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Forgery - History

law documents common statute

The law of forgery may have originated with an early Roman law (c. 80 B.C.) that prohibited falsification of documents describing the passing on of land to heirs. The precise scope of what was considered forgery at common law is not universally agreed upon, but a statute passed in the time of Queen Elizabeth I (An Act against forgers of false deeds and writings, 5 Eliz. 1, c. 14 (1562) (England)) prohibited forgery of publicly recorded, officially sealed documents with the intent to affect the title to land, as well as the knowing use of such documents as evidence in court. In the first major expansion of the law's coverage, a 1726 decision declared that a false endorsement on an unsealed private document was indictable both under the Elizabethan statute and at common law (Rex v. Ward, 92 Eng. Rep. 451 (K.B. 1726)). Writing only half a century later, William Blackstone was able to declare, after referring to several contemporary statutes, that "there is now hardly a case possible to be conceived wherein forgery, that tends to defraud, whether in the name of a real or fictitious person, is not made a capital crime" (*250). Blackstone defined common law forgery, which he also called crimen falsi, as "the fraudulent making or altering of a writing to the prejudice of another man's right." Pillory, fines, and imprisonment were the penalties in those rare cases that were not subject to capital punishment (*247).

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