Philadelphia-Forgery-Lawyer.jpg
Fiverr___Zaktgoldsteing.jpg

Philadelphia Forgery Lawyer | Defenses to Forgery Charges

If you are facing criminal charges for Forgery or other theft-related charges, our Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers can help. We have successfully defended thousands of clients in jurisdictions throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. We offer a free 15-minute criminal defense strategy session to any potential client who is under investigation or who has been charged with a crime. Call 267-225-2545 to speak with an experienced and understanding defense attorney today. 

In Pennsylvania court, Forgery charges are most commonly seen in cases in which the defendant is alleged to have used forged items like fake checks, money, gift cards, and credit cards. Forgery can range in gradation from a misdemeanor of the first degree to a felony in the second degree depending on the forged items involved. Given that the charge may be a felony in Pennsylvania, it is a charge which must be taken seriously as it could easily lead to jail time and the loss of employment. Fortunately, our Philadelphia criminal lawyers are well versed in the defenses to forgery and can help you fight these serious charges. 

What is Forgery in PA? 

The actual language in the statute is very technical and can be confusing. In general, the law prohibits the use of fake or altered documents such as checks and money for the benefit of the defendant. The statute defines it as follows:

(a)  Offense defined.--A person is guilty of forgery if, with intent to defraud or injure anyone, or with knowledge that he is facilitating a fraud or injury to be perpetrated by anyone, the actor:

(1)  alters any writing of another without his authority;

(2)  makes, completes, executes, authenticates, issues or transfers any writing so that it purports to be the act of another who did not authorize that act, or to have been executed at a time or place or in a numbered sequence other than was in fact the case, or to be a copy of an original when no such original existed; or

(3)  utters any writing which he knows to be forged in a manner specified in paragraphs (1) or (2) of this subsection.

In plain English, the statute essentially prohibits altering documents without permission and using altered documents such as money, checks, or credit cards in order to obtain some benefit. The statute does not criminalize merely possessing a forged document. Instead, it provides criminal liability when

  • the defendant actually altered the writing and attempts to use it, or
  • the defendant knows it has been altered and attempts to use it without permission, and
  • the defendant has the intent to defraud or injure.

Accordingly, someone who knowingly uses fake money to buy something could be prosecuted by the Commonwealth. Likewise, the person who actually created the fake money could be prosecuted by the Commonwealth if they knew that it was going to be used for illegal purposes. But merely possessing fake money without using it to harm or defraud someone is not a crime. It is also not a crime if you pass fake money or a fake check without knowing that it was fake because of the statute's knowledge and intent requirements. 

Gradation Of Forgery Charges - Is Forgery A Misdemeanor Or A Felony? 

Forgery always involves some type of writing, and the gradation of the charge depends on the type of writing involved. It is a felony of the second degree when "the writing is or purports to be part of an issue of money, securities, postage or revenue stamps, or other instruments issued by the government, or part of an issue of stock, bonds or other instruments representing interests in or claims against any property or enterprise." In other words, the charges are most serious when the forged document is something which purports to have been issued by the government.

It will be likely be charged as a felony of the third degree "if the writing is or purports to be a will, deed, contract, release, commercial instrument, or other document evidencing, creating, transferring, altering, terminating, or otherwise affecting legal relations." A common third degree felony would be the forgery of a check because a check is not a government document. 

The use of any other types of forged writings or documents should be graded as a misdemeanor of the first degree. 

Defenses To Forgery Charges In Pennsylvania

Given the nature and value of the writing involved, forgery charges can become very serious. However, our experienced criminal defense attorneys have successfully defended countless criminal cases and have the experience to recognize the defenses that could apply in your case. Many of the most common successful defenses are illustrated by the case of Commonwealth v. Gibson,  416 A.2d 543 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1979). Gibson stands for the proposition that the prosecution may not convict a defendant of forgery by showing only that the defendant possessed or attempted to use a stolen check. Instead, the prosecution must also show that the defendant was either the one who signed or altered the check without permission or that the defendant knew that the check had been signed or altered without permission. 

 Zak T. Goldstein, Esq. - Philadelphia Criminal Lawyer

Zak T. Goldstein, Esq. - Philadelphia Criminal Lawyer

In the Gibson case, the defendant entered a bank branch and attempted to cash a check for $150 which was made out to "cash." The check was already signed and endorsed in the name Elsworth Kutz. When the teller requested that the defendant provide some identification, the defendant told the teller that he had left his ID at home. He then spoke with a branch supervisor, who refused to cash the check. The defendant left, and he was ultimately arrested and charged with forgery after Elsworth Kutz testified that he had never written the check for $150 and that he had checked his checkbook and found that some of his checks were missing. The Commonwealth did not introduce the check at trial, so it was not possible to determine whether there was something obviously fake about the check such that the defendant should have known it was forged. 

Although a jury convicted Mr. Gibson, the Pennsylvania Superior Court reversed his conviction on appeal. The Superior Court noted that "Kutz's testimony that he had not written the check and that some of his checks were missing[did] not prove that appellant signed the check or that he knew it was forged." Instead, the "evidence just as easily supports an inference that appellant found the check or received it from someone else."

There was also no other evidence of guilt. There was no link between Kurtz and the defendant which suggested that the defendant could have stolen the check, the defendant did not tell anyone that he was in fact Kurtz, and the defendant also did not do anything suspicious when he was in the bank. He did not leave the bank when asked for identification or try to run away when confronted by the branch manager. Therefore, "Appellant's possession of the check, in itself, [did] not justify a conclusion that he forged the check or knew that it was forged."

Gibson illustrates a number of potential defenses to these types of charges. As the case explains, it is not enough for the Commonwealth to show only that the defendant possessed or attempted to cash or deposit a forged or stolen check. Instead, the prosecution must show something more - that the defendant knew the check was forged or that the defendant was the person responsible. This is often extremely difficult for the Commonwealth to prove, and we are frequently able to defend cases on this basis. There are also other technical defenses which may apply depending on the case. 

Is Forgery a Federal Crime?

Yes, in addition to being prosecuted by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania or the State of New Jersey, you could also face prosecution in federal court. Federal charges tend to be much more serious than state charges because federal convictions can result in significant jail time under the federal sentencing guidelines. In general, state prosecutors are more likely to bring the charges when dealing with smaller amounts of money and less sophisticated scehemes. Federal authorities are more likely to bring forgery charges and related charges like bank fraud or wire fraud when the crime involves a larger amount of money, a large number of people, or transactions that take place across multiple jurisdictions. Our attorneys have represented clients in both state and federal court for a wide variety of offenses. 

Is It a Crime to Sign a Check or Credit Card Slip on Behalf of Someone Else with Permission?

Signing a credit card slip or check on behalf of someone else is generally not a good idea. Even if the person gives you permission to do so, that person could later claim that they did not provide permission and file a police report. If the police and/or prosecutors believe the person, then you could be charged with serious felonies even though you actually had permission. There could also be criminal liability if the check bounces or there is later some kind of dispute relating to the credit card transasction. In general, at the state level, Forgery requires a lack of permission and an intent to defraud, so it is unlikely to result in any kind of criminal prosecution if you have permission to sign on behalf of someone else. However, there is always some risk involved and it is generally not advisable. 

We Can Help With Forgery Charges

The Philadelphia criminal lawyers of Goldstein Mehta LLC have defended clients in countless forgery cases at preliminary hearings, pre-trial motions, and trial. We have had success in handling these types of cases and have obtained successful outcomes for many clients. We recognize the issues in these cases and know how to investigate and defend against these charges. If you or a loved one are facing criminal charges in Philadelphia or the surrounding counties, call 267-225-2545 today for a complimentary criminal defense strategy session with one of our experienced and understanding defense lawyers.


Contact a Philadelphia Criminal Defense Attorney Today

Name *
Name
Phone
Phone

The Definition of Forgery under Pennsylvania Law

18 Pa.C.S. § 4101. 

(a)  Offense defined.--A person is guilty of forgery if, with intent to defraud or injure anyone, or with knowledge that he is facilitating a fraud or injury to be perpetrated by anyone, the actor:

(1)  alters any writing of another without his authority;

(2)  makes, completes, executes, authenticates, issues or transfers any writing so that it purports to be the act of another who did not authorize that act, or to have been executed at a time or place or in a numbered sequence other than was in fact the case, or to be a copy of an original when no such original existed; or

(3)  utters any writing which he knows to be forged in a manner specified in paragraphs (1) or (2) of this subsection.

(b)  Definition.--As used in this section the word "writing" includes printing or any other method of recording information, money, coins, tokens, stamps, seals, credit cards, badges, trademarks, electronic signatures and other symbols of value, right, privilege, or identification.

(c)  Grading.--Forgery is a felony of the second degree if the writing is or purports to be part of an issue of money, securities, postage or revenue stamps, or other instruments issued by the government, or part of an issue of stock, bonds or other instruments representing interests in or claims against any property or enterprise. Forgery is a felony of the third degree if the writing is or purports to be a will, deed, contract, release, commercial instrument, or other document evidencing, creating, transferring, altering, terminating, or otherwise affecting legal relations. Otherwise forgery is a misdemeanor of the first degree.