California’s white-collar crimes are specific and need proper legal representation. Filing false documents is an example of these offenses. If you or your loved one is facing charges, you need to hire a criminal defense lawyer to represent you. The Orange County Criminal Lawyer has experienced defense attorneys who could defend your case. We understand the law against filing false documents, and thanks to our several years of practice, we can develop a strong defense strategy. If winning is not possible, we will fight to ensure your charges are reduced or you receive a lenient sentence. Call us as soon as you are arrested, charged, or even under investigation, and we will help you maneuver the whole legal process.

The Legal Definition of Filing False Documents

The white-collar crime of filing false documents is described under Penal Code 115. According to this statute, it’s an offense for one to knowingly register, record, or file a forged or false document with any government office in California. The law outlines that anyone who deliberately offers any forged/fake document to be registered/recorded/filed in a public office, which material, if genuine, may be registered, recorded, or filed under any state of California or of the U.S is committing a felony.

Examples of cases that would lead to a conviction under this law include:

  • A plumber, angry with their client, creates a fake mechanic’s lien for an amount the client doesn’t owe them then goes ahead to file it with the Orange County clerk
  • A person forging a notarized deed enabling the transfer of ownership of their elderly parent’s house to them and presents if for filing with the county clerk
  • A real estate agent forges a deed of trust then files it in the office of county records
  • A fishing yacht files a forged fishing activity record with the Department of Fish & Wildlife
  • A public employee filing a fake timesheet with a public employer

Elements of a PC 115 Violation

Penal Code 115 consists of three factors that the prosecution must prove before your conviction. The factors are what we call the elements of the crime. They are:

  • You either:
  1. Caused a forged or false material to be recorded, registered, or filed in a government office
  2. Provided a forged or false document for recording, registration, or filling in a public office
  • When doing so, you were aware the material was false/forged
  • The document, if genuine, would have been registered, recorded, or filed in a public office

The Legal Definition of Terms

Let us look at the various terms used in these elements to understand what they legally mean and how the legal definition of filing a false document works.

You Offered or Caused the Filing of a Document

You will be convicted under PC 115 if you provided a forged or false document for registration, recording, or filing, or caused the filing, registration, or recording of a forged/false document. To offer a document means presenting it before any government office for registration, recording, or filing. If the office doesn’t file the material, you can still be found guilty under PC 115 instead of the lesser crime of attempting to file a false document under PC 664.

Causing the filing of a document, on the other hand, means you don’t need to have performed the filing yourself. It could be that you made another person file the papers for you.

The Documents Were Forged or False

PC 115 applies to several types of documents that could be recorded, registered, or filed in public offices. Specifically, PC 115 applies to forged or false documents if any of these is true:

  1. The details in the papers are of the nature that the public office is permitted or required by California law to depend on them
  2. The info on the documents materially impacts a third party’s rights in a manner that’s anticipated by the regulation or statute providing for the material to be registered, filed, or recorded in a government office

You Were Aware It Was a Forged or False Document

You aren’t guilty of PC 115 if you didn’t know the document you were filing or caused to be filed was forged/false. This is usually the most challenging element to substantiate in a PC 115 case. Without knowledge, there’s no guilt.

Note: As we mentioned above, this statute applies to several types of documents, including payment tubs, fishing records, bail bonds, income & tax return statements, bank account records, immigration documents, personal checks, etc. Nonetheless, courts have stated that the law isn’t overly vague. Additionally, most criminal offenses charged under this law involve filing real property-related documents, such as property deeds and quitclaim deeds. In cases like this, and based on the form of document in question, the prosecutor could bring charges under PC 115, mortgage fraud statutes, or real estate fraud laws.

Penalties of Filing False Documents

If you are caught filing false documents in California, you will be charged with a felony. The possible consequences are felony probation, a fine that does not exceed $10,000, and sixteen months, two or three years in state prison.

It is worth noting that it’s possible to be charged with separate counts of filing false documents for every document you provide for recording, registering, or filing. This is the case even if those documents are related.

Also note that while the judge may grant you probation instead of a prison sentence, you won’t qualify for one if any of these is true:

  • You’re found guilty of two or more counts of filing false documents, and your offenses caused a loss of over $100,000 to the victim
  • You have previously been convicted for PC 115 violation

Sentence Enhancements for Filing False Documents

There are multiple fine and sentence enhancements that may apply if you’re convicted of violating PC 115.

Firstly, if the forged or false documents place a mortgage or encumbrance on or affect title to a single-family home with a maximum of four residential units, you might be subject to an additional maximum of $75,000 in fines.

Secondly, if your action ends up robbing the victim of over $65,000 and the prosecution can show you had the intention to cause the victim’s loss, you will be subject to additional & consecutive prison time of one to four years.

Thirdly, you’ll face the aggravated white-collar crime sentence enhancement if all of these are true:

  1. You are found guilty of more than one felony involving embezzlement or fraud (one of the crimes can be a violation of Penal Code 115) in the same proceeding
  2. The felony offenses are part of a pattern of related criminal behavior
  3. You committed the felonies against two or more different victims or one victim on more than one separate occasions
  4. Your conduct is alleged to deprive the victim/victims of over $100,000

The aggravated white-collar crime sentence enhancement can result in an additional & consecutive one to five years of a prison sentence or additional of up to $500,000 in fines or twice the amount you defrauded, whichever is higher.

Immigration Consequences of a PC 115 Conviction

In case the prosecution can prove you filed false documents intending to defraud, your crime will be deemed one that involves moral turpitude. By this, it implies that if you aren’t an American citizen, you may be subjected to immigration penalties should you be convicted. Specifically:

  • You can be deported if you’re found guilty of filing a false document with the specific aim to defraud within five years of admission to the U.S.
  • You can be deported if you’re convicted of violating PC 115 intending to defraud, and you already have been convicted of another offense that involves moral turpitude on your criminal record.
  • You’ll be considered inadmissible upon your first conviction of an offense that involves moral turpitude. This applies regardless of when the conviction happens. Being inadmissible implies that you can’t enter the U.S again after leaving, apply for a green card, or become a citizen of the United States.

Additionally, being convicted of any crime involving moral turpitude may negatively impact your professional license if you’re in professions like doctor, lawyer, etc.

Expunging a PC 115 Conviction Record

If you are convicted of violating PC 115 law, you can’t have your conviction record expunged. California law dictates that a person can’t have a conviction record deleted if the crime they were found guilty of is a felony.

How a PC 115 Conviction Will Impact Your Gun Rights

A conviction of filing false documents will negatively impact your gun rights. The law outlines that a convicted felon has to relinquish his/her rights to own, possess, or purchase a gun. Because a violation of PC 115 law is charged as a felony, being convicted will strip you of your gun rights.

Fighting PC 115 Charges Against You

Defending against filing false documents is challenging. However, a criminal charge is simply an allegation until the prosecution proves it beyond a reasonable doubt. When fighting filing false documents charges, attorneys at Orange County Criminal Lawyer use an in-depth approach that may include these steps:

Detailed Investigation: When necessary, hiring private investigators and other experts may significantly help your case. Using skilled criminal investigators assists a lawyer in finding ways to challenge the prosecutor’s case and uncover deficiencies. For instance, identifying witnesses who can testify about you being granted verbal consent to file the document may occur during the investigation process.

Bringing a Motion to Dismiss: The prosecution frequently adds charges that aren’t appropriate or consistent with the facts surrounding a case. A motion to dismiss the excessive charges may limit your exposure or result in the dismissal of all the charges successfully.

Bringing a Motion to Suppress Proof: The police or any other law enforcement agency must obtain proof though legal searches & seizures. Documents are critical pieces of evidence in cases of filing false documents. However, if they weren’t obtained legally, a motion to suppress may result in the dismissal of the charges against you. If a dismissal is not possible, it can lead to a lesser charge, a lowered sentence, or a strong defense position during the trial.

Present Valid Legal Defense: Usually, taking an aggressive approach is the best defense in criminal cases. Remember, the prosecution has to prove beyond any doubt that you are guilty. This means they have to substantiate all the facts of the offense. Your lawyer may be able to poke holes in the prosecutor’s evidence so that they are left with no case to prove, and they will have no choice but to dismiss the charges. He/she can do this by arguing various defenses, including:

You Had Permission to File or Cause the Filing of the Document

Most cases under PC 115 involve accusations that the accused tricked a naïve property owner into appending their signature on a deed to their property or forged their signature. In cases like this, a property owner is usually a disabled individual or a senior adult.

However, although the case may seem suspicious, that does not mean there indeed was any misconduct involved. In most of the cases, the property owner did consent that the defendant records the deed. But it could be they then forgot about the consent they gave or a relative or friend convinced them to withdraw it.

If you recorded or filed property-related papers with the owner’s consent, or what you believed to be the owner’s consent, you shouldn’t be found guilty of violating PC 115 statute.

You Weren’t Aware the Papers Were Forged or False

As we mentioned before, knowledge is an essential element under PC 115. If the prosecution cannot prove you were aware that the documents were forged or false, you aren’t guilty of violating the statute.

This defense is particularly useful in situations where an employee is charged for an alleged fraud scheme spearheaded by his/her employer. Very often, employees who are merely carrying out their responsibility don’t have any clue that they’re acting in a way that could be considered illegal.

False Accusations

It is common for a person to accuse another of a crime they didn’t commit. The crime of filing a false document isn’t any different. Family drama, property/business disputes, or revenge often result in one person lying about someone else’s intentions or actions.

If you have been wrongfully accused of filing a false document, your most appropriate move will be to reach out to a skilled criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. A lawyer will investigate your case thoroughly and ensure that the true version of the story is uncovered.

The Filing Was Accidental

There are situations where several drafts of a document are made before the official filing in a government office. Perhaps you accidentally picked up a false document draft and provided the copy for filing rather than the right document. In a case like this, you may have a valid defense of accident if prosecuted under PC 115 since you didn’t mean to file the false document.

You Didn’t File the Document With a Public Office

PC 115 law only applies if a person offered a forged or false document for registration, filing, or recording with a public office such as California DMV or county recorder’s office. Thus, you can try challenging the charges against you by proving that you didn’t offer the document for filing in a government office. Perhaps, for instance, you presented the document before a private company/employer.

Though, note that even if this defense is successful, but the document was forged or false, you could still face charges under a different law.

Violation of Penal Code 115 and Related Crimes

Several offenses are closely related to the crime of filing false documents. The relationship exists because the crimes share various elements with a PC 115 violation. These kinds of offenses can be charged instead of or along with the crime of filing false documents. Examples include:

Penal Code 368, Elder Abuse/Senior Fraud

Fraud crimes, also called financial abuse, against people that are 65 years or older, are outlined under senior fraud statute (PC 368). It’s common for cases of filing of false documents to involve supposed victims that are 65 years and above. In cases like this, the defendant is usually prosecuted under both PC 115 and PC 368.

In a case that involves supposed fraud that is worth over $950, senior fraud becomes a wobbler offense. This means the prosecutor can charge you with a misdemeanor or felony based on the factors of the case and your criminal history.

If it’s prosecuted as a felony, the punishment upon conviction will be a possible two, three, or years’ prison sentence.

Penal Code 470, Forgery

Forgery means doing any of these intending to commit fraud:

  • Faking another person’s handwriting or a seal
  • Signing somebody else’s name
  • Presenting as authentic, altering, or faking a false financial document
  • Falsifying or changing any legal document

Therefore, should you change a recordable document, or forge another person’s seal or signature on a recordable document then provide it in a public office for filing/recording, you’re most likely to face both PC 115 and PC 470 charges. PC 470 is charged as a wobbler with a possible prison sentence of sixteen months, two or three years.

Penal Code 118, Perjury

You are considered to have committed a perjury offense when you intentionally give false info when under oath. You can face both PC 115 and PC 118 charges if you deliberately provide incorrect info on a government document then try to record or file it in a government office. A violation of PC 118 is charged as a felony. It carries a possible prison sentence of four, three, or two years.

Vehicle Code 1050, False Reports of Vehicle Theft

VC 10501 law prohibits filing or making false reports of a stolen auto to any law enforcement agency, intending to deceive. For a first-time offender, this offense will be charged as a misdemeanor.

When you file a false written statement of vehicle theft with a law enforcement agency, your behavior meets the lawful definition of both PC 115 and VC 10501. However, courts in California have established that you can only face VC 10501 charges, which is a less severe crime.

Penal Code 487, Grand Theft

Under PC 487, grand theft means unlawfully taking another person’s property that is worth $950. There are many forms of grand theft, including grand theft by larceny, grand theft by trick, grand theft by false pretense, and grand theft by embezzlement, which are closely related to the crime of filing false documents. For instance, if you forge a mechanic lien for the money your client doesn’t owe you in an attempt to steal from them then present it for filing in a public office, you can be found guilty of violating both Penal Codes  487 and 115.

Grand theft is mostly a wobbler offense. Misdemeanor penalties include up to a year in jail, while felony consequences include up to three years in prison or formal probation with a maximum of a year in jail. 

Contact an Orange County Criminal Lawyer Near Me

Whether you’re being investigated for filing false documents or already facing charges, the best way to win your case is by hiring a lawyer. You should hire an attorney with a track record of fighting and winning filing false documents cases. At the Orange County Criminal Lawyer, we have successfully represented clients accused of this crime in court.

We have an in-depth understanding of the California white-collar crime laws and excellent investigative skills. We will leave no stone unturned until we build a solid defense strategy to challenge the prosecution’s case and obtain the best possible outcome. Call us today at 714-262-4833 for a cost-free consultation and legal representation for your case.