The Commonwealth of Virginia has strict laws on crimes of forgery. At Virginia Criminal Attorney, we can offer you legal advice and representation when charged for falsifying or altering documents with the intent to defraud a person or an entity in Virginia. With our target locations being Fairfax and Northern Virginia, we specialize in domestic violence, driving offenses, drug crimes, theft crimes, sex crimes, property crimes among other cases. Learn more about forgery cases as explained by our criminal defense attorneys below.
What is Forgery Under Virginia Laws?
The crime of forgery generally entails altering or making a false version of a legal instrument with the goal of defrauding someone else. In Virginia, you can only be charged with this offense if you used the altered legal instrument to defraud an entity or a person. Forgery, as a crime, can apply to legal instruments such as public records, money, or currency. The Virginia laws on fraud classify this crime into the following classes:
Forging writings such as public records or bank notes to the prejudice of someone else’s right is a crime punishable under Virginia Code 18.2-172. You'd be charged with this offense if you knew that the writing was forged. VA Code 18.2-172 also defines forging as the act of using any token or false pretense to get a person's signature with fraudulent intent.
Forging Public Records
VA Code 18.2-168 considers this crime as an act of forging a public record or an attestation, return, and certificate belonging to a public employee or public officer. For the prosecutors to charge you, they'll need the forged public record as legal proof. Uttering or attempting to employ a forged public document is also regarded as forging under VA Code 18.2-168.
Forging Bank Notes or Coins
Forging any note, bill or coin used in the Commonwealth of Virginia or issued by a banking company is a crime under VA Code 18.2-170. Such a crime can also transpire when you make a note, bill, or base coin for it to look like a bill or banknote of a banking institution that doesn't exist. You may face this criminal charge for uttering or attempting to employ, offer to sell, deliver, exchange, or receive on sale a false or forged bill, note, or base coin when you know that it's tampered.
Having in possession forged bank notes or coins is an offense prosecuted under Virginia Code 18.2-173. Your case will be based on the fact that you knew that the coin or banknote was forged, but you intended to employ or use it as a forged item. Prosecutors must prove that you also intended to sell, deliver or exchange the tampered legal instrument to someone else with fraudulent intent.
Making or Having in Your Possession Anything Designed to Forge Any Writing
You’ll be prosecuted pursuant to VA Code 18.2-171 when you are found guilty of this offense. Your criminal charge will entail engraving, stamping, or casting an object adapted and designed for false making or forging a document. You’ll also be criminally charged for having in your possession any block, press, plate or any material used to forge or tamper writings with the intention of using it.
Falsifying or Tampering with and Fraudulently Using Diplomas or Transcripts
Transcripts and diplomas are generated by higher institutions of learning for your educational benefits. Falsifying or altering these documents is a crime pursuant to Virginia Code 18.2-172.1. You’ll be charged with this offense for fraudulently using diplomas or transcripts for your own gain or someone else’s gain.
Maliciously Affixing Someone Else’s Signature to a Document
VA Code 18.2-172.2 considers the act of affixing a signature that resembles someone else’s signature on a document without the person’ consent as an unlawful act. You’ll only be charged under this law if your objective was to create a false impression that the person signed the writing. Falsifying signatures used in writings, in this case, is an instance of forgery.
What are the Penalties for the Crime of Forgery in Virginia?
Penalties for forgery crimes in Virginia vary with the type of forgery crime. The general act of forging or uttering forged writings is considered as a Class 5 felony under VA Code 18.2-172. If the forgery offense involves altering public records with intent to defraud, you'll face Class 4 felony charges. The keeping of forging instruments (pursuant to VA Code 18.2-169) or forging coins/banknotes (pursuant to VA Code 18.2-170) is a Class 4 felony.
Having forged banknotes or coins in your possession may subject you to facing a misdemeanor or felony charge under VA Code 18.2-173. If the number of forged coins or notes in your possession is less than ten, the offense is a Class 3 misdemeanor. You’ll only face Class 6 felony charges if the number of forged coins or notes in your possession is ten or more.
Virginia Code 18.2-171 considers the act of making or having an object designed to forge a document as a Class 4 felony. Consequently, altering and fraudulently using or falsifying diplomas or transcripts is an offense that qualifies as a Class 3 misdemeanor Pursuant to VA Code 18.2-172.1. You may face Class 1 misdemeanor charges for maliciously affixing a person's signature to a document without their permission.
Under VA Code 18.2-11, the penalties for a Class 1 misdemeanor in Virginia include a payable fine of up to $2,500 and a jail confinement sentence of up to 12 months. This law also states that the penalty for a Class 3 misdemeanor is a fine less than $500. Pursuant to VA Code 18.2-10, a Class 4 felony is punishable by an imprisonment term of two to twenty years and a fine not exceeding $100,000. A Class 5 felony may attract a jail confinement term of not more than 12 months and a fine not exceeding $2,500 or an imprisonment term of one to ten years.
What Should the Prosecutor Prove in Order to Charge You with a Crime of Forgery in Virginia?
Commonwealth’s attorney is a title given to Virginia’s elected prosecutor pursuant to VA Code 15.2-1627. The Commonwealth's attorney and their assistant must be part of the law enforcement department of the city or county in which they're serving. Prosecutors only have jurisdiction to prosecute Class 1, Class 2, and Class 3 misdemeanors and offenses whose penalties include a fine of $500 or higher or a jail confinement term. The following are some of the elements of a forgery crime the prosecutor needs to prove:
- Intent to Defraud Someone Else or an Entity
As the mental element of any crime, "intent" helps to show that you acted purposefully and voluntarily. In a forgery case, you'll be charged for purposefully wanting to defraud an individual or an entity by forging or using forged documents. Your state of mind, when you committed the crime, helps to form the basis for proving intent. Your own account of the events that took place when you committed a forgery offense may imply that you were in the right state of mind, hence, guilty of the crime.
You must have acted with a malicious afterthought to face forgery charges such as forging banknotes/coins or forging transcripts/diplomas. Malicious afterthought may take the form of gaining financial benefits, furthering your education or defrauding a person of their finances. The court verdict will be based on how the prosecutor proves that you negligently, recklessly or purposely committed a crime of forgery.
- The Actual Act of Committing Forgery
For an act to be considered unlawful, it must have occurred and must have violated a particular law. You won't be prosecuted for thinking about committing forgery in Virginia. However, you may face forgery charges if the prosecutors charge you for forging coins/banknotes and faking someone else's signature with fraudulent intent. Events on how the crime took place must be explained and accompanied by relevant facts or pieces of evidence.
- The Fact that You Intended to Gain or Help a Party Gain from the Forged Documents
For crimes such as altering or falsifying transcripts or diplomas, the prosecutor should prove that you intended to gain from committing a crime. If you faked or altered the documents for someone else, they should also demonstrate that your actions aimed at helping the person gain certain benefits. In this scenario, they may allege that you wanted to use the forged academic documents to further your or someone else's career/education.
What are the Legal Defenses to Forgery Charges in Virginia?
A criminal defense attorney may be able to help you get a dismissal or a charge reduction by using various defense strategies in your favor. Your willingness to share your side of the story with the attorney can make these defenses more suitable to your case. Some of the defenses suited for a forgery case in Virginia include:
- Lack of Fraudulent Intent
Expect a Virginia prosecutor to base your forgery charges on the fact that you intended to defraud someone else. Since intent is among the most challenging elements of a crime to prove, it's possible for the prosecutors to find zero intent in the investigation. Your attorney can suggest to the court that you had the authority to sign someone else's name or make changes to an alleged document. Such a defense most likely guarantees charge dismissal.
Another way prosecutors can prove intent to defraud is by showing that the forged document was fraudulent. In this case, they must prove that you intended to use the forged document to deprive someone else their legal right, money or property. You won’t face any forgery charges if the forged document isn’t a fraud instrument.
- False Accusations
As much as the prosecutors try to charge you for forgery pursuant to VA Code 18.2-172, there may be a likelihood that you were falsely accused. Your lawyer may challenge their allegations by proving that someone else implicated you of the crime to avoid taking the fall for his/her own mistakes. The forged documents may be planted in your house or office without your knowledge.
Under Virginia Code 18.2-173, you will only face forgery charges if you were knowledgeable about and intended to use the forged documents in your possession. If the prosecutors fail to prove these facts, your lawyer can state that you were falsely accused. They may drop or reduce the charges if this defense is persuasive enough.
- No Evidence of a Tampered, Altered or Falsified Document
One of the ways to prove that a document has been falsified or altered is by involving a handwriting expert. Your lawyer may bring in this specialist to testify as an expert witness in your favor. The testimony must be based on the examinations made on the alleged document and your writing. Furthermore, the handwriting specialist must have forensic training for his/her statements to be admissible in court.
- Police Misconduct
Since pieces of evidence including the forged document are needed to build your case, police misconduct may help as a legal defense in your favor. In this case, your lawyer may argue that the police officers planted evidence and lied/embellished facts in their courtroom testimonies or crime reports. Police misconduct may also take the form of using pepper spray or tasers to get a confession from an offender. Your lawyer has leverage towards fighting your case when acts of police misconduct can be proved.
- Mistaken Identity
Mistaken suspect identification may result in a wrongful criminal conviction. Such a scenario may happen if your physical description, car or clothes happen to resemble those of the actual crime perpetrator. Mistaken identity can be used as a legal defense when facing forgery charges whether the crime perpetrator is known or not.
Offenses Related to Forgery Under Virginia Laws
Some of the expectations to have regarding a pending forgery case include charge dismissal, charge reduction, or criminal conviction. Depending on the type of forgery charge you’re facing, the prosecution team may drop your charges, introduce new charges, or reduce the current charges. In case new complaints are filed against you or your charges are reduced, here are some of the forgery-related offenses you may face:
- Issuance of Bad Checks
Virginia Code 18.2-181.1 recognizes the crime of issuing bad checks as a Class 6 felony. The bad checks, orders, or drafts must be issued for the payment of money within 90 days and must have a value of $500 or higher. They may also be made payable to a person, corporation or firm or be drawn from the same trust company or banking institution.
- Using False Statements to Obtain Credit or Property Fraudulently
Committing such offense may subject you to Class 1 misdemeanor charges under VA Code 18.2-186. The false statements, which are in writing, may be made indirectly, directly, or through a particular agency. Reasons for committing this offense may be based on personal gain or a firm/corporation's gain.
- Identity Theft
Identity theft is a crime of fraud punishable under Virginia Code 18.2-186.3. The crime involves obtaining, recording or accessing someone else’s identifying information that’s not availed to the public. You’ll face identity theft charges for obtaining this information to access someone else’s benefits or financial resources. Obtaining identification documents in someone else’s name is also considered as an identity theft crime.
- Credit Card Forgery
Under VA Code 18.2-193, you may only be guilty if you intended to defraud a person or entity providing services, goods or money by using or uttering a forged credit card. The prosecutors will base your case on the fact that you weren’t the actual cardholder or weren’t authorized by the cardholder. A credit card forgery conviction may attract Class 5 felony penalties.
- Manufacture, Possession or Sale of Fake Official Licenses or Identification Documents
Pursuant to VA Code 18.2-204.2, it’s unlawful to possess, manufacture or sell any altered or fictitious license or identification documents. Documents that are covered under this law include driver’s licenses, US armed forces ID cards, special ID cards issued by the Virginia DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles), and student ID card. The licenses or identification documents may be issued by a US state, territory, foreign government or country, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, or the District of Columbia. You may face Class 1 misdemeanor charges for advertising for sale, manufacturing, reproducing, or selling the licenses/cards or Class 2 charges for having them in your possession.
Hire a Lawyer Near Me
The direct consequences of a forgery conviction include having new charges introduced to your case or facing severe penalties. Prosecutors are usually tactical when trying to build your alleged forgery case. To keep up with their allegations and improve your chances of countering their claims, you must have a proficient criminal defense lawyer on your side. Working with Virginia Criminal Attorney allows you to access expert legal advice and representation.