Falsifying a document, also known as forgery, happens when a person changes, modifies or alters a document so that it is not authentic. The individual does this to trick the individual into accepting the document. Georgia has four degrees of forgery.

Falsification of documents typically refers to a criminal offense. This offense involves the following:

  • Altering;
  • Changing;
  • Modifying;
  • Passing; or
  • Possessing a document for unlawful purposes.

Common examples of fake legal documents include:

  • State ID or driver’s license, typically stating that a person is older than they are;
  • Tax returns;
  • Sales receipts;
  • Academic transcripts;
  • Bank records;
  • Business records; or
  • Personal checks.

Falsifying documents is considered 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 instead of a misdemeanor. It is necessary to recognize that the act of falsifying documents is typically part of a bigger scheme, such as tax evasion.

What Actions May Constitute Falsifying a Document?

The following is a list of standard 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 of a business;
  • Forging the signature on a check, or another document, to receive services or additional benefits that you are not entitled to;
  • Using official letterheads without permission to do so;
  • Hiding assets or property, such as in a bankruptcy or divorce proceeding;
  • Intentionally using or distributing a fake document to gain employment or entrance into the country; and
  • Destroying info that has been determined to be material to an investigation.

This list of examples is in no way comprehensive. Several actions could comprise falsifying a document, so long as the intention is to mislead the document’s reader or recipient.

What Elements Do I Need to Establish the Crime of Falsifying a Document?

Falsifying a document is classified as a white-collar crime and is a form of fraud. Generally speaking, you will be charged with falsifying documents if it can be established that you intended to falsify the documents. This would be when a person is charged with tax evasion or the individual has deliberately acted to defraud the IRS.

Tax filers may make a thoughtless mistake; this is not the same as deliberately misleading the IRS. The law must differentiate between those knowingly making untrue statements, understanding the consequences of their actions if they are detected, and those who negligently supply details to the IRS that they do not know to be false. This would be an instance of the element of intent.

Likewise, the intent is a critical element of forgery. Forgery typically involves forming or altering a document to defraud someone. Doing so could include crimes as complex as portraying a fake piece of art as authentic or as straightforward as signing a check using someone else’s signature to commit identity theft.

What Is Forgery in the First Degree?

Forgery in the first degree happens when a person adjusts, makes, or possesses any writing, other than a check, that is falsified and then delivers or utters the writing to the victim.

According to Georgia law, a forged document has:

  • Another name, either fictitious or real, than the original name
  • A different time or date than the original time or date
  • New or altered provisions
  • Been made to appear that it was authorized by someone who did not deliver authorization for the document

What Is Forgery in the Second Degree?

Forgery in the second degree is comparable to forgery in the first degree, but with one critical distinction. A person is accused of altering, making, changing, or modifying any writing to defraud another individual intentionally. The modification happens by using another name, date, or invalid authority. The distinction between the two degrees of forgery is that the perpetrator never actually gives the false writing to their intended victim under forgery in the second degree. If the perpetrator gave the forged paper to the victim, they would have committed forgery first.

Can the Writing Be a Forged Check?

No. Just as with forgery in the first degree, writing for forgery in the second degree does not include a check. According to Georgia law, a check is any tool used for payment or transmitting money drawn from a bank or on-demand. Writing is deemed anything else in print or otherwise recorded. This includes trademarks, money, coins, stamps, identification badges, and credit cards.

What Does It Mean to Forge a Check?

Checks can be forged in several ways. A person might forge a check by stealing or otherwise getting checks from their owner, writing them for a specific amount, and forging the owner’s signature. They might then attempt to use the check to buy goods or services or merely cash it and bolt with the cash.

Check forgery can also take the form of forged endorsements, where a person somehow intercepts a check intended for someone else, fraudulently endorses the check and tries to cash it or deposit it into their account.

Another, more complicated form of check fraud is “kiting.” In this case, an individual takes advantage of the “float.” Sometimes, when a bank receives a check for deposit, it credits the amount of the check to the depositor’s account before debiting the funds from the issuer’s account. The term “float” refers to this delay.

Kiting involves two bank accounts held by the same individual. This individual writes a check to themself, knowing that the issuing account contains non-sufficient funds and deposits it in their other accounts. When the second account is credited, the individual then writes a check for the same amount to the first account, which is then credited, covering the check amount. This artificially boosts the balance of one of the accounts.

What Are The Criminal Penalties for Check Forgery?

The federal penalties for check-kiting include fines of up to $1 million and 30 years in prison.
The punishments for other forms of check fraud tend to differ from state to state, but they are usually rather strict.

What Should I Do If I’m Accused of Check Forgery?

First of all, check forgery is a grave offense, and anyone accused of it should contact a criminal defense lawyer immediately.

Suppose you believe that you have been wrongfully accused. In that case, you should tell this to your financial attorney, who will probably advise you to keep any relevant financial records in your possession and other documents that might be appropriate to show your innocence.

What Is the Punishment for Forgery in the First Degree?

Forgery in the first degree is a felony under Georgia law. The punishment for a forgery conviction in the first degree is imprisonment for one to 15 years.

Will I Get a Lesser Punishment for Second Degree Forgery in Georgia?

While forgery in the second degree is also a felony, it comes with a lesser punishment than forgery in the first degree because it is a more inferior crime. The punishment for a forgery in a second-degree conviction is one to five years in prison.

Should I Hire a Lawyer for My Forgery Case?

Forgery cases can involve serious consequences. Contact a Georgia criminal lawyer immediately to find out more regarding your forgery charge. Your lawyer will help you select the best way to proceed with your case.