White Collar Crime: Forgery

Forgery crimes are not well understood by the general public. For that reason, many people have questions about forgery crimes: What exactly counts as forgery? Is forgery a felony? How can you defend against forgery?

Forgery, a white-collar crime, refers to the altering, falsification, use, or possession of a signature, document, banknote, or work of art to commit fraud. Forgery takes various forms, such as altering academic records, forging a diploma, signing an artist’s painting so that it appears as original, or signing someone else’s name on a check.

Also known as uttering a false instrument, forgery is a serious offense and punishable as a crime in every state in the United States and by the federal government. The specific penalty for forgery, altering documents, or counterfeiting (forgery involving currency) may vary depending on the modified document or instrument. Forging government documents typically is punished with the highest penalties.

What Is Uttering a Forged Instrument?

In the past, forgery referred to altering or falsifying a document. Uttering a forged instrument was considered a separate offense, indicating that someone knowingly offered, possessed, or used the forged instrument with the intent to defraud. For example, using a fake identification document (ID) to rent a car or cash a check counts as uttering a forged instrument even if you did not make the fake ID yourself.

Having a proper ID opens many doors, including getting a hotel room, renting an apartment, purchasing alcohol or cigarettes, boarding a plane, and even seeing your doctor. Thanks to ever-improving photo editing software and top-notch printing, creating a false ID has never been easier. However, although penalties vary from state to state, all states have false ID laws. Further, many are increasing the severity of punishment for using a fake ID, treating it as a felony.

Why Is Forgery Punished So Harshly?

Our society and daily interactions must have a foundation based on legitimacy, trust, good faith, and authenticity. Therefore, a forgery crime is a serious matter that may have extensive consequences encompassing individuals, government, politics, businesses, healthcare services, and other entities. Forgery is not a victimless crime, and many states punish such an offense harshly.

What Is Needed to Secure a Forgery Conviction?

There are multiple factors that the prosecution must prove to obtain a conviction for a forgery charge. These include the following:

Using, Altering, Possessing, or Making

The prosecution must prove that the individual used, altered, made, or possessed a fake document to establish forgery. Forgery may comprise creating a false document or modifying an existing document if the change is considered material, impacting legal rights and protections.

Examples:

  • Adding, deleting, or altering parts of a document may be material changes if they impact the legal rights outlined in the document.
  • Forging another person’s signature on a document, such as a will, is also a material alteration since you’re misrepresenting the identity of another individual.
  • If you possess or use false documentation but didn’t create it yourself, you may be charged with forgery in many states–or, as discussed above, charged with uttering a forged instrument.

To establish a forgery charge, the document must carry legal significance. It may or may not be a government-issued or legal document, but it must affect a person’s legal rights and obligations. 

Examples:

  • Driver’s license
  • Passport
  • Contracts
  • Wills
  • Deeds
  • Professional licenses
  • Certifications
  • Medical prescriptions
  • Artwork
  • Historical papers
  • Currencies
  • Stock certificates
  • Checks

Signing someone else’s name on a friendly note usually does not comprise forgery since, in most cases, it does not carry legal significance. In contrast, signing another person’s name on a physician’s letter or a letter of recommendation for a job opening could constitute forgery since, in both scenarios, the impact could be of legal significance.

False Writing

The writing must be created or materially altered in such a manner that the document appears to be or represent something that it’s not. The misrepresentations must change the document’s fundamental meaning. In other words, adding falsehoods into a document doesn’t necessarily comprise forgery–unless you’ve created or altered a document of legal significance.

Intent to Defraud

The individual committing forgery must have specific intent to defraud or trick another person or entity. The inclusion of intent helps to protect people from criminal liability who unknowingly sign or possess fraudulent documents–versus those who willingly intend to defraud.

What’s the Penalty for Forgery?

The specific penalties for a forgery crime vary from state to state. Although forgery is a felony in all 50 states, some states categorize certain types of forgery as misdemeanors, with less harsh penalties than felonies. In most states, the maximum period of incarceration for a forgery misdemeanor is one year. The range of penalties for forgery felony includes the following:

  • Large fines
  • Incarceration
  • Probation
  • Community service
  • Compensation to the victim for money or stolen items resulting from the forgery

Many states focus on the type of documents forged when determining the applicable punishment.

Example:

In Texas, although forgery is usually considered a Class A misdemeanor, it becomes a felony if certain factors are present. Penalties for a Class A misdemeanor may include up to one year in state jail or a fine of up to $4,000. 

Forgery is considered a Texas state felony if the forged writing is a specific type of document, such as wills, check, credit card, mortgage, deed, contract, and other particular document types.  In Texas, a forgery felony is punishable by 180 days up to two years in state jail and a fine up to $10,000.

Forgery is a third-degree felony in Texas if the forged writing appears to be a government-issued document, such as postage, money, a license, a permit, or a certificate. The penalties may include incarceration from two up to 10 years and a fine up to $10,000. Forgery committed against individuals aged 65 years and older may result in additional penalties. In addition, in some cases, forgery may be charged federally.

Get Help from an Experienced Attorney

If you’ve been accused of committing a forgery crime, you’ll need to retain an experienced defense attorney to represent you. Keep in mind that if you’re being charged federally, you’ll want to seek the service of an attorney with experience in federal courts.

Zoukis Consulting Group has that kind of experience. Schedule an appointment with us today, so we can begin building a defense against your forgery charge.

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