Filing a False or Forged Document - California Penal Code Section 115
Filing a false document is covered under California Penal Code Section 115. This law criminalizes the act of someone knowingly filing a forged or false document with a government office in California. Typically, PC 115, a white collar fraud crime, involves the filing of a false or forged real estate deed, meaning it’s often associated with real estate fraud cases, but also involves many other types of documents. A “document” can include just about anything that can be filed in a public office, such as bail bonds, tax returns, and immigration documents, among others. There are many common situations in Los Angeles County where someone could be charged with a violation of Penal Code Section 115. One example is a situation where someone forges a property transfer deed stating they bought the home from a relative. They file the deed with the Los Angeles County recorder’s office and then decide to obtain a large loan using the home as collateral. In this example, this individual could be charged with not only filing a false document under PC 115, but they could also face charges of mortgage fraud. Penal Code Section 115 is a felony offense that carries harsh legal penalties if you are convicted. It’s important to note that in order to be convicted of filing a false document, the Los Angeles County prosecutor has to be able to prove you knew the document was false or forged when it was filed. If you have been accused of filing a false or forged document, you should remain silent and call the Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers at Eisner Gorin LLP. We will closely review the details and legal options. Let’s take a close review below of the legal definition, penalties, and defenses below.
Legal Definition of Fling a False Document
California Penal Code Section 115 describes the crime of filing a false document as follows:
Anyone who knowingly procures or offers a false or forged instrument to be filed, registered, or recorded in a California public office, if genuine instrument under California law or of the United States, is guilty of a felony crime.
In this legal definition above, “offers” means to present or cause the document to a filed at a government agency, but it does not have to actually get filed in order to be convicted of violating Penal Code Section 115. As discussed above, PC 115 covers a wide variety of documents that can be filed at a government office in California.
The most common cases are mortgage loan fraud related, such as real estate documents like title deeds or deeds of trust. Other common documents covered under PC 115 include identification cards, birth certificates, bank account records, bail bonds, tax returns, passports, immigration documents, court documents, and even fishing records. In order for the Los Angeles County prosecutor to obtain a conviction for filing a false document, they must be able to prove, beyond reasonable doubt, all the “elements of the crime." These include the following:
- You offered a false or forged document for filing or registration, or
- You caused a false or forged document to be filed or registered
- The false document was filed in a California public office or the United States
- You knew the document was false or forged
As discussed above, even in situations where the false or forged document does not actually get filed, you can still be convicted of violating California Penal Code Section 115. The key element of the crime above that must be proven is that you knowingly altered or misrepresented information with the intent to defraud. If you need more information, contact a Los Angels criminal defense attorney at our law firm.
Legal Penalties for PC 115 Filing False Document
Filing a false document under Penal Code Section 115 is a felony offense. If convicted, you could face the following legal penalties:
- 16 months, 2 or 3 years in a California state prison
- A fine up to $10,000
- Formal felony probation
It should be noted you can be charged under PC 115 with separate felony counts of fling a false or forged document for each document you file or caused to be filed. You will not be eligible for probation if you have a prior conviction under Penal Code 115 or the victim of your crime sustained a loss of over $100,000.
Sentence Enhancements for Filing False Document
A conviction under Penal Code Section 115 for filing a false document could include a sentence enhancement. For example, if the false document impacted the mortgage on a family residence, you could face an additional fine of up to $75,000. Another sentence enhancement includes a PC 115 conviction that deprived the victim of over $65,000 loss and the Los Angeles County prosecutor can prove you had specific intent to cause the loss. This sentence enhancement could lead to an additional 1 to 4 years in a California state prison. Finally, there is an aggravated white collar crime sentencing enhancement in California. This enhancement would apply in situations when:
- The felony crimes show a pattern of criminal conduct
- The felony crimes were committed against 2 or more separate victims
- You are convicted of 2 or more felony crimes of fraud or embezzlement
- Your unlawful conduct deprived the victim of over $100,000.
This aggravated sentence enhancement could lead to an additional 1 to 5 years in a California state prison, and an additional fine up to $500,000, or twice the amount of fraud, whatever amount is greater. Like all fraud related crimes, filing false documents with the specific intent to defraud is considered a crime of moral turpitude. This means undocumented immigrants who are convicted of Penal Code Section 115 will most likely face deportation.
Related Offenses to PC 115 Filing False Document
Legal Defenses for Filing False Document
Our experienced Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers can use a wide range of legal defense strategies against charges of filing a false or forged document. We have a track record of success dealing with all types of fraud related crimes. Cleary, every fraud case is unique and will first require a close review of the facts and evidence in your case to determine the best options. However, some of the most common legal defense for a violation of California Penal Code Section 115 includes:
Lack of intent: As we discussed above, the most important element of the crime that must be proven is that you acted willfully with intent to defraud. Our lawyers might be able to show there was no intent to defraud anyone with your actions. Perhaps it was accidental or even an honest mistake, commonly known as a “mistake of fact” defense.
Accident: In some situations, there are numerous drafts documents that are prepared before a formal official filing in a California public office. We may be able to make an argument you accidentally picked up and filed a false draft copy rather than the intended official document. In other words, it was not intentional. This is commonly known an “accident” defense.
Consent: In certain situations, in defending a Penal Code Section 115 case, which often involve an allegation a defendant deceived a homeowner into signing or forging a property deed, it doesn’t always mean there was unlawful conduct. Perhaps the homeowner gave consent for signing and filing the deed, but later forgot or decided to withdraw consent. If we can cast doubt on the consent issue, you have a chance at avoiding a conviction or at least face a lesser offense.
Contact our Criminal Law Firm
If you have been accused of filing a false document in violation of California Penal Code Section 115, call the Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys at Eisner Gorin LLP to review the details and legal options. We offer a free immediate response. Contact our office at 877-781-1570.