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Forgery is the process of making, adapting, or imitating objects, statistics, or documents with the intent to deceive.  Fraud is the crime of deceiving another, through the use of objects obtained through forgery.  However, copies, studio replicas, and reproductions are not considered forgeries.  They may later become forgeries through knowing and willful misrepresentations.  In the case of forging money or currency, it is often called counterfeiting.  It is called a false document when the object forged is a record or document.  Forgery is one of the techniques of fraud, including identity theft.  A forgery is essentially concerned with a produced or altered object.

Generally, forgery is defined as the fraudulent making or alteration of a writing to the prejudice of another’s rights, or as the false making or material alteration, with an intent to defraud, of any genuine writing which might apparently be of legal efficacy, or the base of a legal liability.  Forgery includes the alteration of, or addition to any instrument with an intent to defraud[i].

The legal definitions of forgery emphasize the “false making or material altering” of a writing, as well as the fact that a writing is “falsely made, imitated, or forged[ii].”  There are several variations on the definitions of forgery.  However, the varied definitions do not alter or add materially to a general description of the offense[iii].  Forgery has been defined as the false making or material alteration of, or addition to, a written instrument for the purpose of deceit and fraud, such that it purports to be the writing of another person[iv]. Moreover, forgery consists of the false making or alteration of a document without authority, or the uttering or making use of such a document with intent to defraud[v].  However, the essence of forgery lies in the lack of genuineness in its execution, not in any false representation of authority.  The offense is committed even if the person ostensibly making the instrument is fictitious[vi].  The false instrument or alteration made with fraudulent intent must be capable of effecting a fraud[vii].

The offense of forgery is defined by state and federal statutes which do not repeal the common law.  These statutes:

  • codify existing case law,
  • extend the offense to include crimes not within the scope of the common law definition, or
  • increase the severity of the punishment that may be inflicted upon a conviction for forgery[viii].

The more common forms of forgery are easily defined and classified.  The generic definition of forgery cannot be comprehensive enough to include all the crimes that may be committed.  Therefore, legislatures frame forgery statutes broadly to include acts that are criminal in their tendency and effect, even though not within the earlier definitions of the offense[ix].

The Federal Criminal Code makes counterfeiting and forgery and certain related activities federal offenses.  However, these federal statutes do not preempt the use of state law to convict a defendant for forging federal income tax documents[x].  Some forgery statutes divide forgery into degrees.  Thus, these statutes provide different punishments in proportion to the seriousness of the act by which the crime is committed[xi].

[i] Kiekhoefer v. U.S. Nat. Bank of Los Angeles, 2 Cal. 2d 98, 39 P.2d 807, 96 A.L.R. 1244 (1934).

[ii] State Bank of Poplar Bluff v. Maryland Cas. Co., 289 F.2d 544 (8th Cir. 1961).

[iii] Union Tool Co. v. Farmers’ & Merchants’ Nat. Bank of Los Angeles, 192 Cal. 40, 218 P. 424, 28 A.L.R. 1417 (1923).

[iv] People v. Wesley, 238 A.D.2d 939, 661 N.Y.S.2d 148 (4th Dep’t 1997).

[v] Pasadena Inv. Co. v. Peerless Cas. Co., 132 Cal. App. 2d 328, 282 P.2d 124, 52 A.L.R.2d 203 (2d Dist. 1955).

[vi] U. S. v. Wilson, 441 F.2d 655 (2d Cir. 1971);  McClendon v. State, 290 So. 2d 77 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2d Dist. 1974).

[vii] Com. v. Fisher, 452 Pa. Super. 564, 682 A.2d 811 (1996); Dixon v. Williams, 584 P.2d 1078 (Wyo. 1978).

[viii] People v. Kelley, 129 Ill. App. 3d 920, 85 Ill. Dec. 204, 473 N.E.2d 572 (3d Dist. 1985).

[ix] People v. Kubanek, 370 Ill. 646, 19 N.E.2d 573 (1939); People v. Abeel, 182 N.Y. 415, 75 N.E. 307 (1905).

[x] State v. Radzvilowicz, 47 Conn. App. 1, 703 A.2d 767 (1997).

[xi] People v. Rubanowitz, 688 P.2d 231 (Colo. 1984);State v. Ward, 1 Neb. App. 558, 510 N.W.2d 320 (1993).

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