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California Penal Code Section 470: Forgery Laws in California

California PC 470

California Penal Code section 470(a) states, “Every person who, with the intent to defraud, knowing that he or she has no authority to do so, signs the name of another person or of a fictitious person to any of the items listed in subdivision (d) is guilty of forgery.”

California Penal Code section 470(b) states, “Every person who, with the intent to defraud, counterfeits or forges the seal or handwriting of another is guilty of forgery.”

California Penal Code section 470(c) states, “Every person who, with the intent to defraud, alters, corrupts, or falsifies any record of any will, codicil, conveyance, or other instruments, the record of which is by law evidence, or any record of any judgment of a court or the return of any officer to any process of any court, is guilty of forgery.”

What Is a Forgery?

Forgery is the crime of falsifying a document, parts of a document, or a signature with the intent to defraud another party. PC 470 specifies several ways that the crime of forgery can be committed. They include:

  • Using someone else’s signature without their approval
  • Altering or creating a false legal document
  • Forging a seal
  • Falsifying or changing a document listed in PC 470 (d), which includes documents such as:
    • Checks
    • Bonds
    • Banker’s Bills
    • Money Orders
    • Deeds
    • Contracts
    • Receipts
    • Obligations

Not only is it required that document falsification takes place, but for the forgery to be a crime, it is also required that the person who did it, has done so with “Intent to Defraud.” Someone has this intent if it can be proven that they tried to deceive another person in order to benefit financially and/or legally.

What Are the Criminal Punishments for Forgery?

Forgery is a “wobbler” offense in California, meaning that it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony crime depending on the severity of it. It is mainly up to the judge’s discretion on how they would like to charge the crime, but it is worth noting that forged documents that defraud people out of $950 or less are charged as misdemeanors.

Misdemeanor forgery charges can result in:

  • Up to 1 year in a county jail
  • A maximum fine of $1,000

Felony forgery charges can result in:

  • Up to 3 years in a county jail
  • A maximum fine of $10,000

How Can I Defend Myself if I Am Accused of Forging a Document?

There are many common defenses if you are accused of forgery in California. Some of these include:

  • The document was not intentionally doctored
  • You had permission to sign for another person
  • You did not intend to deceive anyone

People make innocent mistakes in creating complex documents all of the time. Under no circumstance can making a mistake on a document qualify as forgery, even if the document caused someone to lose money or successfully deceived someone.

You are also allowed to sign for people who give you permission to use their signature. Many workplaces have e-signature systems where workers can legally provide the signature of one of their coworkers (with their permission). This is not a crime.

Lastly, there may have been another reason for you falsifying a document that does not involve deceiving another. Maybe, for example, you were trying to prank your friend by showing them a large (falsified) paycheck that you received from your employer. Unless you try to deceive someone with the check, it is not a crime to falsify the document for another purpose, such as making a joke. 

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