The elements of fraud in Pennsylvania generally include a) material factual misrepresentation that b) was made knowingly and willfully, and c) relied upon (or could have been relied upon) by the alleged victim while d) resulted (or could have resulted) in their physical or financial harm. Prosecutors must provide evidence of each element to secure a fraud conviction at a jury trial.
Our Philadelphia while-collar crimes defense lawyers outline and explain the elements of fraud in PA, the admissibility of evidence used by prosecutors to prove their cases, potential defenses, and how to rebut evidence of fraud in court. Shuttleworth Law wrote this post for people accused of fraud violations in Pennsylvania or their worried loved ones.
Four Elements of Fraud in Pennsylvania
The specific definition of fraud in your case will determine the elements prosecutors must meet to secure a conviction. Pennsylvania’s criminal code currently recognizes 25 fraudulent practices under Chapter 41 of the PA Crimes Code. Examples of fraud include forgery, insurance fraud, access device fraud, identity theft, and trademark counterfeiting.
Regardless of the specific facts, fraud cases carry similar elements that classify them as fraudulent acts, including:
Element 1. Material Misrepresentation of Facts
A material misrepresentation of fact is the intentional and willful act of creating a falsehood. Misrepresentations can include false statements, documents, forgeries, and other falsities related to the alleged fraud violation.
Element 2. Knowledge of Misrepresentation
Prosecutors must also prove that you knew about the misrepresentation. You cannot be held criminally liable without direct or circumstantial knowledge of this element. This element is also known as the element of criminal intent.
Element 3. Alleged Victim Relied on the Misrepresentation
The alleged victim used or could have used the misrepresentation to run their business, make decisions, and engage in transactions. If they could not have reasonably relied on a falsehood, you may have a valid defense that your acts do not qualify as fraud but could still fall under other charges.
Element 4. Caused Another Party Financial or Physical Harm
Finally, to face a fraud conviction, the Commonwealth must show that your misrepresentation, including false statements and acts, caused or could have caused the alleged victim harm. This harm could manifest in the form of financial or reputational damage.
Evidence that Might Prove the Elements of Fraud
The admissibility of evidence may play a significant role in your case. Prosecutors must follow specific rules and guidelines under Pennsylvania’s Rules of Evidence.
Prosecutorial and police fraud evidence must meet the following criteria for it to be admissible:
- Relevant: Evidence should be relevant enough to prove the elements of fraud and can be classified as direct or circumstantial per Rule 402 of the PA Rules of Evidence.
- Weight: In addition to relevance, the Commonwealth is also required to consider the weight, including evidentiary source, whether it is direct or circumstantial, and the credibility/integrity of the source.
- Authenticated: Evidence should also be authentic and verifiable under Rule 902 of the PA Rules of Evidence. Unverifiable documents and graphical representations should be excluded from discovery.
If the evidence presented in your case does not meet these criteria, your attorney could file a Motion to Strike. Objection, or Motion in Limine. The judge assigned to your case may exclude their evidence based on being irrelevant, or causing “unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay, wasting time, or needlessly presenting cumulative evidence” under Rule 403 of the PA Rules of Evidence.
Examples of Fraud Evidence
Direct and circumstantial evidence could paint a very different picture from the prosecutor’s allegations on behalf of the Commonwealth. Direct evidence has the potential to prove a fact effectively, while circumstantial evidence can work collectively and tell a story to jurors.
Examples of fraud evidence that prosecutors may use include:
- Witness statements
- Documents and data
- Physical evidence
- Images and video evidence
- Witness statements
- Other types of admissible evidence
Regardless of what evidence they have, if it does not prove that you committed acts congruent with the elements of fraud, you should not face a conviction. Your PA fraud defense attorney will devise a strategy and approach for getting inadmissible evidence excluded in court.
Legal Defenses to Fraud Charges
The legal defense of fraud charges in Pennsylvania depends upon the facts, circumstances, and type of charge. However, some defenses are more commonly used than others, giving you an idea of how criminal defense attorneys position clients. Numerous defenses could apply to fraud charges and be very specific to your situation, but only attorneys have the training and PA licensure to make that determination.
Below, we have outlined four potential defenses to fraud charges, including:
Defense 1. No Criminal Intent
You may have committed acts of fraud unintentionally or unknowingly. Sometimes, our clients have good cause for their actions which can be proven via direct or circumstantial evidence.
Defense 2. Civil Rights Violations
Prosecutor errors, policy violations, and other acts that breach your right to due process of the law could become part of your defense. A civil rights violation can also include prosecutors admitting evidence that does not meet the rules of admissibility.
Defense 3. Duress
You may have committed the alleged criminal acts under threat of force or physical harm by another party. For example, if your boss made you commit fraud under the prospect of losing your job or income. A jury might not find you guilty under these circumstances.
Defense 4. Statute of Limitations Expiration
Pennsylvania’s criminal code imposes a criminal statute of limitations on almost all criminal charges, including fraud violations. A criminal statute of limitations sets a deadline by which prosecutors must file charges. For example, felony insurance fraud crimes possess a five-year statute of limitations that starts counting down from the date of the last alleged criminal act.
If the Commonwealth fails to file charges against you before this deadline, you should not face criminal liability through a jury trial conviction. Most fraud charges in Pennsylvania recognize a two- or five-year statute of limitations period.
Rebut Evidence with a PA Fraud Defense Attorney
You may have had a legitimate reason for committing alleged fraud, including time constraints, emergencies, and other valid reasons. Prosecutors may have also made errors or violated your civil rights in some manner, opening the possibility for one of several criminal defense strategies. However, executing a successful defense will require the help of an experienced legal team for advice and resources, like Shuttleworth Law.
Call Shuttleworth Law for My Free Case Evaluation
Your Pennsylvania fraud charges are defensible. Shuttleworth Law can explain how. Find out more about your legal options by scheduling a Free Case Evaluation with our Philadelphia white-collar crimes defense lawyers at (215) 774-1371 or online.