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Understanding the Crime of Forgery in Pennsylvania

October 24, 2019

By van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim

On August 14, 2019, a woman was arrested for attempting to cash a forged check at Midland States Bank. Now, she faces multiple charges including three counts of forgery. While attempting to cash a forged check may sound like a minor crime, Pennsylvania takes the crime of forgery very seriously. It comes with harsh penalties and those charged should always speak to a Philadelphia criminal defense attorney that can help.

What is the Crime of Forgery in Pennsylvania?

According to the Pennsylvania statutes, forgery is the act of reproducing any document, signature, banking note, or a work of art. For a person to be charged with the crime, they must have the intent to defraud someone through the forgery.

Forgery can involve signing another person’s name on a check, or writing a check when a person knows there are no available funds in the account. Forgery can also involve altering checks or other documents, such as academic transcripts, real estate deeds, or documents used to perpetrate identity theft. Other documents that are commonly forged include:

  • Money orders
  • Wills
  • Driver’s licenses
  • Contracts
  • Credit cards
  • Stamps
  • Bonds
  • Court seals
  • Trademarks
  • Promissory notes
  • Works of art

When a person is charged with forging any of these documents, or any other, they face jail time, even for the most minor forgery offense.

Penalties for Forgery

Forgery in Pennsylvania is charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the value of the forged item. The penalties are as follows:

  • Summary offense: The least of all forgery crimes, summary offenses involve forged items valued at less than $200. The penalty for this is a maximum of 90 days in jail.
  • Third-degree misdemeanor: When the value of the forged item is between $200 and $500, the penalty is a maximum of one year in prison.
  • Second-degree misdemeanor: For forged items valued between $500 and $999, the maximum penalty is up to three years in prison.
  • First-degree misdemeanor: If the value of the forged item is over $1,000, the maximum penalty is up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
  • Third-degree felony: When the forgery involved documents pertaining to a legal matter, such as a will or contract, it is a third-degree felony. The maximum penalty is up to seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine.
  • Second-degree felony: In the case that the forged document involves government documentation, such as a driver’s license or postage stamps, the maximum penalty is up to ten years in prison and a fine of $25,000.

When a person is charged with forgery and has a prior conviction for the crime, these penalties are generally increased.

Defenses Against Forgery Charges

There are two main defenses criminal lawyers will use when defending forgery charges.

The first is that the accused did not have the intention to defraud or injure a person by means of forgery. For example, if a person believed they had permission to alter a document, such as a contract, they did not have the intention to defraud anyone.

The second main defense is very similar, and rests on the fact that the accused did not know a document was forged. If for example, a person cashed a check before being made aware there was a stop payment on it, they are not guilty of forgery.

Like all criminal charges, the argument of mistaken identity, and the fact that no crime occurred, are also possible defenses.

Facing Forgery Charges? Call Our Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Attorneys

If you’ve been charged with forgery, you may be facing high fines and extensive jail time. At van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim, our Philadelphia criminal defense attorneys can help. We know there are many possible defenses to these accusations, and we’ll use them to give you the best chance of holding onto your freedom. Call us today at (215) 486-0123 for your free consultation to learn more about how we can help with your case.


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