Penal Code 470 PC is the California statute that defines the crime of “forgery.” A person commits this offense when he falsifies a signature or fraudulently alters certain documents.
The code section states that it is a crime for a person to:
- sign the name of another person or of a fictitious person,
- counterfeit or forge the seal or handwriting of another,
- alter, corrupt, or falsify any record of any legal will, codicil, or judgment,
- falsely make, alter, forge, or counterfeit certain documents like checks, bonds, and money orders.
- signing the name of a doctor when writing a fake prescription.
- inserting a page in a person's will in order to get more money.
- endorsing a check made out to someone else without that person's permission.
A defendant can beat a forgery charge with a good legal defense. Common defenses include:
Most violations of this code section are 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:
- 1. When is forgery a crime?
- 2. Are there legal defenses?
- 3. What are the penalties?
- 4. Are there immigration consequences?
- 5. Can a person get a conviction expunged?
- 6. Does a conviction affect gun rights?
- 7. Are there related offenses?
1. When is forgery a crime?
Penal Code 470 PC lists several ways that a person can commit the crime of forgery. These include:
- by signing someone else's name without that person's approval,1
- by counterfeiting or forging a seal on a document or someone else's handwriting,2
- by changing or falsifying a legal document (e.g., a will or court record),3 and/or
- by falsifying, altering, or forging certain documents.4
As to the last act, “certain documents” include things like:
- money orders,
- traveler's checks,
- lottery tickets,
- stock certificates, and
- property deeds.
Note that a prosecutor must prove the following to successfully convict a defendant of forgery:
- he committed one of the acts listed above, and
- when doing so, he acted with the intent to defraud another person.5
Questions often arise under this statute on the meaning of “intent to defraud.”
1.1. Intent to defraud
Under this code section, a person intends to defraud if he:
- deceives another or lies to him, and
- does so in order to deprive him of money, property, or some legal right.6
Note that a person acts with this intent even if:
- no one is actually defrauded, or
- no one actually suffers a ﬁnancial, legal, or property loss.7
Example: Nia writes Sal a $20.00 check for cutting her grass. Sal writes in an extra zero on the check, so it looks like the payment amount is $200. Sal wants to cheat Nia and the bank out of extra money.
Here, Sal acts with an intent to defraud. He tried to deceive Nia and the bank when he altered the check. Further, Sal is guilty of forgery even if he is not successful in cashing the bad check.
2. Are there legal defenses?
A defendant can use a legal defense to challenge a forgery charge.
Three common defenses are:
- no intent to defraud,
- falsely accused, and/or
- coerced confession.
2.1. No intent to defraud
Recall that a person is only guilty of forgery if he acted with the intent to defraud. This means it is always a defense for a defendant to show that he did not act with this requisite intent. Perhaps, for example, an accused forged something as a prank (and not with an intent to deceive).
2.2. Falsely accused
Many forgery cases arise out of complex business or legal dealings. They also often occur in workplace settings. Given this, it is not unusual for a person to falsely accuse someone of forgery in the attempt to cover up his own guilt. It is a defense in these cases for the defendant to say he was unjustly blamed.
2.3. Coerced confession
This defense applies to the situation where a defendant was charged following a confession.
California law states that police may not use overbearing measures to coerce a confession.
If a party can show that the police coerced him into a confession, then:
- the judge may exclude the confession from evidence, or
- the case could get dropped altogether if the party got pressured into confessing to a crime he didn't commit.
3. What are the penalties?
A violation of Penal Code 470 is charged as 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 $1,000.8
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 $10,000.9
Note, though, that a violation of this statute is only charged as a misdemeanor if:
- the forged document is a check, money order, or similar instrument, and
- the instrument is worth $950 or less.10
4. Are there immigration consequences?
A forgery conviction may have negative immigration consequences.
One California court has ruled that forgery is a serious offense involving moral turpitude.11
This is a problem because “crimes involving moral turpitude” can result in a non-citizen being either:
Therefore, a PC 470 conviction could have damaging immigration consequences.
5. Can a person get a conviction expunged?
A person can get an expungement of a forgery conviction.
Penal Code 1203.4 PC says an expungement releases an individual from many of the hardships associated with a conviction.
A person can get an expungement if he:
- successfully completes probation, or
- successfully completes a jail term (whichever is applicable).
Note that a judge may even award expungement if a party violates a probation term.
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 forgery as either:
- a misdemeanor, or
- a felony.
If charged as a felony, and the defendant is convicted, then he would lose his California gun rights.
7. Are there related offenses?
There are three crimes related to forgery. These are:
- credit card fraud – PC 484f,
- check fraud – PC 476, and
- making or selling counterfeit goods – PC 350.
7.1. Credit card fraud – PC 484f
Penal Code 484f PC is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to forge someone's credit card information.
Like with general forgery, a defendant is only guilty of this offense if he acts with an intent to defraud.
7.2. Check fraud – PC 476
Penal Code 476 PC is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to:
- make, write, or pass a fake check, and
- do so with the intent to defraud.
Depending on the particular facts of a case, a person could be accused of both:
- check fraud, and
7.3. Making or selling counterfeit goods – PC 350
Penal Code 350 PC is the California statute that makes it a crime to manufacture, sell, or possess for sale, any counterfeit trademarks.
This statute punishes those who make, sell or intend to sell “knock-off” versions of branded products.
Note that a prosecutor does not have to prove an intent to defraud under this code section.
For additional help...
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 forgery charges in Nevada and Colorado, please see our articles on:
California Penal Code 470c PC.
California Penal Code 470d PC.
California Penal Code 470 PC.
CALCRIM No. 1905 - Forgery by Passing or Attempting to Use Forged Document. Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions (2017 edition). 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 19 PC.
California Penal Code 470 PC.