Updated June 7, 2020
Penal Code 472 PC is the California law that makes it a crime to forge a public seal. This means to forge or counterfeit a design or emblem, such as the California state seal, on a drivers license or state identification card. Prosecutors may charge this offense as a misdemeanor or a felony. As a felony, it carries a penalty of up to 3 years in custody.
In the discussion below, our California criminal defense attorneys1 will address the following:
If, after reading this article, you would like more information, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.
1. What does it mean to forge a 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
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
- possessed a counterfeited public seal (or an impression of a public seal),
- knew the seal or impression was counterfeit and willfully concealed that fact, and
- 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. Are there defenses to Penal Code 472 PC?
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.
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
- “planted” the illegal evidence, or
- discovered the alleged forged or counterfeit document while violating California search and seizure rules.8
3. Is there potential jail time?
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
- the facts of your case, and
- your criminal history.
If you are convicted of Penal Code 472 PC as a misdemeanor, you face up to one year in 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 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
- imprisonment in the state prison for a maximum of three years and a maximum $10,000 fine, or
- 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 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
- up to three years in the state prison and a maximum $10,000 fine, or
- 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 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 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 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
For legal representation…
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 Colorado forgery law, go to our page on Colorado forgery law.
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.
4People v. Castellanos (2003) 110 Cal.App.4th 1489, 1493.
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.”)
6 People v. Castellanos (2003) 110 Cal.App.4th 1489, 1493. 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
See also California Penal Code 672 PC
10California Penal Code 470a PC See also California Penal Codes 18 and 672, endnote 9, above.
11California Penal Code 470b PC
See also California Penal Codes 18 and 672, endnote 9, above.
12California Vehicle Code 13004 VC
See also California Vehicle Code 40000.11 VC — Misdemeanors
See also California Penal Code 19 PC
13California Vehicle Code 13004.1 VC
14 Code 4463 VC — California’s fraudulent vehicle registration law.
16California Vehicle Code 4463.3 VC
17California Vehicle Code 31 VC
18California Vehicle Code 40000.5 VC — Misdemeanors.
See also California Penal Code 19 PC
19 Penal Code 538d PC – Impersonating a peace officer