Penal Code 527 PC makes it illegal in California to publish, sell, or offer any fake court order for sale, knowing that it's false or fraudulent.
This law aims to maintain the integrity of the legal system and prevent individuals from using false court documents to deceive others or gain an unfair advantage.
Simply put, this statute makes it a crime for someone to sell, offer for sale, print, publish, or distribute a fake court order.
A fake court order is described as a false document that claims to be an official court document or is designed to convince somebody that it is an official court document.
PC 527 says, “Any person who shall sell or offer for sale, print, publish, or distribute any paper, document or written, typed or printed form, designed or calculated by its writing, typing or printing, or the arrangement thereof, to cause or lead any person to believe it to be, or that it will be used as an order or other process of a court when in fact such paper, document or written, typed or printed form is not to be used as the order or process of a court, is guilty of a misdemeanor, and each separate publication, printing, distribution, sale or offer to sell any such paper, document or written, typed or printed form shall constitute a separate offense, and upon conviction thereof in addition to any other sentence imposed the court may order that all such papers or documents or written, typed or printed forms in the possession or under the control of the person found guilty of such misdemeanor shall be delivered to such court or the clerk thereof for destruction.”
If convicted of this crime, you could face up to 6 months in jail for every false court order published or sold. Let's review this state law in more detail below.
PC 527 Explained
Under PC 527, it is a crime to "sell or offer for sale, print, publish, or distribute any paper, document or written, typed or printed form" while falsely passing it off as a court order. As noted, a fake court order is a document that does either of the following:
- Falsely purports to be an order, decree, or judgment issued by a court or a judicial officer; or
- Is designed to convey the idea that it is an official court order.
The fake court order can be either a wholly fabricated document or an altered version of a legitimate court order.
To convict you of publishing or selling fake court orders under Penal Code 527 PC, the prosecution must prove the following elements:
- You published, sold, or offered for sale a fake court order;
- You knew that the court order was false or fraudulent; and
- You had the intent to deceive or defraud another person.
Other things to note about this law:
- You cannot be convicted under PC 527 for simply possessing a fake court order. In other words, it's not technically a crime to fabricate a false court order or to have one in your possession that you purchased, for example. Instead, your intent must be to sell, publish, or distribute the fake court order.
- Each instance of publishing/selling a fake court order is counted as a separate offense. That means if you distribute five fake court orders, for example, you can be charged with five separate counts of violating PC 527, each with its penalty.
What Are Some Examples?
EXAMPLE 1: Jenny is angry at her ex-boyfriend but can't get a restraining order against him because he hasn't done anything violent toward her. As an act of vindictiveness, she prints out a fake restraining order and has a friend pose as a process server to give it to her ex-boyfriend. As a result, Jenny can be charged under PC 527.
EXAMPLE 2: Jon owns a business and is upset that a competitor is selling a similar product. He doesn't have a patent on his product and can't afford to hire a lawyer, so he creates a cease-and-desist order, making it look like an official court document. As a result, Jon can be charged under PC 527.
What Are the Related Crimes?
Several California laws are related to Penal Code 527 PC publishing and selling fake court orders, such as the following:
- Penal Code 518 PC – extortion;
- Penal Code 522 PC – extortion by signature;
- Penal Code 523 PC – extortion with a threatening letter;
- Penal Code 526 PC – extortion with a fake court order.
What Are the Penalties for PC 527?
Violating PC 527 is a misdemeanor offense. If you're convicted of this crime, you could face the following penalties:
- Up to six months in county jail; and
- A fine of up to $1000.
Note that this penalty may count separately for every fake court order sold or distributed. So if you distributed five fake court orders, as mentioned above, your total penalty could be 2.5 years in jail and up to $5000 in fines.
What Are the Defenses for PC 527?
A skilled California criminal defense attorney may employ one of several strategies to fight charges of publishing or selling fake court orders under Penal Code 527 PC. Some of the most common are discussed below.
Perhaps we can argue there was a lack of Intent. A crucial element of this crime is the intent to deceive or defraud. If you can demonstrate that you did not have this intent, you may be able to avoid a conviction.
Perhaps we can argue that there was no publishing or distribution of fake court orders. If you simply created a false court order but never distributed it, you're not guilty under PC 527.
Perhaps we can argue that there was a mistake of fact. For example, your attorney may say that you genuinely believed the court order was legitimate or that you had no intention of causing harm or gaining an unfair advantage by distributing it.
Perhaps we can argue that there is insufficient evidence. The prosecution must prove each element of Penal Code 527 PC beyond a reasonable doubt.
If there is not enough evidence to establish that you knowingly published, sold, or offered for sale a fake court order with the intent to deceive or defraud, you may be acquitted of the charges. You can contact us by phone or through the contact form to review your case details. Eisner Gorin LLP is based in Los Angeles, CA.