The penalty for identity theft in California varies, based on the circumstances and facts around the case. Identity theft is a “wobbler” in California law, meaning that it can be treated as either a felony or misdemeanor.

If prosecuted as a misdemeanor, the maximum punishment for identity theft in California is a year in county jail and a $1,000 fine. As a felony, the penalty can be as high as three years in jail and a $10,000 fine.

Because identity theft is so widespread, the federal government also has jurisdiction to prosecute identity theft cases. The penalty for federal identity theft is up to 30 years prison time.

Identity Theft in California

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Identity theft happens when any person willfully takes another person’s personal identifying information and uses it to obtain goods, services, credit or medical information in the name of the other person.

This can take the form of things like:

  • Forging someone else’s name on a check (also a potential violation of California’s forgery law).
  • Stealing someone’s credit card and using it to make online purchases (also a potential violation of California’s laws preventing credit card fraud).
  • Using someone else’s name and social security number to collect welfare.

Whether this is charged as a felony or misdemeanor will depend on the facts of the case and the defendant’s criminal history.

As well, each instance of identity theft is handled as a unique case, so it is possible to have multiple counts of identity theft in addition to related charges like theft, fraud, unauthorized computer access, mail theft or forgery.

Federal Identity Theft Charges

The federal government also has the authority to prosecute identity theft charges, and its laws are more thorough than California’s. In addition to the willfully taking another person’s identifying information, federal law also prohibits:

  • Knowingly presenting someone else’s identifying information.
  • Knowingly transferring a stolen document.
  • Producing, transferring or processing equipment that will be used to produce fraudulent documents.

If the federal government presses charges, it can seek a prison term of up to 30 years for identity theft charges.

Defenses Against Identity Theft Charges

Identity theft charges require that there be:

  1. “unlawful purpose,” and
  2. “fraudulent intent.”

In other words, for any charge to be identity theft, the identifying information needs to be used for an unlawful purpose. If a person possesses someone else’s information but does not use it in an illegal act, then it is not identity theft.

As well, the prosecution must prove fraudulent intent – that the defendant knowingly tried to commit an unlawful act with the information.

My firm is prepared to defend anyone charged with identity theft, and we are available 24/7 to take your call. If you have been accused of identity theft, it is important to quickly begin building your defense, especially if you are facing federal charges. Call today: 310-456.3317.