If you live in Pasadena, at one time or another, you will need to file instruments or documents with various California state agencies. The paperwork you submit to the agency must be truthful. Filing false documents will result in felony charges under PEN 115. These criminal charges occur when you present invalid instruments to a state agency seeking illegal benefits or opportunities. Nevertheless, you can also face PEN 115 violation charges due to a lack of knowledge or a mistake when filing paperwork, and you will need to prove your innocence.

When you face charges because you filed fake documents with the state, whether by mistake or intentionally, the Michele Ferroni Pasadena Criminal Attorney Law Firm can assist you in contesting the charges and preventing or reducing the felony consequences.

Quick Glance at Filing False Instruments or Documents

As per PEN 115, it is illegal to file, record, or register an invalid or false instrument in any state public office, a document that, if genuine, could be lawfully filed or recorded. The offense is chargeable as a felony, and when found guilty, you risk no more than thirty-six months of state prison incarceration.

The most commonly forged instruments are titles or trust deeds. However, PEN 115 focuses on all instruments recorded or registered with government offices.

Element of PEN 115 Violations

By identifying its various components, you can better comprehend the crime of filing forged documents with state agencies. In criminal cases, the burden of proof rests with the prosecutor, who must establish each crime element to obtain a conviction. As a result, they must work with the investigating officers to gather proof and develop a compelling case.

During the trial, the prosecutor also calls witnesses to give evidence against you regarding different circumstances that led to your arrest. You must stay alert throughout the case and work closely with the Michele Ferroni Pasadena Criminal Attorney Law Firm to create defenses against the prosecutor’s evidence in Pasadena.

The elements that PC 115 requires the prosecutor to demonstrate are as follows:

  1. You Provided or Caused a Document to be Recorded, Filed, or Registered in a Government Office

The prosecutor shall prove that you submitted a document or other instrument for recording or filing to a state agency. They can prove that you intentionally presented the papers yourself or facilitated someone else to register them with a state agency. For purposes of this statute, "public office" refers to any state agency that offers services to the public. It could be a record-keeping, public employers', or department office.

When demonstrating this factor of the crime to the court, the prosecutor relies on eyewitnesses. The witnesses include the secretary, front desk agent, or any other public official who receives the documents from the public. Additionally, witnesses could be your fellow public members who had visited the office to record or file their papers. If the individual witnessed you presenting or causing the recording of the documents, they would become state witnesses.

If you facilitated another party's submission of the documents, the state could turn the person into a witness and have them testify against you. A witness like this can reveal your intentions to the authorities and even furnish them with the alleged false document you intended to file with a government office. Even if the person you were facilitating filed invalid documents, your defense attorney can contact them before the state and convince them not to testify against you.

Also, the prosecutor uses surveillance footage from the public office to demonstrate you presented the alleged documents. The prosecutor must obtain a copy of the video from the office and analyze it to show you offered the documents in person.

It is worth noting that even if the documents are discovered to have been forgeries but were never filed or recorded with the state agency’s office, you will still be guilty of filing an invalid document.

  1. You Were Aware the Instruments You Were Presenting for Recording or Registration Were False

Public offices handle all forms of documents. Therefore, any instrument you submit to the office should be truthful and authentic. Otherwise, you will be charged with a PEN 115 violation. The prosecutor should show the court that you intentionally presented forged instruments to obtain illegal benefits or unfair financial gains. They prove this element by demonstrating that you understood the document’s nature before offering it for filing.

Usually, prosecutors have a severe challenge proving your mental state when presenting the documents. Nevertheless, they rely on circumstantial proof to demonstrate your motives for offering false documents.

Circumstances are unique in every case. Therefore, the prosecutor will apply different techniques to replay moments from the offense and paint a picture of your intentions in the jurors’ minds. For example, when you cause or facilitate somebody else to deliver false documents, which you ought to have otherwise presented in person, the DA can claim that you tried to prevent potential criminal liability by offering forged instruments for recording. You knew they were forged because you paid another individual to deliver the documents.

Similarly, the DA can refer to your demeanor when you offer the documents to show that you knew they were falsified. They can rely on video footage to show you were anxious or tense when submitting the documents. Again, when you ask for a specific public officer after arriving at the office, the DA can request further investigations into the officer to establish if you conspired to register or file invalid instruments without the others in the office detecting it.

Finally, the prosecutor will use your computer search history to find the sites you visited or any conversations that show you knew the documents you presented were falsified. For instance, if the instruments are self-generated, the investigating officers will look for software used to forge the paperwork. Conversations can also prove that the papers are fakes.

  1. You Deliberately Altered Critical Details on the Alleged Instruments to Defraud

The prosecution must show that you directly changed the instrument's initial information to commit fraud in particular circumstances. Also, when you facilitate another party to forge the documents, you will still face charges for filing invalid instruments. The prosecutor proves this element when there is a possibility you will face additional charges. They rely on the means you used to alter the documents, like white-out, to show you directly changed the data or information in a legal paper.

  1. If the Documents or Instruments Were Truthful, they could be Lawfully Registered or Filed

The final aspect of the case that the prosecutor should prove is that they could have been accepted if the forged documents were valid or truthful. The prosecutor must demonstrate that your submitted papers are on file or recorded with the relevant government agency. The only distinction is that yours were embellished.

The prosecutor will present the original copy of the document and the falsified one and request that the judge compare both and corroborate that they are the same and that if yours was truthful, it could have been filed.

Filing Falsified Documents Penalties

PEN 115 is chargeable as a felony, and when convicted, you will face the following penalties:

  • 12 to 60 months of felony probation.
  • Prison incarceration for 16, 24, or 36 months.
  • A monetary court fine of at most $10,000 in place or alongside a prison sentence.

If you are sentenced to probation, you must complete mandatory counseling lessons, particularly if you have committed a series of criminal activities. Also, you must pay restitution if you caused someone else's financial losses.

Felony probation is not for every defendant charged with a PEN 115 violation. You are ineligible for formal probation if you were previously convicted of filing false instruments. Additionally, when your criminal conduct causes another person financial losses of more than $100,000, you cannot negotiate for a probation sentence. These hefty financial losses often occur when you file forged instruments at least two times, successively or separately.

Sentence Enhancement 

In addition to the legal penalties provided under PEN 115, you risk sentence enhancement if aggravating circumstances apply to your case. "Sentence enhancement" means an additional and subsequent prison sentence or additional monetary fines.

You will face an enhanced sentence if police investigations find that you offered forged documents that resulted in financial losses for at least two parties. The aggravating element under these circumstances is that you falsified instruments for multiple victims.

Your sentence will be enhanced if you obtain more than $100,000 by filing false documents. The law imposes additional penalties depending on the value of the loss because the complainant, whether an entity or a person, sustains significant losses.

The court will enhance your sentence if you commit two PEN 115 violations against the same victim. The DA will rely on evidence from your prior offense when proving that you committed another crime against the same victim. The court will enhance your sentence if they accept the evidence and view it as an aggravating factor in your sentencing.

Also, it is possible to conspire with public officials to file false instruments or commit several illegal activities involving filing forged instruments and embezzlement. An excellent example is when you falsify documents to access funds. If arrested under these circumstances, you risk several penalties, including conspiracy to defraud and obtaining money fraudulently.

Lastly, your sentence will be enhanced if your crime of filing forged documents clears the way for you to engage in several other illegal activities. For example, when you falsify a property deed to deny the rightful owner the property’s use or benefits, your actions also amount to theft if the prosecutor proves theft elements.

If any of these aggravating factors are present in your case, you are eligible for sentence enhancement and are subject to additional penalties. The sentence enhancement includes an additional and consecutive sixty months of prison incarceration after completing the original three-year sentence.

Moreover, in addition to the $10,000 monetary court fine, the court imposes an extra $500,000 to cover the victim’s losses. If your fraud results in massive losses, you should prepare to pay hefty fines.

Immigration Consequences

If the prosecutor shows you intended to defraud by filing forged documents, your actions amount to a crime of moral turpitude and are subject to immigration consequences. You risk removal or deportation if the following is true:

  • You engage in a PEN 115 violation after five years of being admitted to California.
  • You have a prior conviction for a moral turpitude offense, and now you have been sentenced for filing forged documents.
  • You have a criminal record for a moral turpitude crime, regardless of when it occurred. If you travel overseas in these circumstances, you will be deemed inadmissible and cannot apply for permanent residency or naturalization.

Furthermore, when you are a lawyer, doctor, or another professional that requires a practicing license, a conviction for a moral turpitude offense will result in the revocation of the permit, which will spell doom to your career.

Viable Defenses for Filing False or Invalid Documents

When you face charges for PEN 115 violations, it does not mean the court will automatically find you guilty of the offense. However, the penalties are severe, so hiring a criminal lawyer to help you fight the charges for charge dismissal or a positive outcome is critical.

You want to rely on something other than a public defender to protect your rights. You should hire an experienced private attorney with the time to devote to your case and who understands the legal process. At the Michele Ferroni Pasadena Criminal Attorney Law Firm, we will analyze your case and create viable legal defenses for charge reduction or dismissal in Pasadena. The legal defenses we will mount include the following:

  1. You Had Permission to Present the Documents

Many cases of filing forged instruments happen when you, the defendant, trick a property owner into signing over their property deed or falsifying signatures. The elderly or disabled commonly fall victim to these tricks.

Even if you file a property deed signed by a senior citizen or disabled person, it does not mean the document you are registering or recording is forged. It could raise suspicions, but this does not mean you have committed a crime. When arrested in a situation like this, you can argue that the owner signed over the title deed or permitted you to register the property deed.

Your defense lawyer must demonstrate that the owner signed the document or gave permission but later forgot or changed their mind. You can call eyewitnesses who were present when consent was given. Again, you can bring in a character witness to bear witness to your morals and convince the court that you cannot engage in fraud. You can even use a professional to prove the signature appended to the property deed is honest and not falsified.

  1. You Did Not Know the Instruments or Documents Were Falsified

One critical element of a PEN 115 violation that the prosecutor must prove is that you knew you were filing forged instruments. The prosecutor depends on circumstantial proof to confirm this element, making it easy for your lawyer to contest it. If the lawyer can cast doubt in the jurors’ minds that you knew the documents were forgeries, the charges could be dropped.

You can assert that you made a genuine mistake when filling out the documents or that someone set you up by switching the copies you delivered to a public office. For example, when you are an assistant to a real estate firm, your boss can forge the signatures of property owners and send you to present the documents in a public office as authentic. If the public officers suspect the deeds are forged and contact the owners, you could be arrested for PEN 115 violations because the property owners did not sign the documents or consent to the deed transfer. In these circumstances, you can claim you were unaware of the document’s nature or did not know what your employer was doing. If the court is convinced, the counts against you will be dropped, and your employer will be prosecuted.

  1. You Did Not Present the Documents to a Government Agency or Department

The nature of the office where you presented the forged documents for recording or filing matters, and the prosecutor must prove it is a state or government office. So, you can claim that you presented your papers to a private company. You will avoid PEN 115 violation charges, but because the documents were forged, you could face charges under a different statute.

  1. You are Falsely Accused

You can also argue that you have many adversaries with ulterior motives, and any of them could have falsely accused you of filing invalid documents. You can claim that several parties or family members dispute the property whose deed you are alleged to have falsified and that one of the aggrieved parties alleges you committed the offense falsely.

You need an experienced lawyer to prove false allegations. Because you are aware of the truth of what conspired, leading to the charges, does not mean the court knows it. They will need someone to convince them that your side of the story, not the complainant's, is genuine. A lawyer who has handled these cases before knows the gaps in false accusations and can use the case’s facts to uncover the truth. The charges will be dropped if the lawyer can convince the court that the allegations are based on falsehoods. However, if their argument is unsuccessful and the court believes the prosecutor’s version of the story, you will be wrongfully convicted.

Criminal Record Expunction

Apart from the legal penalties, a felony conviction for a PEN 115 violation will have many collateral consequences on your life. The sentence will be a public record, and anyone can access it. No employer, apartment owner, or learning institution will want to associate with you when you have a history.

Luckily, you can clear or erase the record to hide it from the public if you have completed your sentence. The expunction is not automatic. You must petition the court for one. Once erased, only the agencies in the criminal justice system can access the records for future use, protecting you from discrimination.

Therefore, even if your defense strategies are unsuccessful and you are convicted, you need a lawyer to file a petition and convince the judge you deserve a clean slate.

Related Crimes

Several offenses can be filed alongside or in place of filing forged instruments. The offenses are:

Senior or Elder Abuse

When the party you allegedly defrauded is a senior citizen over 65, you are deemed to have committed financial fraud against an elder under PC 368. PEN 368 criminalizes physical or mental abuse, financial exploitation, or neglect of a senior citizen. Therefore, you will be charged with violating PEN 115 and PEN 368.

If the property value defrauded from the elder is $950, the offense is chargeable as a wobbler. Felony senior fraud will result in, at most, 48 months of prison incarceration.

PEN 470 – Forgery

Under PC 470, signing another person’s name, faking someone else’s seal, falsifying a legal document, or submitting a forged legal document as true is illegal. You will be charged with forgery and filing forged documents if you engaged in any of these activities during the PEN 115 violation.

PEN 118 – Perjury

California Penal Code 118 criminalizes the act of disclosing false information under oath. You will be charged with this offense alongside a PEN 115 violation when you file a false statement or testimony with a government office.

Find the Pasadena Criminal Lawyer Near Me

A criminal accusation of filing a false instrument or document can be overwhelming and difficult to contest, primarily based on false allegations or ulterior motives. Nevertheless, when you seek the help of a defense lawyer, they will simplify the process, and the chances of a favorable verdict will be high. At the Michele Ferroni Pasadena Criminal Attorney Law Firm in Pasadena, we understand the challenges of contesting PEN 115 violation charges and are ready to offer legal assistance. Dial us today at 626-628-0564 to review your case.