When applying for a driver’s license or submitting any other kind of official paperwork in New Jersey, there is a lot of information that one must ensure is correct. Any false information, even an innocent oversight or misremembrance, can result in an investigation and possible criminal charges under N.J.S.A. 2C:21-3b, also known as Offering a False Instrument for Filing.
A person who receives a phone call from a Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) investigator regarding an application, for example, must speak with an attorney right away. This is true even if the person is confident that any “false” information is just an error and not intended to deceive.
What does it mean to offer a false instrument?
An “instrument” for purposes of this law can be any document or application form that is submitted to the government for the purpose of record-keeping. According to New Jersey statute 2C:21-3b, a person can be found guilty of Offering a False Instrument for Filing if:
- he/she knows that a written document/application (“instrument”) contains a false statement or false information; and
- he/she offers or presents it to a public office or public servant with knowledge or belief that it will be filed with, registered or recorded in or otherwise become a part of the records of such public office or public servant.
In the case of applying for or renewing a driver’s license, a person can be charged if they submit evidence to the MVC that they know is false and expect will be filed or become part of public records. For example, a person who has a driver’s license in another state but indicates on the NJ license application that he/she does not, has submitted a false instrument. Likewise, an immigrant who lies about his/her legal status or uses a false name has committed this crime.
Penalties and Fines
Offering a false instrument for filing is a disorderly persons offense in New Jersey. A conviction means facing up to 6 months in jail. A monetary fine of up to $1,000 may also apply. If the instrument is a driver’s license application, a person is likely to also be charged with lying on a MVC application (N.J.S.A. 39:3-37). This crime also carries a penalty of up to 6 months in jail, a fine of $200 to $500, and a suspension of driving or registration privileges for up to two years.
How to beat a charge of offering a false instrument
A person charged with filing a false instrument in New Jersey is facing serious consequences. The best defense against the charges will depend on the details of the case. In some cases, it may be possible to disprove that the person “knowingly” submitted false information.
However, there will be circumstances when this will not be possible. Sometimes, a person’s best bet will be to negotiate with prosecutors to reduce the charges from a disorderly persons offense to a lesser offense. This will likely mean lesser penalties and will reduce the risk of having a permanent criminal record.
Consequences for a first offense
Those who have no prior convictions can potentially avoid jail time for offering a false instrument. The offense carries a presumption of non-incarceration, which means that a person will not go to jail unless there are aggravating circumstances. Examples of aggravating circumstances might include being charged with other offenses at the same time, as well as evidence that this offense was part of a scheme to commit further offenses (such as identity theft or other fraud crimes).
Keep in mind that just because a person will not go to jail does not mean that he/she will not suffer serious consequences. A conviction for filing a false instrument or any other fraud crime can limit one’s ability to get a job or attend school.
Expunging a conviction for filing a false instrument
Those who have been convicted of offering a false instrument for filing or other fraud crimes may be able to have their criminal record expunged (cleared). An expungement allows a person to legally deny that the conviction occurred.
In order to apply, a person must wait 4 years after completing the sentence, including repaying the fine. This waiting period increases to 6 years if the record has an indictable offense conviction.
A person can only have his/her record expunged if there are no more than five disorderly persons offenses, or three disorderly persons offenses and one indictable offense. If the person has more offenses on the record then it cannot be expunged, although some exceptions exist.
Those who are eligible for clearing a record should contact an attorney. The expungement petition is very detailed and the slightest mistake can result in a denial. An attorney can ensure all the paperwork is accurate and presents the facts in the best possible light, maximizing the chances of convincing a judge to grant the expungement.
Why hire an attorney for a charge of offering a false instrument?
As noted above, being charged with offering a false instrument for filing is a difficult predicament. While honest mistakes happen, it is too easy for a person to land themselves in hot water by saying the wrong thing to an investigator or judge.
That’s where an attorney comes in. An experienced attorney can evaluate the facts of the case to determine the best possible defense strategy. He/she can aid in discussions with an investigator to ensure that a person does not accidentally incriminate themselves, which can happen even if a person is totally innocent.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who Should I Contact?
If you or someone you love has been accused of providing false or inaccurate information on an application or official document, you should contact an experienced attorney for help. The lawyers at Rosenblum Law have the skills and knowledge to protect you and your right to drive, as well as help you avoid possible criminal penalties. Email us or call 888-979-7551 for a free consultation.