Forgery is a serious white collar crime in Virginia and should not be taken lightly. The state defines it as creating a false document or altering an existing item with the intent to injure or defraud another. This is a felony level offense regardless of the amount and if convicted can not only result in needing to reimburse the parties affected and a permanent criminal record, but also substantial fines and years of imprisonment.
People can find themselves charged with forgery in a number of ways, but with accusations often stemming from making fraudulent checks, altering a genuine one, changing a will, or signing another person’s name on a traffic ticket, the accused can face a tough road. This makes it essential to find a capable and experienced Roanoke forgery attorney to fight for your interests and find the best resolution possible.
Forgery Law and Common Offenses
Forgery itself is fairly a simple concept and according to Virginia law, it is a Class 5 felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $2,500 fine. Legally, a forgery crime has two very important and distinct elements, including:
- The “act” or the making the fraudulent item
- The “intent” to defraud or injure
The possession of the forged document can be considered evidence that the person in question created it and attempting to gain value from the fraudulent or altered item is evidence of the person’s intent to defraud. The prosecution will need to prove both elements beyond a reasonable doubt for a conviction under Virginia law; however, it is important to note that it is not a requirement that another person or entity be injured or defrauded for someone to face charges.
Forgery and Uttering
A common charge that accompanies forgery is called “uttering,” which is detailed under the forgery statute (Virginia Code §18.2-172), but is actually a separate criminal charge altogether that deals with the assertion by word or action that an item known to be forged is good and valid. Essentially, it is not only a crime to forge a document but also to use the same forged item. For example, if someone is arrested for trying to use a forged check at the grocery store that they also created, law enforcement may charge the person with two separate crimes under the same law.
This separation can also create situations where an individual is only charged with one offense and not the other. If someone forges a document and another person attempts to use it, the one who created or altered the item can be charged with forgery and the person who tried to pass off the document as valid can be charged with uttering.
This may seem overly complicated, but it is very important to remember that because they are separate offenses, and since forgery and uttering can result in the same punishment as Class 5 felonies with up to 10 years in prison, if a person is convicted of both, they can receive a 20-year sentence.
Forgery of a Public Document
Under Code §18.2-168, the Commonwealth of Virginia also makes it a crime to forge or alter a public record, certificate, return, or attestation, of a public officer or employee. This is often seen in situations where the particular document can be seen as legal proof or an official acknowledgment, but an attempt is made to pass off a forged or altered version as valid. For example, if someone is stopped for a traffic violation and signs the citation with another person’s name and contact information to avoid the repercussions, that individual could also face forgery of a public document charge. This offense is a Class 4 felony and can be punished by between two and 10 years in prison and a fine up to $100,000.
Other Common Virgina Forgery Offenses:
- Forgery by False Pretenses – Obtaining the signature of a person with an intent to defraud. This can be a falsely made document or an altered one. Forgery by false pretenses is a Class 5 felony, punished by up to 10 years in prison and a fine up to $2,500.
- Forgery of Public Seal – This involves forging or possessing an instrument to alter an official seal to present the fraudulent version as valid. This is a Class 4 Felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $100,000 fine.
- Counterfeiting – This offense is creating false coins, bills, or notes with the intent to defraud. Virginia treats this offense as a Class 4 felony and if convicted, an offender can spend up to 10 years behind bars and need to pay up to a $100,000 fine.
- Uttering and Possessing Counterfeit Money – As stated above, uttering counterfeit money is the attempted usage of funds known to be fake, which remains a felony, but knowingly having fraudulent money in your possession is also a crime in Virginia. Possession of counterfeit money can be a misdemeanor with a $500 fine or a Class 6 felony requiring up to five years in prison, depending on how many fraudulent pieces of currency are found in your possession.
Forgery is a Crime of Moral Turpitude
Like fraud, theft, and burglary, forgery is a crime of moral turpitude, which basically means the crime contains conduct that is considered contrary to the community’s standards of justice, honesty, or good morals. These offenses often result in lasting collateral consequences far beyond monetary fines and time behind bars.
Even if your forgery charge does not result in jail time, a conviction for a crime of moral turpitude will serious limit your opportunities due to their inherently dishonest undertones. A career in almost any financial field will be all but impossible with a forgery conviction on your record and you may even face deportation if you are pursuing official immigration status.
Defending Against Forgery Charges
Forgery charges are often the result of simple misunderstandings where a person may have thought they had permission to sign another’s name or they were unaware someone gave them a fraudulent check. While these accusations may be embarrassing and difficult to deal with, a conviction is not an inevitable conclusion. The prosecution in your case actually has a lot to prove and with the help of an experienced Roanoke forgery attorney, you can build an effective defense strategy to combat the charges against you.
Some defenses to forgery include:
- You lacked the capacity or knowledge required to defraud.
- You lacked the intent to deceive or defraud another.
- The writing of the document was done with permission.
- The document in question is actually not a forgery and by employing experts in areas such as handwriting analysis, the item can be verified as authentic.
A Roanoke Forgery Lawyer Can Help
Being charged with forgery in Virginia can send your life spiraling out of control. At Copenhaver, Ellett & Derrico, we are prepared to scrutinize every detail of your case and fight for you in court, if necessary. Our experienced and highly skilled criminal defense lawyers know how the prosecution approaches forgery cases and what it takes to regain control.