Category Archives: Forgery

Forged Bank Applications

Victim of union forgery files lawsuit

In State v. Smith, the WA Court of Appeals held that a bank account application is a “written instrument” under Washington’s forgery statute.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Smith’s convictions arose from his involvement in certain transactions with his two half-brothers. The transactions involved creating auto dealer businesses and using invalid social security numbers to obtain loans from credit unions to purchase cars from the auto dealers. The men then would deposit the loan amount into a bank account for one of the auto dealer businesses but would not actually complete the car sale.

Eventually, Mr. Smith was charged and convicted of one count of first degree theft, two counts of forgery, and one count of money laundering. He appealed his convictions.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

  1. Legal Principles

The court held the State gave sufficient evidence of forgery. It reasoned that under the forgery statute, “A person is guilty of forgery if, with intent to injure or defraud: (a) He or she falsely makes, completes, or alters a written instrument or; (b) He or she possesses, utters, offers, disposes of, or puts off as true a written instrument which he or she knows to be forged.” Also, the court reasoned that under the common law, a “written
instrument” is defined as a writing that has legal efficacy. Under this definition, “a writing can support a forgery charge only if the writing would have legal efficacy if genuine.”

       2. Legal Sufficiency of Bank Account Applications

The Court gave the statutory definition of a “written instrument” as (a) Any paper, document, or other instrument containing written or printed matter or its equivalent; or (b) any access device, token, stamp, seal, badge, trademark, or other evidence or symbol of value, right, privilege, or identification.

Under this definition, the Court reasoned that a bank loan application fits the definition of a written instrument:

“In general, bank account applications initiate a contractual relationship between the bank and the depositor that, once accepted by the bank, create rights in and impose obligations on both parties. Depositors give money to the bank in exchange for the bank’s services. The bank services the depositor’s account in exchange for fees and the use of the depositor’s funds.” ~WA Court of Appeals

Also, the Court reasoned that the “Certificate of Authority” portion of the bank application provided that anyone who signed the application certified that he or she was authorized to act with respect to the account and any agreements with Wells Fargo, to make payments from the account, and to give instructions to Wells Fargo regarding the transaction of any business relating to the account.

“Therefore, the bank account applications at issue here provided the foundation of legal liability and had legal efficacy under the forgery statute,” said the Court. “Accordingly, we hold that sufficient evidence supports the conclusion that Smith’s bank account applications had legal efficacy.”

        3. The State Established That Bank Account Applications Were Falsely Completed.

Next, the Court rejected Smith’s arguments that even if the bank account applications had legal efficacy, the State failed to establish that they were falsely completed. It reasoned that a social security number is a form of identification, and Smith’s use of the Indiana child’s social security number misrepresented that someone with that social security number was opening a bank account.

“Smith also did not have the authority to use the social security number of the child in Indiana. Accordingly, we hold that sufficient evidence supports the conclusion that Smith falsely completed the bank account applications.” ~WA Court of Appeals

      4. The Trial Court Lawfully Declined the Defendant’s Proposed Jury Instruction.

The Court of Appeals held that the trial court did not err in declining to give Smith’s legal efficacy jury instruction because the legal efficacy of Smith’s bank account applications was a question of law for the trial court.

Under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, a criminal defendant is entitled to a jury determination of every element of the charged offense. As a result, the trial court must instruct the jury on all elements of the offense.

The Court reasoned that questions of law are for the court, not the jury, to resolve, and that legal efficacy of an instrument involves issues that are uniquely within the province of the court. “This is particularly true for a document like a bank account application,” said the Court. “The jury would have no basis for determining whether a bank account application has legal efficacy. Such a determination requires a legal analysis that could be performed only by the trial court.” Consequently, the Court of Appeals held that the legal efficacy of Smith’s bank account applications was a question of law for the trial court. “Accordingly, we hold that the trial court did not err in declining to give Smith’s legal efficacy jury instruction.”

With that, the Court of Appeals affirmed Smith’s convictions.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal charges. Hiring an experienced and effective criminal defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Evidence of Forgery

Image result for forgery

In State v. Bradshaw, the WA Court of Appeals held that sufficient evidence existed to convict the defendant, an escrow agent, of forgery.

BACKGROUND FACTS

In 2014, Defendant/Appellant Stacy Bradshaw was a licensed escrow agent and the owner of North Sound Escrow. By law, an escrow agent must maintain several types of liability insurance. Bradshaw had coverage for crime as well as for errors and omissions through the insurance firm USI Kibble & Prentice. The limits were $1 million per claim.

In February 2014, Bradshaw was retained as the escrow agent for the sale of commercial property for the price of approximately $1.4 million. Umpqua Bank was the lender for one of the parties. Umpqua asked Bradshaw for a copy of her insurance information. Bradshaw obtained a “Certificate of Liability Insurance” from Kibble & Prentice showing her limits of $1 million. She gave Umpqua a copy of the certificate that was altered to represent that Bradehaw had coverage limits of $2 million. Umpqua noticed the alterations and contacted both Kibble & Prentice and the Department of Financial Institutions, the agency that regulates escrow agents. This led to the prosecution of Bradshaw on one count of forgery.

Bradshaw waived her right to a jury trial and opted instead for a bench trial. The court convicted Bradshaw  as charged and sentenced her to 40 hours of community service, $3,600 in financial restitution, and 6 months of community supervision. Bradshaw’s appeal challenges the sufficiency of the evidence.

LEGAL ISSUE

Whether sufficient evidence exists to uphold the defendant’s forgery conviction.

RULE

Under RCW 9A.60.020,  person is guilty of forgery if, with intent to injure or defraud: (a) He or she falsely makes, completes, or alters a written instrument or; (b) He or she possesses, utters, offers, disposes of, or puts off as true a written instrument which he or she knows to be forged.

ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals reasoned that the trial court correctly determined that the Certificate of Liability Insurance has legal efficacy as a written instrument and a public record. The court reasoned that a written instrument is broadly defined in the current statute as “Any paper, document, or other instrument containing written or printed matter or its equivalent; or (b) any access device, token, stamp, seal, badge, trademark, or other evidence or symbol of value, right, privilege, or identification.”

The Court reasoned that the certificate holder named on Bradshaw’s certificate of liability insurance is the Washington State Department of Financial Institutions. The Certificate was filed with the department as evidence that Bradshaw was in compliance with coverage requirements. Finally, the certificate had material significance to the Washington State Department of Financial Institutions.

“As part of the licensing process, and under statute, an escrow agent must submit proof of financial responsibility to the department, including a fidelity bond providing coverage in the aggregate amount of one million dollars,” said the Court. Furthermore, under the Washington Administrative Code, to demonstrate compliance with the requirement for a fidelity bond, the applicant is required to provide the department with a certificate of insurance that includes the aggregate amount of coverage. By statute, maintaining such insurance is “a condition precedent to the escrow agent’s authority to transact escrow business in this state.”

The Court raised and dismissed Bradshaw’s arguments that the evidence is insufficient to prove her certificate of insurance is a public record because the State did not establish that anyone in the department scrutinized it during the process of renewing her license.

“Bradshaw cites no authority for this proposition, and we have found none,” said the Court.

“In short, the record shows that Bradshaw’s certificate of insurance was a type of document required by law to be filed and necessary or convenient to the discharge of the duties of the department. In view of the regulatory scheme, the trial court reasonably found that a certificate of insurance coverage for an escrow agent is a written instrument, the alteration of which supports a forgery charge because it is a public record with legal efficacy.”

With that, the Court held that sufficient evidence supports the trial court’s determination that Bradshaw’s certificate of insurance had legal efficacy as a foundation for legal
liability.

Finally, the Court raised and dismissed arguments that the Rule of Lenity supports the reversal of her conviction.  “The rule of lenity operates to resolve statutory ambiguities in favor of criminal defendant,” said the Court. “It ensures fair warning by so resolving ambiguity in a criminal statute as to apply it only to conduct clearly covered.” The Court reasoned that here, because Bradshaw’s conduct is clearly covered by the statute, the rule of lenity is not applicable.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face charges of Forgery or other crimes of dishonesty. These convictions wreak havoc on people’s reputations and careers.  Even if guilty, it’s paramount to seek a result which either reduces the charges to a conviction which is not involve a crime of dishonesty or try and dismiss the charges over a period of time if the defendant fulfills certain conditions.