In Nevada, forgery is defined as attempting to defraud another person by means of falsified or counterfeit documents. Forgery is a category D felony punishable by
- 1 to 4 years in prison,
- up to $5000.00 in fines and
- restitution to the victim(s).
This type of felony is not eligible for a criminal record seal until 5 years after the case is closed. But depending on the case, the prosecutor may be willing to plea bargain the charge down or even dismiss it.
Common examples of forgery include:
- signing somebody else’s name without their consent, such as on a check or contract
- altering or falsifying a legal instrument, such as a will or trust
- falsifying a deed or court order
Common arguments to fight forgery charges include establishing that:
- there was no falsification,
- there was no intent to defraud, and/or
- the police acted in violation of Nevada’s search and seizure laws
If the defense attorney can show that the state’s evidence is insufficient to sustain a guilty verdict, the charges should be dropped.
In this article, our Las Vegas forgery defense attorneys discuss:
- 1. How does Nevada law define forgery?
- 2. What is the punishment for forgery?
- 3. Is forgery a felony in Nevada?
- 4. How do I fight the charges?
- 5. Is forgery hard to prove?
- 6. Can I seal the case?
- 7. Will I get deported?
- 8. What is the forgery statute?
- 9. Related white-collar crimes
There are many different forms of forgery, but it generally consists of three essential elements that prosecutors need to prove in order to make the charge:
- You passed — or attempted to pass — a false instrument as true and genuine,
- You knew the instrument was false, and
- You had intent to defraud. 1
1.1. You pass a false instrument as true.
The first element of forgery is that you use — or try to use — a falsified document as if it were genuine. Some examples include:
- signing a contract or promissory note with someone else’s name (“forging a signature without permission”) 2
- signing and trying to pass a fake check or traveler’s check 3
- altering the terms of a property deed, will, trust, mortgage document, or real estate lease
- printing and using a counterfeit money order or lotto ticket
- creating a false court order, stock certificate, or power of attorney
In most cases, simply signing a false name on an instrument does not rise to the level of forgery if you never try to pass off the instrument as real. For instance, forging a signature on a check probably would not invite criminal prosecution if you lose your nerve and never try to deposit it.4
1.2. You know the instrument is false
You have to be aware that the document is not genuine in order to be convicted of forgery. For instance, if a husband forges a signature on a stolen check and instructs his wife to deposit it in their account, the wife committed no crime as long as she believed the check was legitimate.
1.3. You have the intent to defraud
The central element in any forgery case is that you intended to use the forged document to defraud. In other words, you were deliberately trying to trick another by passing off a false document as true. Predictably, the motivation for intent to defraud often involves:
- financial gain,
- increasing power,
- improving reputation or livelihood, and/or
- harming another’s reputation or livelihood
Therefore, if you accidentally or mistakenly falsify a document, you committed no crime as long as you lacked fraudulent intent.
Unlike an allegedly forged document, intent to defraud is a state of mind and not easily proven. Therefore, the court relies on circumstantial evidence to form common sense inferences about whether you had fraudulent intent. Examples of such evidence include
- audio-visual recordings, and
- handwriting experts.5
In most cases, forgery is a category D felony carrying restitution, one to four years in prison, and up to $5,000 in fines.
Though Nevada law spells out several separate forgery laws, each with its own punishment:6
|Nevada Forgery offense||Penalties|
|Forging documents (NRS 205.090)||Category D felony: |
|False certificate to certain instruments (NRS 205.120)||Category D felony: |
|Possessing or receiving forged instruments or bills (205.160)||Category C felony: |
|Forgery of signatures of public officers (NRS 205.175)|| |
Depending on the case:
Category D felony:
|Counterfeiting stamps and labels (NRS 205.195)||Misdemeanor: |
|Selling goods containing forged stamps (NRS 205.200)||Misdemeanor: |
|Counterfeiting trademark or design (NRS 205.205)||Misdemeanor: |
|Selling or displaying goods with false trademark (NRS 205.210)|| |
Depending on the case:
Category D felony:
Probation and a suspended sentence. But if you have two or more prior felony convictions, the court may impose:
|Fraudulent registration of a trademark (NRS 205.215)||Misdemeanor: |
2.1. Plea bargains
Depending on the case, the prosecutor may be willing to negotiate a deal whereby the forgery charge is reduced to a lesser offense or dismissed. You are more likely to receive a favorable plea bargain if you:
- have no prior criminal record,
- can pay full restitution, and
- are cooperative with the police
The following forgery crimes are always felonies:
- Forgery of documents (NRS 205.090)
- False certificate to certain instruments (NRS 205.120)
- Possession or receipt of forged instruments or bills (205.160)
Depending on the case, the following forgery crimes can be felonies or misdemeanors:
- Sale or display of goods with false trademark (NRS 205.210)
- Forgery of signatures of public officers (NRS 205.175)
However, it may be possible to negotiate a plea bargain where prosecutors agree to lessen or even dismiss felony charges.
The three most common forgery defenses are:
- No forgery occurred,
- There was no intent to defraud, and/or
- The police conducted an illegal search
Note that it is not a defense to forgery charges that there were no victims or that nobody lost money due to the forgery.
4.1. There was no forgery
There are many reasons you may be falsely accused of forgery, such as:
- Someone is angry at you and lies to get you in trouble,
- There was a clerical error that raised unfounded forgery concerns, and/or
- The document may have been fake, but it was not an “instrument” protected by forgery laws (such as a love letter)
Depending on the nature of the case, your attorney can hire an expert witness to attest to the documents’ authenticity and your handwriting.7
4.2. The defendant did not intend to defraud
You cannot be criminally liable for forgery if you had no fraudulent intentions.
Perhaps you were framed. Or perhaps you thought you had the authority to alter a document. Either way, honest mistakes are a defense to forgery.
Note that voluntary intoxication is not a defense to forgery unless you were grossly incapacitated.8
4.3. The police conducted an illegal search
The Fourth Amendment requires that police follow strict rules when conducting searches and seizures. Police must get a valid search warrant, or there needs to be an exceptional circumstance that justifies not getting a warrant. But in many cases, police overstep their constitutional bounds and illegally seize evidence.
When the police may have acted unlawfully, the defense attorney can file a motion to suppress evidence. This motion asks the judge to disregard any and all evidence that the police found through their unlawful search. If the judge grants the motion to suppress, the D.A. may have insufficient evidence to sustain a guilty verdict.
In many cases, prosecutors have a difficult time proving forgery. This is because it is impossible to definitively show that you had an intent to defraud.
Since the jury cannot see inside of your head, prosecutors rely on circumstantial evidence to prove intent, such as:
- eyewitness testimony,
- communications between the defendant and others,
- photographs, and/or
- video surveillance.
Unless the prosecution can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you intended to defraud, forgery charges should not be sustained.
The typical forgery conviction prosecuted under NRS 205.090 can be sealed five (5) years after the case ends.9 But if the charge gets reduced or dismissed, the waiting period is significantly lessened:10
|Class of Nevada forgery conviction||Record seal wait (after case closes)|
|Dismissed or acquitted charges (no conviction)||Immediately|
|Gross misdemeanor||2 years|
|Category E felony||2 years|
|Category D felony||5 years|
|Category C felony||5 years|
People with any fraud conviction on their criminal record face loss of job opportunities and social stigmatization. So you are advised to pursue record sealing as soon as your case allows.
The entire record seal process takes several weeks from start to finish.
Consequently, non-citizens arrested for forgery are strongly encouraged to hire an attorney experienced in both immigration and criminal defense law. You may be able to stay in the country if the attorney can get the forgery case dismissed or reduced to a non-removable offense.
NRS 205.090. Forgery of conveyances, negotiable instruments, stock certificates, wills and other instruments; utterance of forged instrument.
A person who falsely makes, alters, forges or counterfeits any record, or other authentic matter of a public nature, or any charter, letters patent, deed, lease, indenture, writing obligatory, will, testament, codicil, annuity, bond, covenant, bank bill or note, post note, check, draft, bill of exchange, contract, promissory note, traveler’s check, money order, due bill for the payment of money or property or for the payment of any labor claim, receipt for money or property, power of attorney, any auditor’s warrant for the payment of the money at the treasury, county order or warrant, or request for the payment of money, or the delivery of goods or chattels of any kind, or for the delivery of any instrument of writing, or acquittance, release, or receipt for money, goods, or labor claim, or any acquittance, release, or discharge for any debt, account, suit, action, demand, or other thing, real or personal, or any transfer or assurance of money, stock, goods, chattels, or other property whatever, or any letter of attorney  with the intent to damage or defraud any person, body politic or corporate, whether the person, body politic or corporate, resides in or belongs to this State or not, or utters, publishes, passes or attempts to pass, as true and genuine, any of the above-named false, altered, forged or counterfeited matters, as above specified and described, knowing it to be false, altered, forged or counterfeited with the intent to prejudice, damage or defraud any person, body politic or corporate, whether the person, body politic or corporate, resides in this State or not, is guilty of forgery, and shall be punished for a category D felony[.]
|Fraud-related crimes frequently charged with forgery||Definition|
|Bad checks (NRS 205.130)||Intentionally passing checks when there are insufficient funds in the bank.|
|Bank fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1344)||Intentionally depriving a bank of its assets by fraudulent means.|
|Casino markers (NRS 205.130)||When you willfully and with an intent to defraud take out a casino marker with insufficient funds in the bank to pay for it.|
|Commercial bribery (NRS 207.295)||When you offer money or another benefit to a company employee in exchange for making a business decision without the boss’s permission.|
|Counterfeit seals (NRS 205.175)||When you use an official seal fraudulently.|
|Credit Card Fraud (NRS 205.680-800), including credit card possession without consent||Intentionally misusing credit or debit card information to the financial detriment of another.|
|Embezzlement (NRS 205.300)||Stealing property that you have been legally entrusted with (such as not returning a rented vehicle).|
|Health care fraud (NRS 422.410)||Includes situations where medical providers try to cheat patients’ insurance companies for more money than they are legally entitled to.|
|Identity theft (NRS 205.465)||When you use another’s ID to commit fraud|
|Mail Fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1341)||When you use mail in an attempt to defraud someone.|
|Money laundering (18 U.S.C. § 1956)||Knowingly camouflaging the source of unlawfully obtained money.|
|Mortgage fraud (NRS 205.372)||Perpetrating a deceptive mortgage transaction, usually for monetary gain|
|Racketeering (NRS 207.400)||Criminal activity that is carried out in furtherance of an unlawful business. This typically applies to illegal gambling rings and organized crime.|
|Wire fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1343)||When wire communications such as the telephone are used to carry out a fraudulent act.|
Accused of Forgery? We can help . . .
Our Las Vegas criminal defense lawyers are happy to speak with you about your case. Our Las Vegas fraud lawyers take a comprehensive approach. First, we try to craft a deal that will result in your charges getting reduced or dismissed. But if necessary, we will then take your case to a jury and fight zealously for a “not guilty” verdict.
See our related article on the consequences of fake driver’s licenses in Nevada.
Arrested in California? Go to our informational article on Penal Code 470 PC.
Arrested in Colorado? Go to our informational article on Colorado Forgery law.
- NRS 205.090. Patin v. Sheriff, Clark County, (1976) 92 Nev. 673, 557 P.2d 708 (“NRS 205.090 provides, among other things, that any person who (1) passes or attempts to pass, as true and genuine, a forged or false instrument, (2) knowing it to be forged or false, (3) with intent to defraud, is guilty of forgery…where one in possession of a forged instrument seeks to pass it,..it is permissible to infer, for the purpose of establishing probable cause, that she acted with the fraudulent intent necessary to support a charge of forgery.”). See also Anderson v. State (2014) 130 Nev. 1148.
- Mathews v. Lamb, (1968) 84 Nev. 649, 446 P.2d 651 (“It is undisputed that lack of authority is an essential element of the corpus delicti of the crime of forgery.”).
- Hill v. Sheriff, Clark County, (1979) 95 Nev. 438, 596 P.2d 234.
- See Patin v. Sheriff, Clark County, supra.
- Patin v. Sheriff, Clark County, supra (“[I]t is permissible to infer, for the purpose of establishing probable cause, that she acted with the fraudulent intent necessary to support a charge of forgery.”); State v. Ramage, (1928) 51 Nev. 82, 269 P. 489.
- See NRS 205.085.
- See NRS 205.170.
- Andrade v. State, (1971) 87 Nev. 144, 483 P.2d 208 (“voluntary intoxication, though not an excuse for crime, may be considered in determining intent…there is substantial evidence from which the jury could conclude that Andrade’s intoxication was not so gross as to preclude his intention to defraud.”).
- NRS 179.245.
- NRS 179.255.
- INA § 237(a)(2)(A). See also Moreno-Avendano v. Lynch, (9th Cir., 2015) 629 Fed. Appx. 807.
- INA § 101(a)(43)-(45).