What Are the Different Types of Criminal Forgery?
With roughly 45,000 people being arrested for criminal forgery each year, forgery is an incredibly common charge. There are all sorts of activities that can count as forgery, so some people accidentally commit this crime without even realizing it. If you or a loved one is facing forgery charges, it can be helpful to understand all the different types of forgery.
Forgery by Altering Documents
One of the most common types of criminal forgery is altering an otherwise valid document. This forgery type occurs when a person changes a document without proper consent. Some examples of this type of forgery include changing dates, amounts of money, and names of people on documents. This forgery is often used when making fake IDs, embezzling money from a business, or cashing a fake check.
If you are charged with forgery, the prosecution usually needs to prove that you altered a document and that you intended to defraud others with the document. Therefore, your defense may show that you did not have the means to access and alter the document. For example, if you do not have the password to your company’s bookkeeping software, you might not be able to change documents for the purpose of embezzlement. Depending on your case, you may be able to argue that someone else committed the alteration or that you actually did have permission to alter the item.
Forgery by Creating False Documents
Some people may commit forgery that goes beyond simply making changes to a document. Instead, they may create entirely new documents for their personal gain. Just about any money, tokens, stamps, seals, badges, credit cards, or other sorts of documents can be forged. Making a false document also applies to those who forge universal product code labels or other electronic files as well. You can be charged with this crime whether the false documents are completely or partially finished at the time you were apprehended.
In some cases, such as a forged piece of art, your defense may be that the document was not meant to actually be confused with the real thing. Creating a false document accurate enough to deceive others is often very difficult, so a common defense may be that you did not have the ability to make the forged document. For example, your attorney may point out that you did not have access to the high-quality printing tools needed to create a false passport.
Forgery by Faking an Identity
Forgery can occur when someone pretends to be someone they are not. This encompasses a variety of crimes. It can include things like signing someone else’s name on a legal document or impersonating an official. It can also be using someone else’s login credentials to sign in and access confidential information. Keep in mind that this type of forgery is slightly different from general false identity claims. Forgery specifically applies to false writing of some sort. Simply stating that you are a different person without the act of writing or creating any documentation is not forgery.
If you were charged with forgery by false identity, your Morristown criminal defense lawyer may have a few different routes of defense. You may be able to focus on the lack of intent, emphasizing that your faked identity was meant as a joke that would not actually deceive anyone. A similar defense may occur if a person signed the wrong name accidentally or misspelled their own name in a way that made it into another’s.
Forgery by Using a Forged Item
Using a forged item without creating it yourself is still considered a type of forgery. Called “uttering” a forged document, this is essentially presenting a forged document and claiming that it is true. You can be convicted for this type of forgery even if you did not actually defraud anyone. Simply lying about the veracity of a document with the intent to defraud is enough to get a forgery charge.
For this type of forgery, one of the most common defenses is a lack of intent. For example, if you tried to return an item with a falsified receipt, you could potentially argue that you thought the receipt was correct. Defending against these cases frequently relies on the fact that you may have been in possession of the forged item but assumed it was not forged. Depending on the forged item, it can be very hard for the prosecution to show that you were personally aware of the forgery before using the device.
Degrees of Forgery
Since there is so much variation in what counts as forgery, there are different degrees of charges possible. The majority of forgeries in New Jersey are third-degree felonies. Third-degree forgeries are typically ones that involve forging money, checks, securities, property titles, or personal identification documents. A person may also be charged with a third-degree forgery if they are convicted of forgery and are also in possession of items used for the express purpose of forgery. Being convicted of multiple counts of fourth-degree forgery may result in upgrading the crime to a third-degree charge. Any conviction of a third-degree forgery felony results in a fine of at least $500 and a prison sentence of three to five years.
Some forgeries that do not involve money, property, or personal identification documents may count as a fourth-degree forgery. This is a slightly less severe charge, where the consequences are a prison sentence of fewer than 18 months and a fine of $200 or higher. New Jersey mostly charges people with felonies for forgery. However, if a person just has a single altered sales receipt or UPC label, they are convicted of a “disorderly person” crime. This is essentially a type of misdemeanor criminal charge. It results in a prison sentence of no more than six months and a fine of at least $100.
Federal vs. State Forgery
Something else to consider when looking at types of forgery is whether it is a state or federal offense. Forgery is illegal on both a state and federal level. Whether it is prosecuted as a federal felony will depend on the circumstances. Any time a forged document travels between states, it becomes a federal crime. Forgery is also usually prosecuted on the federal level if it involves government documents or agencies. Things like forging immigration documents, FBI badges, or military credentials are likely to be a federal forgery.
Being charged with a federal crime instead of a state crime is mostly a matter of jurisdiction. You may go to different courthouses or prisons when you are facing federal charges. Furthermore, federal convictions typically have more severe consequences. New Jersey’s maximum sentence for forgery is five years in prison while a federal forgery conviction can result in a sentence of up to 10 years.
Ultimately, forgery is a very complex criminal charge. Depending on a person’s unique situation, there may be all sorts of defenses available. When you need a Morristown criminal defense lawyer for forgery, Gregg Wisotsky is here to help. With offices throughout New Jersey, we assist people with defending themselves from all sorts of criminal charges. Schedule a consultation today by dialing (973) 898-0161 or filling out our online contact form.