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Is Forgery a Felony or Misdemeanor?
Forgery can be either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the state and the circumstances. In California, for example, forgery is a wobbler. Prosecutors can choose whether to pursue felony or misdemeanor charges. However, if the amount at issue is $950 or less and the defendant does not have a prior offense, it is a misdemeanor.
Depending on the state and the circumstances of the offense, forgery can be either a felony or a misdemeanor.
The law in California is a good example.
In California, forgery is a wobbler.1 This means that prosecutors have the discretion to file felony or misdemeanor charges. Prosecutors generally use the following factors in making this decision:
However, law enforcement is not allowed to pursue felony charges if all of the following are true:
Eligible offenses are:
If a forgery defendant has a prior conviction for one of these offenses, prosecutors can pursue felony charges for a forgery involving less than $950.
Forgery is the crime of fraudulently altering certain documents or falsifying someone’s signature.
Different states may vary on the details. In California, state law defines forgery as:
The types of documents that are eligible include:
California also recognizes and prohibits other types of forgery:
Many forgery offenses require an intent to defraud. In California, to secure a forgery conviction, prosecutors have to show that:
Importantly, this means that forgery does not have to work for it to be a crime. If the victim is not deceived or does not suffer a loss, it can still be forgery.13 Without this as a potential defense, defendants should strongly consider getting the legal advice of a forgery attorney from a local law office.
If forgery is a misdemeanor, a conviction can carry up to 1 year of jail time. If it is a felony, it can carry longer than 1 year in prison.
In California, prosecutors have to pursue misdemeanor charges if:
The penalty for misdemeanor forgery charges are up to:
If prosecutors have the discretion to pursue felony charges, and choose to do so, the penalty for forgery can be up to:
Other states and jurisdictions may treat forgery slightly differently than California.
In Texas, forgery is a misdemeanor unless the forged document is a:
If the forged instrument or false document is used to get property or a service, the value of the property matters in Texas17:
|Value of the property or service||Class of crime|
|Less than $100||Class C misdemeanor|
|More than $100 but less than $750||Class B misdemeanor|
|More than $750 but less than $2,500||Class A misdemeanor|
|More than $2,500 but less than $30,000||State jail felony|
|More than $30,000 but less than $150,000||Third degree felony|
|More than $150,000 but less than $300,000||Second degree felony|
|More than $300,000||First degree felony|
In Colorado, forgery can also be a felony or a misdemeanor depending on the circumstances.
For example, felony forgery involves things like:
But forging the following documents will only lead to misdemeanor criminal charges:
There are several common legal defenses that can be raised against a charge for the crime of forgery. 2 of them are that the defendant:
Many forgery charges require prosecutors to prove that the defendant intended to defraud someone. They often use the defendant’s words and actions. However, in many cases, that evidence is ambiguous or has an innocent explanation.
Another potential defense is that the defendant has been falsely accused. Some people may wrongfully claim to have been victimized by forged documents in order to get revenge on someone or to discredit them.
A skilled criminal defense attorney from a reputable law firm will know how best to defend people who have been accused of forging something. Establishing an attorney-client relationship with a criminal defense lawyer who has experience in white collar crimes and forgery cases is the best way to avoid a serious conviction that carries significant prison time.
A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, Court TV, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.
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