Forgery and Counterfeit Defense Lawyers

Forgery and counterfeiting are both serious crimes in North Carolina and under U.S federal law. While these crimes are closely related, they are best defined as follows:

  • Forgery: Making or adapting object or documents with the intent to defraud another.
  • Counterfeiting: Making an unauthorized imitation of a genuine object with the intent to defraud.

Essentially, forgery is about writing something fraudulent, such as imitating another person’s signature, whereas counterfeiting is falsely replicated an object, such as money or a commercial item with false branding. The key issue at hand in these cases is whether prosecution can prove that such actions to imitate an object or false writing constitute an act of fraud. Fraud is not a simple mistake, but an act of criminal deception committed for personal or financial gain, often at the expense of others. Fighting these charges is no simple matter, as it requires looking carefully at all the facts of the case to expose weaknesses in the government’s argument against the defendant. That is why if you are facing forgery or counterfeiting charges, you will need an experience white-collar defense lawyer at your side. The lawyers at Tarlton Polk Law have successfully defended clients facing a variety of these types of charges and can come up with a strategy to get the best possible results.

cartoon of fake counterfeit money being observed under a magnifying lense

Common Law Forgery

Before getting into specific North Carolina laws on forgery and counterfeiting, we should address the few “common law” variations of this crime. Common laws are not written into statute like other criminal laws, but have been adopted through the legislative process by the actions of judges, dating back to English criminal law before the United States was independent. This does not make them federal laws, and in fact, the federal government cannot charge people with common law crimes anymore, but the state of North Carolina still can.

In North Carolina, “common law forgery” is recognized as a crime and punished as a class 1 misdemeanor. To be guilty of this crime, one must:

  • Make a false writing, or state that a false writing is true (knowing it to be false),
  • when the writing is apparently capable of effecting a fraud,
  • with the intent to defraud.

Elements of this definition, especially “apparently capable of effecting fraud”, are quite vague, which is why we have to look to case law to understand them.

Examples of False Writing Capable of Effecting Fraud

Like with most issues related to writing and speech, the U.S government cannot punish a person for acts protected by the Constitution’s First Amendment right to free speech. Therefore, “false writing” has to be something of legal consequence or effect that can make the person writing it subject to legal liability. Therefore, something like a painting, historical document, or letter of introduction cannot be the subject of forgery, but the following examples could:

  • Fake identification cards or transportation passes.
  • False legal signatures.
  • Signed check with a false name that is not on the signature for the bank account.
  • Signing somebody else’s name without authority.

To actually be “capable of effecting fraud”, the false writing must not only be of legal consequence, but appear to be genuine enough that others would be fooled by it. Essentially, it must look enough like the real thing that it could mislead a reasonable person. This does not mean it has to be a perfect copy, for example, if a name of the person or if the writing is informal, it can still be a forgery.

Intention to Defraud

While it would appear that the clearest way to prove something is truly forgery is whether it tricked a reasonable person, this is not required for a defendant to be guilty. A person can be guilty of forgery even if nobody believed them, so long as they intended that the false writing be used fraudulently. This can even be the case if the forgery was created but no attempt was made to use it to defraud anybody yet.

North Carolina Forgery Laws

North Carolina’s own laws on forgery and counterfeit more or less act as a codified version of common law forgery, with additional specifications on counterfeiting. It is also punished at at least a class I felony, meaning that North Carolina punishes this crime at a greater severity than common law. There are three key ways North Carolina criminalizes forgery and counterfeiting:

Forgery and Counterfeiting of Written "Instruments"

A person is guilty of this crime when they forge or counterfeit an instrument with the intent to defraud a person, financial institution, or governmental unit.  “Instrument” here means:

  • any currency, bill, note, warrant, check, order, or similar written object of or on any financial institution, governmental unit, or cashier of officer of the institution or unit.
  • any security issued by or on behalf of any corporation, financial institution, or governmental unit.

Posessing and Transporting Counterfeit Instruments

A person is guilty of this crime when they possess a counterfeit instrument, with the intent to defraud any person, financial institution, or governmental unit.

Essentially, one does not have to create the forged or counterfeited item, but being in possession of transporting it with intent to use it for fraud is still a forgery crime.

While all the other forgery and counterfeit crimes are only punished as a class I felony, a person can face a class G felony for this crime if they possess or transport five or more counterfeited instruments.

Uttering False Endorsements of Forged Instruments

As with common law forgery, it is a crime to say that a forged writing is truthful, knowing that it is false, with the intent to defraud. While “uttering” usually refers to saying something, it can also be something published, or even the act of delivering the forged writing to an agent to be passed, knowing that it is false.

Defending Against Forgery and Counterfeiting Charges

Defending against forgery and counterfeiting charges requires a thorough review of the case and all related charges you may be facing, which is why it is imperative that you hire an experienced white-collar federal defense attorney. There are several defenses that can be used in a forgery or counterfeiting case to either completely avoid liability, or significantly reduce charges. These defenses target the aspects that prosecution must prove to convict you of insurance fraud, which are that you:

  1. Defrauded, conspired to defraud, or attempted to defraud an insurer or insurance claimant,
  2. To obtain or deny benefits, and
  3. Did so knowingly and intentionally.

Our lawyers have successfully represented clients in fraud cases at state and federal levels and know how to carefully structure a defense based on the facts of the case. Most importantly, we are exceptionally skilled at taking these cases to trial, as we know the tactics used white collar criminal prosecution that often push the defendant into a plea-bargaining position before a trial begins. If you would like to learn more about how we an help, or request a consultation with us, then leave us a message or call us today.

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