Colorado’s Forgery Laws

Fountain pen signing a document

Making, using or possessing a forged document in Colorado

Colorado has a number of forgery laws, which punish making, using or possessing documents or other instruments that have been wholly or partially falsified.

At its most basic, you commit forgery when, with intent to defraud someone, you falsely make, complete, alter, or present a written instrument which is not what it purports to be.

Colorado also punishes simply possessing a forged instrument or any device capable of producing one.

Examples of forgery include (without limitation):

  • A fake will;
  • An unemployment insurance application with a false Social Security number;1
  • A made-up letter of recommendation for a job;2
  • A false tax return;3 or
  • Doctored university transcripts.

Colorado forgery penalties

In Colorado, punishment for forgery depends on the type of document forged and whether you made or used the document, or just knowingly possessed it with the intent to defraud someone.

If the document is a forged a government-issued instrument (such as money) or a stock certificate or a document affecting a legal right, and you produced or falsified it, you have usually committed a Colorado class 5 felony. In such a case, consequences of forgery can include:

  • Up to 3 years in prison, and/or
  • A fine of up to $100,000.

But simply knowingly possessing a forged instrument with intent to defraud is second degree forgery, a Colorado class 1 misdemeanor. Punishment for second degree forgery can include:

  • Up to 18 months in jail, and/or
  • A fine of up to $5,000.

For a more complete listing of the consequences of a Colorado forgery conviction, please see the detailed discussion below.

Defenses to forgery charges

A key element to forgery charges is the intent to defraud. So if you presented a forged document in good faith, you aren't guilty of forgery.

To help you better understand Colorado's forgery laws, our Colorado criminal defense lawyers explain the following, below: 

four differing versions of the same signature

1. What do Colorado's forgery laws prohibit?

1.1. Felony forgery – Colorado 18-5-102 C.R.S.

You commit felony forgery in violation of section 18-5-102 of the Colorado Revised Statutes when, with intent to defraud, you falsely make, complete, alter, or utter a written instrument which is or purports to be, or which is calculated to become or to represent if completed:

  • Part of an issue of money, stamps, securities, or other valuable instruments issued by a government or government agency; or
  • Part of an issue of stock, bonds, or other instruments representing interests in or claims against a corporate or other organization or its property; or
  • A deed, will, codicil, contract, assignment, commercial instrument, promissory note, check, or other instrument which does or may evidence, create, transfer, terminate, or otherwise affect a legal right, interest, obligation, or status; or
  • A public record or an instrument filed or required by law to be filed or legally fileable in or with a public office or public servant; or
  • A written instrument officially issued or created by a public office, public servant, or government agency; or
  • Part of an issue of tokens, transfers, certificates, or other articles manufactured and designed for use in transportation fees upon public conveyances, or as symbols of value usable in place of money for the purchase of property or services available to the public for compensation; or
  • Part of an issue of lottery tickets or shares designed for use in the lottery held pursuant to part 2 of article 35 of title 24, C.R.S.; or
  • A document-making implement that may be used or is used in the production of a false identification document or in the production of another document-making implement to produce false identification documents.

The document or other instrument does not have to be completely false in order for you to be guilty of forgery. You are guilty of forgery even when you only merely add or insert materially false information or a materially false statement to any instrument (whether genuine or non-genuine) and, as a result, purport to complete the instrument so as to render it legally operative.4

It is not necessary that the person receiving the forged instrument actually be defrauded in order for you to be guilty of forgery.5 You commit forgery whenever you do one of the acts prohibited by one of Colorado's forgery laws with guilty knowledge and the intent to defraud.

Normally the burden is on the prosecutor to show that you had the required intent to defraud someone. However, if you present a forged document to a peace officer, it creates the presumption that you intended to defraud him or her. This shifts the burden to you to prove that you lacked any fraudulent intent.

1.2. Second degree forgery –18-5-104 C.R.S.

Forging an instrument of any kind other than the ones listed above is a Colorado class 2 misdemeanor if:

  • You know that an instrument is forged, and 
  • You intend to defraud someone with it.

Examples of second degree forged instruments include (without limitation):

  • Altered money orders,
  • Fictitious checks,
  • Forged signatures on credit card charge slips,
  • Falsely altered names on gift certificates, or
  • Insurance applications with false information.

1.3. Use of forged academic record –18-5-104.5 C.R.S.

college transcript

Use of a forged academic record is a Colorado class 1 misdemeanor under 18-5-104.5 C.R.S.

You violate this law when you falsely make, complete, alter, or utter a written instrument which is or purports to be, or is calculated to become or to represent if completed, a bona fide academic record of an institution of secondary or higher education and:

  • You do so with intent to seek employment or admission to a public or private institution of higher education in Colorado, or 
  • You do so for the purpose of securing a scholarship or other form of financial assistance from the institution itself or from other public or private sources of financial assistance.

For purposes of 18-5-104.5 C.R.S., “academic record” means a transcript, diploma, grade report, or similar document of an institution of secondary or higher education. “Financial assistance” means financial assistance for educational purposes, including, but not limited to, loans, scholarships, grants, fellowships, assistantships, work-study programs, or other forms of financial aid.

1.4. Criminal possession of a forged instrument -- 18-5-105 C.R.S.

You violate Colorado 18-5-105 C.R.S. when you possess one of the forged instruments prohibited by Colorado's forgery law, 18-5-102, C.R.S., with knowledge that it is forged intent to use it to defraud someone.

Possession of a forged instrument in violation of 18-5-105 C.R.S. is a Colorado class 6 felony.

1.5. Criminal possession of second degree forged instrument -- 18-5-107 C.R.S.

Possessing a forged instrument of a type prohibited under 18-5-104 C.R.S., Colorado's second degree forgery law, is a Colorado class 2 misdemeanor when:

  • You know that the instrument is forged, and 
  • You have the intent to defraud someone with it.

1.6. Criminal possession of forgery devices -- 18-5-109 C.R.S. 

You commit criminal possession of forgery devices under 18-5-109 C.R.S. when:

  • With knowledge of its character, you make or possess any plate, die, or other device, apparatus, equipment, or article specifically designed for use in counterfeiting, unlawfully simulating, or otherwise forging written instruments or counterfeit marks; or
  • You make or possess any such device, apparatus, equipment, or article capable of or adaptable to a use specified above with intent to use it, or to aid or permit another to use it, for purposes of forgery or the production of counterfeit marks; or
  • You illegally possess a genuine plate, die, or other device used in the production of written instruments or counterfeit marks, with intent to fraudulently use the same; or
  • You unlawfully make, produce, possess, or utter a document-making implement knowing that such document-making implement may be used or is used in the production of a false identification document or counterfeit mark or another implement for the production of false identification documents or counterfeit marks.

2. The legal definitions of Colorado forgery terms

18-5-101 C.R.S. defines certain terms used in Colorado's forgery laws.

“Document-making implement” means any implement or impression, including, but not limited to, a template or a computerized template or form, specially designed or primarily used for making identification documents, false identification documents, or another document-making implement.

To “falsely alter” a written instrument means to change a written instrument without the authority of anyone entitled to grant such authority, whether it be in complete or incomplete form, by means of erasure, obliteration, deletion, insertion of new matter, transposition of matter, or any other means, so that such instrument in its thus altered form falsely appears or purports to be in all respects an authentic creation of or fully authorized by its ostensible maker.

To “falsely complete” a written instrument means:

  • To transform an incomplete written instrument into a complete one by adding, inserting, or changing matter without the authority of anyone entitled to grant that authority, so that the complete written instrument falsely appears or purports to be in all respects an authentic creation of or fully authorized by its ostensible maker; or
  • To transform an incomplete written instrument into a complete one by adding or inserting materially false information or adding or inserting a materially false statement. A materially false statement is a false assertion that affects the action, conduct, or decision of the person who receives or is intended to receive the asserted information in a manner that directly or indirectly benefits the person making the assertion.

To “falsely make” a written instrument means to make or draw a written instrument, whether complete or incomplete, which purports to be an authentic creation of its ostensible maker, but which is not, either because the ostensible maker is fictitious or because, if real, he did not authorize the making or the drawing thereof.

“Forged instrument” means a written instrument which has been falsely made, completed, or altered.

“Identification document” means a document made or issued by or under the authority of the United States government, a state, political subdivision of a state, a foreign government, political subdivision of a foreign government, an international governmental, or an international quasi-governmental organization which, when completed with information concerning a particular individual, is of a type intended or commonly accepted for the purpose of identification of individuals.

“Utter” means to transfer, pass, or deliver, or attempt or cause to be transferred, passed, or delivered, to another person any written instrument, article, or thing.

“Written instrument” means any paper, document, or other instrument containing written or printed matter or the equivalent thereof, used for purposes of reciting, embodying, conveying, or recording information, and any money, credit card, token, stamp, seal, badge, or trademark or any evidence or symbol of value, right, privilege, or identification, which is capable of being used to the advantage or disadvantage of some person.

judge's hand banging gavel

3. Colorado forgery penalties

3.1. Forgery

Forgery under 18-5-102 C.R.S. can be punished by:

  • 1-3 years in prison (with 2 years mandatory parole), and/or
  • A fine of $1,000-$100,000.

3.2. Second degree forgery

Consequences of econd degree forgery under 18-5-104 C.R.S. can include:

  • 6 - 18 months in jail, and/or
  • A fine of $500-$5,000.

3.3. Use of forged academic record

Penalties for using a forged academic record under 18-5-104.5 C.R.S. can include:

  • 6 - 18 months in jail, and/or
  • A fine of $500-$5,000.

3.4. Criminal possession of a forged instrument

Possessing a forged instrument in violation of 18-5-105 C.R.S. is punishable by:

  • 1 – 1 ½ years in prison (with 1 year mandatory parole), and/or
  • A fine of $1,000-$100,000.

3.5. Criminal possession of second degree forged instrument

Under 18-5-107 C.R.S., consequences of possessing an instrument that violates Colorado's second degree forgery law can include:

  • 3-12 months in jail, and/or
  • A fine of $250-$1,000.

3.6. Criminal possession of forgery devices

Penalties for possessing a forgery device in violation of 18-5-109 C.R.S. can include:

  • 1 – 1 ½ years in prison (with 1 year mandatory parole), and/or
  • A fine of $1,000-$100,000.
man in business suit handing someone a check

4. Legal defenses to Colorado forgery charges

Because Colorado's forgery laws are so specific and complicated, a skilled Colorado criminal defense lawyer has many ways to defend you on the charges. While not by any means a complete listing, some of the more common defenses include:

  • You didn't know you possessed a forged instrument;
  • You didn't intend to defraud anyone;
  • The document you possessed didn't fit the legal definition of a forged instrument;
  • The evidence against you was found during an illegal search and seizure; or
  • You were a victim of police misconduct.

5. Related offenses

Colorado has a number of other laws relating to the crime of forgery, including (without limitation) trademark counterfeiting, obtaining a signature by deception, and inducing consumption of a controlled substance by fraudulent means.

You may also wish to review our article on Colorado's identity theft law.

Call us for help…

call center receptionist

Colorado's forgery laws are some of the most complicated in the state. Results in your case will often turn on the issue of what you knew and what you intended.

A good Colorado forgery lawyer can explain to the prosecutor and judge – and, if necessary, the jury – how the evidence actually shows a lack of knowledge and intent. And if the evidence against you was obtained illegally, it should be excluded, which will usually result in the charges against you being reduced, or even dismissed altogether.

If you or someone you know has been accused of violating any of Colorado's forgery laws, we invite you to contact uf for a free consultation. Our caring Colorado criminal lawyers know how forgery cases are put together. We understand that innocent people are often accused -- and anyone can make a mistake.

To get a prompt callback from an experienced Colorado criminal defense attorney, simply fill out the confidential form on this page. Or call us at our centrally located Denver home office:

Colorado Legal Defense Group
1400 16th Street
16 Market Square
Denver CO 80202
720-955-6112


Legal references:

  1. People v. Clanton, App.2015, 361 P.3d 1056, certiorari denied.
  2. People v. Cunefare, 2004, 102 P.3d 302, modified on denial of rehearing, or on remand 2005 WL 1176084, rehearing denied.
  3. People v. Vesely, App.1978, 587 P.2d 802, 41 Colo.App. 325.
  4. People v. Kovacs, App.2012, 284 P.3d.
  5. People v. Cunefare, note 2, above.

Free attorney consultations...

Our attorneys want to hear your side of the story. Contact us 24/7 to schedule a FREE consultation with a criminal defense lawyer. We may be able to get your charges reduced or even dismissed altogether. And if necessary, we will champion your case all the way to trial.

Office Locations

Shouse Law Group has multiple locations all across California, Nevada, and Colorado. Click Office Locations to find out which office is right for you.

Regain peace of mind...

Our defense attorneys understand that being accused of a crime is one of the most difficult times of your life. Rely on us to zealously and discreetly protect your rights and to fight for the most favorable resolution possible.

To contact us, please select your state:

Call us 24/7 (855) 396-0370