Forgery Laws in Kentucky

The basics of forgery and criminal possession of forged instruments in Kentucky.

By , J.D. · UC Law San Francisco
Reviewed by Rebecca Pirius, Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated May 05, 2023

Forgery—creating, using, or possessing a false document with the intent to defraud someone—is a crime in Kentucky. Kentucky law breaks this crime into three categories, with increasingly severe punishments. These and related laws and penalties are described below.

What Is Forgery in Kentucky?

Forgery may occur in a number of different circumstances under Kentucky law, but the prosecutor must prove each of the elements (or parts) of this crime beyond a reasonable doubt to gain a conviction in every case. These elements are described next.

Making or Altering a Writing

This element requires that the defendant took some action with regard to a writing—either to create a document or change an existing writing in a way that would have significant legal consequences.

Forging someone's signature on a release of liability after an accident occurs (to try and avoid liability for any injury) is one example of how someone might create or alter a writing that would satisfy this element. However, not all writings are included in the definition of forgery—only false writings of legal significance.

False Writings of Legal Significance

Writings that count for a forgery charge must have these two characteristics: They must be of legal significance, and the writing must be false, as discussed below. To prove this second element, the prosecutor must prove that the writing in question falls into both of these categories.

Writings of legal significance. In order to be punishable as forgery, the writing in question must have apparent legal significance. Government-issued documents like driver's licenses and money are included here, as well as legal documents (like wills, medical prescriptions, and deeds of sale).

Examples of writings with legal significance. The key, however, is the legal significance; so to be included here, a document need not necessarily be a legal or government-issued document. It must simply have legal significance, which means that it affects legal rights and obligations. Recommendation letters for a job or college application are examples of this kind of writing. In contrast, a note in which you sign your roommate's name, telling the dog sitter where the dog food is kept, does not have legal significance.

The writing must be false. To be false, a writing must have been intentionally altered or fabricated in a way that would lead a potential victim of forgery to believe that the document is something it is not or represents something that it does not. A mere error in a document does not make it false.

Intent to Defraud, Deceive, or Injure

In addition to the elements described above, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant made, alter, used, or possessed the false writing with the specific purpose of defrauding, deceiving, or injuring someone (or some organization). Notice that it is the intent to defraud, not the actual success of the scheme that matters for a conviction. Therefore, a defendant who created a false letter of recommendation to falsely gain admittance to his college of choice has committed forgery before he even gets to the post office to send the letter.

This intent element protects people who possess or sign fraudulent documents without knowing they are false from being subject to criminal liability. For example, if you buy a house, but later find out that the title documents were fabricated by the seller, you would not be subject to forgery charges for the possession of the forged title because you had no intent to defraud anyone.

(Ky. Rev. Stat. §§ 516.010 to 516.070 (2023).)

What Are the Penalties for Forgery in Kentucky?

Kentucky punishes forgery according to the type of document involved in the crime.

Forgery in the First Degree

The harshest penalties apply to forgery offenses involving:

  • money, stamps, securities, or other valuable instruments issued by a government or governmental agency, or
  • part of an issue of stock, bonds, or other instruments representing interests in or claims against a corporate or other organization or its property.

Forgery in the first degree is a Class C felony, and penalties include 5 to 10 years in prison. (Ky. Rev. Stat. § 516.020 (2023).)

Forgery in the Second Degree

Second-degree forgery includes offenses involving:

  • a deed, will, codicil, contract, assignment, commercial instrument, credit card, or another instrument that does or may affect a legal right, interest, obligation, or status
  • a public record or an instrument filed, required, or authorized by law to be filed in a public office or with a public employee, or
  • a written instrument officially issued or created by a public office, public employee, or governmental agency.

Forgery in the second degree is a Class D felony, punishable by one to five years in prison. (Ky. Rev. Stat. § 516.030 (2023).)

Forgery in the Third Degree

Forgery in the third degree is a catch-all category, and includes writings not included in first- and second-degree forgery. This is a Class A misdemeanor, which incurs a fine of up to $500, up to a year of jail time, or both. (Ky. Rev. Stat. §§ 516.040, 532.090 (2023).)

What Is Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument in Kentucky?

Kentucky also punishes the use or possession of a forged instrument with the intent to defraud.

Possession or use. Sometimes called "uttering a false document," this crime does not include the making or altering, as described above, but rather the possession or use of such a document with the same fraudulent intent.

Penalties. Criminal possession of a forged instrument carries the same penalties as forgery based on the type of forged instrument involved. First-degree offenses are Class C felonies. Second-degree offenses are Class D felonies. And third-degree offenses are Class A misdemeanors. Check out the section above for the penalties and types of documents.

(Ky. Rev. Stat. §§ 516.050, 516.060, 516.070 (2023).)

Possession of a Forgery Device in Kentucky

It is also a crime to possess a device for creating forged documents, such as a die-cast for forging money. This crime is a Class D felony and, in addition to the applicable prison term, the state will confiscate and dispose of the device, too. (Ky. Rev. Stat. §§ 516.090, 516.100 (2023).)

Talk to a Lawyer

If you have been charged with forgery or a related crime, or have questions about how state law applies to you, contact an experienced local criminal defense attorney. A qualified lawyer can provide legal advice, including how to best handle the unique circumstances of your case. For forgery crimes charged in federal court, be sure to find a defense lawyer who regularly practices in federal court.

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