Presenting a forged instrument as a genuine instrument (known as “uttering a forged instrument“) is a crime in Massachusetts under General Laws, Chapter 267, Section 5. The Commonwealth must prove that the defendant (1) had the intent to injure or defraud, (2) uttered and published as true a false, altered, or forged instrument (e.g., a check), and (3) knew it was false or altered or forged. This crime is punished by a maximum of 10 years in state prison or up to two years in jail.
In Commonwealth v. Gianatasio, a Massachusetts appellate court reviewed forgery charges. The case arose from two checks the defendant deposited into his personal checking account. The first check was drawn on a woman’s account and made payable to the defendant for the sum of $45,611.94. The second check was drawn on the same account and was for the sum of $25,000.
The woman and her husband were the defendant’s next-door neighbors for years. They became ill in March 2007 and were admitted to the hospital. The husband died in May 2007, and the woman was transferred to a rehabilitation facility, where she died in June 2007. Between March and June 2007, the couple’s checkbook was in the control of the husband’s cousin, who was responsible for writing checks to pay the couple’s bills. A close friend of the couple delivered their mail to the couple and took bills from the mail to the cousin.
The woman pre-signed several checks to be signed and mailed with the bills. The cousin never signed the woman’s name to a check. The cousin would record the purpose of the check and amount in the checkbook register before filling out the check. She also compared the register entry and the check to make sure there weren’t discrepancies. She also kept copies of the bill in a file. Between March and June 2007, the cousin prepared checks from 401-456 and asked the woman to sign check 491 out of order but made a note in the register to that effect. She then resumed the correct sequence before eventually returning the checkbook, which included several pre-signed checks, to Fay. Shortly thereafter, Fay died.
In the month after Fay’s death, the defendant deposited four checks into his checking account. These included checks 493, 494, 490, and 489. The signatures on the first two checks were genuine, according to the cousin and the testimony of a handwriting expert, neither of whom knew who wrote the other parts of those checks. However, the cousin testified she didn’t see the decedent sign 490 and 489, and she didn’t think these checks were genuine. The handwriting expert offered testimony that he didn’t believe they were written by the same person who wrote the 32 known signatures of the woman. These last two checks were the subject of the defendant’s appeal.
The defendant participated of his own volition in the police investigation. In a taped interview, he said that the decedent had given him the four checks as gifts and as compensation for services that were to be performed for her by his wife when she came back home. He claimed the last two checks were gifts given days before the cousin returned the checkbook to the woman. He claimed he saw her write checks 493 and 494 on the day before his death, although he admitted that the signatures on the two checks at issue were different from the signature he had seen the woman write. He also admitted he was in financial distress.
After his conviction, the defendant appealed. On appeal, he argued that the Commonwealth didn’t prove he forged or participated directly in the forgery. The appellate court found that proof of this wasn’t essential to the charges. A charge of uttering requires the Commonwealth to prove that the defendant offered an instrument known to be forged as genuine, with the intent to defraud.
The appellate court found that there was evidence to show the defendant had committed the offenses of uttering a forged instrument and larceny. It explained that a person’s knowledge of intent can be determined from the person’s conduct, unless the inference is specifically forbidden or is unwarranted because it’s too remote. The judgments were affirmed.
If you are accused of or arrested for forgery, contact the Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy today to discuss the criminal charges. Call us at 617-367-0450 or contact us through this website.
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