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Name: People v. Shah
Case #: C085988
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 3 DCA
Opinion Date: 07/22/2019
Summary

Materiality is not an element of Penal Code section 132 (offering false evidence) or Penal Code section 134 (preparing false evidence) and the trial court did not err in denying defendant’s request for a materiality instruction. At trial on a speeding ticket, Shah (a physician) introduced a letter signed by his office manager stating that Shah had been responding to a medical emergency at the time he was stopped. This conflicted with information a supervisor at Shah’s clinic gave to a CHP officer at the time of the stop. The traffic court judge found Shah guilty. The prosecution then charged Shah with felony violations of sections 132 and 134 for preparing and offering false and fraudulent evidence at the traffic trial. At the criminal trial, the office manager testified that Shah misled her to believe the letter she signed was intended to help him terminate a contract with a temporary staffing agency. She did not draft the letter or read it before she signed it. A jury found Shah guilty and he was placed on probation. On appeal, Shah argued that a materiality requirement must be implied to save sections 132 and 134 from being unconstitutionally vague and overbroad, and that the trial court’s failure to instruct on materiality violated his due process rights. Held: Affirmed. Section 134 applies to false evidence prepared with the intent to produce it (or allow it to be produced) in a legal proceeding for a “fraudulent or deceitful purpose,” i.e., to mislead or deceive the trier of fact. Section 132 applies to forged or fraudulently altered documents or instruments offered in evidence at a legal proceeding. Neither section 132 nor section 134 contain an express materiality element. After analyzing sections 132 and 134 and relevant case law, the Court of Appeal concluded that materiality is not an element of the offenses. Importing a materiality element is not necessary to ensure that sections 132 and 134 do not impose substantial criminal penalties on relatively trivial or innocent conduct. The statutes punish a narrow range of conduct that will rarely, if ever, be trivial or immaterial.

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: https://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/archive/C085988.PDF