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Forgery in Florida – What’s The Real Story?

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Forgery is considered a “white collar” crime that is in essence the act of producing a false legal document or materially altering one with the intent to defraud another. In Florida, doing so is a felony.

Basics

In Florida, a felony is falsely making, altering, forging, or counterfeiting of certain documents with the intent to injure or defraud another. The documents listed in the statute break down roughly into two broad groups: public documents and private contracts.

In general, the elements of forgery in Florida are:

  • making, altering, forging, or counterfeiting
  • a written instrument that is falsely purporting to be from another person organization
  • that appears to be of legal importance
  • intending to injure or defraud another

Public documents

The Florida forgery statute identifies several public documents that are illegal to make or alter:

  • a public record, or
  • a certificate, return or attestation of any clerk or register of a court, public register, notary public, town clerk or any public officer.

Merely creating or altering such a document is not a crime in an of itself. The Florida forgery statute says the forged document must be used in relation to a matter that it may be used as a legal proof.

Private Documents

The list of private documents that are illegal to counterfeit in Florida is much longer. It includes:

  • charter,
  • deed,
  • will,
  • testament,
  • bond, or writing obligatory,
  • letter of attorney,
  • policy of insurance,
  • bill of lading,
  • bill of exchange or promissory note, or
  • an order, acquittance, or discharge for money or other property,
  • or an acceptance of a bill of exchange or promissory note for the payment of money,
  • or any receipt for money, goods or other property,
  • or any passage ticket, pass or other evidence of transportation issued by a common carrier.

Just as with public documents, counterfeiting a private document by itself is not a crime without the intent to injure or defraud another.

Penalty

In Florida, forgery is a third degree felony, which could lead to a prison sentence of up to five years, probation upon release for up to another five years, and a fine of up to $5,000. In addition, those convicted of forgery in Florida will have a felony record that will follow them their entire lives.

Common Defenses

Defenses that are commonly used to forgery charges in Florida are several. Defense counsel may attempt to show that the defendant lacked the intent to injure or defraud another, telling the jury that the document the defendant created was made or delivered did so to show his or her talent or for humorous purposes.

Another defense often raised is that of a lack of knowledge that the document was forged, as it may have come to him or her as a complete product and without a true understanding of its origins.

Uttering A Forged Instrument

In Florida, the crime of uttering a forged instrument is distinct from the crime of forgery. To utter a forged instrument, one must

  • publish as true
  • a forged or altered record, deed, or other such instrument
  • while knowing it to be false
  • with the intent to injure or defraud another.

Punishment for uttering a false instrument in Florida is that of a third degree felony, as listed above.

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