18-5-102 CRS - Forgery in Colorado law


18-5-102 CRS is the Colorado law that defines the crime of forgery. This section defines forgery as making or using falsified documents or instruments with an intent to defraud.

Examples of forged documents include:

  • 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 also punishes possessing forged instruments or devices capable of producing one.


The punishments for forgery depend on the type of document. It is a class 5 felony to falsify cash, stock certificates, or legal documents. Under 18-5-102 CRS, this carries:

Meanwhile, forging most other types of documents is a class 1 misdemeanor. This carries:

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

Possessing a falsified document can be a felony or a misdemeanor. It depends on the document. But it is always a class 6 felony to possess a device that makes forged instruments. This carries:

  • 1 to 1 ½ years in prison, and/or
  • A fine of $1,000 to $100,000


Three potential forgery defenses are:

  1. The defendant had no intent to defraud;
  2. The document was authentic; or
  3. The police committed misconduct

Below our Denver criminal defense lawyers discuss:

Also see our related articles about UCC-related crimes in Colorado and identity theft.

gavel and paper (18-5-102 CRS)
The key element in Colorado forgery crimes under 18-5-102 CRS is an "intent to defraud."

1. What is Colorado's legal definition of forgery?

Forgery is making a fake document or falsifying an existing one with the intent to defraud someone with it. As discussed below, Colorado has six separate forgery crimes.

Documents need not be completely false for a person to be guilty of forgery. Merely inserting one untrue piece of information qualifies.4

It is also unnecessary that the person receiving the fake document fall for the fraud. All a forgery conviction requires is that a defendant has intent to defraud.5

1.1. Forgery – 18-5-102 CRS

Forgery under 18-5-102 CRS occurs when someone with fraudulent intent fakes or falsifies any of the following documents or devices:

  1. Government-issued money, stamps, securities, or other valuable instruments;
  2. Part of an issue of stock, bonds, or other instruments. And they represent interests in -- or claims against -- a corporation or other organization or its property;
  3. A deed, will, codicil, contract, assignment, commercial instrument, promissory note, check, or other instrument. And it affects a legal right, interest, obligation, or status;
  4. A public record or an instrument that is legally fileable with a public office or public servant;
  5. A government-issued official written instrument;
  6. Tokens, transfers, certificates, or other articles. And they are for public transportation, property, or services.
  7. Lottery tickets or shares under 14-35-2 CRS; or
  8. A document-making implement. And it may be used to falsify or make false documents.

Colorado prosecutors normally have the burden to prove defendants have an intent to defraud. But when the case involves presenting forged documents to a peace officer, the court may presume the defendant has fraudulent intent. And the defendant has the burden to prove otherwise.

1.2. Second-degree forgery

Forging any instrument not mentioned in the previous subsection is second-degree forgery under 18-5-104 CRS if the defendant:

  • Knows that an instrument is forged, and
  • Intends to defraud someone with it

Examples of second-degree forged instruments include:

  • Altered money orders,
  • Fictitious checks,
  • Forged signatures on credit card charge slips,
  • Falsely-altered names on gift certificates, or
  • Insurance applications with false information
Trying to pass off a fake transcript to get into school or get financial aid is the most serious kind of misdemeanor in Colorado.

1.3. Use of forged academic record

18-4-104.5 CRS prohibits people from making or altering an academic record if they intend to either:

  1. Seek a job with or admission to a public or private college in Colorado; or
  2. Apply for a scholarship or financial aid

"Academic record" can mean a:

  • Transcript,
  • Diploma,
  • Grade report, or
  • Similar document of an institution of secondary or higher education
Example: Penny lives in Denver and failed English her junior year of high school. When applying to college at Colorado State, she doctors the F on her transcript to look like an A. But before mailing out her application, Penny has a change of heart. She tears up her fake transcript and uses the real one. Had Penny sent out the fake transcript, she could have faced forgery charges. But since she stopped short of using the falsified transcript, she escaped criminal liability.

1.4. Criminal possession of a forged instrument

Having any forged instrument prohibited by 18-5-102 CRS is a crime under 18-5-105 CRS when the defendant both: 

  • Know that the instrument is forged, and
  • Has the intent to defraud someone with it

Forgery under 18-5-102 CRS is discussed above in section 1.1. And as discussed below in section 2, possessing a forged instrument is a less serious crime than trying to use it.

1.5. Criminal possession of second-degree forged instrument

Possessing a second-degree forged instrument is a Colorado crime under 18-5-107 CRS when the defendant both:

  • Know that the instrument is forged, and
  • Has the intent to defraud someone with it

Second-degree forgery is discussed above in section 1.2. And as discussed below in section 2, possessing a forged instrument is a less serious crime than trying to use it. 

1.6. Criminal possession of forgery devices

18-5-109 CRS prohibits making or having counterfeiting devices. Examples are machines that create fake seals, signatures, or marks.

Possessing forged documents is a less serious Colorado offense than using them.

2. What are the penalties?

Forgery sentences depend on the specific offense

Colorado forgery offense


Forgery (18-5-102 CRS)

Class 5 felony:

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

Second-degree forgery (18-5-104 CRS)

Class 1 misdemeanor:

  • 6 – 18 months in jail, and/or
  • $500 - $5,000

Use of forged academic record (18-5-104.5 CRS)

Class 1 misdemeanor:

  • 6 – 18 months in jail, and/or
  • $500 - $5,000

Criminal possession of a forged instrument (18-5-105 CRS)

Class 6 felony:

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

Criminal possession of a second-degree forged instrument (18-5-107 CRS)

Class 2 misdemeanor:

  • 3 – 12 months in jail, and/or
  • $250 - $1,000

Criminal possession of forgery devices (18-5-109 CRS)

Class 6 felony:

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

3. What are common defenses?

Five typical forgery defenses to 18-5-102 CRS charges are:

  1. The defendant did not know he/she possessed a forged instrument;
  2. The defendant did not intend to defraud anyone;
  3. The document does not qualify as forged;
  4. The police entrapped the defendant; or
  5. The police committed an illegal search and seizure

Typical evidence in forgery cases may include:

  • Emails, texts, or voicemails. These may show the defendant had no fraudulent intent;
  • Eyewitness testimony about the defendant's intent; and/or
  • Forensic expert testimony about the documents' authenticity
USCIS flag
Forgery is potentially deportable since it is a fraud offense.

4. What are the immigration consequences?

Forgery is deportable.6 Non-citizens facing 18-5-102 CRS charges should retain an attorney. Learn more about the criminal defense of immigrants.

5. Is the criminal record sealable?

Potentially, yes. But there may be a wait.

Colorado forgery conviction

Waiting period for record seal


Class 1 misdemeanors

3 years after the case ends

Class 2 misdemeanors

2 years after the case ends

Dismissals (no conviction)


Learn about how to get a Colorado record seal.

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Colorado Legal Defense Group
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Denver, CO 80211
(303) 222-0330

Arrested in California? See our article on California forgery laws (470 PC).

Arrested in Nevada? See our articles on forgery (NRS 205.090) and counterfeiting seals (NRS 205.175).

Legal references:

  1. People v. Clanton, App.2015, 361 P.3d 1056, certiorari denied.
  2. People v. Cunefare, 102 P.3d 302 (2004), 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.
  6. 8 USC 1227.
  7. 24-72 CRS.




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