Forgery is a type of white-collar, or non-violent, crime. The most basic type of non-violent forgery is the unauthorized use or reproduction of another individual’s signature.
Forgery often involves faking an individual’s signature for the purpose of gaining access to their secured information, such as personal records or bank accounts. One common example is forging an individual’s signature on a blank check.
Forgery may also involve the creation of fraudulent or fake documents. Or it may involve photocopying an individual’s signature and then placing it on another document without their consent or knowledge.
In forgery lawsuits, the final product that was used to perpetuate a crime is typically referred to as the forged document. Modern 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 individuals, businesses, and even political entities. Because of this, it is often punished harshly.
Examples of Forgery
Common examples of documents of legal significance that are often forged include, but are not limited to:
- Identification documents like driver’s licenses or passports;
- Drug prescriptions;
- Stock certificates;
- Military documents;
- Historical documents;
- Works of art and certificates of authentication.
What Is Forgery of Evidence?
Forgery of evidence involves tampering with physical evidence or documents that are going to be used as evidence during a trial. This may involve copying or reproducing an individual’s signature, for example, that of a key witness.
Tampering or forgery of evidence may also involve altering, reproducing, or repairing physical objects in order to deceive:
- Opposing counsel;
- The judge;
- Other key individuals in a trial.
For example, in a homicide case, this may mean removing stains from a weapon. In a hit-and-run automobile accident case, it may mean gaining access to the broken bumper and repairing it prior to trial.
Forgery of evidence in a trial is often referred to as fabrication of evidence or counterfeiting of evidence. This is especially true in cases where an artificial or fake copy or 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 types of forgery. Typically, an individual will obtain another individual’s blank check and forge their signature, thereby gaining access to the money in their bank account.
A forged check is commonly perpetrated in connection with other types of crimes, including elderly financial abuse cases and scams. Another method of forging checks occurs when a defendant intercepts or steals a check that is intended for someone else.
The defendant may then alter that check in order to make it appear that it was made out to them. In these cases, the actual owner of the check may have signed their actual signature on the check, but the name is changed in the “payable to” section.
This type of forgery is also referred to as fraudulent endorsement or forged endorsement.
How to Prove a Forgery Crime?
In order to prove a forgery crime, there are several elements that must be shown for a defendant to be found guilty, including:
- An individual must make, use, possess, or alter a false document: Forgery can be done by creating a false document from scratch or altering a genuine document in a material way. The alteration is considered to be material if it affects a legal right;
- For example, a document like a will may be otherwise valid according to state law, but if someone other than the testator signs it, the will is a forgery. A forged signature misrepresents the identity of the individual whose will it is, and that has significant legal consequences;
- The writing must have legal significance: Not all false writings will be considered criminal forgery;
- Legally significant means that a document affects legal obligations or rights. Signing someone else’s name on a friendly letter would not be a forgery because it is probably not legally significant;
- Common examples of documents that have legal significance include, but may not be limited to:
- Driver’s licenses;
- Professional licenses;
- Historical papers;
- The writing must be false: The writing must have been changed or created in such a way that it makes it appear that the document represents something that it does not;
- The fundamental meaning of the document must have changed because of the forgery; and
- There must have been intent to defraud: The individual committing the forgery must have done so with the specific intent to defraud or trick another individual or entity.
What Are the Penalties for Forgery Crimes?
Forgery is classified as a felony in all fifty states. If an individual is convicted of forgery, they may face a range of punishment for forgery, including:
- Jail or prison time;
- Hefty criminal fines;
- Restitution, or compensating the victim of stolen goods for the money or goods taken as a result of the forgery.
There are some states that classify certain types of forgery as misdemeanors, which are punished more leniently than felony offenses. The majority of misdemeanor offenses have a maximum incarceration period of one year.
It is important to note that state laws can provide a wide range of penalties for a forgery crime. A court must determine the appropriate punishment for each specific forgery case.
For example, in one state, forgery penalties may range from probation and community service for misdemeanor forgery to a prison term of five years and a fine of $125,000 for a felony forgery offense. In other states, the penalty for forging a check may vary according to the amount of money that was involved.
Forging a check of $250 or less may be punishable by up to one year in jail and a $3,000 fine. If the check amount exceeds $250, the penalty may increase to up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Typically, states focus on the type of documents forged when determining the punishment. For example, the State of New York classifies forgery as first-degree forgery when the forged document is bonds, securities, stocks, or currency. Second-degree forgery in the State of New York involves:
- Government-issued documents;
- Public records;
- Medical records; or
- Medical prescriptions.
Third-degree forgery in New York State involves any other type of forgery.
What Are Some Defenses to Forgery?
There are some potential defenses to forgery that a defendant may be able to present, including:
- Lack of intent: A defendant in a forgery case must have intended to trick, deceive, or defraud their victim with the document that was forged;
- Lack of capacity or knowledge: The defendant must have been aware that the document was, in fact, forged in order to be found guilty of forgery;
- Coercion: If the defendant was forced to commit the forgery because they or someone they loved was threatened, they have a defense; and
- Consent: A defendant may use the defense of consent if they forged the document with the cooperation or consent of the alleged victim.
The majority of forgery defenses involve the required element of intent to deceive or defraud. The defense can show that the defendant did not have a specific intent. In that case, it will be a complete defense because it means the defendant did not have the required mental state to commit the offense.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Forgery Issues?
If you have any issues, questions, or concerns related to forgery or if you have been charged with a forgery crime, it is important to consult with a criminal lawyer. Your lawyer will advise you of the white-collar crimes in your state and how they are classified and punished.
Your attorney can also determine if there are any defenses available for your case, such as a lack of intent. Your attorney may also be able to negotiate with the prosecution for a reduction in your charges or a dismissal, if possible.
If you have been a victim of forgery, it is important to consult with law enforcement and a forgery attorney to help you get your money back. What forgery was committed against you will determine what actions you can take.