Third Degree Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument: NY Penal Law 170.20

Many people would be surprised to learn that in the eyes of the law, whether you break someone’s nose during a fight, shoplift $1,000.00 in clothes, or alter a receipt, you are facing up to one year in jail on a class “A” misdemeanor. That is correct, Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument in the Third Degree, New York Penal Law 170.20, is a very real and significant crime. In fact, if you possess a fake ID as a college kid – a passport with your date of birth changed or a completely fake drivers license, you could even be charged with a “D” felony punishable by as much as seven years in prison. Similarly, bogus credit cards and debit cards can also be the basis for felony crimes in New York State.Assuming you are not arrested for a felony, individuals who are first time offenders for misdemeanor crimes, including those involving Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument in New York City – Brooklyn, Manhattan, Bronx and Queens – often are given the benefit of receiving a Desk Appearance Ticket (DAT) whereby they are arrested and charged with a crime, but the processing takes a few hours as opposed to up to a full day. Do not misconstrue this efficiency as a lack of interest or drive to prosecute your case. You will go before a judge. You will be arraigned. You will be formally charged with a crime. Equally important, do not forget that while your DAT may only charge PL 170.20 as the “top offense charged”, there is nothing precluding an Assistant District Attorney from elevating your crime to a felony or adding additional charges to the criminal court complaint.

Understanding Third Degree Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument

There are some critical elements to every arrest and prosecution for PL 170.20 that the District Attorney’s Office must prove beyond a reasonable doubt. You are guilty of Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument in the Third Degree when you have knowledge that the instrument is forged and with the intent to defraud or deceive another person, you possess that forged instrument. Not an exhaustive list, but some of the more common forged instruments include passports, drivers licenses, credit and debit cards, checks, MetroCards, tickets for theater or sporting events, and receipts.

Defenses to Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument

Defenses vary by case, but how did the police get their hands on the fake or allegedly fake instrument? Was it open to public view? Were you wrongfully searched? Did you make any admissions or did you have no idea that the item was in fact fake and you are a victim? Did you have actual possession or constructive (the instrument was not found on your person, but the police said it was yours)? Remember, forged instruments can be fake IDs, bogus drivers licenses, altered passports, fraudulent receipts, modified tickets to a Broadway show and so many more things. Some technically felonies, others misdemeanors. Your defense is directly related the evidence, facts and procedure of your arrest. Where none of these are viable, mitigation may be your best choice.

Regardless of the degree of Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument you are arrested for possessing, even the misdemeanor offense of PL 170.20 can potentially be deemed a “crime of moral turpitude” as it relates to your immigration status and is a fraud crime as it relates to potential disclosure on a FINRA U4 registration form. Beyond these collateral consequences, you may be required to disclose an arrest or conviction in other professional capacities as well.

Protect yourself before you step into the courtroom and protect your future. Educate yourself on the law and retain counsel to either challenge the allegations on the factual or legal level or to set forth your best mitigation defense. Don’t let a DAT or any arrest for a New York fraud crime cripple your life.

Call us at 212.312.7129 or contact us online today to speak with our New York City criminal defense attorneys and former Manhattan prosecutors about misdemeanor Forgery and Forged Instrument Crimes.