Our society relies heavily on the ability of individuals and businesses to exchange legitimate and trustworthy documents and contracts. Forged documents can have serious consequences for businesses, individuals, and political entities. For these reasons, forgery is punished harshly.
What Is Forgery?
Forgery is a type of white-collar (non-violent) crime. The most basic form of forgery is the unauthorized use or reproduction of another person’s signature. In other words, forgery usually involves faking a person’s signature for the purpose of gaining access to secured information such as a bank account or personal records. A common example is forging a person’s signature on a blank check.
Forgery can also involve the creation of fake or fraudulent documents. Or, it can involve photocopying a person’s signature and then artificially placing it on a document without their knowledge or consent. In a forgery lawsuit, the final product that was used to perpetuate a crime is often known as a “forged document.
Traditionally, forgery consisted only of making or altering fake writings. Possessing, using, or offering false writings as truth with the intent to defraud was a separate offense, known as “uttering a forged instrument.” For example, if a person used a fake ID to obtain a line of credit, that person would be guilty of uttering a forged instrument, even if they did not make the fake ID. Today, most states treat both offenses under the single crime of forgery.
What is a False Writing?
Not all writings meet the definition of forgery. The writing in question must have a legal significance and be false in order to serve as the basis for a forgery charge.
In order to be punishable for forgery, the writing must have apparent legal significance. Writings with apparent legal significance include government-issued documents, such as driver’s licenses and passports. Deeds, conveyances, and receipts are also legally significant. Currencies, checks, stock certificates, and other financial instruments are legally significant. Other documents, such as wills, patents, medical records, prescriptions, or works of art, also carry a legal significance.
In order to have legal significance, a document doesn’t necessarily need to be a legal or government-issued document. It simply must affect a legal right or obligation. For this reason, letters of recommendation or doctor’s notes may also be subject to forgery.
In contrast, signing another person’s name on a letter to a friend would probably not constitute any forgery in most cases because it would not have any legal significance.
What Is Forgery of Evidence?
Forgery of evidence is a very serious crime. It involves tampering with physical evidence or documents that are to be used as evidence during a trial. Again, this can involve copying or reproducing a persons’ signature, such as that of a key witness.
Tampering with evidence can also involve reproducing, altering, or repairing physical objects to deceive a witness, juror, opposing counsel, judge, or other key people in a trial. For example, in a homicide case, this can mean removing stains from a weapon. Or, in a hit-and-run automobile claim, it can involve gaining access to a broken bumper and repairing it before trial.
Forgery of evidence in a trial is often called “fabrication of evidence” or “counterfeiting of evidence,” especially when a fake or artificial copy/version of an item is presented to the court.
What Is Forgery of a Check?
Forgery of a check is one of the most common forms of forgery. The typical case is where the defendant gets a hold of a person’s blank check then forges their signature, thus gaining access to their bank account monies. Forged checks are commonly perpetrated in connection with other types of crimes, such as scams or elderly financial abuse cases.
Another method of forging a check is where the defendant steals or intercepts a check that is intended for someone else. The defendant may then alter the check to make it appear like it was made out to them. Thus, the owner of the check may have placed their actual signature on the check, but the name gets changed in the area where it states “Payable To.” This type of forgery is also called forged endorsement or fraudulent endorsement.
What are the Federal Anti-Forgery Laws?
Forgery is most often prosecuted at the state level, but certain types of forgery are considered felonies under federal law. For example, identity theft – a type of forgery where a person forges a writing to assume the identity of another person – is a felony under federal law. Identity theft is punishable by a fine and several years’ imprisonment. Federal law also prohibits other kinds of forgery, such as counterfeiting money.
Forging federal documents like immigration documents or military discharge papers is also illegal. Any forgery intended to defraud the federal government is illegal and punished as a federal offense. Forgery also automatically becomes a federal offense if a forged document is mailed across interstate lines or if the forgery takes place in multiple states.
What are the Common Penalties for Forgery?
Forgery is considered a felony in all fifty states. It is punishable by a range of penalties, including jail or prison times, hefty fines, probation, and restitution (compensating the victim of stolen goods for the money or goods taken as a result of the forgery).
Some states consider certain types of forgery as misdemeanor offenses, which are punished more leniently than felony offenses. Most misdemeanor offenses have a maximum incarceration period of one year in most states.
State laws may provide a wide range of penalties for forgery crimes. Judges determine the most appropriate punishment for the given forgery. For example, in one state, the penalties for forgery may range from probation and community service for a misdemeanor forgery to prison time of five years and a fine of $125,000 for a felony forgery offense. In other states, penalties for forging a check vary according to the amount of money at stake. Forging checks of $250 or less is punishable by up to one year in jail and a $3,000 fine. When the check amount exceeds $250, the penalty may increase to up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
States often focus on the type of documents when determining the proper punishment. For example, New York classifies forgery as “first-degree forgery” when the forged document is currency, securities, stocks, or bonds. Second-degree forgery in New York involves deeds, government-issued documents, public records, medical records, or medical prescriptions. Third-degree forgery in New York involves any other type of forgery. Both first and second-degree forgeries are felonies, while third-degree forgery is a misdemeanor.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Forgery Issues?
If you have any questions or disputes involving forgery, a criminal defense attorney can assist you. An experienced lawyer can help you understand the specific white-collar crimes in your area. Your lawyer may also identify possible defenses, such as an actual authorization of the document or a lack of intent to deceive the other party.
Using the link here, you can view LegalMatch’s experienced criminal defense attorneys database. LegalMatch’s services are always 100% confidential. Let us help you narrow down your search for a lawyer in your area for free.