Fundamentals of Criminal Law by Adam J. McKee

Uttering involves the act of knowingly presenting, offering, or using a forged document with the intent to defraud. It is a distinct offense from forgery, focusing on the circulation or use of forged documents rather than their creation. The key elements include the possession of a forged document, knowledge of its falseness, and the intention to use it to deceive another party.

The Act of Presenting or Using

The offense of uttering is defined not by verbal statements, but by the act of introducing or employing a forged document in any form of transaction. It is a broad concept that encompasses a range of activities beyond mere verbal declarations. For instance, uttering could manifest through the presentation of a counterfeit check at a banking institution. In this scenario, the mere act of handing over the check to the bank teller for processing is considered uttering, irrespective of any spoken words. Similarly, in a business context, using a forged contract or legal document during negotiations or execution of a deal falls under the ambit of this offense. The act of using a forged document, regardless of its nature, to gain a benefit or cause harm, constitutes uttering. This broad interpretation ensures that all forms of deployment of forged documents, whether through physical presentation or use in any form of exchange, are encapsulated within this criminal act.

Knowledge and Intent

The offense of uttering hinges significantly on the perpetrator’s mental state, specifically their knowledge and intent. For an individual to be guilty of uttering, it is imperative that they are aware of the forged nature of the document in question. This knowledge is a cornerstone of the offense, distinguishing between unwitting individuals who might have been duped into handling a forged document and those who are fully aware of its fraudulent nature. Furthermore, beyond mere knowledge, the perpetrator must have utilized the forged document with a deliberate intent to deceive or defraud. This intentionality is a critical component, as it underpins the malicious objective behind the act. The presence of this intent to deceive transforms what might otherwise be an innocent act into a culpable offense. It’s this combination of knowledge of the forgery and the intention to use it for fraudulent purposes that elevates the act from being merely suspicious to criminally liable.

Legal Consequences and Charges

Severity of Charges

The severity of charges for uttering can vary based on factors like the type of document forged, the extent of the intended fraud, and the jurisdiction. It is often treated as a felony, especially when it involves significant sums of money or particularly sensitive documents.

Penalties and Sentencing

Convictions for uttering can lead to substantial fines, restitution, and imprisonment. The severity of the punishment generally aligns with the extent of the fraud attempted or perpetrated.

Evolving Legal Interpretations

The legal landscape surrounding the offense of uttering has not remained static; it has undergone significant evolution, particularly in light of rapid technological advancements. In the past, uttering primarily concerned physical documents, such as forged checks or falsified contracts. However, the digital revolution has expanded the horizon of what constitutes uttering. Today, the offense encompasses a wider array of activities, including digital forgery and the use of electronically falsified documents. This expansion reflects the law’s adaptation to contemporary realities where many transactions and interactions occur in the digital sphere. As technology continues to advance, the legal interpretations of uttering are also shifting, ensuring that the statute remains relevant and effective in curbing fraud in an increasingly digital world. This evolution is a testament to the legal system’s ability to adapt and respond to changing societal contexts and technological landscapes.

Comparisons and Distinctions

Distinguishing from Forgery

While closely related, uttering and forgery are distinct offenses. Forgery involves the creation or alteration of a forged document, while uttering involves the use or presentation of that document. Understanding this distinction is crucial in legal contexts.

Relation to Other Fraudulent Offenses

Uttering often intersects with other fraudulent offenses like fraud, identity theft, and counterfeiting. It’s important to understand its unique characteristics and how it fits within the broader spectrum of fraudulent criminal activities.


Uttering stands as a significant offense in the realm of fraud and deception. Its focus on the use and circulation of forged documents highlights the importance of authenticity and trust in transactions and interactions. Understanding the nuances of this crime, from its definition to its legal consequences, is essential for practitioners and students of criminal law.

Modification History

File Created:  07/17/2018

Last Modified:  10/30/2023

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This work is licensed under an Open Educational Resource-Quality Master Source (OER-QMS) License.

Open Education Resource--Quality Master Source License


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