Any time an individual plans to defraud somebody else by deliberately signing the person’s name or made-up name on a check, he or she commits check fraud. The offense is a prominent crime in California, and a conviction can adversely affect your life. The Long Beach Criminal Attorney understands these consequences. For this reason, we have highlighted the information below to understand the crime.
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Understanding Check Fraud in Long Beach, CA
Check fraud is outlined under PC 476 as:
- Passing on or
- Use of a false or changed check to make a payment.
Attempting to do any of the above things is check fraud too. Take note that the offense is not complete if you didn’t act intentionally or knowingly. The offense of check fraud takes many forms. In California, the most prevalent form is signing or endorsement of somebody else’s check without their consent.
Some of the behaviors that you may engage in and end up facing check fraud charges are:
- Taking someone’s checkbook without their consent, writing an amount on it, forging a signature, then submitting it to the bank to acquire cash
- Altering the amount on an existing check to try and obtain more money
- Presenting or using a fake check after someone told you it’s fake
- Using sophisticated technology to create a fake check
Things the Prosecutor must Establish to Prove you Committed Check Fraud
Getting a conviction for check fraud is not an easy task for the prosecution. They have the burden to prove the following elements:
- You, as the defendant knowingly had reformed, made, tried to make changes, or created a check that was invalid to pass on.
- You intended to pass the invalid check as a genuine one
- You intended to defraud somebody else through passing the check to obtain monetary benefits from the transaction.
- You submitted the fraudulent check as a genuine one
Keep in mind that proving one of these elements isn’t enough to warrant a sentence. The prosecutor must establish all four aspects to get a favorable outcome. Some of the critical things to understand about the aspects of this crime are:
Intent to Defraud
You may think that because you were not successful in committing check fraud, you will not be sentenced. This untrue because so long as you had a fake or fraudulent check, purposed to use it, and submitted it intending to pass it on as a sincere one, then you are guilty of the offense.
On top of that, the prosecuting attorney must convince the jury you intended to deceive someone else out of their property or money. The law is clear that if there is intent to commit a crime, the outcome of the conduct is irrelevant when it comes to obtaining a conviction. Therefore, if you tried to deceive another party using a fraudulent check, whether you were successful or not, the intent alone is enough to get a sentence.
Moreover, intent to defraud is further outlined as an attempt to gain an advantage over someone else using dishonest means. It is also described as inducing another party to part with their property or money depending on misrepresentations you have made an exact plan that it happens.
Present as Valid or Genuine
A person passes a check by representing to another party the check as a genuine one. The representation may be in words, in writing, actions, through the mail, and can be direct or indirect. Fundamentally, any attempt to represent an invalid check knowing that it is fraudulent, that amounts to a representation of genuine what is fraudulent. What is critical is for you to have used the check as a real one.
It’s critical to understand that a conviction will not happen if you were not aware the check was fraudulent.
For instance, a doctor may be paid by a client using a check. If the doctor uses the check to clear part of a car loan, but it turns out later on that the check is fake, then the doctor is innocent if the case goes to trial. The argument by the defense attorney will be that the doctor lacked knowledge that the check was fake.
Common Forms of Check Fraud
Check fraud takes a variety of forms that are criminalized as per PC 476. Below are some of these forms:
Passing Fictitious or Fake Checks
A fictitious check is not one that doesn’t exist. It exists, but the bank, bank account, or the person who signed it doesn’t exist. With sophisticated technology and the availability of private computers and production machines, it is a piece of cake to create a check. The culprits of the fake check then try to pass it on as a genuine one by cashing it in. Others will pay for merchandise or services or deposit it.
The offense is different from that of trying to pass a check for a closed bank account or an account with an insufficient balance. While the conduct is unlawful, it is not similar to passing a fictitious check.
You may also commit the offense of check fraud if you add, delete or change the information in an existing check. The changes or alterations on the existing document must be in such a way that the physical check appears different from its initial state. Additionally, the alterations must be in a manner that changes the legal status or financial value of the document. In most cases, when people are altering a check, they might add the number of zeros or change the date of a posted dated check.
Consequences of a Check Fraud Sentence
Check fraud is a crime of forgery in California. Its penalties are, therefore, similar to those of other forgery crimes. PC 476 is a wobbler meaning the prosecutor holds the discretion to register the offense as a misdemeanor or felony. The decision by the prosecution may be based on your criminal record or the circumstances of the arrest.
If the amount written on the check is no more than 950 dollars, the prosecutor will prefer misdemeanor charges. But if the amount written on the document is at least 950 dollars, the offense will be registered as a felony.
Keep in mind that after the passing of Proposition 47 in 2014 by Californians who are eligible to vote, an exception was imposed on the above rule. Under Prop 47, if you are sentenced for both check fraud and identity theft, you will be charged with a felony regardless of the amount written on the check.
Also, another exception is that irrespective of the amount written on the check, if you are convicted of check fraud, and you have a prior sex crime or violent felony conviction, the charge will be a wobbler.
The sentence for a misdemeanor includes:
- No more than 12 months in jail
- Court fines amounting to no more than 1000 dollars
On the other hand, a felony sentence is punishable by:
- A fine of up to 10,000 dollars
- Sixteen to thirty-six months incarceration
- Felony probation plus one year behind bars
Remember that a sentence for this offense may have implications on your immigration status. It may make an alien deportable or inadmissible in the U.S. The decision, however, depends on the nature of your check fraud offense.
Similarly, being sentenced for commissioning check fraud could harm your gun rights. However, this will only happen if the preferred charge against you is a felony, and you are convicted of it.
Note that a sentence for this crime may change your life a lot. Things will be even worse if you are a juvenile because the record will be a massive obstacle in your admission to college. Fortunately, it is possible to clear the sentence in your record. But to do that, you will need to complete your incarceration or probation, any of which is relevant to your case.
Sometimes a person might violate the probation terms and still be eligible for expungement. However, this is up to the judge hearing your case.
If you qualify for expungement, it means your criminal record will be cleared, and it will appear as if you were never sentenced. With a clear criminal history, you can apply for jobs and colleges without any fear of being denied the chance because of a previous check fraud conviction.
Legal Defenses for Check Fraud
Based on the circumstances surrounding your case, there are multiple defense strategies that your attorney can device to contest the charges. Some of these defense strategies are:
Lack of Fraudulent Intent
No conviction for a fraud crime, including check fraud can happen in California if the case lacks intent to commit fraud. If you supposedly make a 500,000-dollar check but don’t intend to use it to gain an advantage, even if the check is fake, you cannot be sentenced for check fraud. The same way you will be found innocent if someone paid you for services or products using a fake check and then without knowing the check is fictitious, you deposit it with a bank or cash it. Even if you are arrested and charged, you didn’t have any reason to believe the check was fake, so you are innocent.
Possession of Consent
In other circumstances, you may have altered the check, but after the person responsible for the check or bill has given you the go-ahead to make the adjustments. In such a case, the court will find you innocent. People make these changes all the time but with permission from the check owner. And although it may be against the protocol, it doesn’t amount to check fraud.
Mistaken Identity or False Allegations
In California, there are many crimes where you could be falsely accused of commissioning a crime, whereas you are innocent. Check fraud is one of these offenses. Someone can falsely accuse you of this crime to sort out a grudge or out of revenge. Such people use circumstantial evidence to set you up for the crime. Under such circumstances, it’s where your attorney will come in handy. A profound criminal defense lawyer will understand how to get to the bottom of such situations using evidence and witness testimonies. It becomes easy because the prosecution is the one that must prove you committed the crime. And they do so by relying on circumstantial evidence. What your attorney needs to do is challenge the evidence to demonstrate to the jury or judge that you are falsely accused, or it’s a matter of mistaken identity.
Offenses Related to Check Fraud
There are multiple offenses like check fraud that usually come up during these cases. The offenses are charged in connection with or instead of PC 476. These offenses are:
Writing Bad Checks
California PC 476a prohibits individuals from writing out or passing on a check while fully aware of the fact that their bank account has insufficient funds to cover the amount written on the check to defraud the other person. The prosecutor might charge you with check fraud and writing a bad check at the same time. In other circumstances, you will get a plea deal, and the check fraud charges may be reduced to writing bad checks, which is a lesser offense. Same as PC 476, if you write a bad check worth 950 dollars or less, you will be subject to misdemeanor charges. If the amount of the bad check is over $950, you will face felony charges.
Forgery is outlined as per PC 470. Compared to check fraud, it is a broad category and can involve forgery of checks and other payable notes. If you forged a signature on a check, the prosecutor might charge you with forgery. In other cases, you may be charged with forgery in addition to check fraud. However, take note that you cannot be sentenced to both crimes for the same offense.
California statutes define theft as taking someone else’s property without the owner’s permission, thus depriving the rightful owner of its benefits or enjoyment. If the value of the property is more than 950 dollars, the offense becomes grand theft. Nine hundred fifty dollars or less, the offense is petty theft. The crime is related to check fraud because you may commit grand theft by commissioning a check fraud offense.
Find the Right Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
At Long Beach Criminal Attorney, we have proven valuable to many clients facing check fraud charges. So, if you have questions about the above information or would like to discuss your case, call our Long Beach criminal defense lawyer at 562-308-7807 for a free consultation.