In the most broad terms, Forgery is the act of falsifying a writing with the intent to deceive another individual or entity, and is traditionally a state - and not federal - level offense. Only the most serious Forgery cases are brought by federal prosecutors - and they are punished very severely. While there is no general felony Forgery statute in the United States Code, a number of situation specific laws exist which punish this conduct. For example, federal statutes exist which prohibit the forging of passports (18 U.S.C. § 1543), the seals of federal government agencies and federal courts (18 U.S.C. §§ 505, 506), vehicle identification numbers (18 U.S.C. § 511), signatures on federal notes or bonds (18 U.S.C. § 510), customs declarations (18 U.S.C. § 496) or any deed, contract or power of attorney with the intent to defraud the United States. See 18 U.S.C. § 495.
The final example noted above, the forging of any deed, contract or power of attorney with the intent to defraud the United States, is perhaps the most generally applicable and covers three different types of conduct. Specifically, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 495, whoever: 1) falsely makes, alters or forges any deed, power of attorney, contract, or other writing, for the purposes of obtaining money from the United States, or to enable another to do the same; or 2) knowingly uses or publishes a false or forged writing with the intent to defraud the United States; or 3) transmits or presents to any office or officer of the United States a false or forged writing in support of any claim with the intent to defraud, shall be punished by up to 10 years imprisonment and fined. As the Court of Appeals has indicated, 18 U.S.C. § 495 is a "broadly worded felony statute," and it covers many situations. See United States v. Jackson, 805 F.2d 457, 462 (2d Cir. 1986); see also United States v. Bennerson, 616 F. Supp. 167, 173 n.4 (S.D.N.Y. 1985) ("a very general [statute]").
Also punished harshly is the forging or use of false passports. Specifically, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 1543, whoever: 1) forges or alters any passport with the intent that it be used as such; or 2) willfully and knowingly uses or attempts to use a false or forged passport, shall be imprisoned by up to 10 years for any first or second offense, and up to 15 years for any third or later offense. Further, if the crime was committed to further or facilitate drug trafficking, then a conviction may carry up to a 20 year sentence of imprisonment, and if the offense was committed to further or facilitate any act of international terrorism, then a conviction carries with it a potential term of imprisonment of 25 years.
The other examples noted above are punished accordingly: forging the seals of federal government agencies (up to five years imprisonment); forging the seals of federal courts or signatures of federal judges and court officers (up to five years imprisonment); forging signatures on federal notes and bonds (up to 10 years imprisonment); forging or altering a vehicle identification number (up to five years imprisonment); and forging customs declarations (up to three years imprisonment). Additionally, federal Forgery allegations frequently also result in charges of Wire or Mail Fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1341, 1343, which carry much harsher maximum terms of imprisonment of 20 years and a fine.
Hiring a top criminal defense attorney to defend you in any federal Forgery prosecution is crucial and will ensure that every viable defense is explored and utilized on your behalf. Lawyers at the Law Offices of Jeffrey Lichtman have successfully handled countless federal cases which include Forgery charges, exploiting holes in the prosecution's evidence to achieve the best possible result for our clients. Contact us today at (212) 581-1001 for a free consultation.