Forgery, or the common law crime of the falsification of a document, signature, or banknote, is covered under a number of statutes in Massachusetts law. Forgery is traditionally thought of as altering or falsely signing a document in order to gain monetary benefit from the altered document. While many of these statutes were created many years ago and are rarely used to prosecute individuals due to their arcane nature, an all-encompassing forgery statute still exists. Under Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 267, Section 1, anyone who falsely makes, alters, forges, or counterfeits a public record, certificate, or any thing that may be received as legal proof, and does so with the intent to defraud is guilty of forgery. While the statute might seem simple enough, it actually contains a number of specific instances that qualify as forgery. First, the statute specifically enumerates the more traditional forms of forgery, namely falsely signing a check and cashing said check . Second, the statute also makes it illegal for a person to fake currency or a traveler’s check when purchasing or exchanging goods or services. Finally, the statute mentions a number of specific documents that, when falsified, constitute forgery. These documents include wills, deeds, bonds, insurance policies, promissory notes, certificates of title or even duplicates certificates of title and other similar documents.

In order for a prosecutor to show that a defendant has committed forgery, the prosecutor must prove two elements beyond a reasonably doubt. For the first element, the prosecutor must show that the defendant either falsified one or more significant parts of the document in question or that the defendant counterfeited the document in order to make it appear genuine. As the model jury instructions describe, forgery can be committed three ways. First, the defendant can counterfeit or produce a fake legal document that appears to be real or genuine. In this type of forgery, rather than falsifying a signature, a defendant completes a completely new document and attempts to use the document as if it were genuine. Second, a defendant can falsely fill out information in a document that otherwise is genuine. This form of forgery includes actions such as falsifying a signature on a check, or even simply inserting additional words in a document that change its meaning. Third, the defendant can alter part of a genuine document in a way that has already been made out. This occurs when a defendant does something similar to changing the amount of money listed on a check. If the prosecutor can show that any of these three types of falsifications occurred, then the prosecutor will successfully prove the first element of forgery. In order to prove the second element of forgery, the prosecutor must show that the defendant did the previous action with the intent to injure or defraud someone. This makes forgery a specific intent crime, meaning the defendant must have known he was committing the crime in order to be convicted. In specific intent crimes, it isn’t enough for the prosecutor to simply show the defendant did the act in question, but also that the defendant knew he was doing so and that he did so with the intent to gain a monetary benefit. The burden is on the state to show that the defendant actually knew the document he passed was false.

If convicted of forgery, the penalties can be severe. As defined by statute, the possible punishment is imprisonment for ten years.

Forgery Defense Representation at the Law Firm of Altman & Altman, LLP

The Boston, Massachusetts criminal defense attorneys of Altman & Altman are available after hours and on weekends. To schedule a free case consultation to speak to an attorney about your forgery case, contact us online or call 617.492.3000 or 800.481.6199 (toll free) today.

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