Penal Code 529 PC – California’s False Impersonation Law

Updated


Penal Code 529 PC
is the California statute that defines the crime of “false impersonation.” The offense is also referred to as “false personation.” The crime is committed when someone uses another person's name to cause a harm or gain an unjust advantage.

The statute applies to the situation when a defendant:

  • pretends to be someone else, and either
  • commits an act that exposes the person to either civil or criminal liability, or
  • does something that causes the other person to have to pay money, or
  • gains some benefit from the impersonation.

Examples:

  • giving an officer another's name and that other person gets arrested for a crime.
  • opening a credit card in someone else's name and buying clothes on it.
  • using another person's name to get into a country club and then playing golf for free.

Defenses

A defendant can defeat a charge under these laws with a legal defense. Common defenses include:

Penalties

A violation of this code section is a wobbler offenses. A wobbler is a crime that a prosecutor can charge as either:

A misdemeanor conviction is punishable by imprisonment in county jail for up to one year.

A felony conviction is punishable by custody in jail for up to three years.

In lieu of jail time, a judge can award either:

Our California criminal defense attorneys will highlight the following in this article:

person speaking with officer
A false impersonation crime is committed when someone uses another person’s name to cause a harm or gain an unjust advantage

1. When is false impersonation a crime?

A prosecutor must prove the following to convict a person under PC 529:

  1. the defendant falsely personated someone else in their public or private capacity, and
  2. he performed an additional act that created:
  • a. some kind of liability for that person, or
  • b. some benefit for the accused.1

Note that this additional act must be something more than the accused:

  • identifying himself as another person, or
  • presenting evidence that claims to show he is someone else.2

According to Penal Code 529, this requirement is met if the defendant:

  1. serves as a bail or surety before a court in someone else's name,
  2. verifies, publishes, or proves a written instrument in another's name,
  3. commits an act that exposes the other person to civil or criminal liability, or
  4. does something that gives the accused a benefit.3

Example: Patrick is arrested for stealing a car. At booking, he gives the police the name of his brother, John. He also signs John's name on the booking and release forms. Patrick is released on his own recognizance and fails to appear at his next scheduled hearing. Police then arrest John on charges of grand theft auto, per Penal Code 487d1 PC.

Here, Patrick is guilty of false impersonation. He committed an “additional act” when he signed his brother's name on the booking and release forms.

Note that this example is based on the facts of a real California court case.4

2. Are there legal defenses?

A defendant can use a legal defense to challenge a false impersonation charge.

Three successful defenses often include:

  1. no additional act,
  2. falsely accused, and/or
  3. no liability or benefits.

2.1. No additional act

Recall that a person is only guilty under this statute if he:

  • took some additional act,
  • beyond falsely identifying himself.

This means it is a legal defense for an accused to say he did not commit this “other” act.

Note that the following do not count as additional acts:

  • giving a false middle name to go with a false identity5, and
  • showing the ID of the person being impersonated.6

2.2. Falsely accused

It is not unusual for:

  • a person to falsely accuse someone of false impersonation,
  • in the attempt to cover up his own guilt.

It is a defense, therefore, for the defendant to say he was unjustly blamed.

2.3. No liability or benefits

Recall that a person is only guilty under these laws if:

  1. he took an additional act, and
  2. that act created a liability or a benefit.

This means it is a defense for an accused to say that his acts did not create either of these. Perhaps, for example, he gave someone a false name and nothing further happened.

man behind bars
A conviction under this law can result in a fine and/or jail time

3. What are the penalties?

A violation of Penal Code 529 is a wobbler offense. A wobbler is a crime that a prosecutor can charge as either:

  • a misdemeanor, or
  • a felony.

If charged as a misdemeanor, the crime is punishable by:

  • misdemeanor (or summary) probation,
  • custody in county jail for up to one year, and/or
  • a maximum fine of $10,000.7

If charged as a felony, the offense is punishable by:

  • felony (or formal) probation,
  • imprisonment in county jail for up to three years, and/or
  • a maximum fine of $10,000.8

4. Are there immigration consequences?

A conviction of false personation will likely not have immigration consequences.

Some crimes in California can result in a non-citizen being either:

An example is an aggravated felony.

Most crimes under this statute, though, will not produce this result.

5. Can a person get a conviction expunged?

A person can get an expungement of a false personation conviction.

Note that for this to happen though, the defendant must complete his:

  • probation, or
  • jail term (whichever one was imposed).

6. Does a conviction affect gun rights?

A conviction under this statute may hurt a defendant's gun rights.

California law says that it is illegal for convicted felons to:

  • own a gun, or
  • possess a gun.

Remember that a prosecutor may charge this crime as either a:

  • misdemeanor, or a
  • felony.

If charged as a felony then:

7. Are there related offenses?

There are three crimes related to false personation. These are:

  1. false identification to an officer – PC 148.9,
  2. theft by false pretenses – PC 532, and
  3. identity theft – PC 530.5.

7.1. False identification to an officer – PC 148.9

Penal Code 148.9 PC is the California statute that makes it crime for a person to:

  • knowingly provide false identification,
  • to a police officer.

This statute only applies to giving information to a police officer. Penal Code 529 applies to giving another person's name to:

  • police, and
  • non-police officers alike.

7.2. Theft by false pretenses – PC 532

Penal Code 532 PC is the California statute that defines the crime of "theft by false pretenses."

Theft by false pretenses is the act of an accused:

  • convincing someone to voluntarily give him his or her property,
  • by telling them something that isn't true or making a promise that he won't keep.

Like many cases of false personation, this crime involves a defendant getting an undue benefit.

7.3. Identity theft – PC 530.5

Penal Code 530.5 PC is the California statute that defines the crime of identity theft.

A person commits this offense when he:

  1. takes someone's personal identifying information, and
  2. uses it in any unlawful or fraudulent manner.

Unlike PC 529, a prosecutor must prove fraud to convict a person of this offense.

For additional help...

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Call us for help at (855) LAW-FIRM

For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a criminal defense attorney, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.

For information on false impersonation in Nevada and Colorado, please see our articles on:


Legal References:

  1. CALJIC 15.58 – False Personation. Note that a defendant can be guilty of this crime no matter if he personates a living person or a deceased person. See Lee v. Superior Court (2000) 22 Cal.4th 41; and, People v. Stacy (2010) 183 Cal.App.4th 1229.

  2. People v. Casarez (2012) 203 Cal.App.4th 1173.

  3. California Penal Code 529 PC.

  4. People v. Robertson (1990) 223 Cal.App.3d 1277.

  5. People v. Cole (1994) 23 Cal.App.4th 1672.

  6. People v. Casarez (2012) 203 Cal.App.4th 1173.

  7. California Penal Code 529 PC.

  8. California Penal Code 1170h.

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