Penal Code 154 PC - Fraudulent Conveyance - California Law


California Penal Code 154 PC
is the California statute defining the crime of fraudulent conveyance. Under this statute, it is a crime for a person to give away his property in order to avoid having to use that property to pay back a debt.

Specifically, this section states that:

“Every debtor who fraudulently removes his or her property or effects out of this state, or who fraudulently sells, conveys, assigns or conceals his or her property with intent to defraud, hinder or delay his or her creditors of their rights, claims, or demands, is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding one year, or by fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both that fine and imprisonment.”

Fraudulent conveyance is a type of white-collar crime that is sometimes referred to as “concealing assets from creditors.”

Examples of illegal acts include:

  • Knowing that he owes Cathy $500, Dave gives his $1,000 watch to his niece (free of charge), rather than selling it and paying his debt to Cathy.
  • Although Andres could sell his expensive car and use the profits to pay down his credit card debt, he gives it to a relative as a gift.
  • Frustrated with having to pay child support to his ex-wife, Barry arranges for all the profits of his small business to get deposited into his girlfriend's bank account.

Defenses

Luckily, there are several legal defenses that a person can raise if accused of engaging in a fraudulent conveyance. These include showing that an accused party:

Penalties

A violation of Penal Code 154 PC is charged as a misdemeanor (as opposed to a California infraction). The crime is punishable by:

  • imprisonment in the county jail for not more than one year; and/or,
  • a maximum fine of $1,000.

If the fraudulent conveyance involves stock in trade valued at more than $250, the crime will be charged as a felony. As such, it is punishable by imprisonment in the California state prison for:

  • 16 months,
  • two years, or
  • three years.

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

fraudulent conveyance businessman california
Fraudulent conveyance is a type of white-collar crime that is sometimes referred to as “concealing assets from creditors.”

1. What is the legal definition of a fraudulent conveyance?

Under California Penal Code 154 PC, a fraudulent conveyance is what happens when someone sells, gives away, or otherwise transfers any kind of property. And, the party does so with the goal of preventing his creditors from getting at that property and using it to pay off the debt.1

Please note that a creditor is a person to whom a party owes money to. A debtor, in contrast, is the party that owes money to the creditor.

In a fraudulent conveyance, a defendant can only get convicted of the crime if he gives away property with the intent to either:

  • prevent a creditor from getting paid;
  • make it more difficult for the creditor to get paid; or,
  • delay the creditor from getting paid.2

The “property” involved in a fraudulent conveyance can include such things as:

  • money;
  • cars, boats, or recreational vehicles;
  • homes or condominiums;
  • stock;
  • watches or jewelry;
  • clothes or furniture; or,
  • any other property that can be used to pay a debt.

Please note that fraudulent conveyances can also lead to federal criminal charges. In addition, under the Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act, a creditor can sue a debtor in a civil lawsuit to get the property that a debtor fraudulently conveyed – even if the debtor no longer owns it.3

2. What are the legal defenses?

A person accused under PC 154 can challenge the accusation by raising a legal defense. A good defense can often get a charge reduced or even dismissed. Please note, though, that it is critical for an accused to hire an attorney to get the most effective defense.

Three common defenses are that the accused:

  1. lacked fraudulent intent;
  2. acted out of necessity; and/or,
  3. is a victim of an unlawful search and seizure.

2.1. Lack of intent

Recall that a defendant is only guilty under Penal Code 154 if he transfers property with the specific intent to avoid, or delay, making a payment to a creditor. Therefore, it is a solid defense for an accused to fight a fraudulent conveyance charge by showing that he did not have this requisite intent. For example, it is quite possible that a defendant transferred property to help a relative in need, as opposed to hiding it from a creditor.

2.2. Necessity

Under a necessity defense, a defendant essentially tries to avoid guilt by showing that he had a sufficiently good reason to commit the crime. People sometimes refer to this defense as “guilty with an explanation.” In the context of a fraudulent conveyance, an accused could attempt to show that he committed the crime since he had no other choice (e.g., because of an emergency or to pay off some other creditor).

2.3 Unlawful search and seizure

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution declares that we have the right to be free from unreasonable “searches and seizures” by law enforcement. If authorities obtain evidence from an unreasonable, or unlawful search and seizure, then that evidence can get excluded from a criminal case. This means that any charges in the case could get reduced or even dismissed.

The Fourth Amendment's rule against unreasonable search and seizures means that police may not search a person or his property unless one of the following is true:

  1. they have obtained a valid search warrant from a judge, OR
  2. the search falls within one of a number of exceptions to the warrant requirement recognized by federal and California courts.4
california prisoner fraudulent conveyance
A violation of Penal Code 154 PC can result in imprisonment and/or a fine

3. What are the penalties for a fraudulent conveyance?

A violation of Penal Code 154 PC is charged as a misdemeanor (as opposed to a California infraction). The crime is punishable by:

  • imprisonment in the county jail for not more than one year; and/or,
  • a maximum fine of $1,000.5

If the fraudulent conveyance involves stock in trade, valued at more than $250, the crime will be charged as a felony. As such, it is punishable by imprisonment in the California state prison for:

  • 16 months,
  • two years, or
  • three years.6

4. What are some related offenses?

There are three crimes related to fraudulent conveyances, under Penal Code 154. These are:

  1. fraudulent conveyance by a judgment debtor – PC 155;
  2. participation in a fraudulent conveyance – PC 531; and,
  3. mail fraud.

4.1. Fraudulent conveyance by a judgment debtor – PC 155

California Penal Code 155 PC applies to people who are defendants or losing parties in a court case.

The code section makes it illegal for a person to conceal or transfer property, or to move property to a different county, in order to avoid paying damages owed as a result of a lawsuit.7

A person can violate Penal Code 155 by transferring property after he has already been ordered to pay money in a court case. In addition, a party can violate the code section by transferring property while a lawsuit is still pending, before the party has even been ordered to pay anything.8

The penalties for violating PC 155 are the same as those for violating PC 154.

A violation of Penal Code 154 PC is charged as a misdemeanor (as opposed to a California infraction). The crime is punishable by:

  • imprisonment in the county jail for not more than one year; and/or,
  • a maximum fine of $1,000.9

If the fraudulent conveyance involves stock in trade, valued at more than $250, the crime will be charged as a felony. As such, it is punishable by imprisonment in the California state prison for:

  • 16 months,
  • two years, or
  • three years.10

4.2. Participation in a fraudulent conveyance – PC 531

California Penal Code 531 PC makes it a crime for persons to participate in fraudulent conveyances.

Under PC 531, a person participates in a fraudulent conveyance if he:

  • is a party to the conveyance (this typically means the person to whom the property is transferred or given to);
  • willingly and knowingly defends the conveyance as not being fraudulent; and,
  • gives away or sells the property that had already been fraudulently conveyed.11

A person that violates PC 531 is guilty of a misdemeanor.12 The offense is punishable by:

  • imprisonment in the county jail for not more than six months; and/or,
  • a maximum fine of $1,000.13

4.3. Mail fraud

Mail fraud is a crime under federal law. A person can be charged with mail fraud if the authorities believe he used a United States post office, or even a private mail carrier, to send or receive any materials related to a scheme to commit fraud.14

A prosecutor must prove three elements in order to successfully convict a defendant of mail fraud. These are:

  1. the defendant created a scheme to commit fraud;
  2. the defendant used the mail to further that scheme; and
  3. the defendant intended to commit fraud.15

For the purposes of the federal crime of mail fraud, fraud means the knowing or reckless misrepresentation of a material fact in order to deprive someone else of something valuable.16 In other words, fraud is lying to someone in order to get them to give up something they value (usually money).

A party guilty of mail fraud is charged with a felony. The offense is punishable by a:

  • substantial fine; and/or,
  • imprisonment in federal prison for not more than 20 years.17

Were you accused of engaging in a fraudulent conveyance in California? Call us for help…

california fraudulent conveyance legal defense attorneys
Call us for help at (855) LAW-FIRM

If you or someone you know has been accused of a crime, under California Penal Code 154, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation. We can be reached 24/7 at 855-LAWFIRM.

(For accusations or charges involving fraudulent conveyances in Nevada, please see our article on Nevada "Fraudulent Conveyance" Laws (NRS 205.330, NRS 205.355, NRS 205.360)).


Legal References:

  1. California Penal Code 154(a). This section reads as follows: “Every debtor who fraudulently removes his or her property or effects out of this state, or who fraudulently sells, conveys, assigns or conceals his or her property with intent to defraud, hinder or delay his or her creditors of their rights, claims, or demands, is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding one year, or by fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both that fine and imprisonment.”

  2. See same.

  3. Civil Code 3439.07.

  4. E.g., Riley v. California (2014) 134 S.Ct. 2473, 2482. (“In the absence of a warrant, a search is reasonable only if it falls within a specific exception to the warrant requirement.”).

  5. California Penal Code 154(a).

  6. California Penal Code 154(b).

  7. California Penal Code 155(a).

  8. See same.

  9. See same.

  10. California Penal Code 155(b).

  11. California Penal Code 531.

  12. See same.

  13. California Penal Code 19.

  14. 18 United States Code ("U.S.C.") § 1341.

  15. Miller v. Yokohama Tire Corp., (9th Cir. 2004) 358 F.3d 616, 620.

  16. Black's Law Dictionary (9th ed. 2009).

  17. 18 United States Code ("U.S.C.") § 1341.

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