Uttering a Forged Instrument
Uttering a forged instrument is a legal term for when you intentionally create something fake or altered and circulate it into the public. In plainest terms, “uttering” is creating or publishing, and “instrument” is a financial document or physical item, which can include anything from medical records and bills to state-issued identification and credit cards. Likewise, it can be a promissory note, check, bill, or draft. While the definition is straightforward, the punishment depends on the value of the document and your criminal history. This article goes over the details of this charge and what you can do.
Is uttering a forged instrument a felony or misdemeanor?
Uttering a forged instrument can be either a felony or misdemeanor, and is dependent on the value of the item. If the value of the instrument is under $1,000, it’s a misdemeanor. If the value of the instrument is over $1,000 it’s a felony.
Does the forged instrument have to go through to be charged?
No. If you utter a forged instrument, and it is immediately caught and no money exchanges hands, you can still be charged. The charge is for uttering a forged instrument, not obtaining money by uttering a forged instrument.
What is the punishment for uttering a forged instrument?
The punishment for uttering a forged instrument depends on its value.
- $0-$999: The crime is a misdemeanor forgery punishable by up to 1 year in the county jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000.
- $1,000-$2,499: The crime is treated as felony forgery and carries up to 2 years in the Department of Corrections or a county jail term of up to 1 year and/or a fine of up to $1,000.
- $2,500-$14,999: The crime is treated as felony forgery and carries up to 5 years in the Department of Corrections or up to 1 year in the county jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000.
- $15,000 or more: The crime is treated as felony forgery punishable by up to 8 years in the Department of Corrections and/or a fine of up to $1,000.
How is the value determined?
Most forged instruments will include a dollar amount. For example, a promissory note will always include the dollar amount on the document. The prosecution will go by this amount when charging the crime, and the court will utilize this amount when determining the maximum punishment.
One thing to be mindful of is the ability to aggregate. If you utter multiple forged instruments, the prosecution can add up the total of all forged instruments to charge you with a higher crime. For example, if you utter 4 forged checks all worth $900, you will not be charged with 4 misdemeanor forged instrument charges. Instead you will be charged with a single count of felony uttering a forged instrument, and it will carry up to 5 years in jail.
Is probation a possibility with this charge?
Yes. Depending on your criminal history, probation will most likely be offered for a first time offense. The listed punishments above are the maximum punishment, and are not typically what is offered for a plea deal.
Is restitution likely?
Yes. It would be very rare for the prosecutor to make a plea deal that didn’t include restitution. Additionally, if you choose to blind plead to a judge, the judge will almost always grant restitution to the victim. If you choose to plead, regardless of what type of plea you enter, you can almost guarantee restitution will be included.
If I have to pay restitution on a charge for uttering a forged instrument, do I have to pay it right away?
No. Normally a plea deal will give you a date you must pay the restitution by. The DA probation office will provide you a restitution “schedule,” which is a breakdown of when to make your payments. If you miss a payment on that restitution schedule, that is considered a violation of your probation and could lead to jail time. Typically if you miss a payment, they do not immediately violate your probation. You will be given an opportunity to get back on track and make your payments.
What is possession of a forged instrument?
Possession of a forged instrument means simply having in your possession “any forged, altered or counterfeit negotiable note, bill, draft or other evidence of debt.” For this to be a crime, you must:
- Know the document is forged, altered, or counterfeited
- Intend to use it, or cause it to be used, to defraud others
If you’re unaware you possess a forged document, it isn’t a crime. If you’re convicted of the charge, the penalties are the same as for uttering a forged instrument.
Keep in mind that selling and delivering forged documents for the payment of money is also a crime under the same standards listed above, and carries the same penalties. And, getting someone to sign a forged instrument is considered forgery in the second degree and is punishable by up to 7 years in prison.
The Bottom Line
Uttering a forged instrument is simply creating a fake document that will lead to you obtaining money fraudulently. The punishment for uttering a forged instrument is dependent on the value of the document. If you utter multiple forged instruments the total value of all of the instruments will be used to determine your charge and punishment. If you plead on a charge of uttering a forged instrument you will almost certainly be required to pay restitution in addition to the rest of your punishment.