Forgery – creating or altering written documents or other objects in order to deceive or trick others – is a type of fraud. Arizona law prohibits both making and altering written documents, as well as possessing forged documents. For more general information on forgery and fraud crimes, see Forgery Laws and Penalties, Laws on Fraud, and Counterfeiting Laws and Penalties.
In Arizona, a person commits forgery by:
A written instrument is any written document or a stamp, seal, badge, trademark, image, or symbol of value or identification, such as a signature. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § § 13-2001, 13-2002.) For example, signing someone else's signature on a lease is forgery, as is deleting an important sentence from a contract. A person also commits forgery by creating a fake coupon to use at a store or by attempting to cash a check that the defendant knows was signed by someone other than the account holder.
An intent to defraud is an intent to deceive or trick. For example, a person who copies a famous artist's signature for an art exhibit has not committed a crime if the person's intention is to entertain or educate or provoke a discussion about art. However, a person who copies a famous artist's signature on a painting with the intent to sell the painting as an original could be convicted of forgery.
It is also a crime in Arizona to possess forgery tools. A person commits this crime by making or possessing any equipment or goods (including computer software) specifically designed or adapted for use in forgery, with the intent to commit fraud; or making or possessing any equipment or goods that could be used to commit forgery, with the intent to use the item to commit forgery. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 13-2003.) For example, a person who possesses a government seal and uses it to make fake birth certifications appear more real could be convicted of possession of a forgery tool.
In Arizona, offenses are grouped together into classes, such as class 2 felonies, and lawmakers have set a presumptive sentence for each class. In many cases, the defendant will be given the presumptive sentence, but a judge may sentence a defendant to the aggravated term (which is longer than the presumptive term) if the prosecutor can show certain aggravating circumstances. If there are mitigating circumstances, then the judge can sentence the defendant to a shorter term. For more information, see Arizona Misdemeanor Crimes by Class and Sentences and Arizona Felony Crimes by Class and Sentences.
Forgery is a class 4 felony (punishable by a presumptive term of two years and six months in prison and an aggravated term of three years and nine months), unless the forged instrument is used to purchase or rent a house used in a smuggling operation, in which case forgery is a class 3 felony (punishable by a presumptive term of three years and six months or an aggravated term of eight years and nine months). Possession of forgery tools is either a class 5 or class 6 felony. A person convicted of a class 5 felony in Arizona faces a presumptive term of two years and an aggravated term of two years and six months in prison. The presumptive term for a class 6 felony is one year in prison and the aggravated term is two years in prison. Defendants convicted of felonies in Arizona also may be ordered to pay a fine of up to $150,000.
A conviction for forgery or any other fraud crime can result in serious penalties, including time in prison or jail, a fine, and a lasting criminal record. If you are charged with or accused of a crime, you should always talk to a local criminal defense attorney before making a statement or entering a plea. An attorney can help you protect your rights and obtain the best possible outcome in your case.