Recording a False or Forged Instrument – Penal Code Section 115
Penal Code Section 115 penalizes the unlawful filing of false or forged documents with public agencies.
Elements of the Offense
Under Penal Code Section 115, a person is guilty of a crime if the prosecution can prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
1. The defendant directly or through another person caused the filing, recording or registration of false or forged documents with a public agency.
2. When the defendant filed, registered or recorded the document, he or she knew that the document was false or forged.
3. If the document at issue was genuine and not fraudulent, it was the type of document that could be legally filed, recorded or registered with a public agency.1
The crime of filing false documents does not require an intent to defraud another person. The prosecution must only prove that the person knowingly offered a false document to a public agency.2
Courts broadly interpret the types of fraudulent instruments that qualify for prosecution under Penal Code Section 115. Essentially, any false or forged document that effects the integrity of judicial or public records may qualify the defendant for prosecution under this section.3
Examples of Penal Code Section 115 Violations:
Example: A man obtains a temporary restraining order against his former girlfriend. After the order is signed, he alters the order to include a provision that in addition to staying away from him, the ex-girlfriend must leave her home. He then lodges the falsified restraining order with the Sheriff in the hope of having the order enforced.4
Example: A man files several false deeds of trust with the county clerk in an elaborate scheme to shield personal assets from judgment creditors. Each false document constitutes a separate crime.5
Penal Code Section 115 prosecutions can often be very complicated. Accordingly, you should consult a competent criminal defense attorney to help you outline your defense. Possible defenses may include:
• Knowledge: You did not “knowingly” offer, or cause the filing of a false or forged document;
• The Document is Not False: In some cases, you may dispute the prosecution’s claim that the document is false, forged or altered.
• You were authorized to file the document in its disputed form. (Case specific defense)
• You did not cause the document to be filed. It was filed by some other person without your knowledge or consent.
A violation of Penal Code Section 115(a) is punishable by 16 months, 2 years or 3 years in prison. The court may grant the defendant probation and up to one year of local custody time in a county jail facility.
Under Penal Code Section 115(b), each false document filed, registered or recorded is deemed to constitute a separate offense. Accordingly, a court could impose consecutive sentencing if more than one document is involved.
Pursuant to Penal Code Section 115(c), judges are directed to only grant probation in “unusual cases where the interests of justice would best be served” for the following qualifying defendants:
• Any person with a prior Penal Code Section 115 conviction;
• Any person convicted of more than one violation where the violations resulted in a financial loss exceeding $100,000.
If you are under investigation for a Penal Code Section 115 violation in Ventura County, you should immediately seek out the assistance of a competent criminal defense attorney. Ventura County police agencies and prosecutors are known for their aggression. Prosecutors are directed to always file the most serious charges merited by fact and law.
As of 2016, Mr. Mark Lunn serves as the Ventura County Recorder. The Recorder’s Division is responsible for the recording of court decrees, deeds of trust and documents relating to the title of real estate. Mr. Lunn is a former member of the California Highway Patrol. Without question, the recording of any falsified instrument in the Ventura County Recorder’s office would be treated with the highest degree of seriousness.
If you are accused of a Penal Code Section 115 violation in Ventura County, you should contact a competent criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.
About the Author:
Bill Haney is a former supervising prosecutor in the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office. He understands how to defend your case and to ensure that you have the best possible chance for a successful outcome in court.
(1) California Criminal Jury Instruction No. 1945, Filing False Document
(2) 2 Witkin, Cal. Crim. Law 4th (2012) Crimes—Property, §188, p. 253.
(3) People v. Parks (1992) 7 Cal.App.4th 883
(4) People v. Parks (1992) 7 Cal.app.4th 883
(5) People v. Gangemi (1992) 13 Cal.App.4th 1790