Falsification of documents generally refers to a criminal offense. This offense involves the:
- Passing; and/or
- Possessing of a document for unlawful purposes.
Common examples of fake legal documents include:
- State ID or driver’s license, generally stating that a person is older than they actually are;
- Tax returns;
- Sales receipts;
- Academic transcripts;
- Bank records;
- Business records; and/or
- Personal checks.
Falsifying documents is considered to be a white collar crime, and may be referred to by other names depending on the state. It can even be included as part of other collateral crimes. States generally charge the crime of falsifying documents as a felony crime, as opposed to a misdemeanor. It is important to remember that the act of falsifying documents is generally part of a bigger scheme, such as tax evasion.
What Actions May Constitute Falsifying a Document?
The following is a list of common ways that documents can be falsified, and what actions are usually involved in a falsification charge:
- Altering or misrepresenting factual information, such as the profits and losses for a business;
- Forging the signature on a check, or other document, in order to receive services or additional services that you are not entitled to;
- Using official letterheads without authorization to do so;
- Concealing assets or property, such as in a bankruptcy or divorce proceeding;
- Knowingly using or distributing a fake document in order to gain employment, or entrance into the country; and/or
- Destroying information that has been determined to be material to an investigation.
This list of examples is in no way comprehensive. There are several actions that could constitute falsifying a document, so long as the intention is to deceive the document’s reader or recipient.
What Elements Do I Need to Establish the Crime of Falsifying a Document?
As previously mentioned, the crime of falsifying a document is categorized as a white collar crime and is a form of fraud. Generally speaking, you will be charged with the falsification of documents if it can be proven that you intended to falsify the documents. An example of this would be when a person is charged with tax evasion; or, the person has intentionally acted to defraud the IRS.
Tax filers may make a careless mistake; this is not the same as intentionally deceiving the IRS. The law must distinguish between those who are intentionally making false statements, knowing the consequences of their actions if they are caught, and those who negligently provide information to the IRS that they do not know to be false. This would be an example of the element of intent.
Similarly, intent is a vital element of forgery. Forgery generally involves the creation or altering of a document with the intent to defraud someone. Doing so could involve crimes as complex as representing a fake piece of art as genuine, or as simple as signing a check using someone else’s signature in order to commit identity theft.
What Are Some Legal Penalties for Falsifying Documents? Are There Any Non-Legal Penalties for Falsifying Documents?
When determining consequences for a conviction, the court will generally consider several different factors including the following:
- The severity of the criminal fraud;
- Prior convictions;
- Whether the defendant is currently on probation or parole;
- The amount of money or property that was stolen as a result of the fraud; and
- The person, business, or entity that was the targeted victim.
If the defrauded entity is the federal government, there may be heavier penalties to contend with, as well as federal charges rather than state charges. An example of this would be forging treasury checks, or using a forged military ID. Potential consequences for being convicted of criminal fraud include:
- Prison time;
- Substantial fines; and
- Restitution, or, paying victims back for their losses.
The state in which you live, as well as the specific facts of your case, can influence whether you are likely to be charged with a felony for falsifying documents. Felony conviction generally results in paying a substantial monetary fine and incarceration of at least a year.
If convicted of a crime such as falsifying documents, there are often lingering penalties that are non-legal in nature. An example of this would be how a conviction will stay on your criminal record. Any party who is legally permitted to check your criminal history, such as law enforcement, will be able to learn of the conviction.
Additionally, a conviction could determine whether you are hired or terminated. It may also influence whether you get a loan, and at what rate. A landlord may decide not to rent an apartment to you because of your conviction. If you are being accused of falsifying documents, it is imperative that you do not exacerbate the issue by further falsifying the information that you provide about your crimes.
Are There Any Defenses for Falsifying Documents?
Whether any defenses are available for falsifying documents will greatly depend on what your state laws provide, as well as the specific crime with which you are charged. An example of this would be if you are charged with falsifying documents in an attempt to commit forgery. You could legitimately assert that you believed you were given the authority to sign the document. In the case of tax evasion, if you negligently provided false information to the IRS, you may be able to utilize the defense that you reasonably relied on information that was provided to you by tax experts.
In cases in which you are being charged with the crime due to the fact that you are in possession of falsified documents, you will need to show that you did not falsify the documents. Additionally, you will need to prove that you did not know that the documents in question were falsified. An example of this would be if you were given the deed to a foreclosed property that you lawfully purchased. It is doubtful that in such circumstances, you would be charged with a crime, unless you were part of this real estate scheme to defraud.
Do I Need a Lawyer if I Am Accused of Falsifying Documents?
If you believe you are a victim of criminal fraud, you should call law enforcement and report the fraud to authorities as soon as you are aware of the incident. If there is sufficient evidence, the case will be forwarded to your local prosecutor or District Attorney’s office. They may then prosecute the person who committed the fraud against you.
It is important that you make sure to keep clear records of your losses, especially if you believe you are entitled to restitution. You should also speak to a personal injury attorney if you are considering filing a claim in civil court.
If you are being accused of falsifying documents, you should consult with a skilled and knowledgeable fraud lawyer as soon as possible. Falsification of a document is a very serious crime and you will want someone to defend your rights. Such an attorney can explain to you your state’s laws regarding the matter, as well as determine if any defenses are available to you based on the specifics of your case. They will also represent you in court as needed.