Fact Checked

What is Uttering?

M. Lupica
M. Lupica

Uttering is a common law crime that entails the knowing presentation of a false document with the intent to defraud the party to whom the document is presented. The most common affirmative defense to uttering is that the party charged did not know that the document was forged, as knowledge of the fact is required for guilt of the offense. Uttering is largely obsolete in modern law statutory schemes as they have generally coupled the crime with forgery, which is the act of creating a false document with the intent to defraud.

Uttering has three main elements. The person committing the crime must (1) present a false document to another person (2) with the knowledge that the document contains false information and (3) with the intent that the person to whom the document is presented believe the false information. For example, if a girl who is under-age for the purchase of alcohol presents an identification card with her picture that indicates she is older than she really is, then she may be held criminally liable for uttering under common law.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

The typical defense to uttering is that the person did not know that the document presented was false. Take, for example, an attorney’s assistant who is asked by a client to show the attorney’s bar license. If the attorney does not actually have a license but gives the assistant a false license — without letting the assistant know it is false — and the assistant presents the document to the client, then the assistant could not be held liable for uttering. If charged with uttering, the assistant's defense could demonstrate that he was not aware the license was a forgery. Additionally, he could assert that he did not intend to defraud the client, as he thought that the license was valid.

Modern statutes usually do not define uttering as a crime. Rather, in most cases, crime has been integrated into modern day forgery statutes. Therefore, in the previous example where the girl presented a false identification card in order to assert that she was old enough to purchase alcohol, she would be tried for the crime of forgery if caught.

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