California law makes it a severe offense for anyone to use someone else’s identifying details illegally or fraudulently. A person’s identifying details could include their name, physical address, account number, phone number, driver’s license number, passport number, or Social Security Number. That information is unique from one person to another. Therefore, if you used someone else’s identifying details, you could fraudulently benefit from a service that only they could have benefited from or cause them to face severe charges for a crime they didn’t commit.
You can commit identity theft in so many ways, sometimes innocently and other times jokingly. Unfortunately, an identity theft conviction in California attracts severe punishment, including a long time behind bars and hefty fines. That is why it is advisable to hire an experienced criminal attorney if you’re charged with identity theft in Chula Vista, CA. At Chula Vista Criminal Attorney, our team of competent criminal attorneys could help you plan a solid defense against the charges you face to compel the judge to either reduce or drop your charges.
California Identity Theft Legal Definition
Identity theft occurs when you unlawfully and fraudulently assume someone else’s identity. The offense is under California PC 530.5. The law defines identity theft using the following elements of the crime, which the district attorney must prove beyond reasonable doubts for the court to declare you guilty as charged:
- That you willingly obtained someone’s identifying details and used it unlawfully without the owner’s consent
- You took someone else’s identifying details without their approval, planning to deceive them.
- You sold, provided, or transferred someone else’s identifying details without their approval and intending to dupe them.
- You sold, provided, or transferred someone else’s identifying details, knowing that another person will use the information to defraud the victim.
Let’s look at some of the elements in more detail to understand this offense even better.
As used here, identifying information could include a person’s:
- Names, DOB, phone number, and address
- Mother’s maiden name
- Tax information
- Social security number
- Driver’s license number
- Passport information
- Employee or school ID number
- Credit card details
- Bank account details
- Financial information obtained from your IRS tax returns
- Death or birth certificate details
As previously mentioned, personal identification is any information that is unique to that particular person. One person can share the same name with another but not have the same name and date of birth or other personal details. That is why it becomes a cause for concern when another person submits details of another.
A Willful Act
Identity theft includes willfully obtaining, taking, sharing, using, giving, or transferring someone else’s identifying details without the owner’s consent. You commit a willful act when you do it willingly, intentionally, or purposefully. It is to say that you didn’t do any of the actions named above accidentally, but consciously and with a purpose.
Identity theft becomes illegal if a person obtains another’s identification for an illegal purpose. It could be that you stole another person’s credit card details to make an unlawful online purchase. It could also be that you stole a person’s bank details to withdraw money from their account illegally.
In most cases, an illegal purpose includes obtaining or even trying to obtain products, services, credit, medical information, or real estate illegally. For instance, stealing another person’s bank details can automatically mean that you intended to obtain goods or services illegally. The court will not expect the district attorney to demonstrate that you intended to swindle the victim for it to declare you guilty under PC 530.5.
Intent to Defraud
You commit identity theft if you willingly obtained or used another’s identifying details for illegal purposes or to defraud the other person. As used under this law, fraud is a deliberate act designed to:
- Cause the victim to suffer a loss
- Secure unfair or unlawful advantage
However, it doesn't necessarily mean that you defrauded the victim or the victim incurred a loss for the court to declare you guilty of identity theft. The prosecutor’s main job is to prove your intent to swindle the victim. The court will not expect the district attorney to prove that you indeed succeeded in defrauding the alleged victim.
Example: Joan steals her boss’s credit card info. She plans to use those details to purchase a fancy dress that is selling on Amazon. Joan has already committed identity theft by obtaining another’s identifying info. She can still face conviction under this law even if she fails in her plans of buying a dress online using her boss’s credit card info.
Below are other acts that can support identity theft charges in California:
- Giving the traffic police your friend’s driver’s license when stopped for a traffic infraction — It qualifies as identity theft because you do so intending to gain an unfair advantage over your friend. Your friend will unfairly earn points on her driver’s license for an infraction she did not commit
- Using another student’s school ID to obtain school services like library services and meals without their consent or knowledge
- Signing another person’s name on a check, intending to cash that check without the person’s knowledge
- Providing another person’s name as your own, planning to obtain the person’s medical information
- Using another person’s Social Security Number to register and obtain a credit card
Legal Defenses to California Identity Theft Charges
In California, identity theft is a severe offense, attracting lengthy jail or prison time and hefty penalties upon conviction. A conviction under this law is life-altering too. For instance, a conviction record could affect your effort to find suitable employment and your relationships. That is why you must fight your charges to avoid a conviction and its consequences. Fortunately for you, an experienced criminal attorney working on your case can use different legal strategies to compel the jury to reduce or drop your charges. Some of these strategies are:
No Illegal Purpose
Identity theft charges require you to have obtained another’s identifying info for an illegal purpose. Without this unlawful intent, you may not be guilty of the charges. You could have taken another person’s identification for other reasons, not for illegal reasons like committing fraud or causing the victim to incur a loss.
For instance, you might have required people’s names and addresses to compile a particular report. The court only needs your attorney to prove your lawful intent to drop your charges. However, the nature of identifying information you need must match that particular report’s requirements for the court to dismiss your case.
No Wilful Act
Again, California identity theft charges require you to have willfully obtained someone’s identifying data for unlawful or fraudulent purposes. The willful act is an essential element that the district attorney must prove beyond a reasonable doubt. Without it, your charges will not hold. You could have obtained someone’s identifying details by accident. For instance, you might have another person’s credit card details written on paper by the road or in the office. Or, if you work in an office that many people frequent, someone might have left a purse with their credit and debit cards. In a case like that, you cannot be guilty of identity theft.
No Intention to Defraud
You could not be guilty of identity theft if you did not intend to defraud another person, even if you wilfully obtained their identifying information. Remember that defrauding occurs when you cause another person to incur a loss or take unfair advantage of them. If none of those happened then, the prosecutor might not prove all the elements of your case beyond a reasonable doubt. Note that the court will not ask your attorney to explain your reasons for obtaining the victim’s information.
You Had Permission to Use The Information
Sometimes another person can accuse you of obtaining someone else’s identifying information while, in the real sense, the owner of the information gave you consent.
For example, an elderly neighbor requests you to help her create an online account to receive money from her friends and relatives abroad. The old lady lives with her other relatives, but she doesn't trust them enough to ask for their help. One of those relatives learns of your involvement in creating the old lady’s online account and is not pleased with it. He calls the police on you and accuses you of creating an online account using her kin’s identifying details without her consent.
In that case, you’re not guilty of your charges since the old lady, the owner of the identifying information, permitted you to use her details for that one purpose.
You can be mistakenly accused of identity theft while, in the real sense, someone else committed the offense. In that case, the court will only require our attorney to prove your lack of involvement in the said offense. If successful, the judge will drop your charges.
Most identity theft cases are unraveled after an intense search and seizure by the police. However, the police do not always conduct these investigations the way they should. For instance, officers might have searched your person, car, home, or office without a search warrant. In that case, your attorney can cite police misconduct to have the court throw out any evidence gathered in that unlawful search and seizure.
Police misconduct goes beyond illegal search and seizure. It could happen if the police forced you to confess to an offense you did not commit. It could also be that the police questioned you before reading your Miranda rights. It is advisable to tell your attorney all details of your situation to determine whether your arrest was legal.
Penalties for an Identity Theft Sentence in California
An identity theft charge is a wobbler in California, which means that the DA can prosecute it as a misdemeanor or felony offense, based on the following:
- The details of the case
- A defendant’s criminal account
If you receive a misdemeanor conviction, the punishment could be:
- Summary or misdemeanor probation
- Jail time of not exceeding one year
- Fines not exceeding $1,000
A felony conviction will attract even graver penalties that could include:
- Formal or felony probation
- Maximum prison time of three years
- Fine not exceeding $10,000
If convicted as a felony, identity theft could impact your life in more ways than one. In addition to the criminal penalties listed above, you are likely to face other consequences of a conviction.
For instance, a sentence for identity theft could negatively impact your immigration situation. If you’re a non-citizen, a felony conviction could cause you to face deportation or be marked as inadmissible to the United States. It is because identity theft is considered a crime of moral turpitude, especially if it involves fraudulent intent.
Crimes of moral turpitude include offenses involving dishonesty or vile conduct that could shock a reasonable person. Obtaining another person’s identification for fraudulent reasons makes identity theft a crime of moral turpitude.
Additionally, a felony identity theft sentence could affect your gun rights. The state law is stringent on who can purchase or possess a gun. You are likely to lose your right to buy or possess a firearm if you’re a convicted felon. It is to say that you will no longer be able to purchase or own a firearm in the state. If you already have a gun, you’ll be required to give it up.
Payment of restitution to the victim of identity theft is another common consequence of identity theft conviction in California. If the victim incurred a loss or you gained an unfair advantage over them, which indirectly caused them some loss, the judge might order you to pay restitution to the victim. Restitution is not always meant to cover the direct financial losses incurred by the victim but all other losses related to the case at hand.
For instance, the victim might have lost time out of work trying to restore their lost IDs. The victim could also have legal fees and even non-monetary damages like emotional distress. All these are considered, and then the judge gives you the exact amount of money you should pay in restitution.
Note that a conviction will present other consequences that you should try to avoid by all means. For instance, a criminal record can affect your relationships, ability to find suitable employment, or even your insurance or loan rates. That is why you should fight your charges to avoid a conviction if you’re charged with identity theft today.
Expungement of Identity Theft Conviction
California expungement laws are under PC 1203.4. They allow a defendant to withdraw their plea of guilty or no contest, enter a not guilty plea, and then dismiss the case. The defendant has to petition the court to have their conviction record expunged. If the court grants the petition, the individual will be absolved from all the negative consequences of the criminal conviction.
Fortunately for you, this provision is available if you’re found guilty of identity theft. You can petition the court where the conviction occurred to expunge the conviction from your criminal record. However, you must have completed probation or jail/prison sentence.
Expungement of criminal records comes with significant advantages for convicted persons. It will help you avoid the hardships that come with a criminal history. As previously mentioned, a criminal record could affect your efforts to find suitable employment. Employers are cautious not to employ anyone with a questionable past. When you apply for a job, most potential employers will conduct a background check on you. If they find a criminal conviction in your record, they may not trust you enough to give you the job. An expungement deals with issues like those.
Once your criminal record is expunged, employers will not discriminate against you based on your previous conviction. It will also become easier to obtain a professional license. It could also help you avoid immigration consequences like deportation.
Identity Theft and Other Related Crimes
California law has certain offenses that are related to identity theft. Some of these crimes are prosecuted together with identity theft; others are prosecuted in place of identity theft. The most common of these are:
California False Impersonation
PC 529 makes it an offense for a person to use another’s identity or name to harm the person or receive an improper benefit. For example, you could commit false impersonation by pretending to be someone else and acting in a way that exposes that person to criminal or civil liability. Some people impersonate others to gain financially or so that the victim can incur a financial loss.
Like identity theft, false impersonation in California is a wobbler crime. A misdemeanor attracts the following penalties upon conviction:
- Misdemeanor probation
- One year of jail time
- Fine not exceeding $1,000
A felony conviction attracts the following penalties after conviction:
- Felony probation
- A maximum of three years in jail
- Fine not exceeding $10,000
If convicted as a felony, you are also likely to lose your right to buy or possess a firearm.
California PC 470 makes it a crime of forgery if a person falsifies a signature or fraudulently alters specific documents. Several actions can qualify as a forgery in California, including:
- Signing the name of another person or a fake name to avoid the consequences of using your real identity.
- Counterfeiting the seal or handwriting of another person for some gain
- Falsifying, altering, or corrupting a record of a will or judgment
- Altering, falsifying, or counterfeiting documents like money orders, checks, and bonds
You could still face forgery charges if you commit an innocent act like writing yourself a prescription and signing the name of a doctor.
Forgery is also a wobbler offense in California. It can be prosecuted as either a misdemeanor or felony, based on the details of the case.
As a misdemeanor, it could attract one year of jail time and a fine not exceeding $1,000. But as a felony, you could receive a prison sentence of up to three years and a maximum fine of $10,000.
California Mail Theft
PC 530.5(e) makes it an offense to steal another person’s mail. The offense can be committed in more ways than one, including:
- Taking or stealing mail from someone else’s mailbox or receptacle
- Using fraud or deception to obtain mail from someone else’s mailbox or receptacle
- Removing some of all contents of another person’s mail
- Destroying or hiding a stolen mail
- Buying illegally possessed or stolen mail, knowing very well that the main was stolen or acquired illegally
The intent is to obtain the victim’s identifying information so the defendant can commit identity theft.
As used under this law, mail refers to letters, packages, postcards, mailbags, and anything belonging to the postal inspector.
Mail theft is very close to identity theft because many people who steal others’ mail do so to steal the victim’s identity. Thus, the two offenses are frequently charged together.
Mail theft is generally a misdemeanor offense, attracting the following penalties after conviction:
- Summary or misdemeanor probation
- One year of jail time
- Fine not exceeding $1,000
The judge has total discretion to send you to jail or place you on probation, based on the details of your situation and your criminal history.
Find a Chula Vista Criminal Attorney Near Me
If you’re charged with identity theft in Chula Vista, CA, you need the help of a competent criminal lawyer if you wish to avoid a conviction and its consequences. Experienced criminal attorneys know the ins and outs of the California criminal justice system. Therefore, your lawyer will guide you through the process until the conclusion of your matter. Your lawyer will also plan a solid defense against the charges you face to convince the court to reduce or drop your charges. At Chula Vista Criminal Attorney, our team of competent criminal attorneys is always willing and ready to take up your case and ensure that your rights are protected throughout the legal process. Call us at 619-877-6894, and let’s influence the outcome of your matter.