Check forgery, sometimes referred to as check fraud, can be a very serious crime. Like all other crimes, check forgery is subject to statutes of limitations. These laws place time limits on when a crime can be prosecuted by the state. Any crime that falls outside of the relevant statutes of limitation can no longer be pursued by the government, and the perpetrator is no longer criminally liable for the action.
Check forgery usually involves either creating erroneous checks or erasing the material on valid checks and replacing it with forged information. This crime is generally punishable by law established by every state as well as the federal government.
State and federal law criminalize the use and creation of forged checks. Depending on what state or federal agency charges the crime, different statutes of limitations will apply. For example, someone who falsely signs someone else's name to a check and then sends the check through the mail can be prosecuted under both state and federal laws. Each law will have a different statute of limitations that applies to.
How a check fraud case gets charged is one of the key factors determining the relevant statute of limitations. For example, if a check is fraudulently used to purchase goods under $500, it will most likely be charged as a misdemeanor. If the purchase is larger, it can usually be charged as a felony. Felony statutes of limitations are significantly longer than misdemeanors. Further, the more serious the felony, the longer the limitation period.
Statutes of limitations codify a time limit in which the government has to prosecute a criminal defendant. For example, Ohio law states that all misdemeanors must be prosecuted within six months, while felonies other than murder can be prosecuted within six years.
The general rule in criminal statutes of limitations is that the time period starts to run as soon as the crime is completed. Unless the crime is an ongoing effort, the statute of limitation begins once all the elements of the crime has been completed. For example, a counterfeiter who forges checks in an ongoing enterprise can likely be charged for crimes that would otherwise have fallen outside the statute of limitations. On the other hand, someone who forges someone else's name on a check one time will have the statute of limitations start once the act is completed.