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What Is False Impersonation?

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | Feb 21, 2022

California Penal Code 529 defines the crime of false Impersonation as using someone's name or identity to cause them to harm or to gain an advantage unlawfully. This statute is also commonly known as “false personation.”

Put simply, it's illegal to pretend you are someone else to gain some benefit. PC 529 includes acts that expose the victim to criminal or civil liability or any conduct resulting in the victim paying money.

False Impersonation - Penal Code 529 PC
PC 529 false impersonation is using someone's identity to cause harm or unjustly gain a benefit.

A classic example is a situation where police pull you over for suspected driving under the influence. You tell the police after being arrested you don't have identification and give them your friend's name.

 A further example includes a situation where you open a new credit card account with another person's name and start making purchases.

To be charged with Penal Code 529 PC, you must commit another act after you falsely personated someone else, such as committing forgery.

PC 529 false personation is a California “wobbler” crime, meaning the prosecutor can file the case as either a misdemeanor or a felony crime. 

Our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers are reviewing the law below for more information.

What is the Definition of PC 529 False Impersonation?

In the state of California, Penal Code 529 PC defines false impersonation as follows:

  • “Any person who falsely personates someone in either their private or official capacity, and in the assumed character, they commit any of the following acts (1) becomes bail or surety for a party in a proceeding before court; (2) verifies, publishes, or acknowledges the name of someone else with intent it is used as true; (3) does any act where the victim might become liable to a suit or prosecution, or pay money, charge, forfeiture, or penalty, or where you might benefit from personating the other person.”

Prosecution of false impersonation 

To be found guilty of violating Penal Code 529 false personation law, the prosecutor must prove several factors beyond any reasonable doubt.

These factors are, frequently called the “elements of the crime,” are listed under CALCRIM 2044 California Criminal Jury Instructions:

  • defendant falsely impersonated someone in their public or private capacity;
  • while falsely impersonating, the defendant committed an additional act that created a liability for the victim or some benefit for the defendant.

Further, the act of falsely personating someone means you did so with the specific intent of deceiving another person.

Additional act 

The “performed an additional act” is a crucial factor a prosecutor must prove to convict a defendant. Put simply, it means there must be something more than just identifying yourself as another person or showing evidence claiming you are that person.  

This element of the crime under PC 529 false personation can be satisfied if the defendant posts bail before a court under someone's name, publishes a written instrument in another's name, creates a financial liability for the victim, or creates a benefit for themselves.

For instance, a man is arrested for shoplifting at a store. While getting booked at the police station, he gives the police the name of his friend and then signs the forms. After he is released and fails to appear in court, police arrest his friend for an outstanding bench warrant.

In this example, the man arrested for shoplifting committed an “additional act” when they signed the booking paperwork at the police station.

What are the Penalties for a PC 529 Conviction?

As noted, California Penal Code 529 PC is a “wobbler” crime that can be filed as a misdemeanor or felony offense. 

The prosecutor's decision on how to file a case is usually based on the circumstances of the case and the defendant's prior criminal history. If convicted PC 529 as a misdemeanor crime, the punishments include:

  • imprisonment in county jail for up to one year,
  • a maximum fine of $10,000,
  • summary probation.

If convicted PC 529 as a felony crime, the punishments include:

  • imprisonment in county jail for up to three years,
  • a fine of up to $10,000,
  • formal probation.

A felony conviction under this statute could impact your ability to own or possess a firearm under California law.

What are the Related California Crimes?

Several other crimes are similar to Penal Code 529 PC false impersonation, including:

  • Penal Code 530.5 PC – identity theft,
  • Penal Code 532 PC – theft by false pretenses,
  • Penal Code 148 PC – resisting arrest,
  • Penal Code 148.9 PC – false identification to police,
  • Penal Code 538d PC – impersonating a police officer
  • Vehicle Code 31 VC – false information to a police officer

What are the Defenses for False Impersonation Charges?

If you were accused of violating Penal Code 529 false impersonation laws, our criminal defense lawyers could use several strategies to resolve the case favorably, such as the below:

There was no other act – recall from the elements of the crime above that a prosecutor must prove there was an additional act beyond the false identification of themselves. This means a separate and distinct act.

Defenses for False Impersonation
There are numerous defense strategies to fight Penal Code 529 PC false impersonation charges.

We might be able to present a challenge to the charges by proving the required additional act was not committed and, thus, the defendant can't be guilty under this statute.

There was no liability or benefit – Again, recall the crucial factor of the crime above that states that the defendant's actions created some liability for the person who was impersonated or a benefit for the defendant.

We could argue the required elements were not met beyond a reasonable doubt. Maybe we could prove that while the defendant used another name, nothing further happened as a result.

False allegation – We could argue the arrest and charges of PC 529 false impersonation are false. Perhaps you were accused of this crime by someone attempting to hide their own guilt.

We have a record of success defending clients charged with a variety of white-collar crimes, such as false personation. Eisner Gorin LLP has two office locations in Los Angeles County, CA. Contact our law firm for an initial consultation to review the details at (877) 781-1570.

About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...

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