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Understanding Forgery Convictions: Misdemeanors to Felonies

Forgery Laws and Penalties in Minnesota

A felony forgery conviction can land you in prison for up to fifteen years, though a sentence that tough is exceptional. More typically, the felony forgery conviction merits several months to several years of incarceration.

Forgery may also result in a misdemeanor conviction, which spares the defendant from prison but can carry up to 364 days in the county jail. The most serious misdemeanor classification in Minnesota is a gross misdemeanor. In addition to up to 364 days in the county jail, misdemeanor forgery sentences may result in fines and probation. 


Misdemeanor forgery other than a gross misdemeanor may result in up to 90 days in jail, a fine, restitution, or probation. 


Those convicted of forgery also face financial penalties. For felony forgery offenses, the fines can range from a minimum of $1,000 to a maximum of $20,000, depending on the degree of the felony and the specific circumstances of the case. Higher-degree felonies generally carry higher maximum fines.


A court’s view on imposing fines has a great deal to do with the value of the theft or attempted theft. For example, someone passing a bad check for a small sum would face a fine toward the low end, as a $20,000 fine would be excessive. On the other hand, someone running a major counterfeiting ring will likely end up in prison and face a steep fine.


Gross misdemeanor forgery offenses can result in fines ranging from a minimum of $300 to a maximum of $3,000. Again, the exact amount within this range will depend on how much the forger stole or tried to steal.


Misdemeanor forgery offenses generally carry lower fines compared to felony gross misdemeanors, ranging from a minimum of $100 to a maximum of $1,000. At this level, the theft or attempted theft through forgery must be for a small sum, making the penalty minimal.

What Is Misdemeanor Forgery in Minnesota?

Under Minnesota law, the following actions may constitute misdemeanor forgery:


  • Falsely making or altering a written instrument, such as a check. For instance, creating or modifying a check, money order, contract, or other legal instrument, with the intent to defraud.


  • Presenting, using, or offering a forged document as genuine, such as a counterfeit bill.


  • Possessing a forged instrument with the intent to defraud. For example, if the search of a suspect’s vehicle turns up several counterfeit bills, the police may allege that the defendant possessed them with the intent to pass the counterfeit bills as real ones.


It’s important to note that the classification of forgery as a misdemeanor depends on the specific circumstances, the value of the item forged, and the defendant’s criminal history, if it exists. Aggravating factors induce the prosecution to charge the forgery case as a gross misdemeanor or felony.

Gross Misdemeanor Forgery in Minnesota

As with a standard misdemeanor forgery charge, falsely making, altering, or presenting a written instrument with the intent to defraud may lead to this charge. However, the enhanced level is due to an aggravating circumstance, such as multiple offenses, larger value items, and a criminal history.


Additionally, the fraudulent use or possession of personal identifying information counts as an aggravating factor, making the defendant eligible for the enhanced charge. For example, it is a gross misdemeanor (at the minimum) to possess someone else’s personal identifying information, such as their social security number or driver’s license, with the intent to commit forgery or fraud.

Felony Forgery in Minnesota

Felony forgery is the starting level of the big leagues. These crimes typically carry three or more years in prison, depending on the criminal history of the defendant.


In Minnesota, a person commits felony forgery when they, with intent to injure or defraud an individual, do one of the following:


  • Intentionally presents a forged document for the purpose of identification or recommendation.
  • Without legal authorization, the defendant placed an identifying label or stamp on merchandise to claim it is the product of another tradesperson, manufacturer, craftsperson, or packer, or disposed of such merchandise.
  • Falsely prints or alters a membership card for a labor union, business, or other association with the intent to defraud.
  • Possessing a known forged membership card for a labor union, business, or other association.
  • Falsified a document that indicates a right to transportation on a common carrier.
  • With intent to defraud, destroys, mutilate, or falsify a record, account, or other document relating to a private business
  • Without legal authority, destroys, mutilates, or falsifies a record, account, or other document relating to a person or business. Also, destroying, mutilating, or falsifying a document pertaining to a public office or officer.
  • Destroying a writing or object to prevent it from being produced at a legal proceeding.

Aggravated Felony Forgery in Minnesota

Aggravated felony forgery is the biggest of the big leagues in Minnesota forgery crimes. Crimes of this magnitude can land a defendant in Stillwater or another penitentiary for up to 10 years and result in fines of up to $20,000


Aggravated Felony Charges in Minnesota include the following circumstances:

  • Falsifying the official seals or seals of a corporation
  • Falsifying public records
  • Falsifying official returns or certificates entitled to be received as evidence of their contents;
  • Falsifying court orders, judgments, processes, or decrees;
  • Falsifying records or accounts of a public body, office, or officer; or
  • Falsifying records or accounts of a bank or person with whom state funds are deposited or entrusted.

What Does the State Need to Prove to Win a Forgery Conviction in Minnesota?

To win a forgery conviction in Minnesota, the state must prove four critical elements beyond a reasonable doubt. 


  • Making a false document, altering, or using an utterance to defraud, such as a check, money order, contract, or other legal document. For example, the state proves this element if it has evidence that the defendant told someone a false document was real, even if the defendant did not himself make or alter it.


  • Fraudulent intent. The state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant acted with the intention to deceive or defraud another person or entity. The prosecution must prove that the defendant had knowledge of the falsity or alteration of the instrument and intended to use it to obtain some benefit or harm to the victim. The benefit sought can be monetary or some other type.


  • Knowledge of the forgery. The state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant knew or should have reasonably known that the instrument was forged or altered. For instance, the state can prove this element through testimony from an accomplice that the defendant was aware that the document was fraudulent.

Defenses Against Forgery Charges

A charge of forgery and a conviction are two separate things. If you are falsely charged with forgery, remember that the burden of proof resides with the state. It must have sufficient evidence that you were aware the document in question was forged and attempted to pass it off as genuine, intending to defraud someone and gain a benefit or harm the victim.


Many forgery charges have weak evidence. Also, the evidence the prosecution purports to prove forgery may be contestable, ruled out of evidence by the judge, or be shown to be doubtful, requiring that the court or jury find reasonable doubt.


Common forgery defenses include the following:

Lack of Intent

The state must prove intent. People receive forged documents and believe them to be real all the time. For example, you may have passed a counterfeit bill without realizing it. You received the bill in circulation and passed it innocently.

Lack of Knowledge

The defense can argue a lack of knowledge. The state must prove the defendant knew that the document was forged or was aware elements of it were forged. This defense might apply if you were given the document by someone else and had no reason to suspect its authenticity.

Mistaken Identity

False accusations of forgery occur because of mistaken identity. The defendant may assert that he was not the person who committed the act. The defense might introduce supporting evidence, such as alibis or witness testimonies.

Affirmative Forgery Defenses

Affirmative defenses work by acknowledging that the defendant committed the act but must be found not guilty because of a circumstance that explains the conduct did not constitute a crime. For instance, self-defense is a standard affirmative defense to a battery charge. In a forgery case, the following affirmative defenses sometimes apply:


Coerced or Forced Actions

If you can demonstrate that you were coerced or forced into committing the forgery under duress, it may serve as a defense. This defense may require providing evidence or witness testimony to support your claim.

Mental Incapacity

If you had a mental impairment or lacked the mental capacity to understand the consequences of your actions, it could potentially be used as a defense. This defense often requires expert testimony to establish your mental state during the alleged forgery.


The forged instrument must be shown to be of legal significance or possess value. The state may need to establish that the forgery involved an item that has legal consequences, monetary value, or affects the rights or obligations of parties involved.


For example, creating a parody of a driver’s license as a joke does not constitute forgery. In this example, the parody is likely to be obviously phony and meant to entertain. No attempt to pass the document off as genuine to defraud would occur.


Forgery charges in Minnesota range from misdemeanors to major felonies. Depending on the value involved and circumstances of the case, the defendant may face probation or hard time. However, the state must prove forgery beyond a reasonable doubt.


To prove forgery beyond a reasonable doubt, the state must have evidence that the defendant knowingly made or possessed the forged instrument with the intent to defraud. Often, prosecutors have weak arguments in support of these claims.


Gerald Miller, P.A., specializes in forgery defense. His firm fights for the rights of the accused and gets results by challenging the state’s evidence and presenting affirmative defenses.

If you face forgery charges, contact Gerald Miller, P.A., now.


Related Content: What Happens When You Get Charged with Forgery in Minnesota?

About the author

Kyle Dreger

Kyle Dreger is a skilled DUI/DWI and Criminal Defense lawyer at Gerald Miller P.A. Kyle has received his law degree from the University of St. Thomas School of Law. He is also a professionally trained basketball player.

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