Forgery refers to faking 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.
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 cards.
- Transactional documents such as deeds, grants, and receipts.
- Financial instruments such as money, checks, and stock certificates.
- Other documents such as wills, medical prescriptions, tokens, and works of art.
'Uttering' a Forged Instrument
Common law forgery was usually limited to making, altering, or falsifying writing. Modern law includes processing, using, or offering false writing with the intent to defraud.
For example, someone who uses a falsified driver's license to fake their age and buy alcohol would be guilty of uttering a forged instrument, even though they did not make the fake license.
Common Types of Forgery
The most common types of forgery involve signatures, prescriptions, and art:
- Signature forgery is the act of falsely replicating another person's signature.
- Prescription forgery means altering an existing prescription or forging a doctor's signature or the prescription in its entirety to get medication.
- Art forgery is adding an artist's name to a work of art to make it appear as a genuine or original piece of art.
The intent to deceive or 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 it as the original, the crime of forgery has not occurred.
However, if the person attempted to sell the portrait as the original Mona Lisa, the portrait would be a forgery and the person could be charged with the crime of forgery, regardless of whether they sold the artwork.
A person who possesses a forged document has not committed a crime unless they know the document or item is forged and use it to defraud a person or entity.
For example, if a person received a forged check for payment of services rendered and was unaware that the check was forged and cashed it, then a crime wasn't committed. If they were aware that the check was forged and cashed the check, then they would be held criminally liable in most states.
The penalties for forgery differ between states. In most states, forgery is classified by degrees-first, second, and third-degree-or by class.
Often, first and second-degree forgeries are felonies, and the third degree is a misdemeanor. In all states, the degree of the crime depends on what has been forged and the intent of the forgery.
For example, in Connecticut, forgery of symbols is a crime. This includes forging or possessing tokens, public transit transfers, or any other token used instead of money to purchase items or services.
Punishment for forgery of symbols is a class A misdemeanor. This is the most serious misdemeanor and is punishable by up to a year in jail 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 a 10-year prison sentence and a fine up to $10,000.
All other forgery falls under a class B, C or D misdemeanor. The punishment can be up to six months in jail and a fine up to $1,000.
The punishment increases substantially if a prior conviction is recorded.