In Texas, the crime of forgery consists of making, altering, or using any falsified written item with the intent to defraud or harm another. Written items include documents, as well as coins, badges, credit cards, seals, and other items. A person convicted of forgery faces anywhere from a class C misdemeanor to a first-degree felony.
Under the Texas Penal Code, forge means to:
Some examples of forgery include:
To secure a forgery conviction, prosecutors need to prove that the defendant knew the writing or instrument was forged and intended to defraud or harm another.
Knowledge. The prosecutor must show that the defendant knew the instrument was forged or fake. Say a defendant lands up with a forged $100 bill but doesn't know it and has no reason to know it's a fake. If the defendant tries to deposit the money in the bank, there's been no forgery on the defendant's part.
Intent to defraud or harm. A prosecutor also needs to establish that the defendant committed the forgery in order to deceive or harm another. For instance, the prosecution might try to show that the defendant forged a document in order to get a loan, obtain unauthorized government benefits, or cause someone financial or legal problems. Because only intent is needed, the prosecutor doesn't need to show that the harm actually occurred.
Forgery crimes can be felonies or misdemeanors in Texas, depending on the type of document or item involved or the value of any property or service sought. The classifications and possible penalties are listed below. Most forgery offenses carry felony penalties in Texas, including forgery of financial instruments and legal and government documents.
Below are the felony-level charges a defendant can face for forgery in Texas.
Forgery is a state jail felony if:
A state jail felony is punishable by 18 months to 2 years in jail and a fine of up to $10,000.
Forgery is a third-degree felony if:
A felony of the third degree is punishable by 2 to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
Forgery is a second-degree felony if the defendant forged the writing in order to obtain property or services worth $150,000 to $299,999. A felony of the second degree is punishable by 2 to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
Forgery is a first-degree felony if the defendant forged the writing in order to obtain property or services worth $300,000 or more. A felony of the first degree is punishable by a minimum 5-year prison term and up to 99 years and a fine of up to $10,000.
Texas classifies the following acts of forgery as misdemeanors.
Forgery is a class C misdemeanor if the defendant forged the writing in order to obtain property or services worth less than $100. A class C misdemeanor is a fine-only offense with a maximum fine of $500.
Forgery is a class B misdemeanor if the defendant forged the writing in order to obtain property or services worth $100 to $749. A class B misdemeanor carries a maximum penalty of 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine.
Forgery is a class A misdemeanor if the defendant forged the writing in order to obtain property or services worth $750 to $2,499. Also, forgeries that involve any instrument not listed under state jail felonies or third-degree felonies are Class A misdemeanors. Class A misdemeanors are punishable by up to one year in jail or a fine of up to $4,000, or both.
Texas imposes enhanced penalties when forgery crimes involve an elderly victim. Offenders with criminal records might also be subject to penalty enhancements.
If the victim is 65 years of age or older, a forgery offense automatically increases to the next higher category. For example, if an offender commits a state jail felony forgery against a 70-year-old victim, the penalty bumps up to a third-degree felony. This enhancement applies to both felony and misdemeanor forgery.
The state's general sentencing enhancements may apply to any defendant with prior convictions. The exact enhancement depends on the offense level for the current and prior convictions and the number of prior convictions. Most enhancements increase the offense level by a degree (from say a third-degree to a second-degree felony) or impose a mandatory minimum sentence. Both habitual felons and misdemeanants can face enhanced penalties in Texas.
A person charged with a forgery crime in Texas can raise any general defense available in a criminal case, such as mistaken identity—not being the person who committed the crime. Defendants might also have a defense against forgery charges if the alleged forgery is shown to be the genuine article, wasn't altered, or has a valid signature. Some defendants might defend on the basis that they were authorized to sign or alter a document, such as a check or financial contract, or believed in good faith that they had that authority.
Returning or offering to return any money or property unlawfully obtained isn't a defense to forgery. And, in most cases, the convicted defendant will be required to pay restitution to victims as part of their sentence.
If you are charged with a forgery crime—even a misdemeanor—contact an attorney immediately. A conviction for any Texas forgery crime can become part of your permanent criminal record. A criminal conviction can hurt you when you are looking for a job or applying to rent a house or apartment.
An experienced, local criminal defense attorney can determine whether you have any grounds for dismissal of the charges against you, explore plea options, or represent you at trial.
(Tex. Penal Code § 32.21 (2022).)