They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, that means to imitate someone is to pay him/her a genuine compliment. That is why celebrities usually take comedians lightheartedly impersonating them as something wholesome. However, using someone else's personal identity to commit harmful and malicious acts is another thing. That is considered as committing identity theft. Identity theft is defined as the deliberate use of someone else's personal identifying information to commit criminal violations and points the liability to the real person who owns the identity. In California, the Penal Code 530.5 was enacted to criminalize and prevent the act of identity theft from ever propagating.
California Penal Code PC 530.5
The statute declares that any person who willfully obtains any personal identifying information of another person and uses that information for any unlawful purpose without the consent of that person is criminally guilty of a public offense and is to be subjected to conviction. The offender shall be punished by a fine, by imprisonment, or by a fine and imprisonment depending on the severity of the crime he/she committed.
Personal Identifying Information includes:
- cellphone and telephone numbers,
- account numbers, i.e., bank, social security, etc.,
- driver's license details,
- passport information, and many more.
Unlawful purposes include to obtain or attempt to obtain any:
- real property, or
- medical, personal, or social security details.
In any case, in which a person willfully obtained personal identifying information of another person who:
- uses that information to commit a crime in addition to a violation of the conditions above, and is convicted of that crime,
- intended to defraud acquires or retains possessions of another person's personal identifying information
- everyone with the intent to defraud sells, transfers, or conveys the personal identifying information,
- a person who, with actual knowledge that the personal identifying information sells, transfers, or conveys that same personal identifying information,
- a person who commits mail theft,
shall be punished by a fine, by imprisonment, or by both under the rulings of the state of California's criminal justice system.
However, an interactive computer service or access software provider shall not be liable under this section unless the service or provider acquires, transfers, sells, conveys, or retains possession of personal information with the intent to defraud.
Punishment for committing Identity Theft under PC 530.5
The violations committed under PC 530.5 are considered as wobbler offenses. A wobbler offense is a criminal act where the prosecution's charges can determine the penalties' severity. Criminally committing identity theft can be charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony. Misdemeanors are criminal offenses more severe than infractions but less serious compared to Felonies. The former usually come with prison time in county jails while the former's sentences are usually served in state prisons.
- Imprisonment in a county jail for no more than three hundred and sixty-five (365) days or one (1) year; and/or
- A fine of no more than one thousand dollars ($1,000).
When charged as a felony, the punishment includes:
- Imprisonment in a county jail for sixteen (16) months up to three (3) years; and/or
- A fine of no more than ten thousand dollars ($10,000).
However, depending on the verdict of the judge and/or the jury, the offender can be granted probation. A misdemeanor offender can be given summary probation, while a felony offender is given formal probation. Probation is an alternative for serving jail time where the convicted can serve his/her sentence outside of prison; however, he/she is still under the California court's strict and watchful supervision.
A competent defense lawyer should know the nuances needed to help the defendant. He/she might include the following to strengthen the case:
- There were no unlawful intentions or purposes,
- The defendant was coerced to commit the crime, and/or
- There was no intent to defraud.
PC 530.5 charges come with serious consequences because Identity Theft is a serious criminal act. The punishments can significantly affect the accused's life, aside from the possibility of facing incarceration and thousands of dollars' worth of fine, he/she will also be subjected to hardships even if he/she has already served his/her sentence. After all, a criminal offense can be reflected in an offender's personal records that can affect his/her chances for employment, plus it can also prohibit him/her from acquiring a great deal of social and civic privileges only accessible to people without criminal records. That is why it would be the accused's best course of action to hire the aid of our professional attorneys. Our roster of experienced California defense lawyers can help lessen, if not expunge, the possible charges.
- PC 470 – Forgery
- PC 529 – False Personation
- PC 350.5e – Mail Theft
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