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Penal Code 473 PC | Punishment for Forgery


Penal Code 473 PC – Punishment for Forgery

In California, Penal Code 473 PC sets forth the penalties for the crime of forgery. Forgery is generally a wobbler offense that can be prosecuted as either a felony or a misdemeanor. But if the value of the transaction is $950 or less, then forgery must be treated as a misdemeanor unless the defendant has prior convictions of certain serious sex- or violent crimes.

What Does California Law Say About Punishment for Forgery?

Here is the full text of Penal Code 473 PC:

(a) Forgery is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for not more than one year, or by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170.

(b) Notwithstanding subdivision (a), any person who is guilty of forgery relating to a check, bond, bank bill, note, cashier’s check, traveler’s check, or money order, where the value of the check, bond, bank bill, note, cashier’s check, traveler’s check, or money order does not exceed nine hundred fifty dollars ($950), shall be punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for not more than one year, except that such person may instead be punished pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 if that person has one or more prior convictions for an offense specified in clause (iv) of subparagraph (C) of paragraph (2) of subdivision (e) of Section 667 or for an offense requiring registration pursuant to subdivision (c) of Section 290. This subdivision shall not be applicable to any person who is convicted both of forgery and of identity theft, as defined in Section 530.5.

In simpler terms:

  • Forgery is generally a misdemeanor punishable by up to 1 year in county jail
  • But if the forgery involves $950 or less, it must be a misdemeanor unless the defendant has certain prior serious or violent felony convictions
  • Those prior convictions allow the prosecutor to charge the forgery as a felony with 16 months, 2 years or 3 years in state prison

Punishment Depends on Whether Forgery is a Misdemeanor or Felony

Whether forgery is punished as a misdemeanor or felony depends on:

  • The value of the forged document
  • The defendant’s criminal history

Misdemeanor penalties for forgery under PC 473 can include:

  • Up to 1 year in county jail
  • A fine up to $1,000
  • Informal probation

Felony penalties can include:

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  • 16 months, 2 years or 3 years in state prison
  • Up to $10,000 in fines
  • Formal felony probation

When Can Forgery be Charged as a Felony?

Prosecutors have discretion whether to charge forgery as a misdemeanor or felony. But if the forged document is $950 or less, it must be a misdemeanor unless:

  • The defendant has a prior conviction for certain serious or violent felonies, including sex offenses, homicide, solicitation of murder, assault on a peace officer with a machine gun, possession of a weapon of mass destruction, or any felony punishable by life in prison or death

In that case, the prosecutor can choose to charge the forgery as a felony even though it involves less than $950.

Legal Defenses to Forgery Charges

If you are accused of forgery under Penal Code 473, possible legal defenses include:

  • You did not commit the alleged forgery
  • You did not have intent to defraud
  • You were falsely accused or mistakenly identified
  • You were entrapped into committing the forgery

An experienced criminal defense attorney can evaluate the evidence against you and determine if you have any viable defenses to forgery charges.

Related Offenses to Forgery

While PC 473 covers punishment for forgery, other related laws prohibit additional forgery and fraud crimes in California, such as:

  • PC 470 – Forgery of documents, signatures, checks, etc.
  • PC 475 – Possession or receipt of forged documents or bills
  • PC 476 – Writing bad checks
  • PC 484 – Theft by false pretenses

An experienced criminal defense lawyer can help distinguish forgery charges from these related offenses.

Consequences of a Forgery Conviction

Being convicted of forgery can result in collateral consequences that negatively impact your life for years. These can include:

  • Jail or prison time
  • Fines up to $10,000
  • A permanent criminal record
  • Difficulty finding employment
  • Loss of professional licenses
  • Prohibition on owning firearms
  • Immigration consequences if not a U.S. citizen

An aggressive defense attorney can help you fight the charges and avoid these harsh penalties.

Finding an Experienced Forgery Defense Attorney

Facing forgery charges can be overwhelming. But a skilled California criminal defense lawyer can often get charges reduced or dismissed. Look for an attorney experienced with forgery cases who will aggressively defend your rights at every stage.

A knowledgeable lawyer will thoroughly examine the evidence, challenge any police misconduct, raise any viable defenses that apply, and negotiate firmly with the prosecutor on your behalf. Don’t leave this to chance. An experienced attorney can make all the difference in how your forgery case plays out.


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