forgery (crime) | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Criminal Law

In criminal law, forgery refers to the act of creating, altering, or using a false document with the intent to defraud, deceive, or mislead another person or entity.

Let’s dive deeper into understanding forgery. In criminal law, this offense involves various actions. For example, making a completely new document that isn’t genuine or real. Imagine creating a fake college degree to show off to friends or to get a job. That’s forgery.

Or, think about when you put another person’s signature on a document without their knowledge or permission. If you’ve ever signed a parent’s name on a permission slip for a school field trip, even though it seems harmless, that’s also considered forgery.

Another example is if you change a real document. Say you have an authentic bank statement. If you alter the numbers on it to make it seem like you have more money, that’s forgery too.

Lastly, forgery can include using a real document that contains false information. If you use a passport with your picture but with a different name and date of birth, you’re involved in forgery.

Common Forms of Forgery

The exact meaning of forgery can be different depending on where you live or who’s judging the case. Here are some widespread forms of forgery that you should be aware of.

One is creating a false document or signature, just like the examples we discussed earlier. Another is altering a real document. If you possess a forged document knowingly, it counts as forgery too.

Presenting a forged document as if it’s real, known as ‘uttering,’ is also a forgery. You might think using a false seal, or symbol is not a big deal. But, it’s regarded as a forgery if it deceives someone.

Lastly, using a false name or other identifying information like a fake social security number is considered forgery. It’s essential to understand these various forms so that you can avoid them.

Consequences of Forgery

Forgery isn’t something to take lightly. It’s seen as a serious crime. If someone is found guilty of forgery, they might have to face harsh punishments.

These punishments can include time in jail, having to pay hefty fines, and providing compensation to the person or organization they defrauded. The punishment depends on where the crime took place and how severe it was.

Forgery can either be a state crime or a federal crime. It also falls under different categories like fraud and counterfeiting. It’s important to remember that these are not just fancy legal terms. They can bring real consequences that impact someone’s life for many years.

The Model Penal Code Elements

The Model Penal Code (MPC) is a legal framework that provides a detailed guide for states to use in structuring their own laws. It is not a law itself, but it helps make laws uniform across different states. When it comes to forgery, the MPC has specific guidelines.

Under the MPC, forgery is defined in Section 224.1. According to this section, a person is guilty of forgery if, with the purpose to defraud or injure anyone or with knowledge that he is facilitating a fraud or injury to be perpetrated by anyone, he:

      1. Alters any writing of another without his authority;
      2. Makes, completes, executes, authenticates, issues, or transfers any writing so that it purports to be the act of another who did not authorize that act or to have been executed at a time or place or in a numbered sequence other than was in fact the case, or to be a copy of an original when no such original existed; or
      3. Utters any writing that he knows to be forged in a manner specified (as specified above).

The MPC uses the term ‘writing’ in a broad sense. It includes any method of recording information, money, coins, tokens, stamps, seals, credit cards, badges, trademarks, and other symbols of value or identification.

The forgery offense, as per the MPC, doesn’t just cover the act of creating forged documents. It also covers possessing, transferring, or using such documents with the intent to deceive or cause harm.

An important part of this offense is intent. A person must have the intent to defraud or injure someone or knowledge that they are facilitating such fraud or injury. If a person unknowingly has a forged document, that does not constitute forgery under the MPC.

Penalties for forgery vary based on the specific details of the crime. They can range from fines to imprisonment, depending on the degree of harm done and the type of document forged. Hence, forgery is a serious crime under the MPC, and understanding it can help in avoiding legal pitfalls.

In summary, forgery is a crime that involves making, changing, or using a fake document to trick or cheat someone. It comes in various forms and can lead to serious punishments.

[ Glossary ]

Last Modified: 05/20/2023

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