California Penal Code 115 PC makes it a crime knowingly to file, register, or record a false or forged document in any public office within the state. Doing so is a felony offense that is punishable by up to three years in jail or prison.
The language of the statute reads that:
115. (a) Every person who knowingly procures 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.
- forging a real estate deed and filing it with the county’s recorder office.
- filing false fishing records with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
- filing a false timesheet with a public employer.
A defendant can raise a legal defense to challenge allegations of violating this statute. Common defenses include the defendant showing that he/she:
- did not know that a document was false or forged,
- did not provide a document to a public office, and/or
- was falsely accused.
The crime is punishable by:
- custody in jail or prison for up to three years, and/or
- a maximum fine of $10,000.
A judge may award a defendant with felony probation in lieu of prison time.
Our California criminal defense attorneys will address the following in this article:
- 1. When is filing a false document a crime under California law?
- 2. Are there legal defenses to Penal Code 115 PC?
- 3. What are the penalties?
- 4. Will a person suffer any negative immigration consequences?
- 5. Can a party get a conviction expunged?
- 6. How does a conviction affect gun rights?
- 7. Are there any related crimes?
1. When is filing a false document a crime under California law?
To successfully convict a defendant under this statute, a district attorney has to prove the following elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt:
- the accused provided a document for filing, recording, or registration with a public office,
- the accused knew that the document was a false document or a forged document when he or she filed it, and
- the document was one that, if authentic, could be legally filed.1
Note that this criminal law applies to a wide variety of documents, from fishing records to pay stubs. Nevertheless, courts have ruled that the statute is not overly vague.2
In addition, many criminal offenses under these laws involve the filing of documents related to real estate property (such as quitclaim deeds, property deeds, and deeds of trusts).3 In these cases, and depending on the type of document involved, charges could potentially be brought under:
2. Are there legal defenses to Penal Code 115 PC?
Defense lawyers can use several legal strategies to challenge filing false document charges. These include showing that:
- the defendant did not know that a document was false or forged.
- the accused did not file a document with a public office.
- the defendant was falsely accused.
2.1. No knowledge
Recall that a defendant is only guilty under this statute if he/she:
- provided a document for filing, and
- knew that the document was false or forged.
This means it is always a defense for an accused to show that he/she did not have this requisite knowledge.
2.2. No public office
These laws only apply if a party presented a document for filing with a California public office (such as a county recorder’s office or California’s Department of Motor Vehicles). Therefore, a defendant can try to challenge a PC 115 charge by showing that he did not offer a document to a public entity. Perhaps, for example, such a person presented a document to a private employer/company.
Note, though, that even if successful, and a document was false or forged, the accused could be charged under a different statute.
2.3. Falsely accused
People get falsely accused of this crime all the time. Reasons as to why “victims” raise false accusations of this offense include:
- family drama,
- revenge, or
- property disputes.
Therefore, an accused can always raise the defense that he/she was unjustly blamed.
3. What are the penalties?
A violation of this code section is charged as a felony. The crime is punishable by:
- imprisonment in jail or prison for up to three years, and/or
- a maximum fine of $10,000.
While a judge may award probation in lieu of prison time, it is not eligible if either of the following is true:
- the accused has a prior conviction for violating PC 115, or
- he/she gets convicted of more than one count of PC 115 and caused a total loss of more than $100,000.4
Note also that there are a few sentencing enhancements that may apply to these criminal proceedings.
For example, a defendant will face California’s so-called “aggravated white-collar crime enhancement” if all of the following are true:
- he/she is convicted of two or more felonies involving fraud or embezzlement (one of which can be PC 115 filing false or forged documents) in the same criminal proceeding,
- the felonies are part of a pattern of criminal conduct,
- the felonies are committed either against two or more separate victims, or against the same victim on two or more separate occasions, and
- the defendant’s actions are alleged to have deprived the victim or victims of more than $100,000.5
This aggravated white-collar crime enhancement can lead to:
- an additional one to five years in state prison, and/or
- an additional fine of as much as $500,000 or double the amount of the fraud (whichever is greater).6
4. Will a person suffer any negative immigration consequences?
A violation of this statute can cause negative immigration results.
California law labels certain offenses as “crimes involving moral turpitude.” If a non-citizen defendant commits one of these offenses, then he/she can be:
One California court has stated that a PC 115 violation is a crime involving moral turpitude if the defendant acted with the intent to defraud.7
Therefore, if an accused acted with this intent, he could face deportation or be deemed inadmissible.
5. Can a party get a conviction expunged?
A person convicted of filing a false document cannot get an expungement.
A law of this state says that parties cannot get a conviction expunged if the offense is punishable by a prison term.
6. How does a conviction affect gun rights?
A false document conviction will negatively affect a person’s gun rights.
California law states that convicted felons must relinquish their rights to:
- purchase a gun,
- own a gun, and
- possess a gun.
Since filing a false document is a felony, a conviction will strip a defendant of his/her gun rights.
7. Are there any related crimes?
There are three crimes related to filing a false or forged document. These are:
- elder abuse – PC 368,
- forgery – PC 470, and
- perjury – PC 118.
7.1. Elder abuse – PC 368
Penal Code 368 PC is the California statute that makes elder abuse a crime. The section applies to the physical or emotional abuse, neglect, or financial exploitation of anyone 65 years of age or older.
If a person files a false document and it results in the financial exploitation of a person 65 or older, then that person could be charged under either:
- PC 368, or
- PC 115.
7.2. Forgery – PC 470
Penal Code 470 PC is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to falsify a signature or fraudulently alter certain documents.
Unlike filing a false document, a person does not have to present a forged document to a public office to violate this statute. Altering a document or signature is enough.
7.3. Perjury – PC 118
Penal Code 118 PC is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to give a false statement while under oath.
While PC 115 pertains to false documents, this statute involves false statements/testimony.
For additional help…
For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a criminal defense attorney, we invite you to contact our law firm at the Shouse Law Group. Our criminal defense lawyers create attorney-client relationships throughout California, including those in Orange County and Los Angeles.
- CALCRIM No. 1945 – Procuring Filing of False Document or Offering False Document for Filing. Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions (2017 edition). See also Irving v. California Unemployment Ins. Appeals Bd. (2014) 229 Cal.App.4th 946; and, Hudson v. Superior Court (2017) 7 Cal.App.5th 999.
- People v. Powers (2004) 117 Cal.App.4th 291.
- See, e.g., People v. Abrahamian (2020) 45 Cal.App.5th 314; People v. Astorga-Lider (2019) 35 Cal.App.5th 646; and, People v. Denman (2013) 218 Cal.App.4th 800.
- California Penal Code 115c PC.
- California Penal Code 186.11 PC.
- See same.
- In re Hallinan (1954) 43 Cal.2d 243.