If you’re facing a charge related to the fraudulent use of a check, it is vitally important to contact an experienced Fresno check fraud defense attorney. Advancements in technology over recent decades – particularly the development of high-quality scanners, computers, and software – have made the practice of check fraud much easier to carry out successfully. In California, this offense is punished severely, with those convicted potentially facing significant fines and jail time.
At Michael McKneely, Criminal Defense Lawyer, we have extensive experience successfully defending clients in a range of fraud cases, including those that involve checks. Attorney Michael McKneely has over 15 years of courtroom experience as both a prosecutor and a highly accomplished check fraud defense attorney. He and his team will build an intelligent and strong defense on your behalf. Call Michael McKneely, Criminal Defense Lawyer today at (559) 443-7442 to schedule a free case consultation with an experienced Fresno fraud attorney.
What is Check Fraud?
California’s Penal Code (PC) section 476 forbids the practice of check fraud. In short, this type of fraud occurs when you pass, write, possess or make an attempt to pass, write, or possess a forged check for the purpose of obtaining services, property, or cash with fraudulent intent.
In order to receive a conviction for check fraud, the prosecutor in your case must prove beyond a reasonable doubt several elements in your case, including:
- The check is fraudulent, which means it was altered, forged, or signed without the account owner’s permission. Or, it was used by the account owner in order to attempt fraudulent access to funds.
- By your actions or words, you claimed that a fraudulent check was genuine.
- You used – or attempted to use – made, altered, or passed forward the fraudulent check.
- You knew the check was fraudulent and intended to use it to steal funds belonging to another person or party.
As prosecutors investigate your case, they may seek to uncover any particular motive on your part for committing check fraud, including the making of a large purchase or paying off a debt. Prosecutors will search for any patterns of bouncing checks and continuous new purchases.
Penalties and Sentencing
Under California law, check fraud falls under the domain of California’s forgery laws. In the majority of cases, this crime is designated a “wobbler.” A “wobbler” is a type of crime in California that prosecutors may charge as either a misdemeanor or felony. The type of charge filed will depend on your criminal history as a defendant and the specific facts of your case.
In accordance with Proposition 47, a California voter initiative in 2014, check fraud may only be charged as a misdemeanor if:
- The forged check has a value of $950 or less.
- You have not also been convicted of identity theft per PC 530.5.
Even if you meet the above conditions, your check fraud crime may still be a wobbler (that is, possibly charged as a felony) if you have a previous conviction for one or more serious violent felonies, such as certain sex crimes that require sex offender registration, or murder.
The standard penalties for check fraud in California are:
- Up to one year in county jail
- Maximum base fine of $1000
- Probation and up to one year in county jail
- 16 months or two or three years in county jail
- Maximum base fine of $10,000
Other Possible Consequences
In addition to the penalties described above, a check fraud conviction can also result in additional negative consequences, including the inability to:
- Renew state licenses
- Find employment opportunities
- Obtain or retain a favorable immigration status
Your employer may also potentially dismiss you from your current position upon discovering the news of your conviction.
Legal Defenses to Penal Code Section 476
Various defenses may be employed when facing a check fraud charge under PC 476. A highly experienced and skilled California criminal defense attorney may utilize one or more of the following defenses on your behalf depending on the facts of your case:
No Intent to Commit Fraud
As it concerns fraud offenses in California, the intent to commit the crime is an essential element in determining guilt. For instance, a circumstance may arise in which you receive a fake or altered check from an individual who owes you money, but you don’t realize the check is fake or altered when you attempt to cash it at the bank. If you had no reason to believe the check was anything other than genuine, you cannot be found guilty of check fraud.
Mistaken Identity or Identity Theft
If another person writes a check in your name and you were unaware of the check being written, then you have become the victim of identity theft and have not committed check fraud.
Consent or Permission
What if you altered a check by changing the amount of the check or the name of the payee? What if you signed another person’s name on the check other than your own? If you received permission to take any of those actions by the individual authorized to give you that permission, you have not committed check fraud.
Contact an Experienced Fresno Check Fraud Defense Attorney
If you are facing a check fraud charge in California, attorney Michael McKneely has the extensive experience as a prosecutor and check fraud defense attorney to handle your case effectively on your behalf by fighting the charges against you in a highly skilled and vigorous manner. Take the important step to get the legal defense you need.
Call Michael McKneely, Criminal Defense Lawyer today at (559) 443-7442 to set up a free consultation. If you’re facing check fraud charges in California, preserve your legal rights by contacting us right away. Fresno criminal defense lawyer Michael McKneely has been on both sides of the criminal justice system, so he knows what to expect and how to make the process easier for you.