Utilizing someone else’s identifying information without permission for unlawful reasons is a severe fraud crime in California. Many individuals that obtain other people’s ID information without authorization use it to commit a crime, explaining why California statutes are stringent on defendants convicted of the offense.
Identity theft is chargeable as a wobbler, punishable by at most thirty-six months of incarceration, hefty court fines, and adverse effects on your gun rights and immigration status.
So, when you face ID theft charges in Bakersfield, CA, you could benefit from the legal expertise of an attorney at the Koenig Law Office. Our legal experts will streamline the process, collect sufficient proof, and mount a solid defense for a count reduction or dismissal.
Identity Theft Meaning
California Penal Code 530.5 criminalizes utilizing another person’s private identifying details like a credit card or Social Security Number to commit fraud or engage in criminal activity. California statutes make it illegal to obtain someone’s ID details without authorization. However, illegally acquiring this information to use it for fraud or other unlawful purposes attracts harsh consequences.
Even if you do not utilize the information and transfer, sell, or store it, your actions amount to ID theft if you did not have the owner’s authorization or acted without their knowledge. ID theft is severely punished because victims are often left stressed, frightened, and financially hurt after the offense.
ID theft is accomplished in many ways. When you append your signature to a paper check with someone else’s name or use somebody’s ID to obtain services, it amounts to a PEN 530.5 violation. Illegally obtaining funds, commercial services, goods, real property, or medical services using somebody else’s identifying details is still ID theft, whether obtained using food stamps, credit cards, or forged checks.
Other defendants engage in ID theft for revenge or to escape the criminal justice system by pretending to be another person after committing a crime. Nevertheless, people primarily commit identity theft to obtain illegal financial benefits.
When you are accused of or caught commissioning an ID theft offense, it is crucial to understand the definition of the crime in the law and find ways to contest the charges and avoid a conviction. If you are not a legal expert, you need an experienced fraud crimes attorney to explain the offense and ways of contesting the charges.
ID Theft Elements
The judge can only find you guilty of ID theft if the prosecutor proves the facts of the case beyond a reasonable degree of certainty. The four incidents that can result in identity theft charges are
- PEN 530.5(a) deliberately acquiring another party’s private identifying information and using it for illegal purposes without permission.
- PEN 530.5(c) taking somebody else’s private identifying details without authorization and with plans to commit fraud.
- PEN 530.5(d)(1) selling, furnishing, or transferring private identifying info without consent and planning to commit fraud.
- PEN 530.5(d)(2) selling, furnishing, or transferring private identifying details, knowing well the person acquiring the information will use it to commit a crime.
Personal or Private Identifying Info
Private identifying information for purposes of PEN 530.5 includes a wide range of details like:
- Official names
- Social security numbers
- Account numbers
- Mother’s maiden names
- Birth or death certificate details
- Tax ID
- Passport details
- California DMV’s driver’s license
- Financial details on IRS tax returns
- Telephone number
- Credit card details
Identifying information is any details that are unique to a person. Some people share the same official names, but the birth dates and other private details like addresses are unique. Therefore, even if the names are the same, it raises concerns when you submit the exact details of someone else.
Deliberately Acquiring Info for Illegal Purposes
The prosecutor must show that you intentionally obtained the personal identifying info and not by mistake. Additionally, they must show that after willfully acquiring this information, you planned on illegally utilizing or attempting to use it to acquire the following:
- Commercial services
- Real estate
- Medical information
In PEN 530.5, whether you intend to defraud is irrelevant to the court, so the prosecutor does not need to prove your motive to secure a verdict in their favor.
To Engage in Fraud
For PEN 530.5, fraud means a willful act intended to obtain unfair or illegal gains or cause another person financial harm. Whether you succeeded in defrauding or anyone sustained financial harm from your actions is not relevant in demonstrating your guilt. The judge only considers the main fact of the crime that you unlawfully obtained or used another party’s private identifying information without authorization.
For instance, you steal your friend’s credit card information intending to buy some shoes online that you have always wanted but cannot afford. If you are arrested before making the purchase, you will still be guilty of ID theft because of your intentional move to cause your friend financial harm. Even if your plans to defraud never succeed, you will still face punishment for identity theft if found guilty.
Conduct that can support ID theft charges includes:
- Intercepting private identifying details of someone making an online purchase and utilizing them to make your payment
- Skimming by installing an extra device into a credit card or ATM in effect, and the gadget reads other people’s personal identifying info
- Hacking bank or retail stores’ computer systems to access private identifying info
- Phishing involves emailing unsuspecting internet users posing as a company or organization to acquire their private details illegally.
- Mail theft that entails direct theft of bank and credit card statements from peoples’ mailboxes
Penalties for ID Theft Conviction
Obtaining someone else’s identifying details without authorization is a severe fraud offense that is harshly punished when convicted. ID theft is a wobbler, meaning the prosecutor could charge it as a felony or misdemeanor. The basis for the type of charge the prosecutor prefers depends on the financial harm caused to the victim, the nature of the case, and the criminal record. Also, the penalties will remain the same based on the preferred charge, regardless of the actions leading to the charges. You will face the same charges whether you furnished, transferred, sold, acquired, or stored ID information.
The penalties for a misdemeanor are:
- Misdemeanor probation
- At most twelve months in county jail
- At most, $1,000 in financial court fines
When you face felony charges, a conviction attracts:
- Formal probation
- Financial court fines of no more than $3,000
- No more than thirty-six months in prison
Sadly, ID theft attracts other consequences even after you have completed your jail sentence and paid court fines, as follows:
Negative Immigration Consequences
If you are an alien, certain convictions will negatively affect your immigration status. ID theft is one of these moral turpitude offenses that will negatively impact your status. If you are living in California, you risk removal when sentenced. And if you seek admission to the U.S. to live in California, an identity theft record involving fraud can make you inadmissible.
Knowing the negative consequences a conviction for ID theft can have on your immigration status, you should immediately talk to the Koenig Law Office if you are arrested or accused of a PEN 530.5 violation. Our attorneys understand what is at stake and will work hard to have the charges dismissed or reduced to avoid adverse immigration consequences.
Individuals convicted of particular offenses in California are prohibited from owning or buying a gun. If convicted of felony ID theft, you will lose your firearm rights. If you are a hunter, the consequences of not having a firearm for long can be devastating and lower your quality of life enjoyment.
Even after you have completed the penalties provided under PEN 530.5, the conviction will result in a criminal record that will negatively impact many aspects of your life. Typically, employers will be reluctant to consider you over other candidates because they deem you untrustworthy. Again, a record will affect your capacity to lease or rent your desired apartment. Landlords nowadays run criminal background checks on potential tenants before offering a lease. You will not secure the lease if you have a criminal record for ID theft.
A PEN 530.5 violation will result in the loss of a professional license. The effects of this are devastating, considering you rely on the license to make a living and care for your family. If the sentence happened before acquiring the permit, securing one will be a problem even if you meet all the other necessary qualifications, which can be career-damaging.
Our attorneys at Koenig Law Office can assist you in avoiding the consequences of having a criminal record through expunction under PEN 1203.4. We file the petition after you have finished your jail sentence or probation, whichever applies to your case. The petition lets you withdraw a no-contest or guilty plea. Once you have done this, you enter a not-guilty plea and withdraw the ID theft case against you. When the court grants your petition, you will be released from all disabilities and negative consequences of the PEN 503.4 violation conviction.
An expunction offers multiple benefits. You will avoid the challenges that come with having a criminal record. With an expunged record, you can confidently tell employers or landlords that you have never been convicted of breaking the law. You will have an equal opportunity to work or lease with someone who has never been convicted, leaving no room for discrimination. Also, obtaining a professional license will be easier, allowing you to build a career.
Valid Defenses for ID Theft
Unless you understand fraud offenses and the criminal court justice system, you should talk to a legal professional to represent you in your court case if you face ID theft charges.
At Koenig Law Office, we understand that jail or prison sentences and hefty fines are at stake, so we will fight the charges on your behalf and prevent a conviction. Several viable defenses our attorneys can apply to compel the court to reduce or drop the charges are:
Lack of Unlawful Motive or Purpose
You are only guilty of an ID theft crime if you obtained someone else’s ID information for unlawful reasons. It will be difficult for the prosecutor to secure a conviction without proving this illegal motive. Your attorney can assert that you had no criminal motives or purposes when you obtained the details to have the charge reduced or dropped.
For example, you can argue that you needed the ID to compile a report. Your attorney only needs to show you had legal motives to have the case dropped. Nevertheless, the nature of the identifying information you obtained must match what is required in the report for the court to drop the charges.
Your Conduct was not On Purpose or Conscious
Another element of ID theft the prosecutor proves is that you acted consciously or willfully when obtaining someone else’s ID. The prosecutor should prove a deliberate or conscious act beyond a reasonable doubt; otherwise, the court will drop the count. If the prosecutor does not demonstrate this element and satisfy the evidentiary standard, you can argue that you obtained the identifying details unconsciously or accidentally. However, for the argument to hold up in court, you must present circumstantial proof to show the court that the information was acquired by accident.
You Lacked Intent or Motive to Defraud
The law does not require the prosecutor to show the court you had the motive to defraud even when you acted willfully. However, the court can require the prosecutor to show you had the motive to deceive, gain an unfair advantage, or cause someone harm. If none of these actions occurs, leading to the charges, the prosecutor cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt all the case’s elements. And because the court will not ask your attorney to explain the reason for acquiring someone’s ID details, you can argue that you did not plan to trick or defraud.
The ID Owner Permitted you to Use their Details
If you reasonably believe the ID owner permitted you to use their information to make an online purchase or obtain medical services, you are not guilty of identity theft. If the alleged victim gave you consent to use their information but later changed their mind, withdrawing the consent, you can argue you had consent. Your attorney will interrogate the said victim to understand if you had permission to use their credit card or any other personally identifying details.
The Accusations Against you are False
Someone seeking revenge or with bad blood against you can easily make up false allegations. Lawmakers recognize this, so your attorney will have the chance to present circumstantial evidence to show that the allegations are fabricated and that you did not commit identity theft. If the evidence to support false allegations is convincing, the charges will be reduced or dropped.
The Arresting Officers Engaged in Misconduct
The police cannot search your immediate person or home without a valid warrant. If the police obtain the evidence against you by illegally accessing your computer, the court will dismiss the evidence from the case because it was obtained illegally.
Illegal searches are not the only way officers can engage in misconduct. If they force you to confess to identity theft when you did not commit the crime, your defense attorney can cite police misconduct. Also, an arrest will be illegal if the officer does not read you the Miranda rights. Ensure you discuss all the details of the police investigation or arrest with your attorney. Even the smallest details can help demonstrate that an arrest was unlawful.
When hacking is used to obtain someone else’s identifying information, you can easily face ID theft charges because of mistaken identity. Hackers can gain unauthorized access to your computer and steal your logins to help them withhold their identity when committing online fraud.
If your charges stem from a situation like this, you should talk to an experienced attorney who can scrutinize the case’s facts to show that someone other than you was utilizing your computer logins. If you are not careful enough to hire an attorney for a case like this, you could be wrongfully convicted for an offense you never committed. A legal representative will show the court you were not involved in the crime for the charges to be dropped.
Find an Experienced Fraud Crimes Attorney Near Me
With the recent technological advancements, personal identifying details have become easy to access, leading to increased identity theft and other fraud crimes. Therefore, courts and prosecutors impose harsh penalties for defendants convicted of this offense. You do not want your case handled by a public defender or an inexperienced attorney. You want a competent legal expert who understands court processes to reduce the charge or dismiss the case.
At Koenig Law Office, we have a team of experienced criminal defense attorneys willing to offer legal guidance if you are in trouble with the law in Bakersfield. Call us today at 661-793-7222 to assess your case and create viable defenses for a favorable verdict.