Forgery – creating or possessing documents that have been altered in some meaningful way – is a type of fraud. Colorado law prohibits not only making and altering written documents with the intent to deceive, but also possessing forged documents with the intent to trick others. For more general information on forgery and fraud crimes, see Forgery Laws and Penalties, Laws on Fraud, and Counterfeiting Laws and Penalties.
In Colorado, a person commits the crime of forgery by falsely making, completing, altering, or uttering (offering as true) a written instrument with the intent to defraud. A person has the intent to defraud if he or she intends to deceive or trick.
For example, copying the Declaration of Independence for your own use is unlikely to result in criminal charges, because the intent is to educate yourself, not to deceive. But, signing the forefathers’ names to a modern document with the intent of making it appear historic and selling it to a museum is illegal because the maker intends to pass off the document as authentic.
Forgery of certain written instruments is punished more severely under Colorado law, including forgeries of:
Forgery of other types of written documents is second degree forgery, which is a less serious crime. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § § 18-5-102, 18-5-104.)
In Colorado, it is not only a crime to create forged documents; it is also a crime to possess such documents with the knowledge that the document has been forged and with the intent to use it to defraud. Like forgery itself, possession of forged documents is punished more severely if the document is a financial or legal document, or a public record. In Colorado, a person may not be convicted of both forgery of and criminal possession the same document. So, a person cannot be convicted of both forging a check to himself and possession of the same forged check. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § § 18-5-105, 18-5-107, 18-5-108.)
Colorado law also prohibits altering or completing a false academic record from a high school or college with the intent to use the record to apply to a school or for a job or scholarship. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-5-104.5.)
Like many other states, Colorado also criminalizes the possession of tools used to make forgeries or counterfeits. These tools are sometimes called forgery devices. It is a crime to possess any tool or equipment specifically designed to make counterfeit or forged documents, or any tool or equipment that the defendant intends to use to make forgeries or knows will be used to make forgeries. For example, it is illegal to possess both a specialized printer for making counterfeit $20 bills and the paper on which the bills will be printed – even if the paper has other, legitimate uses – if the defendant intends to use the paper for counterfeiting. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-5-109.)
Forgery is a class 5 felony, punishable by a sentence of one to three years in prison and a fine of $1,000 to $100,000. Possession of forged financial and legal documents and public records is a class 6 felony, punishable by one year to 18 months in prison and a fine of $1,000 to $100,000. Possession of other forged documents is a class 2 misdemeanor, which carries a possible jail term of three to 12 months, a fine of $250 to $1,000, or both. Second degree forgery and using a forged academic record are both class 1 misdemeanors, punishable by six to 18 months in jail, a fine of $500 to $5,000, or both. Criminal possession of a forgery device is also a class 6 felony. For more information on sentencing, see Colorado Misdemeanor Crimes by Class and Sentences and Colorado 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 so that you can protect your rights and obtain the best possible outcome in your case.