Recently politician Melissa Howard was forced to drop out of the race for a seat in the Florida House after it was discovered that she had forged her diploma from Miami University.
She got off lightly with 90 days probation and 25 hours of community service to be performed in two months. Howard will also pay the Clerk of Court $55 per month toward the cost of her supervision and an additional $50 for court processing fees. While losing her potential seat in the House may be the harshest part of the punishment, often times, forging or falsifying documents can lead to more serious consequences.
Forging a document is considered a white-collar crime. It involves altering, changing, or modifying a document for the purpose of deceiving another person. It can also involve the passing along of copies of documents that are known to be false. In many states, falsifying a document is a crime punishable as a felony.
When a document is forged it’s usually done in connection with broader criminal aims, like tax evasion or in the case of Melissa Howard – creating a fake diploma to make it appear as though a university graduate.
In order to be convicted of falsifying documents, the accused person must have acted with criminal intent. Some businesses forms such as corporations can also be charged with falsifying documents.
Types of documents that are often forged include:
- Tax returns and income statements
- Personal checks
- Bank account records
- Business record keeping books
- Immigration documents (such as visas, passports, etc.)
- Identification cards and birth certificates
What Types of Acts May Constitute Forging a Document?
There are several ways that one can find themselves in trouble for falsifying or forging documents including:
- Altering or misrepresenting factual information such as prices or monetary amounts
- Forging a signature or other official documents
- Using official letterheads without authorization
- Concealing assets or property, most likely during bankruptcy
- Knowingly using or distributing a fake document
- Destroying information material to an investigation
A person can only be held criminally liable if they are acting with intent to deceive. If someone is using a document they were unaware was fake, chances are they wouldn’t be found guilty of a crime.
In Melissa Howard’s case, according to an article in the Miami Herald, investigators say, “The defendant Melissa Howard, intended to defraud and misrepresent her association and academic standing with Miami University. Furthermore, the defendant produced the fictitious diploma and uttered it as being awarded to her as true, while knowing it to be false.”
What are the Penalties for Forging Documents?
Aside from possible financial penalties and likely incarceration, forging documents can have several other consequences. It can result in job termination, reduction of credit score, disqualification for bank loans, grounds for ineligibility for passport records, being the subject of lawsuits, or being audited more often by the IRS.
If you are being charged with falsifying or forging documents, you may wish to speak with a criminal defense lawyer. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help explain the specific laws in your state. They can also help determine if you have a case to claim that there was a lack of criminal intent.
Nealeigh, S. (2018, September 14). Ex-candidate lied about her college degree. She learns how much more it will cost her. Retrieved September 19, 2018, from https://www.miamiherald.com/news/politics-government/state-politics/article218386840.html
Florida Forgery Laws. (n.d.). Retrieved September 19, 2018, from https://statelaws.findlaw.com/florida-law/florida-forgery-laws.html