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Name: People v. Denman
Case #: E053798
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 2
Opinion Date: 07/12/2013

Quitclaim deed purporting to transfer defendant’s nonexistent interest in property to himself is a false document within the meaning of Penal Code section 115. Defendant targeted nine “distressed” properties in Riverside County, filing as to each quitclaim deeds to himself transferring his (nonexistent) interest in the property. He also filed homestead declarations for each property, claiming to be living in the house. He appealed his conviction for numerous counts of recording false documents and perjury. Held: Affirmed with limited remand ordered. The focus of section 115 is to protect the integrity and reliability of public records. Defendant claimed he did not violate section 115 because he never stated falsely that he had an interest in the properties and the deeds did not actually transfer any interest. However, the deeds were false because they purported to transfer to defendant an interest in the properties that he did not possess. Further, the quitclaim deeds would place a cloud on the title to the properties.

The great taking enhancement is supported by substantial evidence. Defendant challenged the sufficiency of the evidence to support the great taking enhancements under Penal Code section 12022.6, subdivisions (a)(1) (loss of > $65,000) and (a)(2) (loss of > $200,000) because the victims did not actually lose, and defendant did not actually receive, these amounts. The emphasis of the enhancements is on what the victims lost, not what the defendant gained. Because the deeds clouded the titles to the properties, the owners could not sell them. Their loss, therefore, was the assessed value of the properties. The fact the owners subsequently were able to clear title and sell the properties does not render the evidence of loss insufficient.

The aggravated white collar crime enhancement is supported by substantial evidence. The jury found true an enhancement under Penal Code section 186.11, subdivision (a)(2), which punishes a pattern of fraudulent activity that results in substantial accumulated losses. This enhancement was supported by the fact the deeds clouded title to the properties. The court also noted that the mandatory fine under section 186.11, subdivision (c) had not been imposed and remanded the matter for calculation of this fine (up to $500,000 or double the taking, whichever is greater).