn't intend to facilitate the commission of a forgery, you aren't guilty of this crime.

Included in the language of Penal Code 470(a) is a clause that states that you forge or counterfeit the driver's license or I.D. card with the intent that such driver's license or identification card be used to facilitate the commission of any forgery.

This means that if, for example, you didn't intend for anyone to see the license or identification card, but perhaps altered it as a joke for yourself or a friend...with no intent that it be used to defraud anyone...you haven't violated this law.

Police misconduct

And even if you are technically guilty of this offense, that fact may be trumped by the fact that the cops engaged in police misconduct.  This means that if, for example,

  • the police discovered that you were counterfeiting or forging licenses or I.D. cards in violation of California's search and seizure rules, or
  • for whatever reason, the police planted illegal evidence on you,

the license / card will likely be excluded from evidence based on a 1538.5 PC motion to suppress evidence.  When successful, a 1538.5 PC motion to suppress evidence usually results in the prosecutor either significantly reducing or even dismissing your charges.5

3. Penalties, Punishment, and Sentencing

Penal Code 470(a) PC is what's known as a wobbler.  A "wobbler" is an offense that the prosecutor may elect to file as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on

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

If convicted of violating California's law against counterfeiting or forging a driver's license or I.D. card as a misdemeanor, you face up to one year in a county jail and a maximum $1,000 fine.

If 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.6

4. Related Offenses

There are a number of laws that deal with forgery, driver's licenses and identification cards that are closely related to Penal Code 470(a) PC that...depending on the circumstances...prosecutors could charge in addition to or in lieu of California's law against forging or counterfeiting driver's licenses or I.D. cards.  These include (but are not limited to):

Penal Code 470b PC -- Displaying or possessing counterfeit driver's licenses or I.D. cards

Prosecutors may additionally or alternatively charge you with Penal Code 470b PC California's law against displaying or possessing a forged or counterfeit driver's license or identification card if you display or possess a forged or counterfeit license or I.D. card.

The penalties for violating this law are the same as those for Penal Code 470(a) PC.7

Vehicle Code 13004 VC -- Unlawful acts involving identification cards

If your offense involves an identification card...as opposed to a driver's license...your attorney may be able to convince the prosecutor to charge you with the less serious offense of Vehicle Code 13004 VC California's law against unlawful acts involving identification cards.

A violation of this misdemeanor only subjects you to a maximum six-month county jail sentence and a maximum $1,000 fine.8

Vehicle Code 13004.1 VC -- Manufacturing or selling counterfeit identification cards

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

If you are convicted of this misdemeanor, you face a $1,000 fine and a minimum 24 hours of community service.9

Penal Code 472 PC -- Forging, counterfeiting, or possessing fraudulent public seals

If you are guilty of any of the above offenses (including Penal Code 470(a) PC California's law against forging or counterfeiting a driver's license or identification card)...and the counterfeit license or I.D. card bears a forged of counterfeit seal (like the seal that appears on government issued licenses or I.D. cards...prosecutors could charge you with Penal Code 472 PC.

Penal Code 472 PC California's law against forging, counterfeiting, or possessing a fraudulent public seal is also a wobbler, punishable by up to three years in the state prison and a maximum $10,000 fine.10

Call us for help...
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If you or loved one is charged with Penal Code 470(a) PC forging IDs 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.

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 470: Forgery; Signatures or Seals; Corruption of Records.  ("(a) Every person who, with the intent to defraud, knowing that he or she has no authority to do so, signs the name of another person or of a fictitious person to any of the items listed in subdivision (d) is guilty of forgery. (b) Every person who, with the intent to defraud, counterfeits or forges the seal or handwriting of another is guilty of forgery.  (c) Every person who, with the intent to defraud, alters, corrupts, or falsifies any record of any will, codicil, conveyance, or other instrument, the record of which is by law evidence, or any record of any judgment of a court or the return of any officer to any process of any court, is guilty of forgery. (d) Every person who, with the intent to defraud, falsely makes, alters, forges, or counterfeits, utters, publishes, passes or attempts or offers to pass, as true and genuine, any of the following items, knowing the same to be false, altered, forged, or counterfeited, is guilty of forgery: any check, bond, bank bill, or note, cashier's check, traveler's check, money order, post note, draft, any controller's warrant for the payment of money at the treasury, county order or warrant, or request for the payment of money, receipt for money or goods, bill of exchange, promissory note, order, or any assignment of any bond, writing obligatory, or other contract for money or other property, contract, due bill for payment of money or property, receipt for money or property, passage ticket, lottery ticket or share purporting to be issued under the California State Lottery Act of 1984, trading stamp, power of attorney, certificate of ownership or other document evidencing ownership of a vehicle or undocumented vessel, or any certificate of any share, right, or interest in the stock of any corporation or association, or the delivery of goods or chattels of any kind, or for the delivery of any instrument of writing, or acquittance, release or discharge of any debt, account, suit, action, demand, or any other thing, real or personal, or any transfer or assurance of money, certificate of shares of stock, goods, chattels, or other property whatever, or any letter of attorney, or other power to receive money, or to receive or transfer certificates of shares of stock or annuities, or to let, lease, dispose of, alien, or convey any goods, chattels, lands, or tenements, or other estate, real or personal, or falsifies the acknowledgment of any notary public, or any notary public who issues an acknowledgment knowing it to be false; or any matter described in subdivision (b). (e) Upon a trial for forging any bill or note purporting to be the bill or note of an incorporated company or bank, or for passing, or attempting to pass, or having in possession with intent to pass, any forged bill or note, it is not necessary to prove the incorporation of the bank or company by the charter or act of incorporation, but it may be proved by general reputation; and persons of skill are competent witnesses to prove that the bill or note is forged or counterfeited.")

3California Penal Code 470a PC -- Forgery or counterfeiting of driver's license or identification card; intent; punishment.

4Palm Springs criminal defense attorney Michael Scafiddi uses his former experience as an Ontario Police Officer to represent clients throughout the Inland Empire including San Bernardino, Riverside, Hemet, Banning, Fontana, Joshua Tree, Barstow and Victorville.

5A California Penal Code 1538.5 PC motion to suppress evidence is a motion that your California criminal defense attorney will file where there are legitimate allegations of police misconduct.  Types of misconduct may include illegal search and seizures (in violation of California's search and seizure rules), planting evidence, or any other type of misconduct that deprives you of your Constitutional rights.

6California Penal Code 470a PC -- Forgery or counterfeiting of driver's license or identification card; intent; punishment, endnote 3, above.  ("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 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.")

7California 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 6, above.

8California 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.")

9California 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.")

10California Penal Code 472 PC -- Forging, counterfeiting, or possessing a fraudulent public sea.  ("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.")

See also California 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 Codes 18 and 672, endnote 6, above

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