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Criminal Possession of a Forgery Device

The exact language of New York Penal Law 170.40 states says that a defendant is guilty of Criminal Possession of a Forgery Device, a class “D” felony, if he:

a) makes or possesses with knowledge of its character any plate, die or other device, apparatus, equipment or article specifically designed for use in counterfeiting or otherwise forging written instruments, or:

b) with intent to use, or to aid or permit another to use, the same for purposes of forgery, he makes or possesses any device, apparatus, equipment or article capable of or adaptable to such use.

The circumstances where defendant can be found with a forgery device are extensive. A defendant can get caught making a forgery device, actually using a forgery device, just in possession of a forgery device, having a forgery device delivered to him or her, or being involved in the transit of a forgery device, as well as other circumstances.

When is the best time to act?:

In cases where Criminal Possession of a Forgery Device is involved, it’s not unusual to have a large number of other defendants who did or may have played a role in a larger operation. Because of this, it is important to quickly get involved with an attorney who knows and understands this complex New York law, who can immediately assess the larger “playing field” of the multiple defendant case and help a defendant make excellent, timely choices that are in a defendant’s best interests.

Types of Criminal Possession of Forgery Devices:

The types of devices used in forgery can range from a very high quality photo-reproduction machine, to a comprehensive and collected set of all fonts and stamps used on documents of consequence (deeds/contracts/diplomas), to a signature copying machine, credit card forgery equipment, and equipment that can be used to artificially age or tint in order to enhance document authenticity. Types of documents that forgery devices may be used to create include checks, contracts, identification cards and immigration papers, prescriptions, birth certificates, diplomas, social security cards, credit cards, passports or even works of art.

Related Criminal Schemes/Crimes:

Under New York and federal law, related criminal acts to Possession of Forgery Devices are Forgery, Possession of Forged Documents, Counterfeiting, and Possession of Counterfeiting Devices, Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument, Larceny, Attempted Larceny, Theft by Deception, Fraud and Identity Theft.

Penalties & Punishment:

Getting charged with Criminal Possession of a Forgery Device in New York should cause any defendant to take immediate notice because a conviction of this class “D” felony could lead to imprisonment up to seven years, as well as fines and other costs. Conviction of a class “D” felony can cause delay or denial of later efforts to obtain state licenses in certain professions, bar individuals from doing business with the state in certain industries, or even cause a defendant currently employed to lose a job due criminal background check obligations. All crimes that cause financial injury or harm to others can also involve restitution, or repayment of financial loss caused to an individual by the criminal act of another.

Successful Defenses:

There are many circumstances where a defendant could be charged with Criminal Possession of Forgery Devices and have a perfectly good defense. For example, a defendant might have been asked to hold something for a friend, or possibly even picked up something from a relative, or from a garage sale that was not known to be a forgery device, but then it was used by someone else for forgery. Also, there are forgery devices that can have dual-use purposes, such as high quality copy machines, or manual signature copiers that sometimes people used to sign candidate names for political campaigns brochures and leaflets. This type of defense, the “innocent possession” defense, can provide an excellent defense for an owner of a printing shop, for example, that gets unfortunately caught up in a forgery operation not of his own making. In all of these noted examples, a defendant would not be aware of the nature of the device, or not be aware that the device was being used for forgery, so the statute’s “knowing” requirement would be undercut and possibly impair the state’s case. In these circumstances, it could take the recommendations and guidance from a good lawyer to help a defendant navigate the shifting sands evidence within the criminal justice system.

Differences between State & Federal Laws:

The biggest difference between the state and federal laws regarding Criminal Possession of a Forgery Device is that the federal statutes are usually applied to prosecute people or organizations that work on a larger, multi-state scale, if not multi-country scale. These often involve larger scale forgery operations involving immigration documents, credit card forgery, or even forgery of artistic pieces on an international dimension. One of the federal equivalent laws is codified in US Code 18 U.S.C. Section 474, involving possession of a forgery device which is “any plate, stone, or other thing” used for the purposes of forgery.

High Profile Cases:

One of the most high profile cases of forgery in the US public eye recently was Frank Abagnale, Jr., who flew around the country in high style pretending to be a Pan Am airlines pilot or other airline crew. He both manufactured and passed bogus checks worth over $2.5 million that were cashed in major cities around the country. Then, he would disappear and morph into personas in other professional fields, including a teacher, a doctor and an attorney. The 1980 autobiography of Abagnale was made into a blockbuster movie in 2002 starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks.