California laws severely punish fraud crimes. The state has stringent laws against anyone suspected of defrauding another, a company, or an organization. Check fraud occurs when you make, publish, utter or pass a fraudulent check, intending to obtain money from it illegally. The crime is a felony or misdemeanor based on the circumstances of a particular case and a defendant's criminal history. You can receive up to three years of jail time upon conviction.
But you can avoid a conviction with proper defense against your charges. At Michele Ferroni Pasadena Criminal Attorney Law Firm, we could help form a solid defense against your charges if you face check fraud charges in Pasadena. Our criminal lawyers aggressively work on every case they receive to obtain a fair outcome for our clients.
Legal Meaning of Check Fraud in California
Fraud is standard across the globe. Some people use tricks to fraudulently obtain money, favors, or services from unsuspecting individuals or companies. Check fraud is a serious offense as it involves obtaining money by passing, publishing, making, or uttering a fake check. If you face charges for check fraud in Pasadena, it is crucial to understand what that means for you and its legal implication.
The police will arrest you if they suspect you of committing check fraud. The prosecutor reads your charges in court and all evidence gathered against you. PC 476 provides the elements or facts of this crime, which the prosecutor must prove beyond reasonable doubts for the jury to determine you guilty. They are:
- That you possessed, used, made, or passed a false, fictitious, or altered bill or check, OR, you attempted to make, give or use a false, fictitious, or altered check.
- You did so to obtain money or property.
- You knew or should have reasonably known that the bill under your control was falsified or altered.
- When you acted the way you did, you had fraudulent intentions.
If you face charges for possessing a fake check, the prosecutor must prove beyond reasonable doubt that you had the said document and that you planned to use or give the document as an actual one.
A fake, false, or fictitious bill is not legal or genuine. It is a document that:
- Was written against a fake or non-existence bank account
- A non-existent person endorsed it
Let us go deep into the meaning of the various facts of this crime to understand its legal definition even better:
You must possess, publish, pass or use a false check with a fraudulent intention for the jury to find you guilty under PC 476. A person acts with fraudulent intent if they plan to trick or deceive another person or organization. But the person or organization does not have to incur a loss for the court to find you guilty under this law. All the court requires is adequate proof that you acted with a fraudulent intention.
California Penal Code 476 requires you to have acted knowingly or intentionally. For instance, if you pass or use a falsified check, you must have known or reasonably known that the bill you are using or giving is fake. Doing so unknowingly does not satisfy the elements of this crime.
Passing, Using or Altering a Check
Check fraud occurs when you pass or use an altered check or change a check to obtain money or property. You give, use or attempt to pass or use a check if you represent that check as genuine. You can do that using words or conduct, directly or indirectly.
You are guilty of altering a check if you:
- Add information to it
- Erase information from it
- Change one or more parts of a genuine check
For instance, altering the amount or name on an actual check can result in criminal charges if done with fraudulent intentions.
Legal Defense Strategies for Charges Under PC 476
Checks are a common way of making payments in the country today. People receive payments through checks for goods or services delivered. But, check fraud cases are slowly making this convenient payment method risky. Individuals and businesses lose millions of dollars annually to check fraud, and the beneficiaries are malicious people with evil intentions. Different states have designed strict laws against check fraud to curb the menace. The police are always on the lookout and will not hesitate to arrest you for check fraud if they are suspicious. Sadly, some innocent people are caught up in the web and end up paying for crimes they have not committed.
If you face criminal charges under this statute today, you can have a criminal lawyer represent you in court and plan a strong defense against your charges. That gives you a fair trial. You are only penalized if the jury finds you guilty after a successful trial. But if you have an aggressive defense lawyer, they could convince the jury to dismiss or reduce your charges. Here are the best defense strategies your lawyer can use in your favor:
You Did Not Have Fraudulent Intentions
You are guilty of check fraud if you possessed, used, or published a fake or fictitious bill with a fraudulent intention. Having a fraudulent or dishonest intention means that you intended to trick or deceive another person or company using a phony check. If this intent is lacking in your case, the jury will drop your charges.
For example, Sammy is not guilty under Penal Code 476 if he changes the amount in an open check addressed to someone else as a prank to see his boss' reaction. However, he could be guilty if the check had his name. The prosecutor can quickly tell a person's intentions from the case details. In this example, Sammy has nothing to gain if the check’s address is another person’s name, but he has so much to gain if he receives the altered check.
If your lawyer successfully uses this defense technique, the court will drop your case with no further charges.
You Had the Owner's Consent To Change The Check
Your lawyer will use this strategy if you face charges under this law for altering or using a modified document. You could have done it following the check owner's orders. For instance, the owner could have asked you to change the amount on the check, the name, or any other detail. Thus, you only need to prove that you had the owner's consent to change the check for the court to drop your charges.
With the owner's consent, your case will lack fraudulent intention, which is a crucial element of this crime. If you change the details of a check without its owner's consent, the prosecutor can quickly prove that you intended to defraud the owner. But with the owner's permission, the judge can not find you guilty as charged.
You Did Not Act Knowingly
Penal Code 476 requires a defendant to act knowingly to be guilty. It means that you knowingly possessed, used, passed, or deliberately caused another person to keep, pass, or use a fake check, knowing very well that the check was counterfeit. If that is not the case, you are not guilty as charged.
People innocently commit crimes like these and could end up in jail or prison if they can not prove their innocence. Someone else could have altered the check and given you the modified document to use or pass. Or, you accidentally changed a genuine document and had no idea of the mistake until someone pointed it out to you.
If you did not act knowingly, your case would also lack fraudulent intent, which is a vital element of this case. Then, the prosecutor cannot prove all elements of your case beyond reasonable doubts. The judge will consequently drop your charges.
More often than not, the police mistakenly arrest the wrong person. That could result in charges and a possible conviction for an offense you did not commit in the first place. Mistaken identity occurs when the police arrest the wrong person while the actual perpetrator remains free. Sometimes police investigations could lead to the wrong person. If that happens to you, you can use this strategy to convince the jury to drop the charges.
Remember that the judge will never ask you to name the actual perpetrator. Your lawyer must only prove that you had nothing to do with the crime for which you face charges. If they are successful, you will be free.
Mistake of Facts
Your lawyer can use this defense if you believe your charges came about because of a misunderstanding. Some criminal charges come up because of misunderstandings and mistakes. Someone else could have thought that you were trying to deceive them or a company through an innocent action. But the truth could be that they made the accusations because they lacked vital information at the time. If you are innocent and are sure that your charges are all due to a misunderstanding, your lawyer can present your situation in court to obtain a case dismissal.
Penalties for Conviction Under Penal Code 476
If you violate PC 476, you face forgery charges. Forgery is a wobbler. It means that the prosecutor can charge it as a felony or misdemeanor, depending on the circumstances of your case and your criminal history.
Misdemeanor charges apply if the value of the forged check is $950 or less. Felony charges apply if its value is greater than $950.
If your charges are a misdemeanor, you could receive this punishment upon conviction:
- A year in jail
- Court fines not exceeding $1,000
The judge has total discretion to sentence you to probation instead of jail. Thus, you will serve your entire time out of jail but under the direct supervision of the court. The judge will order you to return to the court periodically to submit your progress reports and demonstrate that you have complied with the probation terms and conditions. The conditions you must abide by while on probation could include:
- Payment of all court fines
- Completion of community service
- Finding a job to keep yourself busy and within the court's jurisdiction
- Not violating any law during the probation period
If your forgery charges are a felony, you could receive this punishment after a conviction:
- Up to three years of jail time
- Court fines not exceeding $10,000
Again, the judge could place you on probation to serve your jail time out of incarceration. You will also receive a set of probation conditions from the judge to abide by throughout the probation period. You will be under the supervision of a probation officer if the judge sentences you to felony probation.
Violating any probation condition is a crime. The judge will hold a probation violation hearing, from which the court will decide what will happen to you. The judge could make any of the following decisions, depending on the facts of your case:
- Reinstate your probation with no changes to the probation conditions
- Reinstate your probation with new and stricter probation conditions
- Revoke your probation and send you to jail
Other Consequences of Conviction Under PC 476
A conviction for any criminal offense will alter your life in many ways. It leaves you with a negative history that can affect different areas of your life. For example, it is challenging to find an excellent job with a criminal background in California today. Potential employers will always decide based on your criminal background. A criminal record also affects how you relate with other people, including family members. Some people will avoid you because of a crime you committed in the past, without seeking to find whether or not you have changed.
A sentence under PC 476 could also carry severe immigration consequences. Some convictions call for the deportation of an immigrant. Examples are crimes of moral turpitude, where forgery is categorized. You are marked inadmissible if you seek to enter the country and have a conviction for offenses like these. If you commit check fraud while residing in the United States as an immigrant, you could face deportation. When that happens, you are not allowed back into the country for several years or life.
Additionally, a conviction under this law could affect your California gun rights. State residents are allowed to possess or buy guns if they meet particular criteria, including being an adult of sane mind and without a criminal conviction. The state gun laws prohibit specific individuals from acquiring or owning a firearm, including those with a felony conviction on their record. Therefore, a conviction will impact your gun rights if you are guilty of a felony for violating check fraud laws. You are not allowed to buy or own a firearm for several years or life. If you have a gun already, the judge expects you to hand it over right after the conviction.
Expungement of Your Conviction Record After Conviction
The effects of a conviction record are grave. Living with a criminal background will affect various aspects of your life. For instance, it could affect your efforts to find a job, a property to rent or lease, and vital services like insurance. Most people will likely treat you differently when you have a criminal background. But you can eliminate all that with an expungement.
Expungement eliminates all disabilities and effects of a conviction record. It is available for most convictions in California. You are granted expungement after a successful petition with the court that issued the sentence. After expungement, a potential employer will not be able to make a hiring decision based on your criminal past. An expunged criminal record is not publicly available. Thus, potential landlords will not use your history to decide whether or not to rent or lease to you.
Remember that you must disclose the conviction when seeking a government office. But that does not mean the employer will use it as an opportunity to deny you a job you qualify for. If you have completely turned your life from crime, you deserve a second chance in life, which is what expungement provides.
The process of applying for expungement is straightforward. You submit a request, with the help of your attorney, to the court that gave you the sentence for that particular offense. You only do this after completing the court's punishment for check fraud. If you are yet to complete probation, you must wait until the end of your probation period to make this application. If not, you can apply for early termination of probation.
Once the judge receives your petition, they will go through your records once more to determine your suitability for expungement. The judge will seal the record for that particular offense if you are eligible.
Remember that if you have more criminal convictions on your record, you must make separate petitions for them if you wish the court to erase them. The judge has total discretion to grant your request.
Check Fraud Laws in California and Related Violations
California has specific laws that are closely connected to check fraud laws. Some are prosecuted in place of check fraud, while others are charged together with check fraud. These offenses could include:
Writing a Bad Check
Writing a bad check is an offense under Penal Code 476(a). It occurs when you write or give a check knowing that the account from where you write the check has insufficient funds. The offense can be a misdemeanor or felony based on the amount on the bill. It is a misdemeanor if the value of the bad check is $950 or less and a felony if the value is more than $950. A misdemeanor sentence is punishable by one year in jail, and a felony conviction attracts a three-year jail term.
PC 476 is about falsifying checks, while PC 476(a) is about bad checks.
Forgery is under Penal Code 470. It occurs when you alter an official document or signature with fraudulent intentions. You can commit forgery in several ways, including signing another person's name or a fictitious name on a check to obtain money from it. Forgery is a general offense that includes check fraud.
Check fraud becomes forgery if it involves changing or altering an actual check. You will face forgery charges if you change the name or amount on a genuine check.
Forgery is also a wobbler offense. A misdemeanor is punishable by one year of jail time, while a felony attracts a three-year jail term upon conviction.
The law against grand theft is under PC 487. Grand theft occurs when you unlawfully take another person's money, property, or labor valued at $950 or more. The crime is also a wobbler, which means that it can be a felony or misdemeanor. If the value of the property in question is below $950, you will face charges for petty theft. The maximum sentence for grand theft is three years of jail time.
You could face grand theft charges by committing check fraud if the value of the check is at or greater than $950.
Remember that grand theft charges only apply if you possess the other person's money, property, or labor. You can be guilty of check fraud even before you take possession of the other person's money, property, or work. What is important is that a falsified check was in your possession at the time of your arrest.
Find a Pasadena Criminal Lawyer Near Me
Do you or your loved one face criminal charges for check fraud in Pasadena? It helps to understand what your charges entail. A skilled criminal lawyer can explain the legal implications of your charges and advice and support you until you obtain a fair outcome for your case. We will also plan a strong defense against the charges if you work with us at Michele Ferroni Pasadena Criminal Attorney Law Firm. Our team of experienced attorneys will not leave tables unturned as we look for any evidence that we could use to compel the court to dismiss or reduce your charges. Contact us at 626-628-0564 to discuss the terms of our services.