The crime of forgery is typically associated with signing someone else’s name to a legal document such as a check or credit card transaction without that person’s permission. It also includes other conduct that constitutes the offense:
- Signing someone else’s name, or altering or presenting as real or genuine a falsified document pertaining to property or money
- With the intent to commit a fraud and deprive a person or entity of money, property or other legal right
Examples include falsifying a will, stealing a doctor’s prescription pad and forging the doctor’s signature on it to obtain drugs, or endorsing a check with someone else’s signature without their knowledge.
A legal document can include a power of attorney, notarized document, securities or stock document, will, deed, check, sales agreement, correspondence, contract, court record or any financial document. It must have some legal significance or you are not committing forgery or a fraud.
The legal document must also be one that can be used to commit a fraud such as any legal, financial or document that can transfer property rights or funds illegally.
Falsifying a notary stamp or seal and attempting to pass of the document as genuine and which is intended to transfer title to property or to obtain money by fraudulent means.
Other documents found in California Penal Code 470(d) that are considered legal documents to constitute a forgery offense include:
- Money orders
- Traveler’s checks
- Lottery ticket
The code section includes other types of documents.
Altering or Falsifying a a Legal Document
Forgery may also include altering or falsifying a legal document that may either transfer funds or property or be used to convict or free someone. For example, if you falsify or alter material evidence that is used at trial to convict an innocent person, to set someone free, or to convince a jury of liability or some degree of damages, you have committed fraud on the state of California or on the innocent victim.
Forgery is also altering a document such as correspondence or email by using someone else’s name and representing yourself as that person or recreating their signature to obtain some financial benefit. This can be done on false wills, deeds or other court documents.
Uttering a False Document
Uttering is a term of art meaning to publish a fake or altered document such as a contract, check, promissory note or other document contained in California PC 470(d). To publish the document is to try to pass off the document as real or genuine to obtain funds, property or a legal right by fraudulent means.
There are a number of other offense similar to forgery for which other criminal charges may be brought:
- Credit card fraud
- Check fraud
- Health care fraud
In any of these offenses, the offender has either signed someone else’s name or falsified a document to gain funds or property.
Degrees of Forgery
Forgery can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony depending on the severity of the fraud and if the offender has a prior criminal record.
If the forgery is relatively minor such as a small check or other transaction, you may only face misdemeanor penalties, which includes up to one year in county jail, a fine up to $1,000, probation and restitution to the victim.
A felony, which would be charged if you falsified a property deed or lottery ticket worth millions, could subject you to 16 months, 2 years or 3 years in state prison. Fines may be imposed for up to $10,000.
Defenses to Forgery
Defenses to a charge of forgery may well depend on the document and other factors:
Lack of intent
Spouses routinely sign documents using their spouse’s name with the intent to use the money for family purposes. You may also have mistakenly thought you had the authority to sign someone else’s name.
It was not a legal document
If you falsified a letter but had no intent to use it to acquire property, funds or a legal right, then no crime of forgery has been committed. An example is a false recommendation or review of a movie.
Under federal immigration law, if you are an alien or permanent resident and you commit a crime of moral turpitude including forgery, you may have serious immigration consequences. In some cases, you could face potential deportation and not be eligible for cancellation of removal relief.
Call the Law Offices of Ramiro J. Lluis
Facing a charge of forgery or a related offense can result in serious prison time and have long range or permanent adverse consequences on your life. If you have been charged with forgery, call the Law Offices of Ramiro J. Lluis today for a free, confidential initial consultation at (213) 687-4412.