Most people are familiar with forged school notes and parent signatures. A forgery, as defined by Arizona law, is committed by a person creating a false “written instrument” or falsely altering such an instrument in the attempt to defraud another person. Even the knowing possession of such a document is considered forgery and can be treated as such. In general terms, a written instrument is defined as any written document or similar symbol of value or identification. A stamp, an image of value, or a signature are all considered written documents.
While forgery is most commonly thought of as faking another person’s signature to write a check, sign a legal document, or use a credit card, it encapsulates far more than that. Using a fake coupon or cashing a fake check, even if you were not the creator of the written instrument, is also considered forgery. The penalties for forgery vary, depending on the circumstances of the crime.
Possession of forgery tools is also considered a crime. These tools might include a physical object, such as a government or state seal gotten by illegal means or used with criminal intent. They can also be intangible tools; computer software, for example. Some programs are created with the express intent of making it easier for people to forge official documents, and possession of one of these programs is illegal.
In Phoenix, Forgery is a class 4 felony, a crime punishable by jail time, probation, and a fine. The standard jail time for a class 4 felony is a two and a half year prison term, which can be raised or lowered depending on the circumstances of the crime. The maximum prison term for forgery is three years and nine months, with a maximum fine of $150,000 and a maximum probation sentence of three years.
If forged documents are used to purchase or rent property used in illegal operations such as smuggling, the crime is much more serious. Such forgeries are considered class 3 felonies, carrying a higher standard prison sentence and a much higher maximum sentence. Three and a half years is the typical sentence for a class 3 felony, and the maximum sentence can be over eight years.
The punishment for possessing counterfeiting tools is less severe than for committing forgery, but it is still classified as a felony. Depending on the items and evidence they were intended for criminal use, possession of forgery tools is a class 5 or class 6 felony. The possible prison time for these charges is between six months and two and half years. Fines can be anywhere from $2,500 to $150,000 for a class 5 felony, though simple possession of forgery tools is unlikely to result in the maximum fine.
Forgery, like any crime of fraud, check fraud, or identity theft, can have severe repercussions, not only for the perpetrator, but for the victim as well. Victims of identity theft are often unable to make large purchases, take out credit, or even get a good job if a criminal record or poor credit history has been incurred under their name, and it can be difficult and time consuming to reverse and remove the charges.
Perpetrators of identity theft and forgery will be followed by their crimes as well, with federal and state attention being drawn to forgers and their crimes. If you are accused in a forgery case, you will need a criminal defense attorney. The Stewart Law Group has experience in forgery cases, and we will do everything in our power to help you navigate this difficult time. Call us today for more information.