Forgery Laws in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, a person commits forgery if he does any of the following with the intent to defraud or injure another person:

  • alter a document or any financial instrument without authority to do so
  • create, make or complete any fictitious document or financial instrument, or
  • use or present a forged document or other forged item for payment or exchange.

“Documents or instruments” includes, but is not limited to, wills, deeds, contracts, paper money, coins, credit cards, stamps, seals, trademarks, and identification cards.

Examples of forgery include:

  • signing another person’s name on a check
  • altering the amount on a check without permission
  • cashing a forged check at a bank
  • creating a fake deed or other real estate document
  • altering a financial document such as a promissory note, and
  • using a forged instrument or document to obtain or transfer property or money.

In each example, the offender intends to alter a check or other document or instrument or to use a falsified document or instrument to get money or property that was not intended for the offender. This constitutes fraud or injury to the victim. In this context, injury refers to a loss of money or other legal or financial injury (rather than a physical or emotional injury). For general information about forgery and fraud crimes, see Forgery Laws and Penalties.

Classification of Forgery Crimes in Pennsylvania

Forgery crimes are classified as both felonies and misdemeanors in Pennsylvania, depending on the type of document or instrument involved.

Felony of the second degree

In Pennsylvania, forgery is a felony of the second degree if the crime involves:

  • an instrument issued by the government—paper money, securities or postage stamps, or
  • an instrument representing an interest in a property or business, such as certificates of stock, bonds, or a certificate of interest in a business partnership.

The penalty for a felony of the second degree in Pennsylvania is up to ten years in prison and a fine up to $25,000.

Felony of the third degree

Acts of forgery are felonies of the third degree if they involve instruments such as a will, deed, contract, release, or other commercial instrument that evidence, create, transfer, alter, terminate, or somehow affect legal relationships. Forging a will or deed to property is a felony of the third degree in Pennsylvania because the documents affect ownership and inheritance of property, which are considered legal relationships.

The penalty for a felony in the third degree is up to seven years in prison and up to $15,000 in fines.

Misdemeanor of the first degree

All other acts of forgery in Pennsylvania such as forging a personal check or cashing a bad check are misdemeanors of the first degree.

Misdemeanors of the first degree are punishable by up to five years in jail or prison and fines up to $10,000.

Defenses

A person charged with a forgery crime in Pennsylvania can raise any general defense available in a criminal case, such as mistaken identity—not being the person who committed the crime—or the defense that the crime did not occur (the signature on a document used in a financial transaction was not actually altered and the document does not contain a false signature, for instance).

A person charged with forgery also can raise the specific defense that he was authorized or believed in good faith that he was authorized to sign or alter a document, such as a check or financial contract.

The fact that the defendant was entitled to collect money from the victim or believed he was so entitled is not a defense to forgery if the defendant was not authorized to change or create a document or present the item for payment. Likewise, forging a receipt to state a debt was paid in full is a crime even if the debt actually was paid in full.

Consult an Attorney

If you are charged with a forgery crime—even a misdemeanor—you should contact an attorney immediately. A conviction for any Pennsylvania forgery crime becomes part of your permanent criminal record whether the conviction is a felony or misdemeanor. A criminal conviction can hurt you when you are looking for a job or applying to rent a house or apartment. A convicted felon also loses the right to vote and carry firearms and can lose certain professional licenses.

An experienced attorney can determine whether you have any grounds for dismissal of the charges against you, explore plea options or represent you at trial. Only someone familiar with the local criminal court system and cases like yours will know how good your chances are for a favorable outcome in court or at the negotiating table. A knowledgeable attorney will take all of this into consideration, assist you in making decisions about your case, and protect your rights.

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