What is the Illinois Definition of & Punishment for Forgery?
From counterfeit signatures to fake documents or unauthorized use of certain electronic devices, forgery can exist in many forms. Forgery is generally a white-collar, non-violent crime; the harm involved tends to be monetary. But the impact can be massive nonetheless, especially to financial institutions and government agencies in Skokie and elsewhere in Illinois. Consequently, Illinois law provides a stringent punishment structure for any person who commits a forgery crime.
What Qualifies as a Forgery Crime in Illinois?
720 ILCS 5/17-3 establishes the definition of forgery under Illinois law. Under this section, there are essentially three different categories of forgery crimes under Section 17-3, involving False Documents, Digital Signatures, and Signature Devices.
- False Documents
Under Section 17-3, false documents include physical and electronic records that were created or altered with the intent of committing fraud. These false documents generally grant the power to establish, transfer, modify, or terminate certain rights – without legal justification or authority. For the purposes of Illinois forgery laws, false documents also include coins and Universal Price Code Labels.
A person commits forgery with a false document if they intend to defraud someone by knowingly:
- Altering a genuine document to make it false;
- Creating a false document;
- Issuing or delivering a false document; or
- Possessing a false document and intending to issue or deliver it.
In this context, the knowledge requirement is crucial. A person must know – or have a reason to know – that they are dealing with false documents. Otherwise, it might not qualify as a forgery crime under Illinois law.
- Digital Signatures
As defined in the Financial Institutions Electronic Documents and Digital Signature Act (205 ILCS 705/1 et seq.), the term digital signature refers to an electronic record that has the same force and effect as a physical signature. When a person uses a digital signature under proper conditions, Illinois law regards it as the same as a physical signature.
Accordingly, it is a crime to use the digital signature of another person without legal authorization. Any person who does so is guilty of forgery and subject to criminal penalties under Illinois law.
- Signature Devices
As defined in the Electronic Commerce Security Act (ECSA) (5 ILCS 175/1 et seq.), the term signature device refers to various electronic mechanisms, such as security keys or personal identification numbers (PINs). These devices are capable of generating a person’s electronic signature, which can be used to enter into binding legal agreements.
Section 17-3 makes it is a crime to use a signature device to create the digital signature of another person without legal authorization. Any person who does so is guilty of forgery and subject to criminal penalties under Illinois law.
Are There Exceptions to Illinois Forgery Laws?
There is an important exception to Illinois forgery laws concerning certain novelty documents. Specifically, it can be lawful to possess and display a false academic degree. But the false degree must contain an explicit disclaimer, providing that it exists “for novelty purposes only.” If a false academic degree does not contain such a disclaimer, it can qualify as a violation of Illinois forgery laws.
What is the Illinois Punishment for Forgery?
The Illinois punishment scheme for forgery crimes also appears under Section 17-3. Typically, forgery is a Class 3 felony. Any person convicted for this class of felony can face a prison sentence between three and five years, mandatory supervised release for 12 months, and criminal fines up to $25,000.
On the other hand, forgery crimes involving Universal Price Code Labels usually qualify as Class 4 felonies. Any person convicted for this class of felony can face a prison sentence between one and three years, mandatory supervised release for 12 months, and criminal fines up to $25,000.
Finally, forgery crimes involving academic degrees or coins ordinarily qualify as Class A misdemeanors. Any person convicted for this class of misdemeanor can face a maximum of 364 days in jail and $2,500 in fines.