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Court Rules on 'Value' in Check Forgery Case

By William Vogeler, Esq. on February 13, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Brian Lee Lowery should probably thank the court of appeals for ruling that the forged check he tried to cash was not worth the paper it was written on.

The Sixth District Court of Appeal reversed his felony conviction for trying to cash a forged check for $1,047.85. The court said the amount written on the check is not the same as its value.

"While the written value of a forged check may be substantial evidence of its monetary worth, a defendant may be able to show an uncashed check was worth less than its written value," the judges said.

How Much Will That Be?

The case came to the appeals court after Lowery tried to cash the stolen check at a check-cashing business in 2009. The cashier suspected the signature was not genuine, refused to cash it and called police.

Lowery later plead guilty to possessing a stolen check, and asked the trial judge to reduce the felony to a misdemeanor under Penal Code Sections 476 and 1170.18. The court refused, finding that he was ineligible under PC 476(b) because the check was for more than $950.

"It was $1,047.85," the judge said. "It does exceed the $950 limit for mandatory misdemeanor treatment, and for that reason, the petition is denied."

On appeal, Lowery contended the check was limited to the value of the paper it was written on. The Attorney General argued the check's value exceeded $950 as a matter of law. The appeals panel rejected both arguments, reversing the judge and remanding the case for further proceedings.

Everybody's Wrong

The appellate court reviewed the history of Prop. 47, which established a procedure for defendants to have certain felony convictions reduced to misdemeanors. The judges focused on the definition of a check's value in the Voter Information Guide, which said a "check worth $950 or less."

"A defendant may be able to introduce evidence showing the actual monetary value of the check is less than its written value," Presiding Judge Conrad L. Rushing wrote for the unanimous panel.

"For example, a check may be so ineptly forged that even the most credulous clerk would refuse to honor it. A poorly forged check for a million dollars is unlikely to be cashed, and it makes little sense to assign the written value to such a check."

The court sent the case back to the trial judge for an evidentiary hearing to determine the value of the check.

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