What Is the Crime of Forgery?

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Question: What Is the Crime of Forgery?

Answer:

Forgery is the faking of a signature without permission, making a false document or changing an existing document without authorization.

The most common form of forgery is signing someone else's name to a check, but objects, data and documents can also be forged. Legal contracts, historical papers, art objects, diplomas, licenses, certificates and identification cards can be forged.

Currency and consumer goods can also be forged, but that crime is usually referred to as counterfeiting.

False Writing

To qualify as forgery, the writing must have legal significance and be false.

Legal significance includes:

  • Government-issued documents such as driver's licenses, passports, and state identification card. 
  • Transactional documents such as deeds, grants, and receipts.
  • Financial instruments such as money, checks, stock certificates
  • Other documents such as will, medicine prescriptions, tokens, works of art.

Uttering a Forged Instrument

Common law forgery was usually limited to making, altering or false writing. Modern law includes processing, using, or offering false writing with the intent to defraud.

For example, if someone uses a fake driver's license in order to fake their age and buy alcohol, they would be guilty of uttering a forged instrument, even though they did not actually make the fake license.

Common Types of Forgery

The most common types of forgery involve signatures, prescriptions and art.

  • Signature Forgery: Signature forgery is the act of falsely replicating another person's signature. 
  • Prescription Forgery: Altering an existing prescription or forging a doctor's signature or the prescription in its entirety in order to get medications.
  • Art Forgery: Adding an artist's name to an art piece in order to make it appear as a genuine or original piece of art.

Intent

The intent to deceive, commit fraud, or larceny must exist in most jurisdictions for a crime of forgery to be charged. This also applies to the crime of attempting to deceive, commit fraud or larceny.

For example, a person could replicate Leonardo da Vinci's famous portrait of the Mona Lisa, but unless they attempted to sell or represent the portrait that they painted as the original, the crime of forgery has not occurred.

However, if the person attempted to sell the portrait that they painted as the original Mona Lisa, the portrait would be an illegal forgery and the person could be charged with the crime of forgery, regardless of if they sold the artwork or not.

Possession of a Forged Document

A person who possesses a forged document has not committed a crime unless they know the document or item is forged and they use it to defraud a person or entity.

For example, if a person received a forged check for payment of services rendered and they were unaware that the check was forged and cashed it, then they did not commit a crime. If they were aware that the check was forged and they cashed the check, then they would be held criminally liable in most states.

Penalties

The penalties for forgery differs for each state. In most states, forgery is classified by degrees - first, second and third degree or by class.

Often, first and second degree are felonies and third degree is a misdemeanor. In all states, it depends on what has been forged and the intent of the forgery when deciding the degree of the crime.

For example, in Connecticut, the forgery of symbols is a crime. This includes forging or possessing tokens, public transit transfers, or any other token that is used instead of money to purchase items or services.

Punishment for forgery of symbols is a class A misdemeanor. This is the most serious misdemeanors and is punishable by up to a year of jail time and up to a  $2,000 fine.

Forgery of financial or official documents is a class C or D felony and subject to up to 10-year prison sentence and fines up to $10,000.

 

All other forgery falls under a class B, C or D  misdemeanor and the punishment can be up to six months in jail and a fine up to $1,000.

When there is a prior conviction on record, the punishment increases substantially.

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