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August 7, 2013

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Quick Recap: State v. Vasquez, No. 87282-1

by contributor
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Is possession of a forged document enough to sustain a forgery conviction? No, says the WA Supreme Court. Learn more.

This post was originally published by Queen City Addendum on August 6, 2013. Reposted with permission.

iStock_000017143746Small_250postThe recent Washington Supreme Court case, State v. Vasquez, No. 87282-1, En Banc, focuses on possession of forged documents (such as Social Security cards). The Court concluded that mere possession of forged documents, without evidence of intent to injure or defraud, cannot sustain a forgery conviction.

The Facts:

A Safeway security guard detained the defendant, Vasquez, for shoplifting. During this detention, the guard searched Vasquez and found a social security card and a permanent resident card (both which turned out to be forged). Vasquez admitted to buying the cards from an out-of-state friend. After a series of questions, the guard couldn’t verify Vasquez’s identity, so he called the police. Vasquez was eventually charged and convicted of forgery. The Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction, reasoning that there was enough evidence to infer that Vasquez had “an intent to injure or defraud.”

The Outcome:

On appeal, the Supreme Court looked to Washington’s forgery laws. Under RCW 9A.60.020(1)(b), “a person is guilty of forgery if, with intent to injure or defraud, he or she possesses, utters, offers, disposes of, or puts off as true a written instrument he or she knows to be forged” (emphasis added). The Court concluded that you need to have evidence of some sort of intent to injure/defraud. Intent cannot be inferred from patently equivocal evidence. Mere possession of forged documents is not enough to sustain a forgery conviction. In reaching this conclusion, the Court used prior drug possession cases as analogies. In those cases, mere possession is not enough to prove an intent to deliver.

In the case at hand, Vasquez merely had some fake IDs on him. The State failed to prove that he intended to injure or defraud anyone (the someone in this case being the security guard). The Court determined that the guard’s testimony concerning the fake IDs was too ambiguous to infer criminal intent. According to the Court, it was unclear whether Vasquez told the guard that he simply owned the cards or meant to persuade the guard that the cards were his legitimate identification. Furthermore, Vasquez told the guard that he bought the cards from a friend in California. The Court reasoned that free admission of the cards’ falsity probably meant that Vasquez did not intend to defraud the guard.

Also during Vasquez’s detention, the defendant told the guard that he worked in the area. The State used this as evidence of possession of forged documents with intent to injure/defraud a third party. The Court threw out this argument as too speculative. There was no evidence provided that Vasquez used the specific forged cards to obtain employment.

Conclusion

Mere possession of forged documents is not enough to prove the necessary elements of forgery. Prosecutors need to show some evidence beyond naked possession to prove intent to injure or defraud. This case obviously makes proving forgery harder for prosecutors. The State cannot simply point to possession of a forged document as evidence of forgery. It’s interesting to note that the decision hinged largely on the ambiguity of the security guard’s questions. Had the guard asked more direct questions regarding the forged cards, the State may have had sufficient evidence to prove intent to defraud.

This post was originally published by Queen City Addendum on August 6, 2013. Reposted with permission.

1 Comment Post a comment
  1. Cyndi
    Aug 8 2013

    Interesting article. Well written.

    Reply

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