California Penal Code Section 476 PC: Check Fraud

check fraud

1. Definition and Elements of the Crime

Check Fraud is one of the most common and frequently charged forgery-related offenses in California. Under California Penal Code Section 476 PC, it is illegal to write, use or pass a fraudulent check in an attempt to obtain something of value.

To prove a defendant committed check fraud, a prosecutor must be able to establish the following elements:

  1. The defendant possessed, made, passed, used or attempted to use a fake or altered check or other legal writing for the payment of money or property
  2. The defendant knew the document was false or altered
  3. When the defendant did this, he or she had the intent to defraud
  4. AND when the defendant possessed the document, he or she intended to pass the document as genuine.

A person passes a document by representing to someone that the document is genuine. The representation may be made by words or conduct and may be either direct or indirect.

2. Related Offenses

Similar offenses include the following:

  1. Writing or Passing a “Bad Check” – California Penal Code Section 476A PC
  2. Forgery - California Penal Code Section 470 PC
  3. Grand Theft - California Penal Code Section 487 PC
  4. Petty Theft - California Penal Code Section 484 PC

3. Examples

A man owes his neighbor $1000 to compensate the neighbor for a fence that he damaged after a recent DUI incident. The man writes his neighbor a check for $100 and tells him that is all he will pay. The neighbor is furious so he adds another zero to the amount line of the check so that the amount reads “$1000” instead of “$100.” The neighbor could be charged with check fraud under California Penal Code Section 476 PC because he unlawfully altered the amount of the check. The fact that he may have been entitled to the money is irrelevant under the statute.

In a similar example, the neighbor is owed $1000 and the other man provides him with what looks like a cashier’s check for $1000. In reality, the check is a fraudulent one that the man printed out and lists a nonexistent bank. The neighbor attempts to cash this check at his bank and is immediately arrested. The neighbor would not be criminally liable for check fraud as long as he reasonably believed the check was legitimate. The man who created the fraudulent check and who passed it on to the neighbor could be prosecuted for this offense.

4. Defenses to Check Fraud

As described above, if the defendant legitimately believed that a fraudulent check was genuine when he or she tried to cash it or pass it off to another party, they would not be criminally liable under the check fraud statute, as the statute requires that the defendant intends to defraud another. However, prosecutors and law enforcement officers tend to be skeptical to a defendant’s claims that they did not know a check was fraudulent.

In many cases, people may be forced by other dangerous criminals to try and pass fraudulent checks at banks and other financial institutions. These defendants may be able to raise a duress defense.

5. Penalties

Check fraud is a “wobbler” offense that can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor. In make a filing decision, a prosecutor will consider a number of factors, such as whether the defendant has a criminal history involving other theft crimes as well as the individual factual circumstances of the case. If charged as a misdemeanor, a defendant faces a maximum year in jail in addition to costly court fines. If charged as a felony, the defendant could potentially be sentenced to three years in prison.

6. Criminal Defense for Check Fraud

Check fraud is a serious offense that can result in a conviction and make someone a felon for life. If you or a loved one have been charged with check fraud, it is crucial that you meet with an experienced Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney right away. Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Michael Kraut is a former Deputy District Attorney with over 14 years of prosecutorial experience who was previously assigned to the elite Major Fraud Unit of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. Mr. Kraut is highly skilled at battling check fraud allegations and knows the best strategies to attack charges of this nature. Mr. Kraut is known for being a fierce litigator who possesses an extensive knowledge of the law.

For more information about check fraud, and to schedule your free consultation, contact Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Michael Kraut at the Kraut Law Group located at 6255 Sunset Boulevard, Suite 1520, Los Angeles, CA 90028. Mr. Kraut can be reached 24/7 at 888-334-6344 or 323-464-6453.

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