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Forgery--Determining Value of Uncashed Forged Check

For the purpose of the distinction between felony and misdemeanor forgery, is the value of an uncashed forged check the face value (or stated value) of the check or only the intrinsic value of the paper it is printed on?

Held: The value of a forged check is the amount written on the check. In July 2012, Franco was found in possession of a recently stolen check containing the owner's forged signature and made out in the amount of $1,500. Franco pleaded guilty to forgery (Pen. Code, 475, subd. (a)), and the court sentenced him to state prison but suspended the sentence and placed him on probation. In 2014, Franco violated probation and petitioned the court to resentence him as a misdemeanant under Proposition 47, arguing that the check's value was less than $950. The court denied the request and imposed the previously suspended prison sentence. Franco appealed, the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment, and Franco petitioned for review. Held: Affirmed. Proposition 47 generally makes specified types of forgery misdemeanors if the "value" of the forged instrument does not exceed $950. (Pen. Code, 473, subd. (b).) Three possible tests were proposed in the lower courts for the value of a forged check: (1) the intrinsic value of the paper itself, (2) the amount written on the check, or (3) the market value, that is, the amount the defendant could obtain for the check (see People v. Lowery (2017) 8 Cal.App.5th 533, 541). In reviewing the language of Proposition 47 and the relevant forgery statutes, the court determined that it was the electorate's intent that the amount written on the forged check establishes its value. The amount written on the check is generally the best indicator of the extent of the intended fraud, and thus the severity of the crime. It is also a readily ascertainable amount. If the value of a forged check is never more than the intrinsic value of the paper, the language defining the $950 limit would be meaningless. In addition, attempting somehow to factor in the likelihood that the check will be cashed or other unspecified circumstances could only lead to uncertainty. The court disapproved Lowery to the extent it is inconsistent with the opinion in this case. (People v. Franco (2018) 6 Cal.5th 434 (S233973).) This case was decided on 12/10/2018.

Updated: 12/10/2018

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