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Fake & Counterfeit COVID Vaccination Cards: New York State Crimes & Penalties

Whether you create a fake Moderna COVID-19 vaccine card from scratch, alter a legitimate one with false information, or even possess a fraudulent Pfizer immunization card purporting to be a real one – knowing it is fictitious and with the intent to defraud – there is a real chance you will eventually find yourself under arrest. Yes, the courtroom may look different if you’re prosecuted in New York City’s criminal courts – Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx, Staten Island – or a justice or county court in Westchester, Rockland, or elsewhere in the state, but the charges will be the same. As you stand before the judge with an attorney versed in COVID related crimes, you’ll hear an officer read off potentially catastrophic crimes, the most serious of which will likely be the felony offenses of Second Degree Forgery or Second Degree Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument, Penal Law 170.10 and 170.25 respectively. In the event you used the “bogus” card and information to secure an Excelsior Pass, for example, you will also likely face arrest and prosecution for First Degree Falsifying Business Records, Penal Law 175.10, and potentially First Degree Offering a False Instrument for Filing, Penal Law 175.35, as well.

The Crimes: Penal Law 170.10, 170.25, 175.10, & 175.35

The two most common criminal offenses associated with arrests for possessing or selling a false, fraudulent, or counterfeit vaccination card are Second Degree Forgery and Second Degree Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument.

Penal Law 170.10

You are guilty of Forgery in the Second Degree, as it relates to COVID-19 vaccine cards, when you falsely make in its entirety or merely complete or alter a “written instrument” which purports to be or upon is completion will be, one or more of the following:

  • Any instrument which does or may evidence, create, or impact a legal right or status.
  • A public record or instrument that may or must be filed with a public office as a matter of law.
  • A written instrument made or issued by a public officer or government instrumentality.

Further, in creating or editing the particular instrument, your goal or objective must also be to deceive or defraud another person.

Penal Law 170.25

If Forgery is the making of the falsified item or instrument, Second Degree Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument is the offense the police and prosecutors will charge for actually having the type of altered or fake document referenced above on your person or constructively in your possession.

Penal Law 175.10

You are guilty of First Degree Falsifying Business Records if, with the intent to defraud, you cause a false entry to be made into the records of an enterprise whether private or public, or you prevent an accurate entry from being made. While there are multiple subsections in the misdemeanor offense that give rise to the First Degree felony, keep in mind that this felony requires the additional element that you also were trying to commit or conceal another crime at the time of your wrongdoing.

Penal Law 175.35

You run afoul of First Degree Offering a False Instrument for Filing when you have a written instrument that you know contains false information that you present to a public official with the belief or knowledge it will be entered into the record of that public office. Like the other crimes, you must do so with the intent to defraud.

The Penalties: Potential for State Prison

Before even addressing the possibility of imprisonment, the first issue you need to come to terms with is the fact that a felony will have drastic and permanent ramifications on future employment, professional licensure and certification, legal status in the United States, and a host of other matters as it relates to loans, credit, and far more. Remember, while a case can potentially be sealed after ten years, New York does not expunge criminal records. In other words, a felony conviction won’t merely go away with the passage of time.

Whether a judge sentences you to a conditional discharge, probation, or something else, understand that upon your plea or conviction post-trial, the court can sentence you up to two and one third to seven years in prison on either class “D” felony of Penal Law 170.10 and 170.25, and up to one and one third to four years in prison on Penal Law 175.10 and 175.35 even if you have no prior history of fraud or misconduct.

Hypotheticals: Examples of Criminal Conduct

The easiest way to understand the potential arrest or indictment charges associated with fake COVID-19 vaccine cards is if you make one up on your computer that is totally fictitious, or you buy or get your hands on a real card and enter fake vaccine information such as changing a date or adding a second shot to the first real one you received. Remember, the card need not be completely phony. These acts would be considered Forgery. Whether you did it yourself or purchased this document, possessing the card and using it to gain admission or access to a location such as restaurant or to provide proof to your employer so you can work, you committed Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument. Where things get even more involved, if you then present that written instrument to a government agency or allow the information contained on it to be entered into your employer’s database or to obtain an Excelsior Pass, you will have also committed Falsifying Business Records and Offering a False Instrument for Filing.

Protecting Yourself & Your Future

No matter if you agree with it or not, New York State and the City of New York are quite clear in their position on and efforts for vaccinations against the Coronavirus. Should you decide to purchase or make an altered or total replica of a vaccine card and then use it, for example, to prove to a hospital, government agency, school, or any private or public employer that you got the “jab”, expect that the local District Attorney’s Office will prosecute you and very possibly to the fullest extent of the law. Could the NYPD, State Police, or other local agency like the Westchester County Police Department execute a search warrant if you are believed to be a maker or supplier or to simply understand where and how you used these COVID “passports”? Absolutely.

Be neither naïve nor foolish. If investigators or detectives come knocking on your door, call you up, stop you outside work, or even have you arrested out of state due to the long arm of law enforcement, don’t think you’ll talk yourself out of trouble. Remain respectfully silent, ask for an attorney, and exercise your rights.

There is never a substitute for experience, knowledge, and advocacy when your life, career, and future are all on the line. Day or night, the criminal defense attorneys and former Manhattan prosecutors at Crotty Saland PC are ready and able protect you today and wherever your tomorrows may lead.

Call the New York criminal lawyers and former New York City prosecutors at 212.312.7129 or contact us online today.

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