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California Penal Code 472 PC Forging Counterfeiting or Possessing a Fraudulent Public Seal

July 8, 2022 Federal Criminal Attorneys

Penal Code 472 PC is the statute in the California penal code that makes it illegal to forge a public seal, such as counterfeiting a design or emblem.  The California state seal, which is on your driver’s license or state identification card, is a good example of such a public seal. Prosecutors can charge this wobbler offense as a misdemeanor or a felony.  If a felony charge applies, it carries a maximum sentence of 3 years behind bars.


In the discussion below, the California criminal defense attorneys at Spodek Law Group will explain:

  1. What activities qualify as “forging a public seal”?
  2. What are the best legal defenses to Penal Code 472 PC?
  3. Is jail time a potential penalty?
  4. What Offenses are Related to 472 PC?

If, after reading this article, you need further information, we invite you to contact the California criminal defense attorneys at Spodek Law Group.


  1. What activities qualify as “forging a public seal”?
  • Forgery – knowingly altering, manipulating, or producing a written document or instrument with the intention of obtaining an undeserved personal gain, and/or
  • Counterfeiting – altering, manipulating, or making an imitation of an item with the intention of passing it off as genuine.

The acts subject you to prosecution under California’s fraud statutes.  In plain English, a fraud is deliberate deception purposed to secure an unfair or unlawful gain.


What is a Public Seal

Any design or emblem that is exclusively associated with an individual or entity that, when seen by the public serves to identify the “sealed” written instrument or other product as genuine and authentic is a seal.


Some of the types of forged or counterfeit public seals that are prohibited under 472 PC include, but are not limited to:


  • The Great Seal of the State of California” – as seen on a California driver’s license or state-issued I.D. card),
  • Government seals, such as those used by local law enforcement agencies like police departments and prosecutor’s offices, and
  • A corporate seal which is used by businesses to authenticate and identify their products and documents.

Note that the alleged forged or counterfeit seal can be from any other state, government, or county, not only California.


What the prosecution needs to prove

For the prosecutor to get a conviction on this offense, he or she needs to prove the following three elements of the offense:

  1. The defendant possessed a counterfeited public seal (or an impression of a public seal),
  2. The defendant was well aware the seal or impression was counterfeit and willfully concealed that fact, and
  3. The defendant acted with the specific intent to defraud others.


What is Specific intent to defraud?


A “specific intent to defraud” can be inferred almost anytime someone produces or possesses a false document, since it’s obvious that the maker or holder intended to deceive someone with it.  This kind of forgery necessarily implies an attempt to invoke a legal right or obligation.

Note that one can be convicted of this offense even if nobody is actually deceived or defrauded by the seal.   The intent makes it a crime.


  1. What are the best legal defenses to Penal Code 472 PC?

A number of legal defenses to Penal Code 472 PC California’s law against forging, counterfeiting, or possessing a fraudulent public seal exist.   Here some of the best ones that a California criminal defense lawyer could present on your behalf:


The “no intent to defraud” defense

Perhaps the defendant possessed a document or written instrument that they honestly believed was genuine.  In that case, they haven’t violated this law.

Alternatively, maybe the seal the defendant possessed wasn’t forged or counterfeit.  Under these circumstances, our lawyers would immediately remedy the situation and clear our client’s name.


The “Police misconduct” defense

In scenarios where the police acted inappropriately (not an innocent mistakes), our attorneys can also fight your case by arguing that the cops are guilty of police misconduct.


  1. Is jail time a potential penalty?

Forging, counterfeiting, or possessing a fraudulent public seal is what’s known in California law as a wobbler crime .  A “wobbler” can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the facts of the case and your criminal history.

As a misdemeanor, Penal Code 472 PC carries up to one year in county jail and a maximum $1,000 fine.

As a felony, Penal Code 472 PC carries 16 months or two or three years in a California state prison and a maximum $10,000 fine.


  1. What Offenses are Related to 472 PC?
  • Penal Code 470a PC – California’s statute against forging or counterfeiting a California driver’s license or identification card
  • Penal Code 470b PC – California’s statute against displaying or possessing a forged or counterfeit driver’s license or identification card
  • Vehicle Code 13004 VC California’s statute against illegal or misuse of an identification card
  • Vehicle Code 13004.1 VC California’s statute against manufacturing or selling counterfeit identification cards that are substantially similar to those issued by the California Department of Motor Vehicles.
  • Vehicle Code 4463(b) or (c) — California’s statute against counterfeit disability placards
  • California Vehicle Code 31 VC — California’s statute against knowingly providing false information to a peace officer, either verbally or in writing
  • California Penal Code 538d PC — California’s statute against impersonating a peace officer


To get more answers to your questions about Penal Code 472 PC California’s law against forging, counterfeiting, or possessing fraudulent public seals, or to discuss your case confidentially with one of our California criminal defense attorneys, feel free to contact us at Spodek Law Group.

We serve clients in and around Los Angeles, San Jose, Oakland, San Diego, San Bernardino, Orange County, Riverside, Ventura, the San Francisco Bay area, and beyond.





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