You're at an upscale restaurant in New Jersey with your wife. You've just finished a delicious meal with some fine wine. Your wife pulls out her credit card, and places it on the table. A moment later, she decides to go to the “powder room” to freshen up. The waiter arrives, takes the credit card and, shortly thereafter, returns with the card and the credit card slip. You add a tip to the amount, and sign your wife's name to the slip. Your wife returns from the powder room and you both leave to catch a show. By signing your wife's name to the slip you just committed a forgery. Or did you?
To answer this question under New Jersey law, we look to the statute that defines forgery. That statute is N.J.S. 2C:21-1. Different ways exist under that statute to commit forgery. One way is to alter or change the writing of someone else without his authorization. That situation clearly does not exist here. But another way is to make a writing that purports to be the act of another who did not authorize that act. Let's look at that second way more closely.
Darling wife was in the powder room when waiter returned with the slip. Before she left, wife did not say, “Honey, please sign my name.” She did not explicitely authorize her Sir Galahad to sign her name. But the scenario presented here is that of a loving couple--a harmonious team. As such, it appears clear that husband had implicit authorization to sign the slip. This is especially true if this is a practice that had occurred on previous occasions. And implicit authorization is just as valid as explicit. The only difference from a legal perspective is that, in those situations where authorization is actually in issue, implicit authorization might be difficult to prove.
Continuing with this example, even were authorization to be challenged, Sir Galahad has an additional defense to a charge of forgery. All forgeries have, as an element, purpose to defraud or injure someone, or knowledge that he is facilitating a fraud or injury to be perpetrated. Clearly that element here does not exist. So for all these reasons, not only would Sir Galahad not be charged with forgery, but he did not even commit forgery, technically or otherwise.
Of course, not all situations where person A signs the name of person B are so benign. Basic forgery in New Jersey, where it does exist, is typically a fourth degree crime. Forgery involving some items, however, is a third degree crime. Those items include securities, postage, government licenses or certificates, prescription blanks, and personal identifying information. And even when “just” a fourth degree crime, companion crimes, as described in the “Other Forgery Concerns” Section, below, are typically third degree crimes, sometimes higher.
Not surprisingly, forgery is a crime under federal law. Numerous federal statutes treat forgery in particular situations. Thus 15 U.S.C. §1644 criminalizes fraudulent use of credit cards. The use must involve interstate commerce, and the aggregate value must reach $1,000.00 within a one-year period. 18 U.S.C. §498 deals with forgery of military discharge certificates. 18 U.S.C. §1543 makes it a federal crime to forge passports. Federal forgeries can also be committed within the “special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States.”
Federal forgeries can be investigated by any of numerous federal agencies. Those agencies include the FBI, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Department of Homeland Security, and United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS). Federal forgery charges in New Jersey are prosecuted by an Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA) in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey.
Other Forgery Concerns
Forgery does not exist in a vacuum. Under both New Jersey and federal law, companion charges typically accompany charges of forgery. These companion charges might include identity theft, theft, and theft of services. All of these companion crimes have their own separate elements, and carry their own potential punishment. These separate punishments can run consecutively to whatever sentence might be imposed for the forgery.
Forgery Lawyers in NJ
Allan Marain and Norman Epting, Jr. are forgery lawyers in New Jersey. They are skilled and experienced. Their combined experience exceeds sixty-five years. They are available to meet with you to discuss forgery charges or possible forgery charges under both New Jersey and federal law. Persons faced with such charges can call them for an initial no-charge no-obligation conference.