In California, it is a crime to write, pass or use a fake check. Check fraud is one of the most common types of fraud in the United States. This is due to the increased sophistication and availability of technology and different types of software. Check fraud is charged under California Penal Code 476, and a conviction attracts serious penalties like jail terms and hefty fines. Sometimes, this crime could be charged alongside other crimes that make your penalties more severe.
However, in haste to curtail a surge in the illegal use or tampering with checks, many innocent people find themselves battling serious check fraud charges. If you or your loved one is arrested and faces criminal charges for check fraud in Pasadena, CA, it would be wise to contact a criminal attorney for guidance and representation. At Pasadena Criminal Attorney, we have a deep knowledge of California criminal law and the legal defenses required to obtain the best possible outcome in your case.
Overview of Check Fraud in California
Check fraud is defined as making, passing, or using an altered or fake check to commit fraud. An attempt to endorse or use a fabricated check to purchase or pay for something is the most common form of check fraud. However, several more actions could attract charges for check fraud in California, including:
- Paper hanging. This is a form of check fraud that involves writing checks or orders to pay items with a closed account.
- Check theft. You commit a crime of check fraud by check theft if you steal a check and attempt to deposit it into your account or pay for goods. Also, signing another person’s checkbook without their consent could attract charges for check fraud.
- Chemical alteration. When an individual erases the ink on a check with an intent to write something else and gain financially from it, they can be charged with check fraud. It is essential to understand that you can face criminal charges even when your plan to commit check fraud was unsuccessful.
- Forgery. You commit a crime of check fraud through forgery if you issue a check without authorization. This form of check fraud is common in companies where employees could check without their employer’s permission.
- Money order fraud. You commit this form of check fraud when you convince another person to give you money in exchange for a money order, and instead, you deposit money in a different account.
- Identity check theft. This occurs when you open an account in another person’s name and write checks through it.
- Counterfeiting. Counterfeiting involves the creation of a large number of checks intending to commit fraud.
If you face fraud charges for engaging in any of the following activities, you will require the guidance of a competent criminal defense attorney.
Elements of Check Fraud
Before you face a conviction for check fraud under California Penal Code 476, the prosecution must prove the following elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt:
You Made, Used, or Passed a Fake Check
Using or passing a fake check means that you tried to or represented the document as genuine. The representation may be in the form of words or conduct. Before securing a conviction, the prosecutor must prove that you possess the document and you intended to present it to another person or company.
You were Aware of the False Nature of the Check.
You alter a check by adding some information to it, changing some portions of the document, or erase something. Also, a document from a nonexistent account or endorsed by an unauthorized person is considered fake. You could not be convicted for check fraud if you did not know the false nature of the document you used.
You Intended to Defraud.
Another critical element that the prosecutor must establish beyond a reasonable doubt is that you intended to defraud the person you were paying. As a defrauder, you intend to gain an advantage over another person through fraudulent means or misrepresentingon facts.
You could not be convicted for violation of CPC 476 if you did not have fraudulent intent. The prosecution must also convince the court that you specifically intended to deceive another person and reap financial gain. The intention to defraud is sufficient to secure a conviction for check fraud. You could face a sentence for this crime even if your plan failed.
If the prosecutor fails to prove all the above elements beyond a reasonable doubt, you will have a chance to fight the charges and avoid the harsh punishment accompanying this crime.
Legal Penalties for Check Fraud in California
If you violate CPC 476, you are guilty of forgery. Check fraud can be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the specific factors of your case. One factor that could affect the sentencing of check fraud is the value of the fake check. If the value of the bill was $950 or more, you could face felony charges. However, for checks valued at $950 or less, you can be charged with a misdemeanor.
Also, your criminal history is significant. California criminal law is strict on repeat offenders. Therefore, if you have prior convictions for related offenses or other serious crimes, you are likely to face felony charges. A conviction for a felony check fraud attracts the following penalties:
- A jail sentence of sixteen months to three years.
- Fines that do not exceed $10,000.
- Probation. Sometimes, you can be allowed to serve part of your jail sentence and serve the rest in probation. Probation for a felony conviction lasts up to three years. However, jail time plus probation will not add up to three years. While on probation, you will be required to adhere to probation terms. Failure to do this may cause revocation of your license and reinstatement of the jail sentence.
- If you face a felony sentence, you will lose your right to acquire or possess a gun.
When charged as a misdemeanor, a conviction is punished by:
- A one-year jail sentence.
- Fines of up to $1,000.
A conviction for check fraud could have significant effects on your immigration status. If you are a non-citizen, a conviction could result in deportation or being marked inadmissible. Being rendered inadmissible means that if you leave the United States, you cannot return.
Defenses against California Penal Code 476 Charges
The penalties of a check fraud conviction can be life-changing. Therefore, it is vital to proceed with guidance from a criminal lawyer. The following are some defenses you can explore to fight your charges for a lesser penalty, reduction of your charge, or a dismissal of the case:
Lack of the Intent to Defraud
An intention to defraud is one of the most crucial elements of check fraud. For you to violate California Penal Code 476, you must have had an intent to defraud and gain from the act. If the prosecutor cannot establish your intention to defraud beyond a reasonable doubt, you cannot be convicted. Your criminal defense attorney can examine the circumstances of your case to provide evidence showing a lack of fraudulent intent. Another way you can show that you did not intend to defraud the check recipient is by disputing the fact that you tried to present the check as genuine.
No Knowledge of the False Nature of the Document
You can only be convicted of check fraud if you knew that the document was fake or altered. As a defense to your charges, you can argue that you were not aware of the fraudulent nature of the document. For example, if you are paid with a fake check by another party and attempt to cash it, you can use this defense. If your lack of knowledge is proven to be genuine, your charges may be dismissed.
Consent to Make Changes or Sign the Check
To secure a conviction for check fraud in California, you must have had the intention to defraud a person or entity by using, passing, or making a false check. However, if you had consented to write or alter the check, your actions will not be considered fraudulent. With guidance from an attorney, you can convince the court that you had permission to act in the way you did.
There are several crimes where it is easy to be falsely accused and check fraud. Sometimes, an honest mistake could land you into legal trouble. Most people who commit the crime of check fraud seek to remain hidden. Therefore, you could fall victim to circumstantial evidence, or a person could accuse you out of the spirit of revenge. If you are a victim of false accusations, a competent attorney can work hard to bring the facts of the case to light and help you avoid a conviction.
Claim that the Check is Genuine
Sometimes an authentic check could be mistaken for fake. In your defense, you can request a proper examination of the document or the bank balance account. If the check you presented is genuine, your case could end in a dismissal of the charges.
You Could not Present the Check as Genuine.
The prosecutor must establish your attempt to present a fake check as genuine before you face a conviction. Therefore, the bill should closely resemble a real document and can be submitted and accepted as authentic. You can argue that the check you made, presented or used, was false and did not expect the recipient to take it seriously.
While building a defense, it is crucial to understand that failing to use the check cannot be used. One of the essential elements of this crime is an intention to defraud. Therefore, you can be convicted even when you did not have the opportunity to use it. Also, paying back the victim of check fraud will not erase guilt. However, you can fight to have your charges reduced to attempted check fraud which attracts lesser penalties.
Expunging a Check Fraud Conviction
If you are convicted for check fraud, the conviction is often public. This makes it visible for potential employers and may be a basis to deny you the position. Also, with a felony conviction, you may find it challenging to acquire a professional license or enroll in a good school. Fortunately, you can reduce the negative impact of the sentence by filing a petition to expunge the conviction.
An expungement will release you from the consequences associated with the conviction. If you successfully expunge your record, a potential employer cannot use it to deny you a job. Also, you can truthfully answer no when asked about past crimes. Seeking an expungement would be an excellent step to help avoid permanent impact by your conviction.
You are eligible for expungement if you were convicted of a felony or misdemeanor and completed probation. Also, individuals who are convicted and not sentenced to probation may be eligible to expunge a conviction. Successful probation means that you have completed all the terms, which may include restitution counseling and payment of fines.
Immediately after completion of probation, it is crucial to petition the court for an expungement. The amount of time the court takes to expunge your record varies. However, a competent attorney may help you speed up the process by filing relevant documents for the petition. After an expungement of your conviction, the records will show that you were arrested and convicted, but your conviction was dismissed.
Offenses Related to Check Fraud in California
There are different forms of conduct that fall under check fraud. In California, some offenses are related to CPC 476 even though they fall under other penal codes and carry different penalties. You can be charged with some of these offenses instead of or alongside check fraud. Some of the crimes related to check fraud include:
Forgery - Penal Code 470
You commit a crime of forgery by engaging in the following acts to commit fraud:
- Change or falsify legal documents. This type of forgery only applies to legal documents. Therefore the prosecutor has the burden to prove that you forged a document with an intent to use it legally.
- Falsify an official seal. A seal is one of the ways that make a document legal. Therefore, falsifying a seal on a document is considered forgery.
- Represent a fake document as genuine. If you try to present a false document as authentic to gain financially from the act, you can face forgery charges.
- Sign another person’s name. Before you face a conviction for forgery by signing another person’s name, the prosecutor must prove that you make a signature on a legal document without the owner’s consent.
If you write or modify a check and present it as genuine, you could be charged with forgery or check fraud. Before you face a conviction for forgery, your intent to defraud must be clear. Therefore, if the prosecutor cannot establish this factor in your case, you will not be convicted.
Forgery is a wobbler under California criminal law. The crime can be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the circumstances of the case and your criminal history. Forgery is considered a misdemeanor under the following circumstances:
- The document you forged represents a value of less than $950.
- You are not guilty of identity theft.
- You do not have a criminal record for a serious felony or a sex crime.
As a felony, CPC 470 is punishable by a three-year prison sentence and fines of up to $10,000. Also, the court may subject you to felony probation. On the other hand, a misdemeanor conviction attracts a maximum jail sentence of one year and a fine that does not exceed $1,000. If you face a forgery conviction, the court requires you to compensate the victim for their losses.
California Penal Code 487 defines grand theft as the unlawful taking of property belonging to another person and is worth $950 or more. If you write or present a fraudulent check and cause a loss of $950 or more to the victim, you can face grand theft charges alongside check fraud. If you are convicted for both charges, you can serve a lengthy jail sentence.
Grand theft can be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor. As a misdemeanor, a conviction under this statute will result in a one-year jail sentence. If you are a repeat offender or aggravate circumstances in your case, such as multiple victims, you can face a felony conviction. As a felony, grand theft is punishable by a jail sentence of up to three years. The consequences of a felony conviction go beyond the jail sentence. If you or a loved one faces theft charges alongside check fraud, it is crucial to have competent legal representation.
Writing Bad Checks
You commit a crime of writing bad checks when you write a check to another person or business, knowing insufficient funds to cover the check. For you to face a conviction for writing bad checks under California Penal Code 476(a), the prosecutor must prove that you wrote a check while acting for yourself or as an agent. Also, it must be clear that there were insufficient funds in the account, which you knew when you wrote the check.
Violation of CPC can is often charged as a misdemeanor when the value of the check does not exceed $950. A conviction for a misdemeanor will attract a one-year jail sentence. If you write a bad check to defraud $950 or more, you can face felony charges. Also, you could face felony charges if you have a prior conviction for forgery or other fraud crimes. A felony conviction for writing bad checks is punishable by a three years prison sentence. Also, the court may order you to pay restitution to the victims who suffered a loss from your actions.
An intent to defraud is essential when the prosecutor is seeking a conviction in your case. Therefore, if there is no proof of your intention to commit fraud, you cannot be convicted for the offense. When you write a check to someone else and do not have sufficient funds to cover the check, you can be charged with writing a bad check or check fraud, depending on the circumstances of your case.
Under CPC 488, petty theft is defined as the unlawful taking of another person’s property of a value below $950. If you commit check fraud to defraud $950 or less, you could be charged with petty theft alongside check fraud. The elements that a prosecutor needs to prove in a petty theft case include:
- You took property belonging to another person.
- You did not have the owner’s consent to take the property.
- When you took the property, you intended to deprive the owner of its enjoyment.
- The property you took was valued at $950 or less.
Petty theft is a misdemeanor. If you are convicted of the offense, you will face a one-year jail sentence and a $1,000 fine. Sometimes, the court may grant you informal probation as an alternative to jail time. In this case, you may spend part of the sentence in jail and the rest on probation.
Contact a Pasadena Criminal Attorney Near Me
Check fraud is a criminal charge that involves the illegal and deceptive use of checks. Unlike the common belief, violation of PC 476 does not only include purchases made fraudulently. You can face an arrest and charges for check fraud if you possess, pass or write a false check. The consequences that accompany a conviction for check fraud are severe. This is because the crime can be a misdemeanor or a felony based on the individual circumstances of your case.
Fortunately, not all arrests for check fraud result in a conviction. With competent legal guidance, you can build a solid defense to fight the charges. If you or your loved one faces checking fraud charges, you will need legal advice from a criminal attorney. At Pasadena Criminal Attorney, our group of competent attorneys will work hard to achieve the desired outcome for your case. Contact us today at 626-689-2277 and allow us to fight for your rights.