Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument in New York (N.Y. Penal Law 170.20 – 170.30)

Author: Adam H. Rosenblum Esq. | Last Updated:

Underage college students often think nothing of buying fake IDs (or altering their NYS driver’s license) in order to get into bars and buy alcohol. Unfortunately, having and using forged documents and tools (such as credit cards) is a serious crime that can result in criminal prosecution and possible prison time.

 Forged Instrument

What Are the Penalties for Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument in NY?

New York law describes three degrees of criminal possession of a forged instrument. The penalties for a conviction will depend on the degree one is charged with, which in turns depends on the type of forged instrument in question.

Criminal possession of a forged instrument in the third degree (170.20) is a class A misdemeanor. It applies to individuals caught with minor forgeries or falsehoods, such as fake reference letters for a job interview or a forged pay stub used when applying for housing. A conviction carries a sentence of up to 1 year in jail.
Criminal possession of a forged instrument in the second degree (170.25) is a class D felony that can result in up to 7 years in prison upon conviction. This applies to those charged with having fake IDs, forged or altered birth certificates, as well as documents such as deeds and contracts. A fake medical prescription would also fall into this category.
Criminal possession of a forged instrument in the first degree (170.30) is the most serious. It applies primarily to items related to currency (e.g. fake bills), securities (e.g. stock certificates and bonds), and other government-issued instruments of value (e.g. forged stamps). A conviction for this class C felony can lead to up to 15 years in prison, even for a first-time offender.

A person who is convicted of criminal possession of a forged instrument will also suffer the consequences of having a permanent criminal record.

The Difference Between Forgery and Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument

There are many similarities to being charged with forgery and being charged with criminal possession of a forged instrument. The key difference is that with the former, a person has been accused of having altered the document or other instrument in question; with the latter, prosecutors do not allege that one forged the document, but simply that one intended to use it to defraud another. A person can theoretically be charged with both.

Defenses to Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument in New York

The language of the statutes 170.20, 170.25 and 170.30 indicates that a person is guilty of the crime if they know the item is forged and intend to defraud another. In order to beat such a charge, a defense attorney must dismantle the prosecution’s arguments and evidence so as to prevent them from proving one or both aspects of the statute. For example, a person who possessed a fake $50 could escape prosecution by demonstrating that he/she had no idea it was a forgery. In contrast, an attorney could demonstrate that there was no intent to defraud by proving that no reasonable person would have believed it to be legal currency. This becomes more difficult in situations involving fake IDs since there is are almost no reasons why a person would carry false identification except to deceive.

Why Hire an Attorney for Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument in NY?

Due to the seriousness of the crime and the potential for a lengthy prison sentence, it is critical that a person hires an attorney to help mitigate the possible consequences. An experienced attorney can advise the accused on how to address the charges. By building a defense strategy around the facts of the case, an attorney can ensure that one faces little or no jail time. Often the best approach is to negotiate with the judge for a reduced sentence or to substitute incarceration for probation and community service. In such cases, an attorney may also be able to make a deal with prosecutors to reduce the charge to a lesser offense.

Who Should I Contact?

If you or someone you love has been charged with criminal possession of a forged instrument in New York, you urgently need the help of an experienced attorney. At Rosenblum Law, our expert attorneys can offer a strong defense based on the facts of the case, providing the best possible chance of avoiding a conviction and the resulting consequences. Contact us at 888-979-7551 for a free consultation.