Fraudulently Obtaining a Signature in New York
Although there are more severe offenses related to larceny and theft, getting someone’s signature through the use of misrepresentations or falsehoods is illegal in New York State. In other words, it’s a crime to obtain the signature of another person under fraudulent circumstances. Obtaining someone’s signature with the intention to deceive them or cheat them out of money or property impedes on their right to make informed decisions. The legal term for this act of deception is called fraudulently obtaining a signature. The crime of fraudulently obtaining a signature is punishable under New York State Penal Code 165.20.
So, you’ve been arrested for fraudulently obtaining a signature or expect to be investigated for fraudulently obtaining a signature in the near future: what can you do?
Seek legal advice early on. Under New York State law, fraudulently obtaining a signature is considered to be a class “A” misdemeanor. The penalties for fraudulently obtaining a signature can involve the imposition of harsh penalties on the offender, and a knowledgeable lawyer is necessary in order to protect yourself against any accusations relating to the crime.
Fraudulently obtaining a signature defined
Fraudulently obtaining a signature is included in the section of the penal code relating to theft and larceny. Penal Law Article 165.20 outlines fraudulently obtaining a signature in New York State. Fraudulently obtaining a signature is a class A misdemeanor, and is prosecuted according to the unique circumstances of the crime.
When it comes to fraudulently obtaining a signature, intention is key. The charge of fraudulently obtaining a signature is applied to cases in which an individual wrongfully procures the signature of another person with the intention of defrauding them, injuring them, or otherwise benefiting greatly themselves. It is also a crime to do so in order to benefit a third party.
In order to be guilty of fraudulently obtaining a signature, an individual must gain the signature of someone else through a misrepresentation of fact, when they themselves know that the information they have provided is false. When it comes to fraudulently obtaining a signature, deceitful acts largely include those which lend to the deliberate or premeditated misrepresentation of one’s identity, professional associations, or of a product or service. When an individual obtains the signature of someone else under false pretenses with the goal of cheating them of their money, property, or possessions, then they are guilty of falsely obtaining a signature under New York Penal Law.
Dishonesty by omission is considered to be an offense punishable under New York State Penal Laws relating to fraudulently obtaining a signature. Failing to include pertinent information when procuring the signature of someone else, often one that results in a disingenuous financial or proprietary transaction, is considered to be harmful and legally constitutes fraudulently obtaining a signature. Under certain circumstances, dishonesty by omission can lend to intent to defraud. Often, logical deduction is used when considering cases in which fraudulent information is not overtly relayed or discussed. As with many other crimes, word choice is very important when considering this charge. Fraudulently obtaining a signature involves the use of a “written instrument” to document the signature: according to article 170 a written instrument can include paper, a computer program, or any other similar object. As previous cases have demonstrated, this term is dependent on the context in which it is used: the broad category that the statute is a part of, and the individual details of the crime.
The elements of fraudulently obtaining a signature
In a system in which you are innocent until proven guilty, the burden of proving that a particular crime occurred falls on the prosecution. Let’s delve a little bit more deeply into the elements of fraudulently obtaining a signature in order to better understand its meaning and implications.
Under article §165.20, for a defendant to be convicted of fraudulently obtaining a signature in a criminal trial, the prosecution must prove that:
· the defendant did, in fact, obtain the signature of the complainant at the supposed date and location by way of a written instrument
· the written instrument falls under the parameters of article 165.20
· the defendant did, in fact, do so under disingenuous circumstances knowingly in order to benefit or profit from the transaction
The intention behind the actions of the individual involved and the sequencing of events in the interaction are often significant factors when it comes to the crime of fraudulently obtaining a signature. It must also be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused knowingly provided false statements regarding themselves, their affiliations, or their overall intentions, hoping to benefit from the deception.
Suppose Ericka is running for local office in a neighborhood within New York State. She is putting together a petition for her campaign, and decides to personally engage with people in the community by collecting the signatures herself. Ericka collects the signatures alone, and goes door-to-door in order to ask for support. But, instead of informing people that the petition is for her campaign, she tells them that is a petition to fix the roads in the neighborhood. Additionally, she does not wear identification, she folds the top of the paper over so that the print on the page cannot be easily read, and she encourages people to sign for other people in their families. If she is caught using these tricks in order to boost her campaign, Ericka can then be charged with fraudulently obtaining a signature under article 165.20.
What factors will affect her sentencing?
If Ericka can affirmatively prove that she did not intend to defraud the people whom she solicited signatures from, she may avoid being convicted of fraudulently obtaining signatures for her campaign. To this end, it might be possible to argue that there was a miscommunication regarding the petition’s purpose or that the document would not qualify as a “written instrument” under the penal code for this particular crime.
In this case, that may be difficult. It can be argued that gaining momentum through falsified petitions in the context of a political campaign might constitute a “substantial benefit” to the defendant. It is possible that Ericka will be found guilty of fraudulently obtaining signatures under New York State Penal Law.
What you can be charged with: fraudulently obtaining a signature and related crimes
The most closely related crime to fraudulently obtaining a signature is scheming to defraud.
Fraudulently obtaining a signature is a class A misdemeanor. Under New York Penal Law, individuals convicted of fraudulently obtaining a signature are subject to a punishment of up to one year in jail, and a potential fine up to $1000, or twice the amount gained through the fraudulent actions. Additionally, you might be sentenced to up to three years of probation.
Important Cases That Define Fraudulently Obtaining a Signature in New York State
People v. Northern Leasing Systems
People v Northern Leasing Sys., Inc. 2017 NY Slip Op 27453
In this case, the defendant was the leasing company, Northern Leasing Systems. Northern Leasing Systems was charged with fraudulently obtaining signatures under New York State Penal Law, among other crimes related to fraud. The company was accused of entrapping small businesses in unending leases for over-priced credit card equipment, having people sign these leases without their knowledge, and adding written material to existing leases without the knowledge of the purported signers. Additionally, the company then sued the very same business owners without their knowledge utilizing deceptive debt collecting practices and, in doing so, used the New York State Penal System to perpetuate their crimes.
The lawsuit was initiated by Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman in 2016, and took action against the leasing company and all affiliates of its operations. This lawsuit was intended to vacate the default judgements against the small business owners who did not know that they were being sued until they received their credit reports. Three years prior in 2013, Attorney General Schneiderman reached a multimillion-dollar agreement with the very same company after they removed over $3 million dollars in fees from the bank accounts of their customers. As of 2017, the lawsuit against Northern Leasing Company was greenlighted to proceed by the courts. The case is still pending in New York State. The office of the Attorney General continues to seek recompense for the small business owners of New York who have been affected by deceptive business practices. 
People v. Bel Air Equipment Corp
People v Bel Air Equipment Corp. (39 NY2d 48 ),
In this case, Bel Air Equipment Corp. won the bid for a moving job, commissioned by the state of New York on the behalf of Steve Rossini. Rossini, a business owner, was being made to relocate his business in order to make room for the construction of a highway. After the job had been completed, Bel Air Equipment Corp. provided an itemized bill of the moving expenses for submission to Rossini, who then submitted that bill to the state for compensation. Unbeknownst to Bel Air, the state had been surveilling the move, taking note of the approximate costs and expenses. Subsequently, it was discovered that the bill submitted by Bel Air was inaccurate, with extravagant claims of expenses that were not substantiated by fact. Bel Air had attempted to utilize the state voucher to claim money that they did not earn.
Although this case does not directly deal with the crime of fraudulently obtaining a signature, it was a very important case in defining the usage of the term “written instrument” under New York State law. In this instance, the defendant was charged with falsifying business records, attempted grand larceny, and offering a false instrument for filing in the first degree. Offering a false instrument for filing in the first degree is a law intended to protect the state and other government entities against misuses of this kind under article 175.35 of the penal code.
This relates to defining fraudulently obtaining a signature in New York State because, in this case, it was decided that the terms “written instrument” or “instrument” would be defined in relation to the category of crime being discussed. In order words, an instrument is an elastic phrase that depends heavily on the context in which it is used. In the case of People v. Bel Air Equipment Corp., it was found that the state voucher was, in fact, an “instrument” under article 175.35, which referred specifically to documentation filed to offices of the State. 
People v. Mellish
People v Mellish 2004 NY Slip Op 50869
This case follows closely the precedent set by People v Bel Air Equipment Corp. (39 NY2d 48 ), and reflects the current standards of evaluation regarding the term “written instrument” in cases relating to fraudulently obtaining signatures. In this case, the defendant, Page Mellish, was charged with fraudulently obtaining signatures, scheming to defraud in the second degree, and fraudulent accosting. This, after setting up a booth with signs reading “Animal Rights Lobby” and “Homeless Cats” when she did not belong to or work for a charity of that kind. Mellish approached pedestrians on the street and asked them to sign a petition to help homeless cats. Furthermore, she claimed that in order to sign the petition, they would have to donate cash in an amount of up to $7. Mellish conducted interactions in this way with more than one passerby, continuously collecting signatures and money for the “charity” under false circumstances: it was later shown that the charity was not at all registered with the Charities Bureau of the New York State Attorney General’s Office.
This case is important because it reflects the current standards of evaluating the crime of fraudulently obtaining a signature in terms of what constitutes a “written instrument”. As with People v Bel Air Equipment Corp., the court held that the definition of written instrument has narrow applications relating to the broader category that the statute falls under. In this case, as article 165.20 relates to fraud and theft, a written instrument under this charge should pertain to finances or property. So, in the case of People v. Mellish, the petition for homeless animals did not constitute a document that would result in “substantial benefit” of a financial sort to the defendant. In this case, the motion to dismiss the charges of fraudulently obtaining signatures was granted. Although these charges were dismissed, the charges of scheming to defraud in the second degree and fraudulent accosting were upheld by the court. 
Possible defenses to a charge of fraudulently obtaining a signature
The charge of fraudulently obtaining a signature rests on the tenet that the accused obtaining the signature of another person under false circumstances with intentions to trick or otherwise swindle them out of their money, property, or other possessions. The key component in the crime of fraudulently obtaining a signature is intent. In other words, in the case of fraudulently obtaining a signature, the most viable defense is usually that the accused did not intend to be deceitful or that reasonable doubt exists as to whether or not they would stand to benefit from the crime. Additionally, as demonstrated by People v. Mellish, it is often a valid defense to argue that the document in question does not fall under the parameters of a written instrument in relation to article 165.20.
Even if the charge of fraudulent obtaining a signature is dismissed, an accused individual is still subject to similar theft and larceny charges under New York State Law.
Who investigates fraudulently obtaining a signature in New York State?
In New York State, cases involving the fraudulent obtaining of a signature are investigated by the office of the New York Attorney General. The attorney general is the head of the Department of Law of New York, and acts on the state’s behalf to prosecute a wide range of crimes.
Why you need a lawyer if you’re accused of fraudulently obtaining a signature
If you are charged with fraudulently obtaining a signature, or learn you are being investigated for possible participation in an act of fraudulently obtaining a signature, seek legal assistance early on.
Fraudulently obtaining a signature is a crime. The price to pay for fraudulently obtaining a signature can be steep, and you’ll want to have a legal team that understands the intricacies of the charges that you’re facing on your side. As mentioned, depending on the circumstances, you can face up to a year in jail if convicted.
The offence of fraudulently obtaining a signature is serious. It requires lawyers knowledgeable about
· Possible defenses against fraudulently obtaining a signature;
· What conditions affect the potential penalties for fraudulently obtaining a signature;
· How fraudulently obtaining a signature is investigated in New York State; and
· How investigators may question you during an investigation surrounding a case of fraudulently obtaining a signature
Lawyers can assist you in making statements. Choosing the right defense is imperative to tackling the situation properly from the onset of an investigation.
You will need legal counsel that has defended others charged with fraudulently obtaining a signature to defend you. Your legal counsel will be able to:
· Analyze your specific situation to determine if you have been properly charged with the offence of fraudulently obtaining a signature;
· Develop the best possible defense to the charges, based on their experience in other cases and their understanding of your particular situation;
· Advocate forcefully on your behalf in all aspects of your defense.
Call us for help right away.