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Filing False or Forged Documents with Public Office PC 115: Criminal Defense Attorneys Explain

Information on the crime of knowingly filing a false or forged document with a public office is found in California penal code section 115 (CPC 115).

For purposes of PC 115, a false or forged document is a document that, on its face, appears genuine, but the document is either not genuine (forged, counterfeit, etc.), or the document itself is genuine, but the information in the document is either false or was procured by unlawful means (the document contains perjury or was procured by theft, fraud, embezzlement, duress, threats, deceit, etc.).

Public Office: For purposes of penal code 115, a “public office” includes any government office, such as the DMV, county recorder’s office, immigration office, police department, welfare office, vital records office, public employer's office, office for professional licensure (lawyers, doctors, teachers, gaming license, etc.), tax office, and more.

Note: PC 115 is most commonly charged in connection with mortgage fraud (filing false deeds, titles, transfers, etc.), and DMV offices (false evidence of information for driver’s license, etc.). When filing false or forged documents at other public offices, there are usually more specific charges that apply, such as filing false immigration document (PC 114), filing false police report (PC 148.5), filing false statements at court (Perjury) filing false statements for welfare benefits (WI 10980(c)(2) & PC 118(a)), filing false tax returns (RT 19705), etc.

Knowledge Required: A criminal charge of filing false or forged documents requires an allegation that the criminal defendant “knowingly” filed the false or forged documents. In other words, if the defendant filed a false document, but he did not know the document was false, then PC 115 charges should not be filed. This usually occurs when a “runner” or “filer” is filing a document on behalf of another person or an agency and the filer himself or herself is not aware that the document is false or forged. More on this subject at PC 115 Defenses Below).

Offering the Document is Sufficient: Keep in mind that the defendant may be found guilty of PC 115 even if he or she does not successfully have the document filed. The act of offering the false or forged document to a public office is sufficient for the crime to be complete. This might occur where the document receiver notices something wrong with the document and contacts law enforcement without ever filing the document with the public office.

In situations where the defendant is about to offer the false or forged document with a public office, but his or her attempt is thwarted for some reason, the defendant may be charged with attempted PC 115, or PC 664/115. For more information, see Attempt Crimes & PC 664.

PC 115 Penalties

Filing a false or forged document with a public office is classified as a felony under PC 115. If found guilty, the defendant could face up to three (3) years in jail for each offense.

Note: If found guilty of penal code 115, and the defendant does not receive a probation sentence (See Probation Sentence below), then the defendant may face either a low-term jail sentence of 16 months, a mid-term jail sentence of 2 years, or high term jail sentence of 3 years, depending on the presence of absence of any mitigating or aggravating factors connected with the circumstances of the case (i.e., defendant’s criminal history, level of sophistication, remorse shown, harm to any victim, etc.).

Probation Sentence: A probation sentence is allowed in PC 115 cases. A probation sentence is a period of supervision, as opposed to an actual jail sentence. A probation sentence is not guaranteed after a PC 115 conviction, but it is not uncommon where the defendant lacks criminal history, there is no named victim, the level of criminal sophistication is low, and the defendant demonstrates remorse and/or early confession.

Note: A probation sentence after a conviction for PC 115 is called “formal” probation. This means that the defendant will have a probation officer monitor the fulfillment of the probationer’s “probation conditions,” such as the payment of restitution, staying out of trouble, (no new misdemeanor or felony arrests while on probation), abiding by the terms of any criminal protective order, etc.

PC 1170(h) Sentence: The crime of filing or forging false documents with a public office is subject to penal code 1170(h) sentencing. This means that the defendant may serve his or her jail sentence, if any, in a local county jail, as opposed to a California state prison. In addition, the defendant may have his or her jail sentence split (served partially out of jail on work release) or suspended (not served subject to certain conditions).

Note: PC 115 is not considered a violent or serious offense as those terms are listed in PC 667.5, and PC 1197.2, respectively. This means that PC 115 charges are not “strike” offenses under California’s Three Strikes Law. However, other sentencing enhancements may apply when the defendant has a prior criminal history (prior to the conviction of the PC 115 allegation).

Work Release: Work release is a type of manual labor that is often made a condition of probation, or as an alternative to actual jail. A work release sentence is likely after a conviction for PC 115, even if the defendant is granted a probation sentence. For more information, see Work Release Information.

Crime Involving Moral Turpitude: Filing a false or forged document with a public office is considered a crime involving moral turpitude, or CIMT. A CIMT is any crime that involves deceit, dishonesty, or is otherwise morally and/or inherently wrong by contemporary standards. A CIMT conviction, including any conviction for penal code 115, will severely impact the defendant’s immigration status, professional licensing status, and military service status. For more information, see Crime Involving Moral Turpitude.

Additional Penalties: If found guilty of PC 115, the defendant may face additional penalties, including an order for the defendant to pay restitution, stay-away orders (criminal protective orders), court fines and fees, probation terms, loss of firearm rights, civil lawsuits from victims, and more.

Note: If the defendant is already on probation or parole at the time of his or her conviction (or arrest) for PC 115, then he or she may also face violation of probation or violation of parole consequences. Also, a “no contest” plea in a PC 115 case is the same as a guilty plea under California law. See “No Contest” Pleas.

Important: Filing false or forged documents with a public office is often charged in connection with other offenses or criminal enhancements, such as perjury charges, mortgage fraud charges, embezzlement charges, commercial burglary charges (where defendant entered building with intent to defraud an agency), counterfeiting, elder theft charges, conspiracy charges, and aggravated penalty enhancement associated with the amount of money stolen or attempted to be stolen.

Example: Maria enters a county recorder's office to file a document that she knows to be false. Maria does this so that she may defraud her grandma of real property (false quitclaim deed in Maria’s favor). In this case, Maria may be charged with PC 115 (filing false or forged documents with a public office), and Maria may also be charged with commercial burglary (entry into a building with the intent to commit theft therein), and elder theft (theft from Maria’s grandma).

Voided Filing: Any false or forged document that is knowingly filed with a public office is void from the beginning of the filing (PC 115(e) Abbrev. & Sum.).

PC 115 Defenses

Common defenses to a PC 115 allegation include, but are not limited to, the following: mistake of fact (as to the false information in the document), insufficient evidence to prove the defendant committed the crime beyond a reasonable doubt (lack of knowledge of the false or forged status of the document or lack of evidence showing the defendant is the person who caused the filing of the document), entrapment, illegal search and seizure, duress, coerced confession, failure to properly Mirandize defendant, misjoinder of defendants and more.

Note: The statute of limitations is not applicable in most PC 115 cases as fraud cases typically have a very long statute of limitations, or no statute of limitation at all.

Public Office Required: Filing a false or forged document with a non-public office is not charged under PC 115, such as the filing of false information with a private employer. However, other charges might still apply, such as commercial burglary, perjury, counterfeiting, forgery, etc., depending on the circumstances.

Post-Conviction Relief: Post conviction relief options include expungement (with some limitations), certificate of rehabilitation, governor’s pardon, withdraw of guilty plea (PC 1018), appeal the criminal conviction, and more.

Note: If the defendant is charged with PC 115, but the district attorney either dismisses the case, or the defendant is found not guilty after a trial, then the defendant may be entitled to seal and destroy the arrest record. For more information, see Seal & Destroy Arrest Record.

PC 115 Law (Abbrev. Selected Parts).

PC 115(a): Every person who knowingly procures or offers any false or forged instrument to be filed, registered, or recorded in any public office within this state, which instrument, if genuine, might be filed, registered, or recorded under any law of this state or of the United States, is guilty of a felony.

PC 115(b): Each instrument which is procured or offered to be filed, registered, or recorded in violation of subdivision (a) shall constitute a separate violation….

PC 115(c): Except in unusual cases where the interests of justice would best be served if probation is granted, probation shall not be granted to, nor shall the execution or imposition of sentence be suspended for, any of the following persons:

PC 115(c)(1): Any person with a prior conviction under this section who is again convicted of a violation of this section in a separate proceeding.

PC 115(c)(2): Any person who is convicted of more than one violation of this section in a single proceeding, with intent to defraud another, and where the violations resulted in a cumulative financial loss exceeding one hundred thousand dollars ($100,000).

PC 115(d): For purposes of prosecution under this section, each act of procurement or of offering a false or forged instrument to be filed, registered, or recorded shall be considered a separately punishable offense.

For further information on California penal code section 115, or filing false or forged documents, contact our Inland Empire criminal defense attorneys today for a free consultation.

Our award-winning criminal defense attorneys, including winning trial attorneys, have successfully handled hundreds of felony and misdemeanor charges in the Inland Empire, including the cities and criminal courts of Fontana, Rancho Cucamonga, Redlands, Victorville, Riverside, Banning, San Bernardino, Ontario, & More. Call today!


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PC 115 Filing or Forging False Document with Public Office Law, Penalty, & Defense


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