Forgery – creating or possessing documents that have been altered in some meaningful way – is a type of fraud. In Alabama, it is a crime both to make or alter written documents, and to possess forged documents with the intent to defraud others. For more general information on forgery and fraud crimes, see Forgery Laws and Penalties, Laws on Fraud, and Counterfeiting Laws and Penalties.
A person commits the crime of forgery in Alabama by making, completing, or altering a written instrument (or a written document, trademark, signature, or other symbol of value of identification) with the intent to defraud.
Making, completing, and altering. Forgery can be committed by creating, adding to, or altering a document. For example, signing another person's signature to a contract can be forgery, as could deleting important paragraphs from a will, or creating a fake state identification card.
Intent to defraud. A person has an intent to defraud if he or she intends to deceive or trick. However, signing a love letter from a pop star to a friend as a joke is unlikely to result in criminal charges, because the intent is to amuse, not to deceive. But, signing the same pop star's name to a poster with the intent to sell the poster on Ebay as an autograph is illegal, because the forger intends to trick whomever buys the poster into believing the autograph is real.
Aggravated forgery. In Alabama, forgery of certain documents -- including stamps, stocks, bonds, other securities, wills and deeds, checks, bank notes, contracts, public and government records, and any document that creates or transfers any legal right -- is punished more severely. Forgery of these types of documents is first or second degree forgery. (Ala. Code § § 13A-9-1, 13A-9-2, 13A-9-3, 13A-9-4.)
It is not only a crime to create forged documents; it is also a crime to possess such documents. A person commits the offense of possession of forged instruments (documents) by having or uttering (asserting that a document is true) a forged document knowing that the document has been forged and with the intent to defraud.
For example, a person who has a counterfeit bill but does not know that the bill has been counterfeited has not committed a crime. However, a person who tries to cash a check knowing that someone other than the account owner signed the check could be convicted of possession of a forged instrument.
Like forgery, possession of official or financial forged documents is punished more severely. Usually, a person cannot be punished for both forgery and possession of the same forged instrument. (Ala. Code § § 13A-9-5, 13A-9-6, 13A-9-7, 13A-9-8.)
It is also a crime in Alabama for a person to possess any device or equipment designed or adapted to make forgeries with the intent to use the equipment (or allow someone else to use it) for forgery. (Ala. Code § 13A-9-9.) For example, possession of tools to make fake passports would be a crime under this law.
Forgery of official or financial documents and possession of forged official or financial documents are Class B or C felonies, depending on the nature of the document. Class B felonies are punishable by two to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $30,000. Class C felonies are punishable by one year and one day to ten years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000 or up to twice the amount of money lost by the victim or gained by the defendant. Otherwise, forgery and possession of a forged instrument are Class A misdemeanors, punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $6,000. Possession of forgery tools is also a Class C felony. For more information on sentencing, see Alabama Misdemeanor Crimes by Class and Sentences and Alabama Felony Crimes by Class and Sentences.
Most forgery convictions can result in time in prison and a fine. Additionally, a forgery conviction can make it hard to obtain a job or a professional license, even after you have served your time and paid your fine. The best way to avoid a criminal conviction is to work with an experienced criminal defense attorney. An attorney can investigate the case, determine if any defenses apply, and help you mount the strongest possible arguments.