Because federal law and the statutes of all 50 states classify forgery as a felony, potential penalties for the crime include probation, incarceration and fines, explains Criminal Defense Lawyer. Legal professionals refer to forgeries that misrepresent the identity of the forgers, such as falsifying doctors' notes, as "material" because they negatively impact the legal rights of others. Material forgeries have serious legal consequences.
To successfully secure convictions for forgery, prosecutors must prove a number of elements, notes Criminal Defense Lawyer. The first element relates to the act of forging. This may involve proving that the defendant crafted false writings, such as doctor's notes and certificates or altered existing material. The twin offenses of possessing and using forged material, which the laws of some jurisdictions refer to as "uttering false instruments," also fall into this category.
The second element that prosecutors must prove is that the material in question fits the legal definition of forgery, states Criminal Defense Lawyer. To fulfill this condition, prosecutors must show that the material has legal significance and is false. Legally significant material impacts people's obligations and rights, and includes drivers' licenses, currencies, letters of recommendation and physicians' notes.
The third element that prosecutors must prove is the intent to defraud, reports Criminal Defense Lawyer. The wish to defraud is what separates the innocent from the guilty. For this reason, prosecutors cannot, for example, charge a boat buyer who discovers that the seller forged the title to the craft, despite the fact that the buyer possesses forged materials.