Forgery is a serious offense, punishable as a felony in all fifty states and by the federal government. Forgery involves the making, altering, use, or possession of a false writing in order to commit a fraud. It can occur in many forms, from signing another person’s name on a check to falsifying one’s own academic transcript. When the subject of forgery is currency, it is also called counterfeiting.

Traditionally, the crime of forgery consisted only of making or altering a false writing. Possessing, using, or offering a false writing with the intent to defraud was a separate offense, known as “uttering a forged instrument.” For example, if someone used a false identification card in order to obtain a line of credit, he would be guilty of uttering a forged instrument, even if he did not actually make the false ID card. Today, most states treat both offenses as the single crime of forgery.

What is Forgery?

To be convicted of forgery, the following elements must be proved:

  1. Making, altering, using, or possessing: When they think of forgery, many people think only of making false writings, such as forging letters or certificates, but altering an existing writing may also be forgery if the alteration is “material,” or affects a legal right. Deleting, adding, or changing significant portions of documents may also be “material” alterations. Additionally, as discussed above, using or possessing false writings also constitutes forgery, although in some jurisdictions this is known as “uttering a forged instrument.”
  2. A false writing: Not all writings meet the definition of forgery. To serve as the basis for forgery charges, the writing in question must have both legal significance and be false, as discussed below.
  3. The writing must have apparent legal significance: In order to be punishable as forgery, the writing in question must have apparent legal significance. This includes government-issued documents such as drivers’ licenses and passports; transactional documents such as deeds, conveyances, and receipts; financial instruments such as currencies, checks, or stock certificates; and other documents such as wills, patents, medical prescriptions, and works of art. To have legal significance, a document must simply affect legal rights and obligations. For this reason, documents such as letters of recommendation or notes from physicians may also be the subjects of forgery.
  4. The writing must be false: To be considered false, the writing itself must be fabricated or materially altered so that it purports to be or represent something that it is actually not. Generally, simply inserting false statements into a writing is not enough to meet this requirement, if those misrepresentations do not change the fundamental meaning of the writing itself. For example, if you insert a false statement into a letter you wrote, you have not committed forgery. However, it is forgery if you write a letter of legal significance, but present it as a letter written by someone else.
  5. With the intent to defraud: In order to be guilty of forgery, the defendant must have intended to defraud someone or some entity, such as a government agency (though the fraud need not have been completed). This element prevents people who possess or sign fraudulent documents, without knowing that the documents are false, from being subject to criminal liability. For instance, if you purchase a used car, but later find out that the title to the car was forged by the seller, you would not be subject to forgery charges for the possession of the forged title because you had no intent to defraud.

Contact Brian Zeiger

When you need a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania attorney to defend you when arrested and charged with a with a white-collar crime, contact Brian Zeiger. It is critical to have an experienced attorney advocating on your behalf. Brian Zeiger is an experienced criminal defense attorney who will vigorously defend your rights.

An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you determine whether you have any grounds for dismissal of the charges, explore plea options, or represent you at trial. Only someone familiar with the criminal court system and cases like yours will know how good your chances are for a favorable outcome. A knowledgeable attorney will take all of this into consideration, assist you in making decisions about your case, and protect your rights.

Contact The Zeiger Firm today at (215) 546-0340 for a consultation, and let us help you.


Brian J. Zeiger, Esquire, is an experienced and successful criminal defense and civil rights attorney. He is a seasoned trial lawyer with significant experience before juries and judges. Brian understands civil rights cases, including Taser, Wrongful Death, Excessive Force, Police Brutality, Police Misconduct, Malicious Prosecution, Monell Claims, Sexual Assault, Prisoner’s Rights, Time Credit, Medical Malpractice, and Medical Indifference.