Review of Federal Forgery Charges and Best Defenses
Forgery is generally described as creating a fake document, modifying an existing one, or the signing of a document without proper authorization. Some common objects that are the target of a forgery include contracts, checks, deeds for property, identification cards, and even money.
The federal crime of 18 U.S.C. § 471 forgery can be defined as the making, altering, using, or possession of a false document or material with the specific intent of committing fraud.
This statute also lays out penalties for anyone who, with intent to commit fraud, fraudulently makes, forges, counterfeits, or alters any security of the United States.
Further, 18 U.S.C. § 472 and 473 provide similar punishments for anyone who utters or deals in forged obligations. A conviction under this federal statute includes up to 20 years in a federal prison and huge fines.
It should be noted that when it comes to 18 U.S.C. § 471 forgery cases, the federal government won't normally get involved unless there is an organized sophistication and there are large dollar amounts.
For more information, our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers are reviewing the federal law below.
What is Forgery Under Federal Law?
Title 18, Section 471 of the United States Code defines this federal crime as:
- “Anyone, with intent to defraud, who falsely makes, forges, counterfeits, or alters any obligation or other security of the United States is guilty of a federal offense.”
Put simply, forgery is the production, copying, or imitation of documents or objects with the intention of deceit.
Accordingly, criminal charges of forgery can result where an individual forges documents, signatures, and even artwork if that individual specifically intends to defraud or otherwise financially gain by dishonest means.
Forgery is clearly illegal in every state and can thus is mostly charged under state penal code systems. Certain acts of forgery, however, violate federal laws and will result in prosecution in a federal court.
Forgery is a white collar crime
Forgery is a non-violent offense classified as a white collar crime, which are normally committed for financial gain, and although victims aren't physically injured during the commission of the crime, the consequences from offenses like forgery can still be severe.
Those convicted of federal forgery crimes may be required to pay hefty fines or serve lengthy federal prison sentences, or both. Additionally, restitution will be required, which can result in the seizure of assets.
When Does Forgery Becomes a Federal Offense?
18 U.S.C. § 471 also prohibits the forgery of any "obligation or security" of the United States.
Whether or not the alleged act of forgery will fall under federal or state jurisdiction will often be determined by:
- who the victims are, and
- which agency conducts the investigation.
For example, a forged check written to a local grocery store will most likely be investigated by local law enforcement agencies and prosecuted under state law.
If a federal government contract or other similar paperwork is forged, however, the crime will probably fall under the purview of federal investigators.
The defrauded agency will commonly conduct the investigation, but if the alleged crime spans multiple agencies, or the actors are working within a highly sophisticated network, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) may take on the investigation.
The statute further provides that penalties for a crime under this law can include up to 20 years in federal prison in addition to fines.
Sentencing for a violation of Section 471 is at the discretion of a federal district judge, who receives guidance by both the United States Sentencing Guidelines and the equitable factors within Title 18, Section 3553(a) of the US Code.
These guidelines are merely advisory by law, but are starting point to determine federal sentencing.
The judge will compare defendant's offense conduct with their prior criminal history to obtain a presumptive sentencing range.
Under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) factors, the court weighs any equitable aggravating and mitigating circumstances about the defendant, including:
- their history and character,
- effect of incarceration on their dependents such as small children,
- any need to provide restitution, and
- avoiding unwarranted sentencing disparities between similarly charged defendants.
Federal Forgery Crime Examples
Common instruments individuals are accused of forging include federal identification cards, federal contracts, and federal securities, money.
It's important to note that federal agencies can expend great resources in conducting their investigations, and it is imperative that an individual contact a defense attorney as soon as possible.
Forged identity documents
Forging government-issued identification or other legal documentation to subsume another person's identity for financial gain or other serious crime is a violation of federal law.
Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 1028, an individual may face enhanced penalties if the forged identity is made in conjunction with other crimes such as drug trafficking or violent crime.
Forged contracts, deeds, and powers of attorney
18 U.S.C. § 495 provides a penalty of up to 10 years in federal prison in addition to fines for forging any deed, power of attorney, or contract to obtain money from the United States or its agents.
Under 18 U.S.C. § 510, any individual who forges a signature or endorsement on a Treasury check, security of the United States, or bond may face up to 10 years in prison in addition to fines.
How Can I Fight Federal Forgery Charges?
Like most other fraud crimes, a violation of 18 U.S.C. Section 471 has to involve the intent to defraud.
An intent to defraud is the intent to, by use of misrepresentations, deceives someone and thereby receives something of value the defendant knows they are not otherwise entitled to receive.
Common to all laws prohibiting forgery is examining the mindset of the accused when the act of forgery was committed.
That is to say, that to convict an individual of forgery, federal prosecutors need to prove that the individual intended to commit forgery to defraud another person or entity.
When defending against forgery charges, our criminal defense lawyers can argue you had no intention of defrauding the alleged victim.
Accordingly, an individual who didn't commit forgery knowingly or who didn't have the mental capacity to understand the nature of their actions cannot have had the requisite intent.
Other defenses include the accused having been forced to commit forgery under the act of duress, coercion, or having had committed the act in cahoots with the alleged victim.
If you've been charged with violating a federal law involving forgery and fraud, you must understand how complicated your defense can be.
Early recognition and understanding of the best defense strategies available to you for white collar crimes like forgery are crucial.
We might be able to negotiate a pre-indictment settlement with the federal prosecutor.
Most importantly, you should obtain legal counsel before you speak to any government agents regarding the crime you're accused of.
Eisner Gorin LLP is a Los Angeles based criminal defense law firm with two office locations. Contact our firm for a consultation at (877) 781-1570.