Forgery Laws in Tennessee

In Tennessee, the crime of forgery consists of forging any written item with the intent to defraud or harm another. Written items include any document but also coins, badges, credit cards, and seals.

Under Tennessee law, to forge means to:

  • make, sign, or alter any written document by signing another person’s name, by altering the time or place of signature, or in order to pass off the writing as a copy of an original that does not exist
  • make false entries in records or books
  • use, present, or transfer a forged item (also known as “uttering” a forged instrument)
  • possess a forged instrument with the intent to utter it.

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.

Intent to defraud or injure another means an intent to get money or property that was not intended for the offender, or take legal action that the offender is not authorized to do, such as transferring property. Injury refers to a loss of money or other legal or financial injury. For general information about forgery and fraud crimes, see Forgery Laws and Penalties.

Classification and Penalties

Forgery crimes can be felonies or misdemeanors in Tennessee and are classified according to the value involved. For example, when a forgery crime involves no more than $500—a check for $250—the crime is a misdemeanor. The values, classification and possibly penalties are as follows:

  • $500 or less – Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to 11 months and 20 days in jail or a fine up to $2,500, or both
  • more than $500 but less than $1,000 – Class E felony punishable by 1 – 6 years in prison and a fine up to $3,000
  • more than $1,000 but less than $10,000 – Class D felony punishable by 2 – 12 years in prison and a fine up to $5,000
  • more than $10,000 but less than $60,000 – Class C felony punishable by 3 – 15 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000
  • more than $60,000 but less than $250,000 – Class B felony punishable by 8 – 30 years in prison and a fine up to $25,000
  • more than $250,000 – Class A felony punishable by 15 - 60 years in prison and a fine up to $50,000

Defenses

A person charged with a forgery crime in Tennessee 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 of Tennessee’s forgery crimes can become 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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