Criminal offenses extend to white-collar activities that involve analyzing and verifying different documents. You may therefore find yourself answerable to criminal charges for presenting invalid documents to various entities. In most cases, the defendants facing arrest for filing the false documents have unlawful intentions to access profits or exclusive opportunities. However, you may also face similar charges, even where there is a genuine mistake or lack of knowledge about the nature of documents. As a result, you want to contact the best criminal defense attorney you can find to help you through the criminal trial and evade conviction.
Getting in touch with the Leah Legal team will give you access to some of the best defense attorneys in Van Nuys. With our help, your legal defenses will be appropriate for your case to help persuade the judge of your innocence. On top of that, we are happy to provide other forms of support, including brief legal counseling sessions that equip you for the pending court trial processes. Therefore, you can count on us to do our best in helping you evade the felony charges issued to defendants guilty of filing false documents.
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Defining the Crime of Filing False Documents
The California Penal Code makes it unlawful to record, file, or register a false document in the country under section 115. Moreover, the section states that the criminal activity involves filing these forged documents in public offices. Thus, several elements of the crime lead to your conviction, based on the prosecutor's findings.
In a criminal case, the burden of proof always rests on the prosecutor to establish guilt leading to a conviction. Thus, he/she works with several investigation officers to gather enough evidence and present it against you in court.
Additionally, the prosecutor can call on various witnesses to testify against you in various events that may have transpired. Therefore, you have to remain conscious of the prosecutor's ongoing preparations and work with your defense attorney to find reliable and persuasive defenses for you. The elements of the crime that define filing false documents are:
You Provided a Document for Filing, Registration, or Recording in a Public Office
The primary factor in committing the crime is providing a public office document for recording, registration, or filing. In giving this element, the prosecutor should show that you offered the document personally to the general office in question, or procured someone to do it for you. In this case, a public office is any government-based agency or organization that provides public services. Therefore, a public office may be a department office, a public employer's office, or even a record-keeping building established in your county.
When proving that you provided the document yourself, the prosecutor may rely on witnesses present during your operation. Possible witnesses include the front desk operator who received your documents or other public office workers who had delegated authority to pick the files from you.
Moreover, witnesses may also include people in the public office to perform the same actions by presenting their documents for recording or registration. Thus, if one of the people you waited in line with observed you and can provide relevant evidence against you, he/she is likely to be a witness.
You should also remember that if you made another person present the documents on your behalf, the prosecutor might also include him/her in the witness list. As a result, the person may reveal critical information for your intentions by presenting the documents to the public office. However, you do not have to worry about such information being released, as your criminal lawyer can talk your agent out of being a witness before the prosecutor approaches him/her.
Surveillance footage is also a reliable source of proof when showing that you provided the documents yourself. Here, the prosecutor will request the public office to copy their camera footage for the prosecution team to analyze and find the video’s essential points. Since the primary objective will be to prove the actus reus- criminal activity, such footage is sufficient.
You Knew the Documents Were False When Filing Them
The main point to prove in this element is that you had the criminal intent to gain unlawful access to monetary gains or other fraudulent benefits. The prosecutor will try to prove this by showing that you knew the nature of the documents you presented to the public office.
Usually, providing enough proof on a defendant's knowledge is not easy, primarily because it is a mental factor that does not manifest easily, unlike physical activities. Nevertheless, the prosecutor will use circumstantial evidence to derive evidence from your criminal intention by knowingly submitting the false documents.
Since circumstances may differ for each case, you will find that the prosecutor may apply versatile tactics to retrace your steps back to when you committed the offense. For example, unlawful intentions can be implied whereby you paid someone to deliver the documents for you, even though you could have quickly done it yourself. In such instances, the prosecutor can mean that you were trying to avert possible liability after presenting the forged documents.
Alternatively, evidence may also come from your demeanor during the presentation of the documents. If you insisted on seeing one specific officer in the public office, the prosecutor might request the investigation officers to conduct further investigations on the specific public office worker. The main aim will be to establish whether you and the worker had conspired to push the false documents without anyone else noticing it.
Lastly, the investigations may lead to a computer search on your digital data to scour any visited sites and conversations that can prove you knew about the forged documents. For example, if there are suspicions that you generated the forms yourself, there may be sourced evidence from the computer software you used to duplicate the papers' details. If any, the conversations between your counterparts are also significant clues that may help the prosecutor prove his/her case.
You Knowingly Changed Vital Information on the Documents to Defraud Others
In specific cases, the prosecutor will show that you were directly involved in manipulating data or changing vital information that promoted your fraudulent intentions. The data in question varies based on the types of documents you altered. Showing that you changed the information on the documents matters where you are likely to face additional charges for a separate crime.
For example, if you are an accountant to manipulate monetary records for a company's tax reports, you will be answerable to the crime of filing false documents. The prosecutor will have to establish your role in fabricating information on the forms, which may be active or passive. Thus, you need to note that you may face arrest and prosecution even if you directed another person to perform the alterations on your behalf.
Some evidence may also come from the method used in altering the documents that easily prove your indulgence in the crime. When you use visible forms of correction like white-out to introduce false data on individual records, it will be easier for the prosecutor to show that you directly manipulated the information to defraud a party.
The Documents Would be Accepted if they Were Valid
Lastly, the prosecutor must prove that the forged documents would be accepted if you presented the valid versions. Therefore, he/she will have to show that you presented regularly used papers in the public office, and the only difference is that yours were false.
Sources of information on the element would arise from presenting the documents you submitted in court and getting an original copy for comparison. The prosecutor would then invite the judge to check both documents to accept that they are similar and that your papers may be acceptable in usual circumstances.
Additionally, the prosecutor can include your intentions in presenting the forged documents to show that you had tried to pass off unlawfully made papers for your purposes. For example, giving a forged real estate deed will attract scrutiny that may later become additional evidence for the prosecutor to use against you.
Penalties for the Crime of Filing False Documents
If the prosecutor prevails in proving your engagement in filing false documents, the trial process will move to sentence, whereby you will receive several penalties based on your actions. The offense attracts felony charges, which is a severe classification of crimes, leading to adverse consequences.
The penalties available for a guilty defendant include serving a county jail sentence for three years or paying a maximum fine of $10,000. The presiding judge may choose to issue one or both of the penalties based on your case's circumstances. Moreover, the judge has discretion in issuing the amount you will pay as a fine penalty based on the case facts.
You can also receive a probation penalty, where you are subject to following court orders and guidelines under a probation officer's supervision. Usually, probation requires you to sit through several counseling sessions, primarily if the judge determines a recurrent trend in engaging in unlawful activities. Moreover, you will have to pay restitution to any aggrieved parties that incurred losses from the use of your forged documents. The court will issue additional orders based on individual circumstances.
While probation is a viable option for most defendants who would like to evade jail sentences, it is unavailable for some parties. Firstly, if you have faced any past criminal convictions for filing false documents, you will not be eligible for probation.
Additionally, you become ineligible for probation when your crime caused losses of above $100,000 to the aggrieved party. Such cases involve facing a conviction for two or more counts of filing false documents, regardless of whether they occurred consecutively.
Aggravating Factors to Your Case
On top of facing the regular penalties, your case may include aggravating factors. If so, you will meet sentence enhancements that attract additional penalties depending on the applicable aggravating factors.
Typically, you do not want to face more penalties for an offense, as you will have to serve more time in a sentence or pay additional fines. Nevertheless, your criminal record will be the determinant of how severely the aggravating factors affect your case. Common factors include:
You Committed the Crime Against Two or More Separate Victims
If investigations reveal that you presented false documents that caused losses for two or more separate parties, you will be liable to face additional penalties from your engagements. In this case, the aggravating factor is that your forged papers affected multiple victims. Subsequently, you are answerable to various complainants, despite undergoing a single trial process.
You Accessed Over $100,000 from the Forged Documents
Moreover, if you managed to trick over $100,000 from the aggrieved party, the case is aggravated. Such amounts are significant in any agency or individual's operations. Hence, the court will consider the magnitude of losses incurred by the complainants and provide additional penalties based on the money you accessed from filing false documents.
You Committed the Offense Against One Victim in Separate Occasions
You targeted one victim on different occasions and used false documents to have your way. You will also face sentence enhancements. The prosecutor will focus on proving that you engaged with the same victim on more than one occasion by sourcing evidence of past transactions. If the judge accepts the evidence and uses it to consider the sentence you will receive, it will likely be enhanced.
You Face a Conviction for Multiple Fraudulent Activities in the Same Criminal Trial
As discussed, it is possible that you conspired with other people in the public office to affect your operations, or that you engaged in several unlawful activities that involve false documents and embezzlement of funds. The most common example is where the false documents give the authorization to access a monetary account. Upon arrest, you can face two or more different charges for your unlawful activities, including acquiring funds illegally and conspiring to commit fraud using the forged documents.
Filing the False Documents paved the way for More Criminal Activities
If you proceed to engage in additional crimes after accessing an account or money from the false documents, you will also face a sentence enhancement. For example, if you are guilty of making pretenses to suit the forged documents' identity description, you will have engaged in another crime that attracts additional penalties.
You may also use the accessed funds to gain ownership, at the rightful owner's detriment. Such cases may amount to theft, especially if the prosecutor can prove your intentions to deprive the owner of his/her property permanently. Consequently, additional criminal activities are enough to warrant enhancements from the judge.
Effects of Aggravated Factors
Once the judge finds that your case qualifies for sentence enhancement, he/she will include the additional penalties and order you to follow them accordingly. Consequently, you may face five other years in state prison after completing your three-year jail sentence.
Moreover, the judge can impose additional fines for causing losses of up to $500,000. Alternatively, you will be subject to pay the penalties based on the amount you swindled from presenting false documents. Thus, more massive amounts will lead to higher fines penalties.
Defenses to the Charges
Your criminal defense attorney has a chance to present criminal defenses for your case after the prosecutor concludes his/her presentation. During this time, your lawyer will explain the arguments to introduce reasonable doubt that sets the matter in perspective by including additional details that the prosecutor may have missed.
When presenting defenses, your attorney must select only the arguments that apply in your case, despite having access to multiple defenses for the matter. Thus, the case facts play a role in determining the relevant ideas that will mitigate your issue or lead to an acquittal. Common defenses for filing false documents include:
You Did Not File the Documents in a Public Office
Since the case details matter in the charges, you can raise a claim stating that you did not file the documents in a public office, and are therefore not criminally liable. While the defense is applicable, it helps to remember that it may not absolve you of facing penalties but may mitigate them significantly.
You Face False Accusations
Facing false accusations is also a common occurrence, especially if you have several adversaries with ulterior motives. Moreover, the false allegations may come from police misconduct, whereby the arresting officers may include inaccurate details in police reports. Your lawyer will work to prove the falsehood of charges placed against you by providing additional evidence to clear the matter.
You Were Unaware that You were Filing False Documents
If you faced arrest and trial for an innocent mistake where you did not know the documents presented were false, you might also escape liability. Here, your defense attorney should provide relevant information on circumstances that may show your innocent indulgence in delivering the documents. You may also use the defense if a third party sets you up to provide the copies without knowing their invalid state.
Contact a White Collar Crime Attorney Near Me
Upon facing arrest and criminal charges for filing false documents, it may be challenging to find the right way forward. The situation may be more difficult if working alone than having a criminal defense lawyer by your side. We also understand the hardships that come with charges based on false accusations and other malicious intentions, primarily when you risk losing your reputation, career, and family. Therefore, it is crucial to consider hiring a lawyer who will help you combat the criminal charges.
At Leah Legal, we provide exceptional legal services from some of the best attorneys in Van Nuys, California. We believe in putting your needs first by personalizing legal approaches to fit your situation seamlessly. Thanks to our years of experience in criminal defense, you can count on us to present sound legal reasons in the trial, as we push for the best outcome for your case. Don’t hesitate when your life is on the line call today at 818-484-1100.