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David Olshansky

Forgery

Forgery is a type of white collar, non-violent crime. It usually involves deceiving another person to gain monetary benefit of some sort. However, the benefit may not always be monetary.

Common example of forgery are presenting fake checks, fraudulent impersonation of another person or creating fake documents for property. Given the advancements in digital authentication process, a new form of forgery involves creating duplicate or forged digital signature.

The main elements of forgery are creating a fake document and using it to gain an unfair or illegal advantage.

Simply lying to another person does not constitute forgery. However, misrepresenting someone with authority, such as creating a fake degree from a University, would be charged as forgery.

State Legislation

Forgery laws are covered under 720 ILCS 5/17. The law states that a person commits forgery when he or she knowingly does one of the following with the intent to defraud another person.

  • Makes a false statement.

  • Makes a false document or alters a false document to make it appear true and capable of defrauding another person.

  • Presents or issues such false document with full knowledge that it has been altered.

  • Keeps possession of such document with intent to issue or deliver it for fraudulent purpose.

  • Unlawfully uses the digital signature of another person.

  • Unlawfully uses the signature device of another person to create an electronic signature of the other person.

Punishments

Forgery is commonly charged as a Class 3 felony, which is punishable by 2 – 5 years in prison. The defendant may also receive additional fines of up to $25,000 for each offense.

In a case where the forgery only involves one Universal Price Code Label, it may be charged as a Class 4 felony which is punishable by 1 – 3 years in prison.

Forgery involving an academic degree or counterfeit money may be charged as a Class A misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to 1 year in prison and a fine of $2,500.

Considerations

A conviction for forgery creates a permanent criminal record against the person’s name. Even a minor forgery, such as trying to pass a fake dollar bill can be charged as a Class A misdemeanor.

Many forgery cases involve counterfeit money or forged checks. These fake notes appear completely real and it would be unreasonable to expect that ordinary people would be able to tell the difference between a fake dollar bill and a real one unless they regularly deal with cash.

The courts take this into consideration in cases where counterfeit money is involved. A person charged with trying to deposit or cash out money through a forged document is allowed some protection by the court. It would not be reasonable to suspect every check or dollar bill that you receive.

The same is true of cases where forged legal documents are involved. A person who does not regularly deal in property titles would not be able to tell the difference between a real title report and a fake one. It would be unreasonable for the judge to punish someone for trying to pass on the document to a third party.

Examples and Court Cases

Most cases of forgery involve monetary fraud of some sort. However, the law is quite broad and covers any attempts at deception.

Take the case of Pharmacy Tech Sabrina Hamed of Oak Lawn Illinois. She created a fake prescription for Adderall and presented it at a pharmacy store to purchase the drugs. The pharmacist became suspicious as the name and signature of the doctor was correct but the color of the paper didn’t match.

The pharmacist contacted the doctor’s office. They denied having issued the prescription. The pharmacist got in touch with the police who arrested Sabrina. Background check revealed that she had no prior criminal record.

The attempted transaction was caught of video surveillance camera which can be used as evidence by the prosecution. The young girl of 20 is a pre-med student and could be charged with a Class A misdemeanor at the bare minimum, which carries a maximum prison term of one year.

In a separate case, Jennifer Cleveland of Sycamore IL was charged with forgery, misconduct and failure to perform her duties as a local assessment officer. She worked as a township assessor in Kingstown.

According to the charges, she tried to get the value of her son’s newly purchased property lowered. The prosecution believes that she was trying to get the value reduced to lower the total value of taxes on the property.

Police claim that Cleveland signed the former property owner’s name on the documents which were filed with the assessor’s office between September 21st and October 23rd.

Police also claim that a lengthy statement on one of her social media accounts includes an admission that she had lowered the value of her son’s property.

Cleveland has pleaded not guilty to the charges. The case continues.

Possible Legal Defenses

The accused has a number of defenses available against charges of fraud and forgery.

The most common defense is to argue from a lack of intent or knowledge about the forgery. The law specifically requires both these elements to be present for conviction. The burden lies on the prosecution to prove that the defendant was:

  1. Aware of the forgery or had reasonable grounds to know about the fake nature of the document in question.

  2. Had the intention to deceive another for personal gain.

Take the case of Sabrina Hamed noted in the example from above. The defense may be able to argue that the accused was not aware about the forged nature of the prescription. Whether this defense would hold in court is dependent on the circumstances of the case and whether the defendant has made an admission of knowledge and guilt.

An accused person may also be able to use the defense of duress. This applies in a situation where the defendant was coerced or otherwise threatened bodily harm to commit the delivery of forged documents. The legal defense team would need to build a compelling case and provide enough evidence that can reasonably convince the judge and jury that the defendant was coerced.

Finally a defendant may be able to argue with a mistake of fact defense.

Consider a case where a person Alpha buys a property from another person Brave to sell it to Charlie later. Alpha makes the deposit in Brave’s account and receives the title to the property.

After some time, Alpha receives funds from Charlie and sells the property to him. While reviewing the title documents, Charlie discovers that Bravo had never signed the documents and the property is still in Bravo’s name. Charlie takes Alpha to court on a charge of forgery and deception.

Alpha can use the mistake of fact defense to show that the documents were delivered with the omission in good faith and there was no intent to defraud.