You will be charged with check fraud if you write, make, or pass a fake check with the intent to defraud. A fraudulent act may be motivated by a desire to get financial gain or to escape criminal charges. However, an honest mistake in your action could be mistaken as an attempt to commit check fraud. A conviction for this offense will attract severe penalties, which will be determined by the value of the check you tried to fake. If you or your loved one is facing check fraud charges, it would be wise to seek legal representation. At Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we provide consultation and legal representation for all residents in Orange County, CA.
Overview of Check Fraud in California
Check fraud is one of the most common fraud offenses in the United States. This is due to the increase in sophistication and accessibility to technology. Computer software can be used by scammers to create fake documents with the intent to defraud. Check fraud is charged under the Penal Code 476 in California, and a conviction for this offense attracts severe penalties. If you or your loved one is charged with check fraud, it is essential to contact a criminal defense attorney for legal representation.
What is Check Fraud?
Ordinarily, check fraud occurs when a person signs or endorses a check on behalf of someone else without their consent. A genuine document, in this case, can become false if false writings alteration of numbers or unauthorized signatures are made to the check. A conviction for this offense will be made for both fabrication and presentation of a fake or altered check.
The prosecution must show that you possessed, used or attempted to use an altered check for payment of a service or property. Also, it must be clear that you knew the intention of the document to defraud. The following are some elements of the crime that a prosecutor must show to prove that you are guilty under California Penal Code 476:
- You possessed used, made or attempted to use a fake check
You will be held responsible for preparing or altering a check if you sign a document without authorization from them. Also, you commit fraud by adjusting or changing the contents of the document. This is by adding to it, turning a certain aspect of the document, or erasing something from the check. When a prosecutor charges you with possession of an altered check, they need to show that you possessed the check, and you intended to preset is as genuine for payment of a service or property.
For Check fraud, a fake check is one that is generated from a computer and is not existent in any bank. A check will also be considered fraudulent when it is signed or created from a non-existent person. However, it is essential to understand that making a check from a closed account may not constitute as check fraud. This is because the person who made the check may not be aware that the account was closed.
- You were aware that the Check you used was Altered or False
In California, you are guilty of altering a check when you erase change or add to an existing document, so it appears different from the original. Also, the prosecutor must show your awareness of the fake nature of the check. Even if you did not take part in altering the check, knowing that the document was fake could get you charged with check fraud. However, a competent criminal defense attorney can help ensure that there is no proof of your knowledge of the fraudulent check.
- When you presented the Fake Check, you intended to Defraud
Fraudulent intent is an essential element that needs to be clear in a check fraud case. The prosecutor must prove that by presenting the check, you intended to deceive another person out of their property or money. However, to be convicted for this offense, a victim does not need to suffer loss or be defrauded. Just an attempt to deceive will be charged and convicted under California Penal Code 476. If the prosecutor cannot prove your intent to defraud another person, you cannot be charged with check fraud.
Legal Penalties for a Check Fraud Conviction
In California, check fraud is a wobbler. This offense can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony based on your criminal history and circumstances of the case. If the value of the check you used to defraud was more than $950 and you committed identity theft, you would be charged with a felony check fraud. When charged as a misdemeanor, a conviction for check fraud carries the following penalties:
- Up to one year in county jail
- Informal probation
- Fines not exceeding $1,000
On the other hand, the potential penalties for a felony conviction are:
- Felony Probation and up to one year in county jail
- Two or three-year jail sentence
- A fine not exceeding $10,000
Legal Defenses Against Check Fraud
Sometimes an honest mistake or a misunderstanding could get you arrested for check fraud. Getting arrested and charged with check fraud does not always mean you will get convicted. Depending on the circumstances under which the offense occurred. Your attorney can present several defense strategies to defend you against Penal Code 476. Some of the most effective legal defenses you can come up with to argue your case include:
Lack of Fraudulent Intent
An intention to commit fraud is an essential element that a prosecutor needs to show in a check fraud case. You will be guilty of this offense if your plan to deceive another person for money, property, or goods is clear. Sometimes you may try to present a check without the knowledge that the document is forged. Also, you may have a reason to believe that you had a right to make changes to a document or sign on behalf of the other party. If your attorney can show your lack of the intent to defraud, your charges may be reduced to a lesser charge or dismissed. To successfully present this defense, you will require competent legal representation.
Consent from the Alleged Victim
There are some circumstances under which altering a check is not considered an offense. It is illegal to sign a check or modify the contents without permission from the person authorized to do so. Sometimes a person can consent to you signing a check and later deny the consent causing you to be charged with check fraud. If you can prove that you had the approval to make changes or sign the check, you will not be held guilty under California Penal Code 476.
Many check fraud charges and allegations arise from complex business and personal dealings. Sometimes they occur in business when one wants to escape fault for their actions. With such situations, you will require the help of a competent criminal defense attorney to investigate the circumstances under which the offense occurred. If you can successfully prove that you are falsely accused and clear the facts with the prosecutor, you may avoid a conviction for check fraud.
Testimony from Handwriting Experts
If you are accused of forging a check or signing on behalf of someone else, you can request the involvement of a handwriting expert. The professional will testify as to whether they think the signature on the fake check was yours or not. This will be done by examining some documents you have signed in the past and comparing it to the fake check. Also, the law can allow other witnesses who are not handwriting experts to testify on their opinion of the signatures present on the check. However, it is crucial to understand that the testimony by itself will not be sufficient to sustain a conviction.
Lack of Knowledge
You would be convicted under California Penal Code 487 if you knew that he check you tried to present was fake. If you did not know that the document you passed as original was false, you might present this defense to your check fraud criminal case. With the help of a criminal defense attorney, you can prove that you submitted the fake check for lack of awareness.
Expungement of a Check Fraud Conviction
An expungement or dismissal of a criminal record aims at releasing you from the negative consequences that result from the conviction. Also, an expungement may help you secure and maintain a professional license. You can apply for expungement of your records after a conviction for check fraud. The law authorizes an expungement for individuals who have completed probation and are not in the middle of another criminal case. If you have been sentenced to time in state prison, you may not be able to expunge your records.
However, if you did not complete the probation or violated the terms, you can still have a chance to expunge the records. Two years after completion of your sentence, you can apply for expungement. An attorney will analyze the case and determine whether you are eligible for relief. If you are granted expungement for a checking theft criminal record, employers cannot discriminate against you on these facts. Also, it will be easier for you to obtain professional licenses with an expunged conviction. However, it is crucial to understand that these records will still come up in background checks done by potential employers. If you wish to get a conviction for check fraud expunged, you will require legal representation.
Check Fraud Frequently Asked Questions
The following are some of the most frequently asked questions about check fraud in California:
- Can I be charged with check fraud if I used a fraudulent check, but the victim did not suffer any kind of loss?
Yes. Check fraud when it occurs when you use or attempt to use a fake check with the intent to defraud. The crime does not require you to cause any financial losses to someone else. The moment you alter a check or attempt to pass a fake check, you will be arrested and charged under California Penal Code 476.
- If I attempted to pay back the money I defrauded, will I still be prosecuted for check fraud?
Yes. An attempt to return defrauded property to the victim cannot be used as a defense for check fraud in California. You can still be charged and convicted for the offense eve after paying back what you got. However, restituting a victim as early as possible can help you receive a lesser penalty. Also, you will require the help of a competent criminal defense attorney to take you through the restitution process.
- Can a Check fraud charge be reduced to a lesser offense under any circumstances?
Yes. With strong defense and guidance from a criminal defense attorney, a charge under California Penal Code 476 can be reduced to an attempt to commit fraud. In California, an attempt to commit check fraud will get punished with half the penalties for the actual offense. In this case, a reduction of the crime will guarantee a lesser jail time and fines.
- What will happen when I use a check which is false and could not be taken seriously?
You will not get convicted for check fraud if the fake document you produced could not pass as original. Unless the falsified check is in a nature that could be accepted as original, you will not be charged with check fraud. Under California Penal Code 476, a check not only needs to be fake but should have the potential to be taken seriously. For example, a check scribed on a piece of cloth cannot suffice.
- Can I be prosecuted for having a fake check which I did not take part in altering?
Yes. Possessing or receiving a forged check is an offense in California. Even when you had no part in faking the document, you can still be charged and convicted for check fraud. Thus will be the case when the prosecutor shows our intention to pass or use the check to defraud. A plan to take part in the alteration of the check is not crucial in this case. As long as you knew the check was fake and its fraudulent purpose, you can be held accountable for committing check fraud.
- What are the immigration consequences for a check fraud conviction?
The immigration law of the United States requires the deportation of non-citizens or being marked inadmissible after conviction for particular offenses. If you are charged and convicted for check fraud, the conviction may have serious negative consequences on your immigration status. However, this is not always the case. Whether you will be deported or not is determined by the circumstances under which the offense occurred. Also, the value of the defrauded check will affect the court’s decision on your immigration results. If you are facing fraud check charges, it is crucial to have competent legal representation.
Fraud Check Related Offenses in California
Check fraud involves the presentation of fake or forged documents with an intent to defraud. A fraudulent check is aimed at a financial gain that will disadvantage another person. The following are some offenses charged against check fraud:
- California Penal Code 470 – Forgery
You commit forgery by:
- signing someone else’s name as your own on a legal or financial document for authorization
- Counterfeit or forged another person’s handwriting or seal with an intent to commit fraud. This may include photocopying a document containing a seal so you can pass it as the original.
- Falsify legal documents, alter or corrupt a legal document.
- Knowingly make or forge a document relating to money, sales or transfer of property
You do not need to carry out all the above activities to be charged with fraud. The specific act you committed is not essential as long as it qualifies as a forgery. Check fraud takes place when one forges or fakes or attempts to present a counterfeit check. If you are charged with check fraud in California, you may get additional forgery charges. This would be the case if you took part in the preparation, writing, or altering the document.
A prosecutor must prove that you committed one of the above acts with an intent to defraud. The intention to defraud is deceiving someone, so you can deprive them of property, money, or some legal rights. In California, forgery can be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor. The nature of the charge will depend on the circumstances of the case and your criminal history. If you forged a check whose value is not more than $950 and you did not commit identity theft, you will be charged with a misdemeanor. However, a prior conviction for a related offense may cause you to be charged with a felony. A conviction for a misdemeanor forgery charge will attract the following penalties:
- Informal probation
- Up to one year in county jail
- Fines not exceeding $1,000
- Victim restitution
On the other hand, the penalties for a felony forgery include:
- Up to three years in county jail
- Fines not exceeding $10,000
- Payment of compensation to victims
If you are battling check fraud charges, you may also be charged with forgery. Therefore, it is vital to have competent legal representation by your side.
- California Penal Code 487 – Grand Theft
Grand theft occurs when you unlawfully take property that does not belong to you. A grand theft conviction will arise if the property stolen was valued at $950 or more. Grand theft can occur through:
- Larceny where you physically move a tangible property from the possession of the owner
- Pretense saying something false or claiming incorrect information to be true. However, the victim has to rely on the wrong information to make a decision.
- Embezzlement is when someone entrusts something to you, but you took and used the property with the intent to deprive the owner of the property.
- You commit grand theft by deception is when you take property that does not belong to you by deceiving the owner to let you have it.
If the value of the fake check you tried to preset as original is worth more than $950, you will be charged with check fraud alongside grand theft. Grand theft is a wobbler and can be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor in California. A conviction for this offense will attract one year in county jail for a misdemeanor and up to three years in prison for a felony.
Moreover, if the value of the property involved is high, there will be penalty enhancement. You will get a one year additional jail time for property worth $65,000 or more, two years for $200 000, three years for property worth more than $1,300,000, and four years for property exceeding $3,200,000. Facing charges for both grand theft and check fraud can be devastating. Therefore, it is essential to navigating the legal process with the help of a criminal defense attorney.
- Petty Theft
Under California Penal Code 488, you commit petty theft by unlawful taking property worth $950 or less. By faking, forging, or attempting to present a false check worth $950 or less, you commit both check fraud and petty theft. Petty theft is charged as a misdemeanor, and the penalties include six months in jail and fines of up to $1,000. However, if you are accused of both, you may face severe penalties. With the help of a criminal defense attorney, you can battle check fraud charges and eliminate petty theft.
Fight Fraud Charges With the Help of a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
A conviction for check fraud has severe consequences, including jail time and fines. If you are a non-citizen living, a conviction for this offense will affect your immigration status. However, there are legal defenses you can present in court for a possible reduction of your penalties. If you or your loved one is battling fraud charges, you will require the help of a criminal defense attorney. Fortunately, the Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm can help you avoid the penalties that accompany a conviction for this offense. Call us today at 714-740-7848 from any location in Orange County, CA, and we will contest the charges against you.