Penal Code § 472 PC defines the crime of forging a public seal. This means to forge, counterfeit, or possess a fraudulent public seal or emblem, usually to make a fake document appear to be official or endorsed by a government agency.
The language of the code section reads as follows:
472. 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.
- forging a California State seal on a driver’s license or identification card
- counterfeiting a corporate seal on a business card
- forging a public seal while making a fake credit card
People accused of a crime under this statute can challenge the accusation with a legal defense. A few common defenses include defendants showing that:
- they did not act with an intent to defraud,
- they were entrapped, and/or
- law enforcement violated one of their constitutional rights.
A violation of California Penal Code Section 472 is a wobbler offense. A wobbler is a crime that a prosecutor can charge as either a misdemeanor or a felony.
Misdemeanor charges under this law are punishable by custody in county jail for up to one year.
Felony charges are punishable by confinement in state prison for up to three years.
Our California criminal defense attorneys will highlight the following in this article:
- 1. What does it mean to forge and counterfeit a public seal?
- 2. Are there legal defenses to PC 472 charges?
- 3. What are the penalties?
- 4. Are there related offenses?
1. What does it mean to forge and counterfeit a public seal?
A prosecutor must prove the following to convict a defendant under this statute successfully:
- the defendant forged or counterfeited a seal of this state, a legally authorized public officer or a court of record, a corporation, or a public seal legally authorized or recognized by any state, government, or country, and
- when the defendant did that act, he/she intended to defraud.1
A defendant is guilty of possessing a forged or counterfeit seal if the following are true:
- the defendant possessed a counterfeited public seal (or an impression of a public seal),
- the accused knew the seal or impression was counterfeit and willfully concealed that fact, and
- the accused acted with the specific intent to defraud another person.2
For purposes of this statute, someone “intends to defraud” if he/she intends to deceive another person so as to cause a loss of:
- services, or
- something else of value.3
Note that it is not necessary, for a guilty conviction under this law, that anyone actually is defrauded or actually suffer financial, legal, or property loss as a result of the defendant’s acts. A party is guilty so long as there is an intent to defraud.
2. Are there legal defenses to PC 472 charges?
Criminal defense lawyers draw upon several different legal strategies to help clients contest charges under this law. Three common ones include attorneys showing that:
- the accused did not act with intentions to defraud.
- a peace officer entrapped the defendant.
- law enforcement violated one of the defendant’s constitutional rights.
2.1. No intent to defraud
Recall that people are only guilty under this code section if they acted with the specific intent to defraud another person. Further, “intent to defraud” carries a precise definition under California law. A defense is for an accused to show that he/she did not act with this aim. Maybe, for example, a defendant forged a seal to help pull off a practical joke.
Entrapment is often used as a defense when a defendant is charged under PC 472 after an undercover sting. Entrapment means that the police used some type of overbearing conduct to trick a person into committing a crime. The defense works so long as the accused shows that he/she only committed an offense because of the undercover officer’s actions.
2.3. Violation of a constitutional right
People can always contest a counterfeit seal charge by showing that the police violated one of their constitutional rights.
Perhaps, for example, law enforcement:
- conducted an unlawful search or seizure,
- stopped or arrested the defendant without probable cause,
- coerced a confession, or
- failed to read the accused his/her Miranda rights.
3. What are the penalties?
Violations of this code section are wobbler offenses. A prosecutor can charge a wobbler as either a misdemeanor or a felony.
Misdemeanor charges are punishable by:
- custody in county jail for up to one year, and/or
- a maximum fine of $1,000.4
A felony conviction is punishable by:
- custody in state prison for up to three years, and/or
- a maximum fine of $10,000.5
4. Are there related offenses?
There are three crimes related to forging a public seal. These are:
- forging or counterfeiting a driver’s license – PC 470a,
- unlawful use of ID cards – VC 13004, and
- manufacturing counterfeit identification cards – VC 13004.1.
4.1. Forging or counterfeiting a driver’s license – PC 470a
Per Penal Code 470a, forging or counterfeiting a driver’s license is the crime where people alter, falsify, forge, duplicate, or counterfeit any driver’s license or identification card.6
If a defendant uses a counterfeit seal to make a false document or forged document in violation of this statute, then a prosecutor can charge the accused under both:
- Penal Code 470a, and
- Penal Code 472.
4.2. Unlawful use of ID cards – VC 13004
Per Vehicle Code 13004, the unlawful use of ID cards is the crime where people possess a fake ID or lend an ID to someone else.
As with PC 472 charges, people accused under this statute can challenge the accusation by showing that the police violated one of their constitutional rights.
4.3. Manufacturing counterfeit ID cards – VC 13004.1
Under Vehicle Code 13004.1, manufacturing counterfeit ID cards is the crime where people manufacture or sell counterfeit or fake California State ID cards.
Unlike with charges under PC 472, charges under this law are always filed as misdemeanors.
- CALCRIM No. 1925 – Forgery of Government, Public, or Corporate Seal. Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions (2020 edition).
- People v. Castellanos (2003) 110 Cal.App.4th 1489.
- CALCRIM No. 1925 – Forgery of Government, Public, or Corporate Seal. See also People v. Pugh (2002) 104 Cal.App.4th 66; and, People v. Gaul-Alexander (1995) 32 Cal.App.4th 735.
- California Penal Code 473 PC.
- See same.
- California Penal Code 470 Subsection a PC.