Bend Your MetroCard and Go to Jail: NY’s Highest Court Says Forgery & Forged Instrument Crime

There was never any real dispute amongst criminal defense attorneys that in New York State or NYC if you possess or make a fake ID, counterfeit money or fraudulent credit cards you may be charged with Forgery or Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument. Heck, you could get arrested for Forgery or Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument in New York if you sign another person’s name on a check without their permission. In fact, you could even be charged with Identity Theft.

Well, the Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court, just issued a decision today that confirms what the criminal defense attorneys at Crotty Saland PC have blogged about in the past. That is, possessing, bending or manipulating a MetroCard to gain free access to the subway system in NYC is also Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument or Forgery. You heard it right…you can be charged with a felony offense punishable by up to seven years in state prison.

The decision of People v. Jonathan Mattocks after the jump…
In People v. Mattocks, the police arrested the defendant after he was seen “swiping” people through turnstiles in exchange for a fee. The MetroCard used by the defendant was bent in such a manner that the computer on the turnstile was unable to read that the card had no balance. Instead, the manipulated MetroCard “tricked” the system giving entrance to the “swiper.” Upon seeing the police the defendant ran and he was ultimately arrested and found in possession of fourteen additional cards.

In his defense, the defendant asserted that “since the MTA does not sell the Metro Cards with creases, no person who examines a bent MetroCard conclude that it was authentic, and it is therefore void on its face and not subject to the forgery statutes. Defendant also argues that a bent MetroCard is not a forged instrument because the damage does not create value on a worthless card, it merely prevents the turnstile computer from determining that the card has no value.”

Rejecting this argument, the Court of Appeals found that “[w]hile it is true, as defendant submits, that the creasing of the MetroCards did not add monetary value where none existed, the damage to the MetroCards thwarted the usual computer processing of the information contained on the magnetic strips. By bending the MetroCards, defendant successfully destroyed the zero-value information encoded on one of the fields in the magnetic strips and was able to acquire free rides on what were worthless MetroCards.” As a result, the defendant was able to make a valueless MetroCard “purport to be an authentic instrument.”

In short, “Notwithstanding [the crease] on the cards, they ‘appear[ed] or purport[ed] to be in all respects an authentic creation of or fully authorized by’ the MTA as $2 MetroCards…”

The Court of Appeals decision in this case puts to rest, at least for now, that MetroCards can join the list of items that may fall into the realm of Forgery or Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument. Whether the property is a credit card, currency, an identification, or a MetroCard, a “D” felony and seven years in prison looms around the corner for any defendant. Because we know firsthand how much danger awaits an accused, it is imperative to identify, preserve and implement your best criminal defense. Contact the former Manhattan prosecutors at Crotty Saland PC to preserve your integrity, rights and freedom.

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