Criminal Defense Attorneys Defending Individuals Accused of Writing Bad Checks and Check Fraud
Check Fraud in Los Angeles County is a serious white collar crime that may result in a felony conviction and incarceration in state prison.
In general, check fraud describes the act of:
- altering, or
- tampering with a check in an attempt to;
- defraud a bank or individual who receives the check.
A violation might be based on conduct as simple as changing the indicated payment amount on a check received by the defendant before cashing it, such as when a defendant receives a $500 check from a customer and adds a zero before going to the bank in an attempt to receive $5,000 instead.
More complex schemes involving counterfeit checks, bills, or other instruments may also be covered. See below for the exact language of the criminal statute.
A check fraud offense applies to both fake checks with completely fake accounts, people, or banks and altered checks where information on a genuine check has been fraudulently changed. This includes the amount of the check, routing number, date, or changing the payee of the check.
In order to prove check fraud, a prosecutor has to be able to establish that an individual made a check, passed or possessed, or attempted to make a check that was illegal.
This can include a fake or altered check with the specific knowledge that it was fake or altered. The Los Angeles County prosecution must also be able to prove that the individual intended to defraud another party by misrepresenting the check as genuine or belonging to them.
If you have been accused of committing a check fraud crime, you need to immediately consult with a Los Angeles check fraud attorney at our law firm to review all the details of your case in order to determine an effective defense strategy.
Remain silent. Do not make any statements to police detectives. Call our criminal defense law firm immediately.
Check Fraud - California Penal Code Section 476
Penal Code Section 476, California's prohibition against check fraud, provides that:
- Every person who makes, passes, utters, or publishes, with intent to defraud another person, or who with the intent, attempts to pass, utter, or publish, or has in their possession any fictitious or altered bill, or check purporting to be the bill or check, or other instrument in writing for the payment of money or property of any real or fictitious financial institution as defined in Section 186.9 is guilty of forgery.
As you can see, Penal Code Section 476 is concerned with checks, and other similar instruments such as bills and notes.
Note that the statute covers the use, or attempted use, of fraudulent checks etc. as well as the possession with intent to use the same.
Therefore, a person caught merely in possession of a forged check, if it can be shown by direct or circumstantial evidence that they intended to pass the check, is guilty of check fraud as if they had actually accomplished the passing of the forged check.
See related: Passing Bad Checks.
Contact a Los Angeles check fraud lawyer at our office for more information.
Legal Penalties for a Check Fraud Conviction
A California check fraud case in violation of Penal Code 476 is a “wobbler,” meaning that it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony case depending on the severity of the conduct involved and the defendant's prior criminal history.
While the prosecutor has discretion in choosing how to charge check fraud, it will always be a misdemeanor if the alleged loss amount is less than $950.
If convicted of misdemeanor check fraud offense in Los Angeles County, the maximum penalties are:
- one year in county jail, and;
- a $1,000 fine.
If convicted of a felony check fraud offense, the maximum penalties are:
- 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years in state prison, and;
- a $10,000 fine.
Legal Defenses against a Check Fraud Case
Check fraud requires the intent to defraud. As used in the check fraud context, the intent to defraud is the intent to deceive the recipient of a document so as to deprive them of money or some other valuable thing.
The defendant must make a knowingly false statement or representation with the intent that the recipient rely on the same to their detriment.
If, for example, you honestly thought you had the authority to sign someone else's name, or to make an alteration to a document, your Los Angeles criminal defense attorney could successfully argue that you lacked the intent to defraud. Without the intent to defraud, you cannot be convicted of check fraud.
Other fact-based defenses may also apply. Perhaps there is insufficient evidence that you were the individual who created the forged check or made the alterations at issue.
In some cases, it may be that the alteration to the check is unrelated to any future intent to pass, publish, or otherwise try to “cash in” on the check.
Consent is also a valid defense to a check fraud case. The LA County prosecutor may have strong evidence that you altered a check by changing a dollar amount of altering the name of a payor.
However, if your Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer can show that you had the consent of said payor prior to altering the check, you cannot be convicted of check fraud.
The applicability of these and other defenses will depend on the circumstances of your particular case.
Only your criminal defense attorney, in close consultation with you, can determine whether a defense will be viable in court.
One way to resolve a criminal case in California State courts is through a diversion program, known as deferred entry of judgment, which allows get you charges dismissed with no conviction.
Contact a Los Angeles Check Fraud Defense Attorney
A white collar crime like a check fraud case is frequently complex and fact-specific.
Although they typically carry lesser legal penalties than other crimes, because they are a non-violent offense, there is a recent trend toward harsher punishment for check fraud crimes as people recognize the financial damage criminals inflict on society.
Therefore, a defendant who has been convicted of check fraud may receive enormous fines, ordered to pay restitution, or spend a significant amount of time in jail or prison. A fraud crime conviction frequently also destroys the defendant's livelihood and career.
In some cases, a Los Angeles check fraud lawyer from our law firm may be able to negotiate civil restitution so that no criminal charges are formally filed.
A criminal defense attorney from our office is experienced in handling any type of check fraud case and is skilled at avoiding prosecution whenever possible.
If a civil resolution is not an option, our criminal lawyers, retained early in the legal process, may be able to help you avoid jail even if charges are filed against you.
Retaining a Los Angeles criminal defense attorney from our office is your first, best response to fighting a check fraud case.
If you or a family member are under criminal investigation or charged with check fraud under California Penal Code Section 476, contact our experienced Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys today.
We will offer you a free immediate response to assess your potential criminal liability, any viable defenses you may have, and the best approach to achieving a positive outcome in your case. Call our law office at 877-781-1570.