Your Guide to Understanding La. RS 14:72 Forgery Laws in Louisiana
Think about forgery for a moment. The term may conjure up images of fake dollar bills and photographs glued onto passports.
Yet more than 45,000 Americans were arrested for forgery in 2019. That’s more than five arrests per hour. You can get charged with forgery for something completely legal, and it can be hard to defend yourself.
What is forgery under Louisiana law? What elements do prosecutors have to prove in forgery cases? How can someone defend themselves against accusations of forging documents?
Answer these questions and you can mount a strong defense against forgery charges. Here is your quick guide.
The Definition of Forgery in Louisiana
Louisiana has a very broad definition of forgery. Someone who forges a signature to any piece of writing that has legal power commits a crime. A person can forge a signature, a clause to a legal document, or an entire document.
The forger’s writing seems to be someone else’s writing. A victim may think that someone has signed off on an action that they did not approve of. This can lead to money or property being transferred or stolen.
RS 14:72 provides the basic definition of forgery. The subsequent sections go into detail about particular forgery cases.
Subsection 1 makes the use of forged academic records illegal. Someone cannot use a fake diploma or transcript to secure entrance into a college or university.
Subsection 2 criminalizes monetary instrument abuse, better known as counterfeiting money. It is also illegal to own or make a fake stock certificate, bond, or check.
Though the definition of forgery is broad, the state cannot charge everyone for it. The law makes it clear that someone must have the “intent to defraud.”
A person must commit forgery in order to deceive someone else or cheat the system. This means that someone who owns or receives a forged document will not go to jail.
The forged document can be anything. It can be a printed document or a digitized one. It can be a stamp, seal, or symbol.
But the document must have some legal bearing. Forging a signature on a greeting card will not lead to a forgery charge because it has no legal ramifications.
The forger must write in a way that misrepresents the document. Forging a signature can lead a victim to believe that someone signed off on a legal action. Making an error is not forgery because there is no misrepresentation.
A person who commits forgery faces up to ten years in prison, with or without hard labor. They may also pay a fine of up to $5,000.
Forgery is a felony. Someone who is convicted of it can lose the right to vote or own a firearm. They will have a criminal record that potential employers and landlords can obtain.
Someone who uses forged academic documents or makes counterfeit money may go to prison for up to six months. They may pay a fine of up to $5,000. People who have used forged documents have been fired from their jobs and sued in civil settings as well.
Forgery can contribute to other offenses. If a person used a forged document to obtain a mortgage, they can get charged with mortgage fraud.
Forgery cases do not always lead to convictions. Criminal defense lawyers can mount substantial defenses that lead to acquittals.
Someone may make a fake document. But they may not make the document to trick other people. They may need a fake diploma as a prop in a movie, or they may make a fake contract as a joke.
Proving intent can be a little tricky. A defendant may have to testify and submit their text messages or emails. They should practice their testimony with their lawyer before going on the stand.
They can also point to parts of the document to show their intent. To make a fake contract more of a joke, they may have included funny content.
An alibi is an alternate explanation for a series of events. The defendant can claim that they did not own a forged document or use it for a malicious purpose. An eyewitness who says the defendant did may be lying or misinformed.
They can use surveillance footage and eyewitnesses to show they were in another location. They can also use fingerprint evidence to show that they never touched the document.
Only documents of legal significance fall underneath forgery. Forging a painting or creative work does not count as forgery in Louisiana, though it can lead to a civil suit for copyright infringement.
Coercion occurs when someone commits a crime under the threat of harm. Someone may force someone else to forge a document in order to pay off a debt.
Defendants should keep in mind that coercion and alibi defenses do not go together. A person cannot claim that they did not forge a document and then say that they did so under threat of harm. They need to talk to their lawyer about what their best forgery defense is.
The Essentials of Forgery
Forgery is more complicated than it seems. Document altering can count as forgery if someone tries to defraud someone else. Using a fake diploma or fake money also counts.
The state of Louisiana takes forgery seriously. Someone can go to prison for years and pay thousands of dollars in fines. They become a convicted felon and lose the right to vote.
Yet someone can defend themselves. They can say that they had no intent to scam someone else or did not make the document.