ARS § 13-2002 is the Arizona law that defines the crime of forgery. You engage in forgery if, with the intent to defraud, you falsely make or complete a written instrument, possess a forged instrument, or offer or present a forged instrument.
A violation of this law is typically a Class 4 felony punishable with a prison sentence of almost four years.
The language of ARS § 13-2002 reads as follows:
A. A person commits forgery if, with intent to defraud, the person:
1. Falsely makes, completes or alters a written instrument; or
2. Knowingly possesses a forged instrument; or
3. Offers or presents, whether accepted or not, a forged instrument or one that contains false information.
B. The possession of five or more forged instruments may give rise to an inference that the instruments are possessed with an intent to defraud.
C. Forgery is a class 4 felony, except that if the forged instrument is used in connection with the purchase, lease or renting of a dwelling that is used as a drop house, it is a class 3 felony. For the purposes of this subsection, “drop house” means property that is used to facilitate smuggling pursuant to section 13-2319.
- making a false prescription for Xanax.
- presenting forged documents to a bank teller.
- using computer software to generate a fake credit card application in another person’s name.
Criminal defense lawyers draw upon several legal strategies to help defendants challenge forgery charges. A few common ones include showing that:
- a defendant did not act with an intent to defraud,
- an accused was falsely accused, and/or
- law enforcement violated one of the defendant’s constitutional rights.
In this article, our criminal defense attorneys will discuss what the law is under this statute, defenses available if charged, the penalties for a conviction, and related crimes.
1. How does Arizona law define “forgery”?
Arizona’s forgery laws say that people commit the crime of forgery when they, with the intent to defraud, do any of the following:
- falsely make, complete, or alter a written instrument or a written document,
- knowingly possess a forged instrument, or
- offer or present a forged instrument or one that contains false information.1
For purposes of forgery cases, people act with an “intent to defraud” if they try to get something of value from someone, or take something of value from somebody, through the use of:
- trickery, or
Further, “written instrument” means either:
- any paper, document, or other instrument that contains written or printed matter or its equivalent, or
- any token, stamp, seal, badge, trademark, graphical image, access device, or other evidence or symbol of value, right, privilege or identification.3
Note that if a person is found to possess a forgery device or forgery tools, he/she is charged under a different law. That law is ARS 13-2003, making or possessing forgery tools.
Note, too, that forgery is a distinct crime from both:
- counterfeiting, per ARS 44-1453, and
- identity theft, per ARS 13-2008.
2. Are there defenses to ARS 13-2002?
People can raise a forgery defense to challenge criminal charges brought under this statute. Three common defenses include a defendant showing that:
- he/she did not act with an intent to defraud.
- he/she was falsely accused.
- police violated one of his/her constitutional rights.
2.1 No intent to defraud
Recall that people are only guilty of this offense if they acted with the intent to defraud someone. This means it is always a defense for defendants to show that they did not act with this aim. Perhaps, for example, a person made a false document by accidentally using inaccurate information, and they did not make it for the specific goal of taking something via some trickery.
2.2 Falsely accused
Many forgery cases are white-collar crimes because they arise from complex business or legal dealings. They also often occur in workplace settings. Given this, it is not uncommon for someone to falsely accuse another of forgery in the attempt to cover up his/her own guilt. In this type of scenario, it is a defense for a defendant to say he/she was unjustly blamed.
2.3 Violation of a constitutional right
Accused people can always contest a forgery charge by showing that the police violated one of their constitutional rights. Perhaps, for example, the police:
- conducted an unlawful search or seizure,
- coerced a confession, or
- stopped or arrested the defendant without probable cause.
Under any of these scenarios, an accused can use the violation to exclude certain evidence or get the case entirely dropped.
3. What are the penalties?
Most forgery offenses are Class 4 felonies under Arizona law.4 A first offense under this statute is punishable by up to three years and nine months in state prison.
A second forgery conviction could result in a person spending over seven years in prison.
Further, if the crime gets classified as a “dangerous offense,” then defendants could face custody in prison for up to eight years.
Note that forgery will get charged as a Class 3 felony if the defendant used a forged instrument in connection with the purchase, lease, or renting of a “drop house.” A drop house means property that is used to assist in smuggling.5
A Class 3 felony is punishable by almost nine years in state prison.
4. Are there related crimes?
There are three offenses related to forgery. These are:
- criminal impersonation – ARS 13-2006,
- burglary – ARS 13-1507, and/or
- perjury – ARS 13-2702.
4.1 Criminal impersonation – ARS 13-2006
Per ARS 13-2006, criminal impersonation is a crime where people pretend to be someone else with the intent to defraud another party.
As with a forgery offense, people have to act with an intent to defraud to be guilty of impersonation.
4.2 Burglary – ARS 13-1507
Under ARS 13-1507, 2nd-degree burglary is the offense where people unlawfully enter or remain in or on a residential structure with the intent to commit any theft or a felony.
If a person entered a residential structure with the intent to commit forgery, then he/she is guilty of 2nd-degree burglary. If the person actually commits the offense of forgery, then he/she can be charged with both:
- burglary, and
4.3 Perjury – ARS 13-2702
Per ARS 13-2702, perjury is the crime where people:
- make either a false sworn statement or a false unsworn declaration regarding a material issue, and
- do so while believing the statement/declaration is false.
As with forgery, perjury is a Class 4 misdemeanor in Arizona.