What is Forgery in Arizona?
A.R.S. § 13-2002 defines Arizona’s forgery law. Forgery occurs when somebody alters a written document so that it is false with the intent to defraud another person. A common example of this is attempting to cash a check with a forged signature. This crime is often charged in conjunction with possession of a forgery device.
Forgery is usually charged in Arizona as a class 4 felony .
A.R.S. § 13-2002 Defined
Under ARS 13-2002, a person commits if, with intent to defraud, the person:
- Falsely makes, completes or alters a written instrument; or
- Knowingly possesses a forged instrument; or
- Offers or presents, whether accepted or not, a forged instrument or one that contains false information.
Forgery is a class 4 felony. If the forgery is used in connection with a drop house, however, then the forgery becomes a class 3 felony. A “drop house” is a property that is used for smuggling/human trafficking.
Note: The possession of five or more forged instruments may give rise to an inference that the instruments are possessed with an intent to defraud.
Important Definitions for Forgery
Arizona’s forgery law contains certain words and phrases that have specific legal definitions thar are defined by statute in ARS 13-2001. For the purposes of understanding ARS 13-2002, the following definitions are important to know:
- “Written Instrument”: Any paper, document or other instrument that contains written or printed matter or its equivalent; any token, stamp, seal, badge, trademark, graphical image, access device or other evidence or symbol of value, right, privilege or identification.
- “Forged Instrument”: A written instrument that has been falsely made, completed or altered.
- “Complete Written Instrument”: A written instrument that purports to be genuine and fully drawn with respect to every essential feature.
- “Falsely alters a written instrument”: To change a complete or incomplete written instrument, without the permission of anyone entitled to grant it, by means of counterfeiting, washing, erasure, obliteration, deletion, insertion of new matter, connecting together different parts of the whole of more than one genuine instrument or transposition of matter or in any other manner, so that the altered instrument falsely appears or purports to be in all respects an authentic creation of its ostensible maker or authorized by him.
- “Falsely completes a written instrument”: To transform an incomplete written instrument into a complete one by adding, inserting or changing matter without the permission of anyone entitled to grant it, so that the complete written instrument falsely appears or purports to be in all respects an authentic creation of its ostensible maker or authorized by him.
- “Falsely makes a written instrument”: To make or draw a complete or incomplete written instrument that purports to be an authentic creation of its ostensible maker but that is not either because the ostensible maker is fictitious, or because, if real, the ostensible maker did not authorize the making or drawing of the written instrument.
Penalties for Forgery
The penalties for a conviction under ARS 13-2002 depend on whether it is charged as a class 4 or a class 3 felony. Unless the forgery involves a drop house, it will be charged as a class 4 felony; so the vast majority of forgery cases are therefore class 4 felonies. First-time offenders are probation eligible if they are convicted; however, a conviction for a person with multiple felonies requires prison time be served.
Penalties for a class 3 felony
- With no prior felonies: probation or 2 to 8.75 years in prison
- With one prior felony: 3.25 to 16.25 years in prison
- With two prior felonies: 7.5 to 25 years in prison
Penalties for a class 4 felony
- With no prior felonies: probation or 1 to 3.75 years in prison
- With one prior felony: 2.25 to 7.5 years in prison
- With two prior felonies: 6 to 15 years in prison
Can Forgery be Reduced to a Misdemeanor or Dismissed?
Although forgery is a felony charge, a defense attorney may be able to negotiate a plea agreement that would result in a misdemeanor conviction. One common way that this is done is by pleading to the lesser charge of possession of a forgery device, which is a class 6 felony. If the charge is plead what is called a “class 6 open” that allows for the charge to eventually be converted into a misdemeanor after the defendant’s term of probation is successfully completed.
If appropriate and the defendant has no prior criminal history, a defense attorney may also try to convince the prosecutor that the case is appropriate for a diversion program. Granting a diversion plea is at the discretion of the prosecutor, but it allows for the defendant to eventually have his case dismissed after completing certain court-ordered counseling sessions.
Defenses to Forgery
The possible defenses to forgery varies widely depending on the facts of the case. However, in general some common forgery defenses include the following:
- No “Intent to Defraud”: Conviction for forgery in Arizona requires the prosecutor prove that the defendant passed a forged instrument with the intent to defraud. Sometimes intent can be presumed under the law, but even if it is, the jury is still free to reject the presumption. If the defendant believed that he had consent from the owner of the written instrument to sign on the owner’s behalf, then this would negate the allegations of forgery. This is seen when a spouse or close relative may have authorized the defendant to sign checks on their behalf, but then due to a falling out between them now claims that the checks are forged instruments.
- Lack of Knowledge: Another defense is that the defendant did not have knowledge that they were attempting to cash a forged instrument.
Example: Someone asks the defendant to cash a check for him. The check may be forged, but the defendant, who is only doing a favor for a friend, does not know it. In this scenario, the lack of knowledge on the defendant’s part negates any intent to defraud.
How Salwin Law Group Can Help You
If you have been charged with forgery, an experienced defense attorney can help defend you. We offer free consultation and can discuss your case with you today. Together we can help you get your life back.