Penal Code 475 PC - Possession of Counterfeit Items

Penal Code 475 PC is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to possess a counterfeit item. A person commits this crime, and is guilty of forgery, if he:

  • possesses or receives a forged item with the intent to pass it on,
  • possesses an unfinished check with the intent of completing it, and
  • possesses a completed check with the intent to pass it on.

In each of the above circumstances, note that a defendant is only guilty if he acts with the intent to defraud another person.

Examples of illegal acts under this code section include:

  • John finds a money order that was not completed, fills it in, and tries to use it to purchase a television.
  • Maurice receives a forged check from a friend and he tries to use it to pay his landlord rent.
  • Nia gets a blank travelers check (not her own), completes it, and tries to use it to buy clothes.

Defenses

Luckily, there are several legal defenses that a defendant can raise if accused under PC 475. These include showing that the accused:

  • did not have knowledge,
  • acted without an intent to defraud, and
  • was falsely accused.

Penalties

A person that violates this statute is guilty of forgery. According to Penal Code 470, forgery is typically treated as a wobbler offense, meaning that it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony (but never as an infraction).

If charged as a misdemeanor, the crime is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail for up to one year.

If charged as a felony, the offense is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail for up to three years.

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

counterfeit fake stamp
Penal Code 475 PC is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to possess a counterfeit item

1. What is the legal definition of possession of counterfeit items under Penal Code 475?

Penal Code 475 PC is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to possess a counterfeit item.

More specifically, the statute says that a person commits the crime of forgery if he:

  • possesses or receives a forged item, knowing that it is forged, with the intent to pass it on and defraud another person,
  • possesses an unfinished check with the intent of completing it to defraud another person, and
  • possesses a completed check with the intent to pass it on in order to defraud a person.1

To “defraud” someone means to try and trick them or to persuade them by dishonest means.

2. Legal Defenses

A person can try to challenge a PC 475 accusation by raising a legal defense. A good legal defense may work to reduce or dismiss a charge of possession of counterfeit items.

Three common defenses to Penal Code 475 charges include:

  1. no knowledge,
  2. no intent to defraud, and/or
  3. falsely accused.

2.1. No knowledge

Please recall that a person can only be guilty of possessing a forged item if he knew that the item he possessed was actually forged. It is a valid legal defense, therefore, if a defendant can show that he did not know of a prior forgery.

2.2. No intent to defraud

There can be no forgery under PC 475 unless an accused acted with the specific intent to defraud another person. This means it is always a strong defense for a defendant to show that he did not have this requisite intent (e.g., maybe he tried to pass on a forged item by accident).

2.3 Falsely accused

Police make mistakes. They can arrest the wrong person and misidentify offenders. If a prosecutor cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is the person who possessed a counterfeit item, then the crime should be dismissed.

woman behind bars
A violation of this law can result in jail time...

3. Penalties, punishment, and sentencing

A person that violates PC 475 is guilty of forgery.2 According to Penal Code 470, forgery is typically treated as a wobbler offense, meaning that it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.

If charged as a misdemeanor, the crime is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail for up to one year.3

In lieu of jail time, a judge may award a defendant with misdemeanor (or summary) probation.

If charged as a felony, the offense of forgery is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail for up to three years.4

In lieu of jail time, a judge may award a defendant with felony (or formal) probation.

4. Related offenses

There are three laws related to the possession of counterfeit items. These are:

  1. forgery – PC 470,
  2. counterfeit marks – PC 350, and
  3. counterfeit seals – PC 472.

4.1. Forgery – PC 470

California Penal Code 470 prohibits forgery. Forgery takes place when a person knowingly does any of the following, with the intent to commit a fraud:

  • signs someone else's name,
  • fakes a seal or someone else's handwriting,
  • changes or falsifies any legal document, or
  • fakes, alters, or presents as genuine a false document pertaining to money, finances, or property.5

As noted above, forgery is typically treated as a wobbler offense under PC 470, meaning that it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.

If charged as a misdemeanor, the crime is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail for up to one year.6

If charged as a felony, the offense is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail for up to three years.7

4.2. Counterfeit marks – PC 350

Penal Code 350 is the California statute that makes it a crime to manufacture, sell, or possess for sale, any counterfeit trademarks.

In other words, PC 350 is the statute that punishes those who make, sell or intend to sell “knock-off” versions of branded products.8

The penalties for manufacturing or selling counterfeit marks in California depend on the number and value of the counterfeit goods involved. Depending on these, the crime can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.

Both types of charges can be punished by:

  • imprisonment, and
  • substantial fines.

4.3. Counterfeit seals – PC 472

Penal Code 472 PC is the California law that makes it a crime for a party to forge a public seal.

This means it is illegal under PC 472 for a party to forge or counterfeit a design or emblem - such as the California state seal on a driver's license or state identification card.

Forging, counterfeiting, or possessing a fraudulent public seal is a wobbler offense, meaning it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.

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

  • imprisonment in the county jail for up to one year, and/or
  • a maximum $1,000 fine.9

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

  • imprisonment in the California state prison for 16 months or two or three years, and/or
  • a maximum $10,000 fine.10

Were you accused of the possession of counterfeit items in California? Call us for help…

counterfeit criminal defense attorneys
Call us for help at (855) LAW-FIRM

If you or someone you know has been accused of a crime, per Penal Code 475, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation. We can be reached 24/7 at 855-LawFirm.


Legal References:

  1. California Penal Code 475 PC. This code section states:

    “(a) Every person who possesses or receives, with the intent to pass or facilitate the passage or utterance of any forged, altered, or counterfeit items, or completed items contained in subdivision (d) of Section 470 with intent to defraud, knowing the same to be forged, altered, or counterfeit, is guilty of forgery.

    (b) Every person who possesses any blank or unfinished check, note, bank bill, money order, or traveler's check, whether real or fictitious, with the intention of completing the same or the intention of facilitating the completion of the same, in order to defraud any person, is guilty of forgery.

    (c) Every person who possesses any completed check, money order, traveler's check, warrant or county order, whether real or fictitious, with the intent to utter or pass or facilitate the utterance or passage of the same, in order to defraud any person, is guilty of forgery.”

  2. See same.

  3. California Penal Code 473 PC.

  4. See same.

  5. California Penal Code 470 PC.

  6. California Penal Code 473 PC.

  7. See same.

  8. California Penal Code 350 PC.

  9. California Penal Code 473 PC.

  10. See same.

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