There is little dispute that if you use a fake identification to rent a car in Manhattan, a bogus credit card to make a purchase at a supermarket in the Bronx, or a phony check to make a payment on an account in White Plains (Westchester County), you run a real risk of being charged with Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument, a felony. Well, what if that “forged instrument” is a MetroCard being used to swipe a turnstile in Brooklyn? New York State Penal Law Section 170.25, Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument in the Second Degree, establishes that if a person possesses a forged instrument, with knowledge it is forged and with intent to defraud, deceive, or injure another, that person may be guilty of this crime if he or she possesses a forged instrument of a kind specified in New York State Penal Law Section 170.10, Forgery in the Second Degree.
Instead of diving head first into this entire section, Penal Law Section 170.10(4) sets forth that if a person makes, completes or alters a written instrument which purports to be or represent if a completed a “part of an issue of tokens, public transportation transfers, certificates or other articles manufactured and designed for use as symbols of value usable in place of money for the purchase of property or services,” they are guilty of Forgery in the Second Degree.
Reviewing all the applicable sections of Forgery and Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument, the First Department (an appellate division that hears, among other things, cases that are appealed from the trial courts in Manhattan and the Bronx), recently addressed whether a bent or altered MetroCard may be as much of a forged instrument as a completely bogus credit card. Recognizing that “the magnetic strip incorporating the computer data on certain MetroCards, which contained no valid fare, were altered so that the cards would appear, and be read, as authentic for the admission of a rider by the turnstile computers,” the First Department in People v. Mattocks held that “it is clear . . . that a MetroCard, with its encoded ‘computer data,’ which is used for the purpose of ‘conveying or recording information’ and is capable of being used to the advantage . . . of some person, is a ‘written instrument'” and therefore may be a forged instrument if manipulated in a particular fashion.
Not only is this case significant because it clearly sets forth that a MetroCard may be a forged instrument, but the First Department also sent a clear message in its April 8, 2008 decision. Law enforcement has a very large net to corral all types of offenses that one might not think would fall into the category of Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument or Forgery. This enormous net is precisely why you should retain an attorney who has significant experience in this always changing area of law such as Jeremy Saland who, as a former prosecutor under Robert Morgenthau in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, has vast experience and training in crimes related to Forgery and Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument.
Just a side note…and a quite interesting one as well…In 2007, 84,863 summonses were issued for nonpayment of subway and bus fares. This total includes the misuse of MetroCards.