California Business and Professions Code 4324 - Forging or Altering a Prescription
The laws surrounding forging or altering a prescription drug in California are found in the Business and Professions Code 4324 BPC, which states, “(a) anyone who signs the name of another, or a fictitious person, or falsely makes, alters, forges, utters, publishes, passes, or attempts to pass, as genuine, any prescription for any drugs is guilty of forgery.”
Simply put, it is a crime to do several dishonest acts regarding prescription drugs, including signing someone else's name for a prescription or falsely making, uttering, altering, publishing, forging, passing, or attempting to pass as genuine a prescription.
In the context of this statute, “utter” means that you used, or made an attempt to use, a forged or altered prescription that you represented as genuine.
It is also illegal under this section to possess any drugs obtained due to a forged or altered prescription. The term prescription is defined under Business and Professions Code 4040 as an order for a drug over the phone, in writing, by fax, or by electronic means.
California Business and Professions Code 4025 BP describes a drug to include prescription and veterinary drugs, along with medicines that can be acquired without a prescription.
The prescriber must sign the prescription and include the patient's name, the type, and quantity of the drug prescribed, the date, as well as the contact information of the prescriber.
A closely related crime is California Health and Safety Code 11368, which makes it a crime to forge or alter a prescription for narcotic drugs, use a prescription with a forged signature to obtain or attempt to get narcotic drugs, or possess narcotic drugs obtained with a forged prescription. Let's review this state law further below.
What Are Some Examples?
Common examples of conduct that 4324 BPC prohibits include forging a prescriber's name to obtain a prescription. Doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and veterinarians can prescribe drugs.
Another typical example of prohibited conduct includes altering a valid prescription to allow for a higher quantity of the drug to be dispensed or allowing for more refills than intended by the prescriber.
Passing fake prescriptions to others so they can attempt to use them is also illegal under this statute. If you are facing an allegation of forging or altering a prescription, you must speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney, as the potential penalties are severe.
What are the Penalties for BPC 4324?
Business and Professions Code 4324 is a crime that the prosecutor can charge as a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the facts of the case and your criminal history.
Criminal offenses that can be charged as misdemeanors or felonies are known as wobblers. If charged as a misdemeanor, you could face the following:
- up to one year in county jail, and
- a fine of up to $1,000.
If charged as a felony under Business and Professions Code 4324, you could be facing the following:
- 16 months, two or three years in county jail, and
- up to a $10,000 fine.
A judge can also order misdemeanor or felony probation, respectively, as an alternative or in addition or jail or prison time, depending on the facts and circumstances.
If you are sentenced to probation, then you can be required to do several things, including:
- drug and alcohol testing,
- counseling, and
- community service.
You will also be required to meet with your probation agent regularly. Any violations of any probationary terms can result in jail or prison time.
What Are Some Related Offenses?
Related offenses to forging or altering a prescription under 4324 BPC include the following:
- Forging or altering a prescription for a narcotic drug under California Health and Safety Code 11368 HS – This California law makes it illegal to specifically forge or change a prescription for a narcotic such as opiates. This wobbler offense can result in a misdemeanor or felony charge. If charged as a misdemeanor, a conviction can carry up to six months in jail and up to a $1,000 fine. If charged as a felony, a conviction can carry 16 months, two years, or three years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine;
- Prescription fraud under Health and Safety Code 11173 HS – This makes it illegal to ‘"doctor shop" or use more than one prescriber to get multiple prescriptions. This is a wobbler offense that can result in a misdemeanor or felony charge;
- Acquire possession of a controlled substance using misrepresentation, fraud, forgery, deception, or subterfuge under federal law 21 U.S.C. 843(a)(3) – If convicted, the penalty includes up to four years in federal prison;
- Prescribing without a legitimate purpose under California Health & Safety Code 11153 HS;
- Prescribing a controlled substance to an addict under Health & Safety Code 11156 HS;
- Counterfeiting a prescription blank under Health & Safety Code 11162.5 HS.
What Are the Defenses for BPC 4324?
A California criminal defense lawyer can use many strategies against a charge under Business and Professions Code 4324. The available defenses depend on what the accusation being made is. Some common defenses include:
- The signature on the prescription was not yours;
- The call for the prescription wasn't made from your phone;
- A mistake was made by either the prescriber's office or the pharmacy filling the prescription.
This is a partial list of potential defenses to forging or altering a prescription. Another possible defense stems from illegal conduct by law enforcement in obtaining evidence against you.
Suppose law enforcement obtained evidence through an illegal search violating the Fourth Amendment. In that case, that evidence could be removed from the case if the defense files and argues a successful motion to suppress. If a judge stops essential evidence from a case, it can lead to the charges being dismissed entirely.
Perhaps we could argue that you didn't know the prescription was invalid. Maybe a friend asked you to pick up their prescription altered by increasing the number of pills. Our goal is to cast reasonable doubt to avoid a conviction.
Perhaps we could negotiate pre-filing with the prosecution and law enforcement to persuade them not to file formal criminal charges.
If you are under a criminal investigation or already charged with forging or altering a prescription, contact our experienced legal team for advice. Eisner Gorin LLP is located in Los Angeles, California. Contact us for an initial case consultation by phone or use the contact form.