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Forgery and Falsification of Records

The forgery provisions of the Penal Law are found in Article 170. There are three degrees each of forgery and criminal possession of a forged instrument, ranging in gravity from a class A misdemeanor to a class C felony, depending primarily on the nature of the forgery at issue.


Key Penal Law Provisions:

  • Forgery in the third degree, PL 170.05, a class A misdemeanor
  • Forgery in the second degree, PL 170.10, a class D felony
  • Forgery in the first degree, PL 170.15, a class C felony
  • Criminal possession of a forged instrument in the third degree, PL 170.20, a class A misdemeanor
  • Criminal possession of a forged instrument in the second degree, PL 170.25, a class D felony
  • Criminal possession of a forged instrument in the first degree, PL 170.30, a class C felony
  • Criminal simulation, PL 170.45, a class A misdemeanor
  • Forgery, PL 170.00

Forgery is often thought of as the creation of a false document or the act of faking a signature on a written document in order to trick another person into engaging into doing something he or she believes is warranted or authorized by the fraudulent document or signature. New York’s broad forgery statutes capture not only these kinds of acts, but also other conduct relating to falsification of authentic electronic documents or signatures.

The basic forgery offense reads that “[a] person is guilty of forgery in the third degree when, with intent to defraud, deceive or injure another, he falsely makes, completes or alters a written instrument.” PL 170.05. Although a relatively short provision, it contains several defined terms that must be considered in evaluating a forgery charge. These definitions do not necessarily comport with common understandings. For example, the definition of “written instrument” includes computer data and computer programs. Reference to the definition section is also required to understand the act of forgery that is being charged.

Forgery in the second degree provides an enhanced penalty for those forgeries involving such written instruments as deeds, wills, contracts, credit cards, checks, prescriptions, public records, or other instruments issued by a public office. PL 170.10.

Forgery in the first degree charges are reserved for those forgers of things like currency, or stock or bond certificates. PL 170.15.

Article 170 contains parallel provisions for criminal possession of a forged instrument. See PL 170.20, 170.25, 170.27. These possession charges would apply to possessors of forged instruments, and no overt act of forgery on the part of the possessor need apply. Of course, like most crimes, criminal possession of a forged instrument has an intent or mens rea element, which requires the person in possession of the forged instrument to do so with the intent to defraud, deceive, or injure another. PL 170.20. It should be noted here that the possession of a fake ID or a forged driver’s license can lead to felony liability under these provisions. PL 170.25.

Criminal simulation involves the manufacture of fake collectibles or other objects purporting to feature a rare or unique quality. The law states that “A person is guilty of criminal simulation when [w]ith intent to defraud, he makes or alters any object in such a manner that it appears to have an antiquity, rarity, source or authorship which it does not in fact possess; or [w]ith knowledge of its true character and with intent to defraud, he utters or possesses an object so simulated.” PL 170.45.

Other crimes of note in Article 170 include Forgery of a vehicle identification number, PL 170.65, and Fraudulent making of an electronic access device in the second degree, PL 170.75.

Offenses Involving False Written Statements

The offenses in Article 175 are mostly designed to cover any falsification or alteration of records kept by a business entity designed to evidence or reflect its activity.

Key Penal Law Provisions:

  • Falsifying business records in the second degree – PL 175.05, a class A misdemeanor
  • Falsifying business records in the first degree – PL 175.10, a class E felony
  • Tampering with public records in the second degree – PL 175.20, a class A misdemeanor
  • Tampering with public records in the first degree – PL 175.25, a class D felony
  • Offering a false instrument for filing in the second degree – PL 175.30, a class A misdemeanor
  • Offering a false instrument for filing in the first degree – PL 175.35, a class E felony
  • Issuing a false certificate – PL 175.40, a class E felony
  • Issuing a false financial statement – PL 175.45, a class A misdemeanor
Falsifying Business Records

The two provisions in the Penal Law can and have been designed to capture myriad factual scenarios or instances of alleged wrongdoing on the part of officers or employees of corporations or other business associations. The base offense deals with various actions taken with respect to entries in business records. It is a crime, for example, to make a false entry, or purposefully alter or erase a valid one with the intent to defraud. PL 175.05. The charge is enhanced if the making or alteration of the entry was done in furtherance of the commission or concealment of another crime. PL 175.10.

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