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A guide to Notary misconduct penalties in California

A guide to Notary misconduct penalties in California article

Updated 1-30-23. Making a mistake during a notarization can have serious financial and legal consequences for California Notaries — and deliberately breaking the law leads to even more severe penalties. This guide will help familiarize Notaries with the Golden State’s Notary laws and penalties for misconduct.

Penalties for Notary misconduct in California

If a Notary commits misconduct, penalties under California law fall into four main categories:

Disciplinary action by the Secretary of State: The Secretary of State can refuse to appoint any person as a Notary, or suspend or revoke a Notary’s commission for many violations listed under Government Code 8214.1.

Civil Penalties: In addition to disciplinary action taken against a Notary’s commission, Government Code 8214.15 authorizes the Secretary of State to fine a California Notary up to $750 for negligent misconduct. If the Notary willfully committed misconduct, the maximum fine increases to $1,500 (see “Negligence Vs. Willful Misconduct” below).

Criminal penalties: If the Notary’s misconduct constitutes a misdemeanor or felony under the law, the Notary may be sentenced to jail time or other criminal penalties in addition to any disciplinary action and civil penalties. 

Lawsuits: If the Notary’s misconduct harmed a private individual, the Notary may be sued in a civil lawsuit.

It’s important to understand that misconduct can result in a Notary facing multiple penalties. For example, if a Notary was found negligent for failing to properly complete and seal an acknowledgment on a real estate document, the Secretary of State could impose a civil penalty, and suspend or revoke the Notary’s commission as well if deemed appropriate. On top of that, if the Notary’s error resulted in a financial loss for the signer, the signer could also sue the Notary to recover any damages resulting from the faulty notarization.

Negligence vs. willful misconduct

Intentionally breaking state Notary laws (“willful misconduct”) carries significantly harsher punishments than if the Notary’s violation was unintentional (“negligence”).

For example, a negligent violation of performing a notarial act when the Notary has a direct financial or beneficial interest in the transaction (GC 8224) would be a $750 fine. A willful violation of that same section would be a $1,500 fine. So, if the Notary knew they were named in the document and knew it was a disqualification to notarize in that circumstance, they'd be potentially liable for a $1,500 civil penalty.

Also, while an errors and omissions insurance policy will cover you against claims of negligence, an E&O policy will not cover willful acts or fraud.

Examples of misconduct

One of the biggest issues facing Notaries — especially inexperienced ones — is that many don’t realize until it’s too late that a seemingly harmless action violates state Notary laws and can result in serious consequences. Here are some examples:

Failure to secure your journal and seal. California Notaries are required to store their seals and journals in a locked, secure area when not in use. Carelessly leaving a seal out unattended could result in it being stolen or used to commit fraud, while leaving a journal unsecured could give someone access to sensitive private information. Failing to keep a seal under your control is a misdemeanor offense (Government Code 8228.1[a]).

Ignoring identification requirements. Sometimes a family member, friend or coworker may bring you a document and ask, “I don’t have my ID, can we just proceed without it?” The answer is: Don’t do it. All notarizations require following California’s identification rules. Willfully failing to discharge faithfully any of the duties required of a Notary is punishable by up to a $1,500 civil penalty (Government Code 8214.15[a]). Depending on the type of identification violation, the civil penalty could skyrocket to $10,000 (Civil Code 1185). If the Notary willfully failed to identify the individual for an acknowledgment and then willfully signed and sealed an acknowledgment certificate stating the Notary identified the individual when he or she did not, that could be an additional civil penalty up to $10,000 (Civil Code 1189[a][4]). And, as we have seen, making that false certification in an acknowledgment could be forgery as well.

Failing to obtain a required thumbprint for your journal entry. The thumbprint is an important fraud deterrent, and California Notaries are required to obtain a signer’s thumbprint in their journal entry when notarizing a deed, quitclaim deed, deed of trust, power of attorney or any document affecting real property. Failing to obtain a required thumbprint for your journal entry can result in a civil penalty of up to $2,500 (GC 8214.23[a]).

Unauthorized practice of law. Notaries who are not attorneys are prohibited by law from offering legal advice or answering questions on legal matters. What many inexperienced Notaries don’t realize is that seemingly innocuous actions like choosing which notarization to perform on a signer’s behalf or telling a signer what document they need for their needs are violations of state law. Giving unauthorized advice can result in loss of a Notary’s commission as well as additional penalties (Government Code 8214.1[g] and Business and Professions Code 6126).

5 steps to avoid Notary misconduct in California

1. Never skip or ignore required laws, such as personal appearance by a signer, or presenting proof of identity when notarizing.

2. Be sure that any certificate wording is complete and all information is correct. Never agree to requests to backdate a certificate or enter false or incorrect information.

3. Be sure that you record all required information in your journal entry for each notarization.

4. Always secure your seal and journal in a locked, secure area when not in use.

5. Never provide unauthorized advice on legal matters or choose a notarial act for a signer.

David Thun is the Assistant Managing Editor at the National Notary Association.

Related Articles:

5 common mistakes that can lead to legal problems

Habits and missteps that could put Notaries at risk

View All: Laws & Regulations


Add your comment

Artur Oktanyan

31 Jul 2017

This is not a very good guide. You should create a table of misconducts and the appropriate penalties.

National Notary Association

31 Jul 2017

Hello. A list of common prohibited acts for Notaries is available online to NNA members in the California entry for the U.S. Notary Reference Manual: Additional information is also publicly available in the 2017 Notary Public Handbook ( and 2012 California Notary Disciplinary Guidelines ( published by the CA Secretary of State's office.

Michelle Riley

23 Sep 2017

Great reminders - even for us non-California notaries.


28 Sep 2017

Is there a guide for the victims of notary representatives that intentionally without the elderly owners consent transfer grand deeds to party of their interest. The legal process is costely and the notary representative is not cooperating and delaying turning in her evidence by further putting the victims in a financial burden, specially when one of the properties is their retirement income . Please help this article does not help victims.

Bill mccoy

17 Nov 2018

Can a notary erase info from their logbook if that info isn't required to be recorded by state law?my fathers trust was witnessed and the notary recorded their names in the logbook,even though it's not required that a trust be notarized in Calif.later the witness names were erased.(I believe to conceal evidence of estate fraud)can a notary erase info after it's entered in the log book?

National Notary Association

19 Nov 2018

Based on what you’ve described, we think it would be best if you contacted our Hotline team by phone and provided them with a more detailed description of the situation. The NNA Hotline: 1-888-876-0827 Mon – Fri: 5:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. (PT) Saturday: 5:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (PT) If you’re not an NNA Member or Hotline Subscriber, they will provide you with a one-time courtesy call.


08 Dec 2018

The new notary at my local postal store leaves his journal and seal/stamp out on a counter separate from the main counter where register is, all day. He even leaves the store with his journal and stamp out. What should I do, if anything about this?

National Notary Association

10 Dec 2018

Hello. Have you let the Notary know that leaving the tools in the open runs a risk of unauthorized access or the tools being stolen and misused?

Joe Ewing

04 Nov 2019

would you consider handing legal documents one by one across the table with a brief description of each document, unauthorized practice of law?

National Notary Association

06 Nov 2019

Based on what you’ve described, we think it would be best if you contacted our Hotline team by phone and provided them with a more detailed description of the situation. The NNA Hotline: 1-888-876-0827 Mon – Fri: 5:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. (PT) Saturday: 5:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (PT) If you’re not an NNA Member or Hotline Subscriber, they will provide you with a one-time courtesy call.

Karen L.

27 Jan 2020

How can I find out if a Notarys stamp was used or possibly forged? I’m not finding the person via the website of active notaries or her number.

National Notary Association

28 Jan 2020

Hello. You may wish to call your state's Notary-regulating agency directly to ask if they can verify if the Notary in question has a current commission or not.

Dr. C. Jones

27 Apr 2021

A Notary notarized a document that showed I was the legal trustee and owner of my parents home after their death. This was verified by the trust document and will shown to the notary and sworn to in a notarized statement. The next day, the notarized statement and supporting information related to the notification of death and mt establishment as sole trustee of the home I now owned free and clear were filed at the county record’s office. Less than 25 days later, the notary filed a false document claiming to be the trustee and took out a $450K lien against the property thereby clouding the title. What would you call this action by the notary. I want to state it correctly in my complaint.

National Notary Association

29 Apr 2021

Hello. We're sorry, but any questions about formal legal terminology for a criminal fraud complaint should be answered by a qualified attorney.

Y. Vigil

25 Jun 2021

A person has been using her son’s notary stamp to notarize loan docs. Her commission expired and since it expired she has been notarizing documents under her sons notary seal. (Her writing is very apparent that it’s her signing the documents) What can be done if anything?

National Notary Association

01 Jul 2021

Hello. If you wish to file a complaint against a California Notary, you may do so here:

Michael Braunstein

18 May 2022

My parents refinanced their home. After the Notary Public handed them their packet, HE LEFT. He told my parents to simply sign and initial the docs on their own and that he would return in an hour after he'd finished doing "something else." When I arrived, I saw my parents finishing up. I asked them where the Notary Public was at. When they said that he'd left and would be back later, and to just simply sign, I took the docs away from my parents and called the title company. The title company said that the docs would be voided and they would send out another Notary Public the following week. They then said that they would deal with the original guy who left my parents to sign on their own. WHAT HAPPENS TO THAT NOTARY PUBLIC? Is his certification rescinded? Is he fined? Is he jailed? His sole responsibility is to physically see that the signatures, initials and dates are properly put on the documents.

National Notary Association

26 May 2022

Hello. Any disciplinary action taken against a Notary would depend on if a complaint was filed against the Notary through a state agency. If you can tell us what state you are located in, we can let you know if there is a state agency you can contact if you wish to file a complaint.

Terri K.

06 Feb 2023

I wish this was available in a printable chart for easy reference.

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